Governance and Government in the Arab Spring Hybridity: Reflections from Lebanon

By Stel, Nora | Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Governance and Government in the Arab Spring Hybridity: Reflections from Lebanon


Stel, Nora, Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice


ABSTRACT.

Unrepresentative and ineffective governance has been a key instigator of the 'Arab Spring.' However, analyses of the Arab Spring tend to limit 'governance' to 'government.' The Spring is exclusively framed as the bankruptcy of authoritarian government and the significance of the revolutions as an indication of resilient (non-state) governance is overlooked. This discards opportunities to build on existing and emerging non-state governance arrangements. Based on a critical review of the emerging literature dealing with the Arab Spring, this article argues that the state centrism underpinning the majority of analyses of the Arab Spring reflects an (implicit) adherence to the fragile state paradigm. With reference to Lebanon, a country on the brink of being sucked into the upheavals, the article offers a complementary conceptual frame for engaging with the Arab Spring. It proposes that studies of the Spring would benefit from focusing on 'pragmatic governance' in 'hybrid political orders' rather than on 'fragile governments' in 'failing states.'

Keywords: Arab Spring; governance; hybrid political order; Lebanon

1. Introduction

The international community increasingly accepts that peace, security and development are decisively shaped by 'good' governance and institutions (Grindle 2007; Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2008; United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) 2011; World Bank (WB) 2011). This observation is only reinforced by current developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) presented as the 'Arab Spring.'1 Dynamics in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria have nothing so much in common as their mix of socio-economic dilapidation and political-institutional despondency. Corrupt, unrepresen- tative and increasingly ineffective state institutions have provided much of the seeds for the current developments.

Yet, there is a pivotal aspect of governance that has been under-represented in the analysis of, and response to, the Arab Spring. This is the deceptiveness of the equation of'governance' with 'government.' Analysts and policymakers have construed the Spring as the bankruptcy of authoritarian government, but overlook the significance of the revolutions as an indication of resilient non-state governance. They thereby disqualify opportunities to build on existing and emerging non-state or semi-state governance arrangements. The aim of this article, therefore, is to offer an alternative frame for engaging with the Arab Spring. With reference to Lebanon, a country on the brink of being sucked into the upheavals, I propose that studies of the Spring would benefit from focusing on 'actually existing governance' in 'hybrid political orders' rather than on 'fragile governments' in 'failing states.' As such, this article can be positioned in the emerging literature concerned with "not the immediate account of what happened in the region, but more generally the implications of the Arab uprisings for our way of studying Arab politics" (Valbjorn and Volpi 2013:1).

As a sensitizing exercise, the article does not seek to present a detailed empirical analysis. Instead, it reviews an emerging body of academic and 'grey' literature on a meta-level with the aim of highlighting the main contentions in these studies and teasing out the perspective dominating current analyses of the Arab Spring in order to enable future complementing and balancing of this perspective. The remainder of the article consists of four sections. Section 2 discusses the state-centered discourse that dominates analyses of the Arab Spring. In section 3, I juxtapose this state-centered perspective with a hybrid governance-oriented view on the Spring that is explicated in section 4 with illustrations from Lebanon. Section 5 concludes and offers a research agenda.

2. State Fragility as the Dominant Discourse

Policy-oriented scholars see the Arab Spring as an opportunity to reevaluate political relations with MENA countries, a sentiment partly driven, it seems, by a desire to move beyond 'Iraq' and 'Afghanistan' (de Vasconcelos 2012:7). …

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