Why Occupy a Square?

People, Protests and Movements in the Egyptian Revolution

November 2013 9781849042659 256pp


On 25 January 2011, tens of thousands of Egyptians came out on the streets to protest against emergency rule and police brutality. Eighteen days later, Mubarak, one of the longest sitting dictators in the region, had gone. How are we to make sense of these events? Was this a revolution, a revolutionary moment? How did the protests come about? How were they able to outmanoeuvre the police? Was this really a ‘leaderless revolution,’ as so many pundits claimed, or were the protests an out- growth of the protest networks that had developed over the past decade? Why did so many people with no history of activism participate? What role did economic and systemic crises play in creating the conditions for these pro- tests to occur? Was this really a Facebook revolution? Why Occupy a Square? is a dynamic exploration of the shape and timing of these extraordinary events, the players behind them, and the tactics and protest frames they developed. Drawing on social movement theory, it traces the interaction between protest cycles, regime responses and broader structural changes over the past decade. Using theories of urban politics, space and power, it reflects on the exceptional state of non-sovereign politics that developed during the occupation of Tahrir Square.

Table of contents




1. Mobilising Protest Networks I (2000–2006)

2. Mobilising Protest Networks II (2007–2011)

3. ‘Down with Mubarak, Down with the Military State!’ Political Context

4. ‘Atef, the people of Egypt are forced to eat bricks!’ Socio-Economic Context


5. A ‘Leaderless’ Revolution? Planning vs Spontaneity

6. ‘I used to be afraid, now I’m an Egyptian’: From Fear to Defiance

7. Tahrir as a Revolutionary Political Space

8. A Facebook Revolution?






‘Gunning and Baron have combined social theory, an excellent grasp of the structural and historical context, and a sharply observant eye for detail to explain the extraordinary phenomenon of the Egyptian uprising against President Mubarak in 2011. The result is an outstanding and lively analysis of this episode that will likely stand the test of time. It also helps to throw light on subsequent events as Egyptians follow their uncertain course into the future.’ — Charles Tripp, Professor of Middle East Politics, SOAS, University of London

‘Gunning and Baron provide an innovative corrective to conventional views of Tahrir Square. Deftly deploying theoretical insights and first-hand observations, they highlight the deeper roots of urban protest and explain the critical roles played by informal networks and social organisation. This book speaks equally powerfully to those in academia, the media and policy circles struggling to make sense of why the events of the Arab Spring have defied standard, top-down expectations and, in so doing, it provides an instructive insight for the future.’ — James Piscatori, Professor of International Relations, Durham University

‘This is the most rigorous explanation currently available of the unforgettable mass mobilizations in Cairo which helped topple the Mubarak dictatorship.’ — Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University

‘This well-crafted and comprehensive study — a useful combination of social movement theory and international relations — proves how revolution is and remains possible in the Arab world.’ — Jean-Pierre Filiu, Professor of Middle East Studies, Sciences Po (Paris) and author of The Arab Revolution: Ten Lessons From the Democratic Uprising

‘This excellent book goes a long way toward dispelling the dual myths that the 25 January Revolution in Egypt came out of nowhere or was an inevitable consequence of political and socioeconomic frustration. The resulting synthesis is highly readable and will be of immense value those who want make sense of the daunting complexities of Egyptian politics over the last two decades.’ — Ewan Stein, Lecturer in International Relations, University of Edinburgh

‘Anyone who wants to think through the ways in which political movements are going to arise and do their work during the rest of the 21st century would be advised to get a copy of this book.’ — Don Flynn, Chartist

‘This is a staggeringly good book. After reading so many accounts of the Egyptian Revolution and Arab Spring that are mainly descriptive, or even speculative as to causes, it seemed we were doomed to have to wait many years… Gunning and Baron have proven that we needn’t wait any longer.’ — Jack A. Goldstone, Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University.


Jeroen Gunning is Professor of Middle Eastern Politics and Conflict Studies at the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, King's College London. He is one of the world’s leading scholars on Hamas politics and a founder of the field of critical terrorism studies. Jeroen has advised both policy-makers and civil society organisations. His last book, Why Occupy a Square?, was published by Hurst/Oxford University Press in 2013-14.

Ilan Zvi Baron is Lecturer in the School of Government and International Affairs, University of Durham.

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