In 2010, a 26 year old fruit vender sparked a series of revolutions that reverberated in over 17 countries and territories. The vender, Mohammed Bouazizi, was selling fruits and vegetables in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. After having his cart disposed by police for not having a permit, Bouazizi lit himself on fire in front of a Tunisian government building. In many countries the resulting four years of turmoil produced death, ethnic strife and political overhauls. Some contend that the Arab Spring was simply a result of poor governments and the fall of authoritarian regimes. To many political scientists, widespread revolution highlighted a much more complex phenomenon of nationalist movements. The Arab Spring highlighted new threats to state control and components of revolt in the 21st century.
The Arab Spring showcased the impact of nationalist movements. Each movement originated from various causes and resulted in unique outcomes. Despite the varied nature of each country, each state produced a revolt. In this paper, I will explore the genesis of nationalist movements and seek to answer the question “What causes nationalist movements?” Nationalist theories have often failed to accurately encompass many cases of nationalism. The reason lies in the very subjective nature of nationalism due to the constantly varied agency of the actors involved. Because of this, the study of nationalism has no true definitions; instead, it is filled with loose theories. As Hugh Seton-Watson, author of Nations and States: an Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism (1977), writes, “I am driven to the conclusion that no ‘scientific definition’ of the nation can be devised; yet the phenomenon has existed and exists.” The Arab Spring represented a very specific type of nationalism movement, far different than movements seen in Ukraine or those in Latin America. The Arab Spring presents us with new ways of judging modern nationalist movements. More importantly, it allows us to see the how certain strengths and weaknesses in government can play a vital role in the development of nationalist revolutions.
In an attempt to understand the conditions of nationalist movements in the Arab Spring, I highlight three variables that affect the genesis of nationalist movements: education, police power and inequality. Scholars have written extensively on the individual impact of these factors but have not addressed the relation of all three. These aspects heavily influence the political environment of states, and the agency of citizens. The combination of these variables produces incompatible results that become catalysts for nationalist movements. In the first section of this paper I will address the various theories on nationalist movements. In the second section I will test these theories in the cases of Tunisia and Egypt.
The Theoretical Impact of Education, Police Power and Inequality
Education level affects two key catalysts of...