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Social Movement Theory in Algeria and the Outcome of the 2019 Hirak
All Arab countries affected by the popular upheavals of 2011—ironically called “Arab Spring”-- experienced an initial euphoric expectation of radical change, then a shimmer of hope, followed by a resignation that the despised economic and political orders may not change. Today, all Maghreb countries remain, to varying degrees, resistant to democratic change, deficient in economic and human development, and with rulers lacking in political legitimacy. Algeria experienced in 2019 a euphoric hope brought on by the wide scale social movement known as hirak which lasted a whole year and then disappeared by 2023 after reaching the phase of resignation that the existing order cannot change. What causes the failure of social movements and the persistence of ruling regimes they rose against? This paper will examine the case of Algeria by looking at several factors and their mutual dynamic impact: 1) the conjuncture during which the movement rose (political opportunity structure), 2) the demand(s) of the movement, 3) the structure of the movement (participants and sub-units), 4) the structure and cohesion of ruling regime’s civilian or military leadership, and 5) the power relationship between the protagonists. An additional variable needs to be added in the social movement research: an unexpected intervening variable that can affect substantially the fate and outcome of the confrontation. This can be a natural disaster, an aggression against the country from the exterior, or simply a health pandemic such as the one caused by COVID-19. It will be argued that the failure to achieve regime change cannot be explained without looking primarily at the combined effect of the five listed factors. The intervening factor--the pandemic—alone does not explain the failure. This paper will draw from the social movement literature (Tilly 1978; McAdam 1996; Tarrow 1998; Giugni 2011) and Chicago school sociologists such as Robert Park and Herbert Blume, and from empirical evidence of several cases in the MENA region and elsewhere. An attempt will be made to test the usefulness of the theories of “political opportunity structure” and “resource mobilization” in tackling some of the variables listed above and explaining not the rise of the Algerian social movement but its end a year after it started. As this proposal is submitted during a trip to Algeria, the field visit permits interviews and chats with hirak participants, government officials and academics, especially on the empirical dimension of genesis and end of the social movement.
Political Science
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