There are probably a thousand things to say about the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa, and I think concepts such as resonance nicely capture their effectiveness, novelty, and rapid expansion. But what also strikes me about the revolts is an “older” problem, that of representation, for lack of a better term. The difficulty for so-called totalitarian states — a terrible label, I know, mostly because of the orientalist assumptions behind it, but if used strictly it is descriptive — is that by banning or limiting independent movement(s) and making all institutions coterminous with the party/leader, there are no substrata to draw from when the people become ungovernable. Of course, organization exists, but totalitarianism makes it exist in the margins, in forms that can’t be transformed into governance.
It’s this inability of organization to jump the gap between modes of marginal creation and democratic capture that movements can use to their advantage. Of course the moment can just as easily be decided by restoration with a different face, but as the Egyptians have taught us, the insisting on a single demand, which is nearly the same as making no demands at all, can hold open the gap, the moment of undecidability, so that no forces of reterritorialization can step in. It’s fragile maneuver, filling the space with the barest of anything, and can be difficult to maintain when the crisis wanes or shifts (as the Egyptians are finding out now under military rule), but delaying the imposition of representation makes governability and statecraft much more difficult. And that marks the difference between revolt and revolution.