Uprisings are complex, rare phenomenon, and this article suggests that the shared regional diffusion of protest in the Arab Spring was lubricated by the economic inequalities of neoliberalism. Young people in Egypt and the larger Middle East have been disproportionately disadvantaged by neoliberalism and a demographic youth bulge. They were economically excluded by high unemployment and insecure jobs in the informal sector; they were politically excluded by authoritarianism and state repression; and they were socially excluded by the limbo of “waithood,” or prolonged adolescence as marriage and entry into adulthood was delayed, in part due to the high cost of marriage. Yet, at the same time, these commonly shared grievances facilitated weak ties linking diverse constituencies together, as creative leaders built a “movement of movements.” The April 6 movement, and Kefaya before it, creatively adopted a non-hierarchical model of collective action that was organically suited to the vast informal and subterranean networks already dominant within Egyptian life. Young women and men risked their lives pursuing regime change, and one of the master frames of the uprisings that demanded “dignity” may provide particular opportunities for the women’s movement. A gendered concept, dignity suggests that the state must respect the integrity, safety, and autonomy of the body. Despite massive challenges to the women’s movement and its allies in Egypt as conservative forces are also emboldened by the Arab Spring, the master frame of dignity may resonate across the Egyptian public since it is a revolutionary frame, as well, yet lays bare longstanding grievances of the diverse Egyptian women’s movement.
Diane Singerman is Associate Professor in the Department of Government at the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. She also serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. Singerman is the co-founder and co-director of Middle East Studies at American University and served as a Fulbright Hays Scholar. She has received a Social Science Research Council Dissertation Fellowship and the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences. Singerman’s research focuses on political change from below, particularly in the Middle East, and more specifically in Egypt. Her work examines the formal and informal side of politics, gender, social movements, globalization, youth, and urban politics. Singerman’s publications include Cairo Contested: Governance, Urban Space, and Global Modernity (edited, 2009), Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Globalized Middle East (co-edited with Paul Amar, 2006), Avenues of Participation: Family, Politics, and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo (1995), and Development, Change, and Gender in Cairo: A View from the Household (co-edited with Homa Hoodfar, 1996). She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Princeton University and did graduate work at the American University in Cairo. Currently, Singerman is engaged in a project on urban governance, social justice, and the built environment entitled “Tadamun: The Cairo Urban Solidarity Initiative,” which is funded by the Ford Foundation.