While it may take historians years to understand the historic conditions and political factors which triggered the democratic revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries in the Middle East, one thing seems to be certain. The political actor which has gained the most prominence in these political uprisings has been ‘civil society’. This term encompasses the large sector within any given society which sits between governments and the for-profit or private sector. As such it includes youth movements, workers unions, NGOs, political parties, and faith-based organizations among others. It is a term still little understood, often derided by authoritarian governments, and rarely heard in the Middle East until now. The term in Arabic is “mojtama'a madani” and has the same broad meaning as in English. It is said that when Egyptian ex-President Mubarak first heard the term he mockingly quipped, “So what’s wrong with military society?”
What do the ongoing social revolution in Cairo, Egypt and the 1957 movie, An Affair to Remember, have in common?
The answer: Thomas Schelling.
It has been nearly impossible not to watch transfixed to a television or listen raptly by a radio to the unfolding news about the demands of Egyptians from all walks of life for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. One aspect of this remarkable bottom-up demand for accountability has thus far received little attention: Why Tahrir Square?