Arab Revolutions: Breaking Fear| Blesses and Curses: Virtual Dissidence as a Contentious Performance in the Arab Spring’s Repertoire of Contention

Nermin Allam


Activists have fashioned nonconventional forms of repertoire and contentious performances during the recent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Salient among these contentious performances is virtual dissidence. I conceptualize virtual dissidence as a political performance in the repertoire of contention between authoritative regimes and the latter’s contenders. The metaphors of repertoire and performance bridge apparent conceptual dichotomies in analyzing the role of social media in the Arab Spring such as structure versus agency in the service of a relational account of it. This essay will not bring these debates to any final resolution; rather, my goal is to provide a modest yet productive intervention in the debate over the importance of Internet activism in social movements. The significance of understanding virtual dissidence as emerging from repertoire is that it frames a meso-level explanation of collective action and political change. It accounts for the constraints imposed by the macro structure and the array of innovative responses ignited by activists’ determination.

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