Experimental activism

by Eric Eyges
Spring 2022

The legacy of the Arab Spring—that burst of activism and revolutionary activity sparked by Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation—is still up for debate. The common perception is that it failed in its ultimate aim of bringing about more responsive, democratic governance, especially after the recent coup in Tunisia. But while the number of functioning democracies may not be cause for optimism, the signs of a shift in political consciousness remain ever-present. The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship has been documenting that shift since 2017.

“What we’re observing around us is the emergence of intersectional voices. Migrant communities, queer communities, people with disabilities—basically, those who were historically invisible—are now becoming politically active,” says Asfari Institute Director Lina Abou Habib.

On their website, you can find interviews, academic papers, and op-eds written by and about historically marginalized groups. For example, Tarek Zeidan, executive director
of Helem, wrote an article on the organization’s emergency response after the Beirut Blast and its effect on the LGBTQ community. Prominent Egyptian feminist scholar Hoda ElSadda contributed a scholarly paper that addresses the impact of the 2011 protest movements on women’s rights in the Arab world, focusing on the Egyptian Constitution. You can also find many student contributions, such as Layan al Dani’s thesis exploring the journey of Syrian women participating in peace processes and their contribution to conflict resolution, recently published under the Asfari Institute’s new Annual Thesis Award.

“We aim to serve as a repository and also a hub for various forms of knowledge production related to civil society activism in the Arab region during the last decade-plus,” says Abou Habib.

Part of the Asfari Institute’s work is to be a sort of nexus of experimentation. Activism in the Arab world, and in Lebanon in particular, is a dynamic product of evolving circumstances that are constantly being shaped and reshaped by internal and external forces, from corrupt sectarian politics to the #MeToo movement. The Asfari Institute is cataloging and analyzing that experimentation to help us all better understand the forces of progress and change.