'The people want(s) to bring down the regime': (positive) nationalism as the Arab Spring's revolution

Uriel Abulof*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


When and what is the nation, and nationalism, and when have both emerged in the Arab world? I suggest new ways of approaching these questions, and new answers. Revisiting the 'dating debate', I propose distinguishing between negative nationalism (rejecting foreign rule) and positive nationalism (holding 'the people' as the source of legitimacy), the latter distinctively modern, the former not. Empirically, I examine these theoretical propositions in light of the Arab Spring's dual revolution, vividly captured by its popular slogan: 'The people want(s) to bring down the regime'. I submit that the manifest revolution of toppling regimes pales in comparison with the ideational revolution of engendering positive nationalism. While the former revolution has been a huge surprise, the history of the Arab world abounds in precedents; conversely, Arab societies' subscription to 'the people' as the prime political legitimator - asserting their own inalienable political right to tell right from wrong - is novel. In that sense (positive) nationalism is the revolution of the Arab Spring, challenging both authorities and polities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-680
Number of pages23
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Arab Spring
  • Legitimacy
  • Peoplehood
  • Popular sovereignty
  • Positive nationalism
  • Revolution
  • Self-determination


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