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Youth-Led Revolution in Tunisia, critique of social movement theory

In the only book about youth’s role in a Middle East uprising (Youth and Revolution in Tunisia, 2013), Mozambican scholar Alcinda Honwana analyzed the Tunisian youth movement that displaced dictator Ben Ali. She points out that the research on social movements that began nearly a century ago is biased towards Western Europe and North America, with some research on South America. Also, studies of non-violent movements have neglected Africa with the possible exception of South Africa. Post-Marxist European research studies the New Social Movements that began in the 1960s such as environmentalism and feminism. In the Global South, movements are more interested in jobs than human rights. Since the 1990s North Americans were interested in what makes a movement succeed, using Resource Mobilization and Political Process (PP) models that looked at the structure and organization of movements. Applying PP to the Tunisian movement, as to why Ben Ali couldn’t maintain power, Honwana points to economic crisis, unemployment especially of young college graduates, and splintering of the elites, plus widespread anger over police violence and censorship. In terms of framing the uprising to get broad support, the demand “Ben Ali leave” had broad appeal. But she finds the PP limited because youth aren’t involved in the old political process; they’re making a new politics outside of political parties. She observed that SMT hasn’t looked closely at post-revolutions that are developing a new form of politics. In summary, with a few exceptions, “these theories have failed to take account Southern realities.”

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