ABSTRACT

At the outset of the field research presented in this book, I approached the question of crowds with a significant amount of optimism. In terms of the possible social and political outcomes that crowds could produce in North Africa, it seemed clear that crowds produced a political atmosphere hospitable to social progress and democratization. Political crowds that confronted authoritarianism were productive elements in what seemed like a shift towards greater justice and equity in North African societies and politics. Although I still believe this to be potentially realizable, the assessment must be qualified and nuanced for two reasons: first, the nature of crowds has wildly diversified, and second, states’ repressive responses to crowds have remained surprisingly the same. Post-revolution states have continued to deploy draconian measures against crowds. Two years after the Tunisian revolution and 25 years after the Algerian uprising of 1988, military establishments, financed and buttressed by a globally reaching military industrial complex, have continued to fire live ammunition into crowds of peaceful protesters and to intimidate and brutally harass crowd participants. The diversity in types of crowds also makes for a more complex picture.

Anti-authoritarian crowds gave birth to new crowds, and the crowd phenomenon became widespread and varied in nature and intent. Crowds confronting authority were proving creative and productive, but other types of crowds were violent and destructive, and yet other types were emerging every day. Violent crowds are still crowds, and cannot be excluded because of their emotive content. In fact, some anger in crowds can also be productive and justified. Yet one violent crowd event in particular forced me to qualify my thinking, mostly because it was the most dangerous type of crowd I experienced. In early September 2012 I boarded a flight from Tunis to Benghazi, with a full schedule of activists and researchers to interview, and friends and political actors to meet. During that stay in Benghazi, an armed crowd attacked a US diplomatic installation and as a result the ambassador and three other diplomats were killed. The city went on lock-down, we gathered together in the living room, huddled around the television, and saw that the crowd just meters away from us had made a decidedly unproductive impact on the democratic process in Libya.