The delirious early days of the Arab uprisings seem like a distant memory today. The failed promise of the Egyptian revolution, Libya’s utter collapse, the savage sectarian repression of Bahrain’s demonstrations, and above all Syria’s horrors have long since diverted attention from the possibility of meaningful change through popular mobilization. It has become fashionable to dismiss the significance of those uprisings altogether, given how badly most have turned out.
Minimizing the importance of what happened in the first few months of 2011 would be a mistake, however. Even if the autocrats managed to regain control (for now), the uprisings were in fact a remarkable, unique moment in not just Arab but global political history. A new wave of political science is now digging deep into that remarkable moment, even as its history threatens to be swept away by the new demands of chaos, war and autocratic restoration. I am delighted to highlight two new publications: My edited book “The Arab Uprisings Explained” and “Explaining the Unexpected,” a symposium in the American Political Science Association journal Perspectives on Politics (which Cambridge University Press has kindly un-gated) debating whether and why political scientists failed to predict the uprisings.