Chapter 2 looks beneath the surface of the great electoral strides made by the Liberal Democrats from 1992 until 2010. It examines whether the political and electoral strategy which helped catapult the party into coalition government with the Conservatives actually dealt with the longstanding weaknesses in the party’s vote. The chapter reveals just how weak the fundamentals were and how vulnerable the Liberal Democrats had become. The first section explores how the party was still dependent on borrowed votes and lacked loyal support. It also examines how specific short-term policy positions and tailored messaging amplified its reliance on tactical support. The second part questions whether the Liberal Democrats still enjoyed a comparative campaign advantage over their rivals. The chapter provides evidence that opponents had begun to adopt Liberal Democrat grassroots tactics, local targeting, tailored messaging and place-based intensity. The final section details the growing ideological friction within the party in the run-up to the 2010 general election. It explores how factions that had coexisted for decades became more visible and vocal in their discontent with the policy platform and rhetoric of the leadership. Crucially, it evaluates whether this was at odds not only with the party’s members but also with its voters. Beneath the euphoria of entering government for the first time in 80 years, the Liberal Democrats remained politically and electorally vulnerable but chose to ignore the warning signs.
Every Tuesday evening, the El Sawy Culture Wheel, a famous cultural centre in the Zamalek district of western Cairo, offers self-defence classes exclusively for young women. I have come as an observer to carry out fieldwork that will examine certain dynamics that are prevalent in Egyptian society today. What interests me is the context that has enabled this practice in Egypt and in this particular cultural centre and made it visible. Learning to defend themselves helps young women to formulate new ways of ‘being a girl’ that challenge conventional models of femininity. By listening to these young women who have come here to learn how to fight, or rather to fight back, I will explore what learning these combat skills means to them.
The history of Hamra Street in west Beirut is linked to the distinctive sociability of its cafés. It has supplanted the legendary Rue Monnot in the eastern part of the city, which was the centre of Lebanese nightlife in the 1990s but is now deserted. Theatres and cinemas (al-Medina, Metro), small venues catering to a new, alternative Lebanese music scene (Democratic Republic of Music), bookshops (Orientale, Antoine), publishing houses and daily papers (as-Safir) link back to the pre–civil war period, when Hamra was one of the epicentres of the city’s political and cultural life. Business people and office workers rub shoulders with the ‘wretched of the earth’. The young crowd seems more political: the close-knit alternative scene of Lebanon’s artists exists next to that of young activists of the radical left and of the Lebanese Communist Party, of young Palestinians working for various NGOs, and, more recently, certain Syrian oppositionists. Yet these different spaces are not completely isolated from each other. Ways of appropriating the street’s cafés are based on a form of imitation. Hamra remains the symbolic centre for those young people who see themselves as the political heirs of earlier generations. They may be members of one of the many left-wing organisations, or intellectuals involved in the voluntary sector or the media. The café space facilitates unusual networks in which the familial and the partisan can easily coexist. Anti-globalist and far-left Europeans and North Americans, who either visit the city or live there, are also drawn to Hamra.
Lejnan, one of the villages of the AthWaghli tribe, lies a mile and a quarter from Chemini, the administrative centre of the district. In the heart of Kabylia (Algeria), it is some thirty-five miles to the south-west of the coastal city of Béjaïa. Anthropologists and sociologists might describe its population as being organised into nine broad lineages, each descending from a common ancestor. Three of these mainly occupy the lower part of the village. Claiming descent from a local holy marabout, these mrabtin rather unusually share their mosque, fountain and assembly in the village. Their entwined histories have cemented the links between the different lineages, religious or otherwise, almost irreversibly: marriage alliances formed and re-formed between them render the social fabric particularly dense and interlinked. Games and activities, linked to the natural environment, were once part of the daily life of the inhabitants. They are increasingly threatened and consequently need to be remembered.
We need to demystify Salafism and understand its development and diversity by looking at concrete practices, the interactions and leisure activities of those who claim to be Salafis, rather than at texts written by great ‘scholars’ and theologians. Broadly speaking, Salafism can be defined by the desire to return to the original practice of Islam, to purify it by eliminating all those elements that its followers consider to be human innovations which corrupt its original perfection. There are a number of different currents, some more marginal than others, with a range of attitudes towards political engagement and violence. This chapter explores the daily lives of male Salafi students in Yemen, the ways in which they relate to their surroundings as well as their relationships with others who do not necessarily share their beliefs. Yemen, by virtue of its particular history and because of the image it holds in the Muslim imaginary, offers a fascinating case study. I seek to explain how these students, in the heart of a circumscribed group of young Yemenis (belonging to the apolitical, so-called ‘quietist’ branch of Salafism, distinct from jihadism and the ‘political’ current) shaped their own distinct identity and created a subculture that does not represent a political or social threat but, prior to the 2011 uprisings, embodied much of the questions that erupted with the Yemeni Spring and still bear meaning after this experience failed, leading to war.
The breakdown of social bonds and the militarisation of Baghdad are compounded by the destruction caused by aerial bombardment during the war and local bomb attacks, as well as the collapse of street cleaning and waste disposal. The Iraqi capital looks both chaotic and neglected. Despite this, young people in Baghdad, just like those in neighbouring Arab countries, enjoy squares and green spaces, as well as an extremely rich historical and architectural heritage. The city’s youth make the most of the few existing places, like the main streets in the Al Mansour and Karada districts – where cafés are still open to all denominations but are only accessible to the very wealthy – to cope as best they can with the situation and enjoy a few moments of respite. Since 2011, echoing the upsurge of resistance elsewhere in the Arab world, a number of initiatives led by young Baghdadis have sought to escape political and community divisions by taking to the streets to fight for a unified city. Through campaigns organised in public spaces, students, artists and activists have expressed their desire for unity and their resistance to the violence that marks everyday life in a city they often equate to a ‘paradise lost’.
Young Sunnis in Bahrain react in ‘defence of their country’ (2011–2012)
Stereotypes in the West and in the Arab world often depict the younger generations of the six Gulf monarchies as gilded and idle. The high standards of living in the Gulf, deriving from the rentier economy, have shaped cultural practices dominated by unbridled consumerism. The general impression remains nevertheless that Gulf youth does not care much about politics. The events that shook Bahrain in 2011 call for a more nuanced picture. The smallest of the Gulf countries is torn by socio-economic and communal tensions which, in the context of the Arab Spring crisis, generated new forms of political engagement among young people. The radical and violent turn taken by the events both terrified and awakened part of the youth, those stemming from pro-government Sunni backgrounds, encouraging it to overcome its political lethargy.
Politico-religious trajectories in pre-revolutionary Syria
Young people’s participation in religious activities in a Muslim context is often seen as a potential antechamber to political engagement. Such a view is not necessarily mistaken, but the relationship can in fact sometimes be the exact opposite: the desire for social and political engagement ultimately leads to a new form of religious practice. Following the trajectory of young Syrian Muslims seeking a religious discourse with a political purchase, or one at least capable of coming to grips with contemporary realities, I will show how this quest led them to join a religious congregation whose real nature as a Sufi brotherhood they only gradually came to discover. Without disregarding the religious nature of this experience, I will also consider its more worldly incidental benefits, that is, the access to relatively elite social networks. The case study discussed in this chapter concerns a group of some hundred young men and women who were followers of Dr Mahmud Abu al-Huda al-Husseini. A general practitioner, born in 1960, Dr al-Husseini was also the preacher at the ‘Adiliyya mosque, an Ottoman edifice in Aleppo’s old souk. Rather than gradually narrowing the focus by beginning with the context, that is the group, and then concentrating on each member’s trajectory, I have chosen the opposite approach, taking the paths followed by individuals as a starting point before examining the features of the group as they become clearer to followers over time.
Chapter 6 examines the Liberal Democrats’ post-coalition fortunes. The contention is that these were intrinsically linked to the leadership of the party. While the ceiling for electoral success was set by structural conditions exacerbated by being in coalition, the action taken by party leaders after the coalition had a significant impact on how well the party performed within these parameters. The chapter details this roller-coaster ride in four sections. The first examines how the party moved to the comfort zone of pavement politics and super-localism under Farron and why this proved unsuccessful as the party retreated still further two years later. The second section focuses on the Cable interregnum, when Sir Vince led a party that veered between existential crisis and electoral elation following local and European success in 2019. Crucially, we assess how the Cable interregnum shaped the environment in which the Swinson leadership had to operate. The third section unpacks the Swinson era and details how structure and agency combined to curtail the prospect of an electoral shock which, before the campaign, some felt possible. A key focus is Swinson’s leadership and the miscalculations and misjudgements of a dismal Liberal Democrat campaign which dramatically backfired. The final section of the chapter examines how Sir Ed Davey has steadied the ship and exploited his rivals’ woes. Caution reigns on whether this is another ‘Liberal Democrat electoral moment’ and whether can continue to wreak electoral havoc despite the structural obstacles.
Around the year 2005, the quiet revolution of Web 2.0 exponentially accelerated the growth of the Arab Internet, so that social networks – which originally were anything but political tools – are now bringing about another turning point in the cultural habits of the region. Gone is the era of watching TV soaps and series, a quasi-religious ritual, which had become closely linked to the social rhythm of the month of Ramadan: after breaking the daily fast, families and neighbours spent the long evenings together, watching and discussing TV series that had been written and filmed long in advance for this peak-time audience. But now is the age of the online series.