Was the Arab Spring a false one?

December 14, 2012

he Arab Spring has turned to winter. A year after protests, demonstrations and uprisings rocked the Arab world, hopes for peaceful transitions and free elections are fading in Egypt, Libya, and especially Syria, while elsewhere repression is the rule. 

In Benghazi, Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo, the students, teachers, farmers, merchants and rebels who embodied the Arab Spring are wondering if they''ve only succeeded in trading one evil for another: militias that cannot and will not stop the sectarian violence that killed an American ambassador; an elected president who has suddenly and shockingly placed himself above the law; and a brutal regime willing to commit whatever atrocities it takes to hold onto power. How can this be?

The New England Institute explains how in a new paper, "Complexity and the Limits of Revolution: What Will Happen to the Arab Spring?" While the ongoing unrest encompassed by the Arab Spring has triggered long-awaited reforms and toppled dictators who ruled for decades, the authors insist immediate change is neither easy nor guaranteed. Hopes that repressive regimes will quickly be followed by democracies is unreasonable at best.

Authors Alexander S. Gard-Murray and Yaneer Bar-Yam provide a complex systems framework, validated by historical precedent, to help explain the dynamics of government change in the region. Their empirical support makes use of data on the outcomes of unrest and governmental changes from 1945 to 2000.

"What is happening now is not unlike ," said NECSI president Yaneer Bar-Yam, "in which complex organizations arise by replication, variation and competitive selection. Without a simpler organism to build on, a more complex one can't form."

Revolutions may disrupt existing complexity, limiting the potential for building new complex structures quickly. In fact, the authors argue, democracy is harder to create in the wake of unrest than in the wake of autocracy. Revolutions disrupt the complex web of dependencies within governments and between them and other institutions, making it more likely that simpler systems—such as autocracy—will result, rather than complex ones such as democracy.

"Constructing a theory of governmental change from the perspective of complex systems," said Bar-Yam, "can explain and perhaps anticipate the outcomes of revolutions, as it is an added perspective that synthesizes and extends existing theories about the role that violence, institutions, and time play in revolutions."

The authors express hope that a better understanding of the difficulties that revolutions create for post-revolutionary governments can guide regional and global responses to social unrest. "Building a successful government begins, rather than ends, with the revolution," said Bar-Yam.

Explore further: Analysis Shows Uptick Rule Vital to Market Stability

More information: necsi.edu/research/social/revolutions/

Related Stories

Analysis Shows Uptick Rule Vital to Market Stability

November 18, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study by researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute found that interpretations of data from an SEC pilot program used to justify the repeal of the "uptick rule" in the summer of 2007 are ...

What do Biological Cells and Democracy Have in Common?

February 19, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) and Harvard University offer a groundbreaking new perspective on how genes determine and regulate the functional identity of a cell. The study, ...

Scientists show how to make peace

October 19, 2011

Can science predict peace? Can scientific modeling help to end crises in today’s war-torn regions? New research from the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) says yes.

Study twitter-maps new world order

February 19, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study of tweets spreading news from The New York Times finds that the Internet, while creating an open line of communication across continents, may at the same time be strengthening walls that separate ...

Recommended for you


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 14, 2012
"Arab Spring" is a poorly thought out name for the revolutions that are going on in Middle Eastern nations.
These revolutions have not stopped, but are ongoing efforts by the local populace to reform their civil systems. This is not going to stop, ever. It happens in all civilized societies all the time.
not rated yet Dec 15, 2012
It was first and foremost about food-prices and jobs, everything else flows from that. No matter how free or oppressed the political system becomes, without food and jobs the strife will continue. "Arab Spring" is just a catchy phrase obscuring the reality of the situation.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.