Asef Bayat Life As Politics

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Minahil Naveed Dr. Daniel M. Green Modern Middle East and North Africa 19 April 2014 Reading Reaction V: Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East The political realm in the Middle East has traditionally always been conceptualized as one which is dominated by the socio-political elite of the region. Challenging this essentialist notion, Asef Bayat’s Life as Politics offers an alternate paradigm where subordinate groups- such as women and the working poor- are capable of, and indeed responsible for, bringing about social and political change in the region. By positing his theory of “social nonmovements”, Bayat not only successfully articulates how such changes can occur, but also simultaneously disputes the classical Orientalist stereotype of the politically passive Middle Eastern society. As etatist and patrimonial states “restricted meaningful political participation and the development of effective civil-society organizations” (Bayat 56), formal social movements had little success withstanding the repression of the authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes (Bayat 59). Therefore, in order to assert their citizenships and secure their basic rights, the subordinate and the disenfranchised often have to resort to more tacit means of political participation. Despite such severe social and political suppression, the politics of the MENA region is constantly being challenged and defied, not through the conventional means of organized resistance, rather, resistance is manifest in what Bayat describes as the “nonmovements”- the collective effects of the unorganized and ordinary efforts of disfranchised groups working individually to improve their own lives- of subalterns who pursue their own interests in the public domain. ... ... middle of paper ... ...y real social development and merely play “preventative” roles in society (Bayat 77). It then seems that while nonmovements do, at best, alleviate the immediate plight of the individuals, they ultimately “fail to exert influence on national policies” (Bayat 85). Clearly then, government action is always necessary in bringing about any real development. For me, the question this raises is whether quiet encroachment, which does increase government awareness and can catalyze favorable policy formation, is an efficient way of bringing about social and political development. Given the unique political environment of the region, it is worth nothing that perhaps a more public and a more organized form of resistance might be crucial for bringing about any real change. The Arab Spring, which galvanized socio-political change across the MENA region, may be testament to this.

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