When revolutionary ideas, networks, and values meet with military defeat and authoritarian silence, how can lasting legacies of revolution survive? Former anti-colonial revolutionaries in southern Oman have drawn on everyday interactions such as kinship, everyday socializing, and unofficial commemoration, as well as occasional extraordinary acts, to create enduring social afterlives of revolution. Contradicting official silence in Oman about the conflict, these legacies demand a new appreciation of revolution. Afterlives look beyond causes and characteristics of revolution to highlight expanded and dynamic impacts, times, and spaces of revolution. These lasting legacies question conventional distinctions between "failed" and "successful" revolutions. They show the limitations of counterinsurgency patronage for "winning hearts and minds" and the potential for postconflict everyday life to preserve innovative, counterhegemonic social relations. By dismantling myths of the Dhufar counterinsurgency as a model campaign, afterlives of revolution advance the work of decolonizing conventional narratives about revolution and counterinsurgency.
How do forces of anti-colonialism and counterinsurgency crystallize into an internationalized conflict? Dhufar's revolution and counterinsurgency reflect local, national, regional, and global contexts of political, social, and economic histories. Dhufar's positioning within southern Arabia and the Gulf, and British colonialism there, contributed to Dhufaris experiencing their struggle against the British-backed rule of the al-Busaid dynasty in anti-colonial terms. In the 1960s, Dhufaris' engagement with anti-colonialism, Arab nationalism and its crises, and leftist ideas created the conditions for the emergence and evolution of a liberation front that would extend its visions of emancipation beyond Dhufar. These ambitions, and the prospect of leftist expansionism in a region of geopolitical strategic importance, encouraged an increasingly internationalized counterinsurgency.
What are the origins, reception, and impacts of programs of revolutionary social change? The liberation front's programs arose in a context of long-standing Dhufari social stratification along lines of tribe, social status, ethnicity, race, and gender. The revolutionary programs for social change—targeting tribalism, labor and resource distribution, enslavement, gender relations, and education—aimed to promote social egalitarianism. Revolutionary social change nevertheless proved "messy." It did not fit the neat beginnings, processes, and outcomes that revolutionary narratives envisaged. The contradictions, problematic outcomes, and experiential gaps of social change programs signal such "messiness." Yet messiness also signals Dhufaris' engagement with revolutionary social change. Dhufaris exceeded the timescales and scopes of revolutionary agendas, negotiated programs, and chose forms of change acceptable in their own eyes. Dhufaris' active engagement in revolutionary change anticipates lasting legacies of programs for radical social change.
Counterinsurgency entails not only violence but also plans for social change that relate to, and contrast with, those of insurgents. In Dhufar, counterinsurgency plans for social and spatial transformation took inspiration from revolutionaries' agendas for modernization but had different political, stratifying, and tribalizing consequences. Wartime and postwar counterinsurgency measures, and related social and spatial transformations in Dhufar, combined patronage and coercion. Yet Dhufaris were also actors and authors of spatial transformations, and at times resisted the counterinsurgency-led programs. Both revolution and counterinsurgency were factors in space-making and the oil-era spatial transformation of Gulf monarchies. The non-hegemonic actors and political agendas that shape space included the revolutionary agency of current as well as former revolutionaries. At the same time, the drivers of spatial and social transformation in the Gulf monarchies included not only new resources and new forms of authoritarianism but also counterinsurgency patronage and coercion.
The implications of Dhufari kinship practices during and after the revolution go beyond familiar and already complex expectations that kinship reproduces dominant social hierarchies while accommodating resistance, and that postwar kinship in particular helps recreate a sense of normality. For some former revolutionaries and family members in postwar Dhufar, maintaining revolutionary family units, naming children after revolutionary namesakes, and arranging marriages in the next generation that connected former revolutionary families across generations had differently nuanced consequences. They became a means not so much of retrieving normality but of retrieving connections and values that had become distinctive. Yet these kinship practices did not necessarily take on meanings of resistance in the eyes of former revolutionaries or of the authorities who surveilled them. Kinship practices reproduced a counterhegemonic social order of revolutionary networks and values of social egalitarianism and created afterlives of an officially silenced revolution.
Revolutions have focused on the everyday for the creation of new revolutionary subjectivities and relations. The Dhufari case shows how the everyday creates revolutionary afterlives. Through everyday socializing and other quotidian interactions, some Dhufari former revolutionaries reproduced values of social egalitarianism that challenged Dhufar's gendered, tribal, status group, ethnic, and racialized hierarchies. Yet the everyday also had its limitations for reproducing afterlives of revolution. In Dhufar, sometimes it took an extraordinary act to reproduce the explicit feminism for which the revolution was once famous. This was the case, for instance, when a woman of elite background defied tribal pressures to run for election. Whether everyday or extraordinary acts are at stake, though, intersectional privilege creates and limits the possibility of afterlives of revolution. Not all persons occupied a positionality of being willing or able to create afterlives of revolution, whether through quotidian or extraordinary interactions.
When no official commemoration is possible of a past that authoritarianism silences, what resources are available for unofficial commemoration? In Dhufar, resources of unofficial commemoration include the liberation front's past commemoration. The retrieval of marginalized counterhistories of Dhufar's revolutionary commemoration challenges Oman's official sultan-centric commemoration culture. Many Dhufaris first experienced state-led commemoration under the Front. Explanations of the rise of sultan-centric commemorative culture must address the contributing pressures of the Front's thriving commemoration culture. After the Front's formal dissolution, Dhufaris continued to generate new resources for the unofficial commemoration of the revolution. These included their everyday experience of space, circulation of written and oral texts, jokes, and euphemisms, as well as funerals and ritual hosting for returning former revolutionaries. However ambiguous its elaboration of identities, loyalties, or resistances, unofficial commemoration illuminates the possibilities for passing on to future generations knowledge and appreciation of an officially silenced past.
The afterlives of revolution foreground counterhistories of revolution and counterinsurgency and highlight expanded temporalities and spatialities of revolution. Dhufar's revolution and its afterlives continue to inspire Dhufaris, other Omanis, and many further afield to imagine alternative political, economic, and social horizons.