In the Presence of Absence: The Arab Uprisings
In this chapter I ask, what are the Arab uprisings? I contend that we do not have a firm understanding of the Arab uprisings and that without this comprehension it appears premature to declare their end. In addressing why the Arab uprisings emerged a number of scholars have focused on questions related to the political economy of the region. Critical scholars have been attentive to the calls for bread, freedom and social justice and have argued that it was the inability to live a dignified life that drove the peoples of the Arab world to protest. I focus on this inability to live a dignified life and turn to the concept of absence to think through this moment more carefully. Absence, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a state or condition in which something expected or wanted is not present or does not exist. The Arab uprisings, I argue, were first and foremost about a response to absence and principally an absence of justice. In explaining the Arab uprisings through the concept of absence I turn to the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and his seminal text In the Presence of Absence. For Darwish absence is not the opposite of presence, he pushes beyond polarities in his writing: He searches for comprehensions of life that do not render it the opposite of death and beginnings that are not framed in opposition to ends. Through the work of Darwish, I argue that the Arab uprisings are not a beginning but an intensification of the prolonged and episodic endeavor to establish the ability to live a dignified life.
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