Does mobilization relieve individuals’ sense of grievance or is it exacerbating?

From the corners of Cairo to the alleyways of Tunisia to the squares of Syria to the neighborhoods of Libya; tired frustrated hopeless Arabs are protesting with powerfully worded signs and slogans, utilizing social media, and taking a stand and a mass movement, that their voices be heard. Thus, what do we mean by a mass movement? Well, it is simply, a durable mobilization of a large number of active participants around a common policy or political purpose.   A movement is more than a protestor demonstration, in which participants may turn out once but are not durably mobilized around a common political goal.

Providing the impetus to mobilize!

The combination of positive and negative emotions helps energize action through their contrast. In this case, hope is considered as the positive pole of mobilization, while the negative pole is often the frustration of not having an impact or not being heard by the government.

During the first day of the ERF workshop “The Pulse of the Arab Streets”, a paper was presented by Evann SmithHarvard University -and Ashley FabrizioStanford University– co-authored with Stephen KosackUniversity of Washington– on “The Effects of Mass Mobilization on Perceptions of Well-Being in the Middle East”. They explain the mobilizations around the Arab Spring, examining the relationship between mobilization and citizens’ perceptions of their own economic well-being. They also focus on movements’ emergence, existence, scope, and primary tactics.

How do citizens perceive their economic prospects after major mass mobilizations?

It often begins with the feeling of not receiving a sufficient share of the economic pie; mobilization might provide a safety valve through which individuals are able to vent their frustrations, or leads to more equitable economic and social policies, or makes citizens feel less optimistic due to the instability that often accompanies mass mobilization.

Ideally, there is a good reason to believe that mass mobilization has at least some negative short-term economic consequences, for example, protests or violence targeting a national government also have the potential to threaten banks’ or corporations’ revenue or cash flow, which affect the foreign direct investments as well. In addition, domestic conflict has long been associated with declines in economic performance.

Mobilization, an end and a means to attaining a future goal!?

The authors argue that it is logical to expect some short-term decline in economic performance from mass mobilization using protest or violence, unlike movements focused on electoral mobilization, in pursuit of their goals. However, the public opinion reacts negatively to both those that have led to short-term declines in economic performance and those that have not.

Last but not least, they claim that the initial success of one movement creates the greater perceived opportunity for additional movements. This results in a cycle, where multiple social movements and groups engage in sustained mobilization clustered in time and across a wide geographical space.


This paper was presented at the ERF workshop “The Pulse of the Arab Streets that was held in Paris, 11 – 12 October 2014.

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