Charles Kurzman says history is clear: “Most revolutionary mobilizations will fail.”
On this week’s POMEPS Conversation podcast, Kurzman speaks with Marc Lynch about how past failed mobilizations can explain the challenges facing the Middle East after the 2011 uprisings. Kurzman is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations.
“There’s the sense of disillusionment when things don’t turn out well. The hopes and dreams that come crumbling down when the new institutions turn out not what you thought they ought to be. We saw this in Iran, when a huge portion of the population that was so active in bringing down the shah, then feels that their revolution was hijacked. This new Islamic Republic doesn’t represent what they meant at all. We see it again after the uprisings of the Arab Spring; huge portions of the populations saying, ‘No, no. This isn’t what we wanted.'”
In Egypt of 2011, “People were absolutely flabbergasted. All of a sudden, relatively small numbers of people look around and behind them are tens of thousands. The Egyptian intelligence services and Western intelligence services, nobody saw it coming.”
That lack of preparedness can make research before, during and after mobilizations difficult.
“Somethings just can’t be predicted, even retroactively,” Kurzman says. “We are all making social scientific-type predictions when we’re acting and living through these moments. Everybody is a social scientist. They’re asking each other, they’re sampling widely from outside their normal networks to try to figure out what people are going to be doing, and where.
Kurzman says that scholars need to recognize when something new is emerging. “We should be open to the breaks in routine and treat them with respect. Not shove them into old categories.”
More from Kurzman:
“America and Terrorism,” interview on UNC-Chapel Hill’s Well Said podcast, April 27, 2016.
“When Republicans Needed Muslim Allies,” March 31, 2016.
“What Crossword History Tells Us About the Language We Use,” New York Times, February 7, 2016.
“Muslim-American Involvement with Violent Extremism, 2015,” February 2, 2016.