Publics Politics and Participation

Publics, Politics, and Participation: locating the public sphere in the middle east and north Africa The “Arab Street,” the reports of whose death had been greatly exaggerated
by the Wall Street Journal in 2001,1 became a virtual transnational highway
with the Al Jazeera network playing a key role in linking commentary
and responses from across the globe while making good their claim of
being the only international network reporting directly out of Gaza.
Together with the world financial crisis, which especially impacted
the oil economy and markets of the Gulf States in ways that have yet to
reveal themselves fully, the close of the first decade of the 21st century
seems to be heralding a re-regionalization and a shifting landscape of
state and society across the Middle East and North Africa. The dramatic
elections in Lebanon and Iran indicate both the waning and the waxing
of Islamic politics and power. Publics made visible through street demonstrations
and protests, old and new forums for regional and inter-regional
deliberation and decision-making, the media-tion of information and
political response—all these point to the increasing relevance of locating
the public sphere in this region, not only for understanding the underlying
dynamics of public mobilization and the means through which it is
achieved, but also for clarifying the implications for the state, society, politics
and participation.

Regression with Social Data
Locating the public sphere in the Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa region may seem an unlikely candidate
for a successful exploration of the concept of public spheres, heavily
inflected as this concept is with normalized Habermasian principles
of critical debate, communicative consensus, deliberative reason and
bourgeois democracy. Publics Politics and ParticipationThe Middle East and North Africa region has long
being characterized by its Orientalizers, past and present, as not only
lacking in civility but also in public-ness and publicity. Historically the
the region was represented as one where the state was an extension of the
private realm of the ruler, where even economic and religious space was
subjected fully to political authority. Social and economic groups were
seen as lacking in autonomy such that Orientalists often argued that
the teeming historical urban settlements of the region were not, sociologically
speaking, “cities.”2 Thus, both the historical and contemporary
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the public appears in scholarly and media representations of the region only
as the passive and pacified mass or the angry mob (incomprehensibly the
former turns into the latter).

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