MENA Region and the Possible Beginning of World System Reconfiguration

MENA Region and the Possible Beginning of World System Reconfiguration

Leonid Efimovich Grinin (Russian Academy of Sciences Oriental Institute, Russia & National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia) and Andrey Korotayev (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia & Russian Academy of Sciences Oriental Institute, Russia)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 31
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9601-3.ch002
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This chapter offers a thorough analysis of the internal conditions in the MENA countries on the eve of the Arab Spring, as well as causes and consequences of the Arab Revolutions. The chapter also offers an analysis of similar historical World System reconfigurations starting with the 16th century Reformation. The analysis is based on the theory (developed by the authors) of the periodical catch-ups experienced by the political component of the World System that tends to lag behind the World System economic component. Thus, we show that the asynchrony of development of various functional subsystems of the World Sys-tem is a cause of the synchrony of major political changes. In other words, with-in the globalization process, political transformations tend to lag far behind economic transformations. And such lags cannot constantly increase, the gaps are eventually bridged, but in not quite a smooth way. The chapter also suggests an explanation why the current catch-up of the World System political component started in the MENA region.
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Introduction: Events Of Special Importance?

The Arab world tends to be perceived as a zone of instability where various wars, murderous conflicts, and other upheavals are rather likely. In this respect, apparently protests and revolutions of 2011 known as the “Arab Spring” fit quite harmoniously into a stormy history of this region. However, after decades of political hibernation (Gardner, 2011), one could hardly fail to be impressed by the unexpectedness and energy of the social explosion, the enormous geographic scope of the Arab Spring “from the Ocean to the Gulf” (e.g., Mirskiy, 2011), the synchronicity of the “color revolutions” and social protests, the prevalence of sociopolitical (rather than interethnic or interconfessional) motifs. Upheavals and protests involved more than a dozen of the Arab countries, including the Gulf countries, large-scale social explosions and revolutions are observed in five countries (Tunis, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain), whereas in Libya they led to the regime break down and civil war1.

What is important is that those events appear to have some features that are definitely new in comparison with earlier events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). We do not have any more of an impression that the Arabs are only capable of anticolonial liberation wars, military coups, or rebellions “under the green banner of Islam” (Ibid). Gil Yaron (2011, p. 38), a journalist, expresses this with the following words: “Finally, the history is being made in the Middle East”. The article goes on to say: “Thomas Friedman, one of the most influential American political commentators, maintained not long ago that the Arab Middle East had not been a place where History was made for more than a century. Up to the early 21st century the Arab countries were dominated by feudal structures that suppressed all ideological novelties. However, since the start of revolutions in Tunis and Egypt this defect has been mended. In early 2011, there was no lack of facts indicating that History was made in the Middle East” (Yaron, 2011, p. 38).

However, a special perception of the Arab Spring is connected not only with the point that “the History is made there”. As previously mentioned (Grinin & Korotayev, 2011), those events appear to indicate the advance of a few new global phenomena. But the question is which phenomena? In 2009 and 2010, we suggested that in the forthcoming decades “the international system will start to transform more rapidly and more substantially. Thus, we enter a new period of search for solutions within the World System, which implies that this period will be rather complex. The formation and consolidation of a new model of political order could be a rather arduous, prolonged, and relatively conflict process” (Grinin, 2010; Grinin & Korotayev, 2010b).

Basing ourselves on this forecast in our previous paper, “The Coming Epoch Of New Coalitions: Possible scenarios of the near future” (Grinin & Korotayev, 2011), we concluded the turbulent events of late 2010 and 2011 in the Arab World may well be regarded as a start of the global reconfiguration. However, this important theme was touched upon in the abovementioned article quite superfluously. The further development of events in the Arab World has confirmed this opinion. On the other hand, it has prompted us to engage ourselves into a large-scale analysis of factors that led to such a radical shift in the course of political processes in the Arab World, as well as into an analysis of those World Systems transformations that were similar to the Arab Spring in their synchrony and scale. This chapter offers results of this analysis together with a few forecasts that stem from it. We also suggest an explanation why the new catch-up of the World System political component started in the Arab countries.

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