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Power and the public sphere: Lessons from Tahrir Square

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The Arab Spring of 2011 challenged established assumptions about Arab exceptionalism and, to a certain extent, restored our faith in the ability of the public sphere to effect political change. After all, it was thanks to the brave protests of thousands of citizens that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in February of 2011. But four years after those momentous events, the discursive power of Tahrir Square has been marginalized and limited. Moreover, Egypt’s transition to democracy was de facto suspended by the armed forces in 2013. Using the Egyptian example, this article examines the role of the public sphere in processes of political change. The article will argue that in its Habermasian formulation and in the Egyptian manifestation, the public sphere has limited ability to effect political change. Drawing on the theoretical literature on deliberative democracy, the article explores the potential of deliberative institutions to open up and even out access to the public sphere to a diversity of voices, to empower civil society actors, and therefore to act as counterweight to established political forces.
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Keywords: civil society; deliberation; deliberative democracy; equality; power; public sphere

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Richmond University

Publication date: March 1, 2015

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