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After the Arab Spring – Democratic Aspirations and State Failure

University of Copenhagen via Coursera


Learn why the hope and excitement of the Arab Spring is gone, why so many Arab states are falling apart, why the youth are so frustrated, why there are so many refugees, and what can be done about it.

The so-called Arab Spring appeared to end decades of exceptionalism and bring the Arab world back into the mainstream of global developments. The rebellions promised the return of politics and the reassertion of popular sovereignty against their corrupt and geriatric leaders. Much hope and flowery language greeted the young men and women who deposed their leaders and tried to build new, better societies.

Today, the Arab world is in deep crisis. Of the 22 member states of the Arab League, at least five have essentially collapsed: Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria exist only in name today, as their territories have fallen to competing, murderous armed groups. In the remaining countries, the old autocracies have reasserted themselves. The repression at home is now worsened by regional conflict on an unprecedented scale, and the resulting frustration has led to the biggest refugee flows in recent memory. What went wrong?

This course offers an overview of the structural shortcomings of Arab states and societies, which help us understand why the democratic awakening did not happen but instead “has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism.” This raises the obvious and renewed question whether there is something inherent in the Arab, and by analogy Muslim, condition that makes them special. Does this condition make this part of the world impervious to generally observable trends towards greater accountability, popular participation in political decision-making, greater generation and fairer division of economic wealth? Join this course to find out!


  • Instability and Institutional Failure
    • In this section, you will become acquainted with some of the mistakes that were made in the decades prior to the outbreak of the recent Arab rebellions. These shortcomings have led to stunted and underperforming political systems, much at variance with developments elsewhere.
  • Governance
    • At the heart of most of the enduring problems plaguing the Arab world is the availability of essentially free income flowing to the governments of the region. These ‘rents’ have sustained a repressive arrangement in which citizens pay little or no taxes and have no voice.
  • Institutions
    • Social action inevitably produces institutions, namely values, stable, repeated patterns of behaviour. In this section, you will learn what institutions are, how they come about, how their relative effectiveness is measures, how and why they decline, and why all that matters.
  • Economics: Bread, Dignity and Freedom
    • This section deals with the material bases of popular discontent, especially the connection between the states’ explicit promises of delivering welfare that have become increasingly unsustainable in the face of exploding population growth and falling revenues.
  • Human Development: Growth and Frustration
    • Structural changes beyond anyone’s control lead to different ways of living and, thus, value changes. With explosive population growth, social institutions have not kept up and norms are contested, often violently. Arab education and research especially have underperformed.
  • Outlook: Elusive Stability
    • Tying together some of the structural shortcomings that have produced the dysfunction that drove the Arab rebellions, this section casts a somewhat gloomy picture about the formidable tasks ahead if these societies want to redress the causes of discontent and return to stability.

Taught by

Dr. Ebrahim Afsah


4.3 rating, based on 3 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 518 ratings

Start your review of After the Arab Spring – Democratic Aspirations and State Failure

  • Taich
    Excellent and one of the best I've taken. Dr. Afsah combines history, political science and sociology to the topic. The course is engaging and relevant for those wishing to better understand the complexities of this part of the modern world.
  • I very much enjoyed taking this course and learned so much in a very, short period of time. It took me a couple of weeks to get 'into the groove,' but once I did, I looked forward to every lecture and achieving the best results I could on the quizze…
  • Emilie Des
    The instructor has an interesting perspective, and gives fairly engaging lectures. Overall not entirely sure what to make of the course, but I definitely learned some useful things from it.

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