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Three Faces of Revolution: Egypt and Other Places
The Arab uprisings of 2010-11 renewed scholarly interest in revolutions as a conceptual category. At the same time, ‘democratic transition’ was also widely used to analyze post-authoritarian polities. However, faced with the daunting complexity and breakneck speed of regional events, analysts began framing them in terms of absences, failures, and dysfunctions. It was common to write of the uprisings as inauthentic revolutions or failed democratic transitions. Conceptual categories became yardsticks for measuring how well events fit the mold, instead of lenses to illuminate dynamic realities. What if we reverse this procedure, and probe how the events compel us to revisit and refresh our concepts? In this talk, Mona El-Ghobashy proposes a reconsideration of the capacious concept of revolution. Based on her recent book, Bread and Freedom: Egypt’s Revolutionary Situation (Stanford, 2021), she discusses how Egypt’s seemingly chaotic post-2011 politics led her to an older notion of revolution, buried by the post-1789 transformation of the concept. The purpose is not to ditch one version for another, but to keep in view the irreducible polysemy of all meaningful concepts.
Mona El-Ghobashy is a scholar of the history and sociology of politics in Egypt and the broader Middle East and North Africa. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Liberal Studies at New York University.