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The Arab Uprisings: Researching the Revolutions

Closing comments at the Arab Uprising Conference, 22-23 Sept 2014 held at the CBRL British Institute in Amman.


Social Networks and the “Arab Uprisings”: From Revolution to Refugees

Abstract:
Strong social networks have been shown to correlate with improved economic outcomes and emotional wellbeing in urban refugee populations. In the Middle East and North Africa, social networks are based on a wide variety of relational social identities that interconnect, overlap, and dissolve into one another. These relations are both traditional, such as family ties and qabiilah networks, and newly emergent, such as pan-Arab nationalism and business networks. Many of these networks cross state borders; they influence everyday activities and dynamics of crises throughout the region. Little research has been carried out on how refugees actively build and rebuild social networks in new urban settings to maximize outcomes, how shared relational identities with host populations affect tensions with urban refugee populations, or how the humanitarian community could support the development of these networks. This study explores how this social resource is negotiated by Syrian refugees living in Irbid, Jordan.

Biography:
Matthew Stevens is currently carrying out his Master’s research, entitled "Social Networks and Self-Support Strategies of Syrian Forced Migrants in Urban Jordan," under Professor Jennifer Hyndman with the Department of Geography and the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada. A graduate fellow with the Centre for Refugee Studies and the York Centre for International Security Studies, he is three months into a six-month research programme based out of IrbidGovernate on the Syrian/Jordanian border.

Matthew’s career in refugee studies began in Cairo in 2008, where he managed a media campaign on the underreported lives of Iraqis living in Egypt under the tutelage of Professor Barbara Harrell-Bond. Since then, he has worked as a field assistant and independent researcher on various projects in different locations from downtown Toronto to the Peruvian Amazon, with institutions such as CARE International, McGill University, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the World Bank.


A Choice with Consequences: Democracy, Transnationalism and British Intervention in the Arab Uprisings

Abstract:
Opening the six-hour House of Commons debate on a military response to the alleged use of chemical-weapons by the Syrian regime in August 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that:

“Doing nothing is a choice—it is a choice with consequences. These consequences would not just be about President Assad and his future use of chemical weapons; decades of painstaking work to construct an international system of rules and checks […] will be undone.”

Overdue though such an argument may have been in the context of a humanitarian crisis already at catastrophic proportions, Cameron’s words underscored both the international implications of recent uprisings in the region, as well as the pivotal role of Western governments in determining their course. Simultaneously, however, the PM’s words obscured the role of other, less visible trans-national actors and the influence of their own choices and actions on democratic struggles in their countries of origin: that is, the Arab diaspora.

Through oral accounts from Arab exiles, activists, politicians and other diaspora leaders in the West who have mobilised around these democratic campaigns, this paper will reflect on British (and more broadly, Western) responses in shaping their outcomes. The study will document diaspora perspectives on their relative agency in British foreign policy-making, including how governmental discourse around democracy has translated into concrete action in support of local campaigns. Equally, research findings will elucidate the effects of neo-colonial and/or ‘culture talk’ around sectarianism in de/legitimising uprisings and ensuing Western inaction. Through a focus on case studies of Libya, Bahrain and Syria, the paper will argue for the idiosyncrasy and indeterminacy of each uprising, while reflecting on the role of diasporas in their realisation and representation abroad.

Biography:
Zoe Holman is a London-based Australian PhD candidate and writer, working on projects related to politics and the Arab Middle East. She has lived and reported in Syria, Lebanon and Cambodia, and written for outlets including the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, The Guardian, The Economist, The Sydney Morning Herald and Lebanon’s Daily Star. Her doctoral thesis examines British policy in the Middle East after the Iraq War with an emphasis on diaspora mobilisations.

Zoe Holman's participation in the conference was sponsored by MBI Al Jaber Foundation.


Abstract:
This paper concentrates on the Arab Spring as factor that has influenced the emergence of non-state actors and their intrinsic role as part of the ongoing transition in the Middle Eastern region. As a follow-up work to my previous writings on the international relations of the Middle Eastern region and based on my primary research and field work findings, the objective of this paper is twofold: on the one hand to introduce and further analyze my theoretical map based on a conceptual model of ‘multi-dimensional interrelations’ that I have developed, and on the other to use the elevation of the Kurdish status in Syria as an especially relevant case in point.

Specifically, in view of the rise of multiple players of non-state status in search for democratic rights in an attempt to bring an end to regional despotism and the need for a reformulation of the Middle Eastern political setting, this work adopts an IR perception that stresses the ‘multidimensional inter-relationship’ of foreign policy, IR and wider politics, within which further interrelations and interactions occur, while also underlining the need for a holistic approach to IR to move away from mere inter-state explanations and bridge the gap between agent and structure, time and space, epistemology and ontology, objectivity and subjectivity that I am advocating.

I will therefore demonstrate the effects of the Arab uprisings (December 2010) on this interplay between state and non-state entities, with a specific focus, on the Kurds of Syria that are pursuing their own interests and foreign policy agenda.

Biography:
Dr Marianna Charountaki is a post-doctoral fellow at Reading University (UK). Her research interests range from international relations and foreign policy analysis to the international relations of the broader Middle East. She is the author of the book The Kurds and US Foreign Policy: International Relations in the Middle East since 1945 (Routledge, 2010), which has also been translated into Kurdish-Sorani (Aras Publishing House, 2011), and Arabic (Al Farabi, 2012).

Marianna Charountaki's participation in the conference was sponsored by MBI Al Jaber Foundation.


Abstract:
The Egyptian uprising is contested in the ongoing struggle to localize supposedly ‘universal’ norms of individual and collective rights. I want to zoom in on the transnational repercussions of this contestation by looking at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). While both organizations commit to supporting the uprising, I propose to compare how they carry out their responses and what impact this has on the uprising, focusing on what specific meaning of rights the UNDP as a prominent international organization and the EIPR as a salient local NGO enact. In particular, I examine how the notion of rights is appropriated from outside/exogenously through the UNDP and from inside/endogenously through the EIPR – and what effects their mis-appropriation has, good intentions notwithstanding. To this end, the research helps account for the contingency of rights and the practical difficulties of enacting socio-political change.

In probing the practice of localizing rights, I scrutinize the content of the distinct measures the UNDP and EIPR take in response to the uprising and the normative and practical validity they thereby attribute to it – which in turn defines enabling or restrictive precedents for the pursuit of rights. Primarily, I examine how the development outlook of the UNDP is defined and applied to the Egyptian uprising and how the EIPR defines and applies its basic rights outlook. The focus on salient patterns of action then helps trace the efficacy of the distinct stances to inquire the extent to which, for instance, an illiberal secular authoritarianism is preferred over democracy infused with faith, a moral rather than a structural response defined, an exclusive identity enacted instead of a pluralistic vision, stability appreciated over change, or reform-initiatives preferred over revolutionary overhaul. The research so clarifies the transnational repercussions of the struggle to localize ‘universal’ norms.

Biography:
Johannes Gunesch is a PhD candidate at the Central European University in Budapest. He holds an MA in International Relations from Jacobs University and the University of Bremen in Germany. From 2011 to 2014 he worked at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Cairo and Jerusalem. His research focuses on the practical difficulties to localize international norms.


Abstract:
During and after the 2011 revolution, Egyptian activists struggle for divergent ideas of both human dignity – including the absence of state, judicial and police violence – and a more just socio-economic order. However, these political struggles have not been without (high) personal and emotional costs. As protestors and political activists sought to navigate their way through repressive state tactics, police violence (including torture, rape and humiliation), increasing economic disorder and a polarisation of society, they suffered deeply personal and collectively traumatising experiences. Yet, existing research overlooks these traumatising experiences in favour of purely macro-level analyses on politics, economics and law. In contrast, this paper will take seriously this deeply ‘human dimension’ and explore the social and political impact of these traumatic experiences. Using a narrative analysis and drawing on first hand qualitative interviews with Egyptian activists across the political spectrum, this paper reconstructs these personal and collective traumas – and outlines how they have affected 1) political participation/mobilisation, 2) social relations and 3) emotional wellbeing.

The argument of this paper is not only that post-traumatic stress disorder permeates throughout the (divergent) activist circles in Egypt, but also that the lack of available support mechanisms risks perpetuating the vicious cycles of individual and collective trauma - contributing to the current political deadlock. It is thus urgent that we start to take seriously the emotional and mental costs of the revolution and its upheavals.

Biography:
Dr. Vivienne Matthies-Boon is an Assistant Professor in the International Relations of the Middle East in the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Prior to this, she held positions at the University of Groningen and the University of Surrey. She was a Duncan Norman Research Scholar at the University of Liverpool and received all of her education in the United Kingdom.

Given her interdisciplinary background, her research interests particularly focus on Egypt; trauma; issues and theories of recognition; social and political violence; Critical Theory (Frankfurt School), Palestine; Syria - all centered around theoretical and substantive issues of social justice.


Abstract:
I
n my paper I want to analyse the main themes and characters of Zakariyya Tamir’s short stories in the context of Resistance Literature as explained by Barbara Harlow, taking into account the analysis of Syrian authoritarianism of Lisa Wedeen (1999) as well as resistant cultural production in contemporary Middle Eastern cultures as described by Karima Laachir and Saeed Reza Talajooy in the introduction to Resistance in Contemporary Middle Eastern Cultures: Literature, Cinema and Music (2013).

Particularly my paper will focus on the latest stage of this author’s literary career [1997-2014] and on his Facebook page through which he has symbolically joined the on-going upheaval with short stories, posts, comments and articles that address the different components and actors on the ground.

On the whole this paper will show how Tamir’s recent commitment to the Syrian revolution represents the natural extension of fifty years of a literary career, during which he gave voice to the frustrations and the desires for emancipation of younger generations. His works have managed to raise the readers’ awareness of their condition by satirising the dominant social and political discourses on gender issues, oppression, exploitation, corruption and lack of law. With his stories he has re-signified the symbolic order in ways that disrupt the regime’s power to control citizens’ imagery and language.

By providing a critical analysis of the most relevant examples from his latest books and his Facebook posts, the paper will show how this writer’s narrative strategies can help understanding experiential aspects of the uprising, with reference to both to the Syrian regime and its apparatus as well as to the so-called opposition. Moreover, it will look at how his internet activism as a mix of resistance poetry and resistance narrative manages to attack the symbolic foundations of the dominant and hegemonic discourse, and to analyse the relations of power which sustain the system of domination and exploitation.

Biography:
Alessandro Columbu is a PhD student at the Institute of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He currently teaches Modern Standard Arabic and Spoken Levantine at the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW). Originally from Sardinia, Alessandro completed both his BA and his MA in Bologna. He learnt Arabic in Syria and has also translated the short stories of Zakariyya Tamir from Arabic into the Sardinian language. His research interests include contemporary Arabic literature; post-colonial literature as well as resistance literature.


Abstract: Scholars in a number of fields have noted the importance of considering affect and emotion in analyzing the processes of social and political change that constitute the Arab uprisings. Many stop, however, at the point of recognizing the centrality of these factors, leaving open the question of how to collect and analyze these kinds of data. This paper offers a performance studies methodology for researching affect in revolution. Affect can seem particularly elusive because it has been defined, and distinguished from emotion, in some of the most prominent literature as non-conscious and nonlinguistic. Drawing on performance theory, ethnographic methods scholarship, and my own dissertation research in progress – which examines musical practice in the Libyan revolution through affect and political theory – I propose methods for researching and writing about affect that make combined use of oral history, phenomenology, and performance and dance analysis.

Biography: Leila Tayeb is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. She holds an MA in Performance Studies from New York University, an MA in International Affairs from the New School, and a BA in Politics from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her dissertation project centers on affect and political potential in music performances in the 2011 Libyan revolution. Her research interests more broadly include phenomenology, dance studies, feminist and queer theory, diaspora and return.

Leila Tayeb's participation in the conference was sponsored by MBI Al Jaber Foundation.


Abstract:
The waves of the Arab Revolutions since the dawn of 2011 proposed a new and dominant fact that has become part of the Arab reality ever since: the mainstream understanding of the “Arab streets” by former or current authoritarian regimes was proven wrong, and a new conceptualisation and methodological comprehension is an imperative matter. In light of this, as social scientists, the search for a methodological and theoretical explanation, directs us towards the urge of transdisciplinary research.

This forces us to look for other perspectives or conceptual settings that could be borrowed or operationalised in the social sciences to explain our reality and its transformations. In order to apprehend the role of street protests, their nature and dynamics, and their structure versus spontaneity, this paper aims at shedding light on the concepts of power and protesting or revolting masses at times of agitation in the texts of two dominant and central philosophers, namely Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition and Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power. By doing so, questions such as group formations, knowledge creation, identity shifts and power relations within groups of the protesting masses, and between them and state apparatuses, will be tackled and reflected on using moments from the Egyptian revolution over the past three years: the 18 day wave of the Egyptian revolution, the Mohamed Mahmoud and People’s Assembly sit-ins in late 2011, and the 30/6 mass street protests.

Biography:
Sarra Moneir Ahmed is a transdisciplinary academic who specializes in political ethnography, studies of mass movements and political psychology particularly in Egypt. Moneir holds further specializations and research interests in areas related to political theory, political anthropology and Arab-Islamic philosophy and history. She earned her B.Sc. in Political Science from Cairo University in 2006 and her Master’s degree in Global History from the University of Vienna in 2010 on the topic of “Arab-Islamic Political Philosophy of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Religious and the Political Problematic in Egypt”. She is also currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Development Studies at the University of Vienna on the topic “The Political Psychology of the Egyptian Masses: Between Myths, Truths and Lies, and Psychological Spaces”. Moneir is residing between Vienna and Cairo, where she is working on her dissertation parallel to teaching as an Assistant Lecturer of Political Science at the Future University in Egypt since fall 2011. During her stays in Vienna, Moneir was granted two scholarships (1. October 2012-March 2013, 2. March 2014 – September 2014) by the OeAD (Jubilee scholarships for Arab Scholars on Democratisation Processes) and the Ministry of Scientific Research of Austria at the University of Vienna. Her stays in Cairo are divided between teaching, as well as conducing various research and societal projects, and intensive fieldwork and observation. One of her latest projects was on “Re-thinking the Empowerment of Egyptian Women: A Grassroots Study” (Cairo Uni-LSE Project, Nov. 2013). Her recent conference participations were: Free University of Berlin (October 2012)“Theorising the Masses in Arab Politics”, York University (March 2013) “Memory of the Masses: 18th and 19th Century Experiences in Cairo’s Resistance”, and Institute le Monde Arabe Paris (June 2013) “A Historical Perspective on Nationalism in the 18th and 19th Centuries Cairo: The Experience of the Masses”. Her recent publication is “Who is Afraid of Twitter: The Egyptian Revolution and its Own Globality” in an Omnibus book on Globalisation, Lang Publications, Germany – Frankfurt am Main 2013.


Abstract:
This paper examines diaspora and migrant participation in the Egyptian uprisings of 2011 and the continuing struggle. I reflect on their praxis and development in relation to diaspora politics, activists’ political trajectories, and the notion of a ‘democratic transition’ in the Egyptian context.

I argue that analyses of activists’ learning, praxis and trajectories enable us to challenge the lack of understanding of how different transnational actors engage in politics in the contemporary global context (Adamson, 2005, Lyons and Mandaville, 2010). There has been very little academic study of the Egyptian diaspora in the UK (Karmi, 1997, IOM, 2010), but their participation in the 25th January revolution is evidenced within the academy, the blogosphere and film documentaries. This study contributes empirical evidence of the contributions of Egypt’s diaspora and migrant community in the UK to the revolution, highlighting their political learning and demonstrating the importance of hearing the range of voices that mobilise within and across these dynamic contemporary borders. Through the activists’ reflections, we see the transformative nature of mobilisation on diaspora politics. I conclude by noting the importance of empirical study of a contemporary context and new forms and spaces of activism, arguing more work is needed to understand diaspora politics within these dynamic spaces of resistance. Such analysis enables greater understanding of the various actors who mobilise in processes of revolutionary social change and their perspectives of engaging in a process of democratic transition.

Speaker biograpy:
Helen Underhill is a PhD student at the Institute for Development Policy and Management (IDPM) at the University of Manchester. Her PhD explores social movement learning, diaspora politics and transnational activism in the context of the ongoing Egyptian revolution. Helen’s research and teaching experience includes: political theory, grassroots activism and social movements, the international poverty agenda and chronic poverty, and humanitarian emergencies.

Helen Underhill's participation in the conference was sponsored by MBI Al Jaber Foundation.


Abstract:
This paper engages with the analytically neglected role of exiled and diaspora political activists and their impact on the Arab uprisings, through the case study of Bahrain. Largely as a result of the popular uprising that began in February 2011 and which has continued through various forms of protest and resistance since, a significant number of young Bahraini activists have sought asylum in the UK and other countries. Drawing on interviews with youth activists now exiled in and around London, this paper highlights how activist encounters with the Bahrain state have shaped the nature of the exile experience by analysing: the extent to which exiled activists continue to engage in their home country’s politics, through online activism, international media campaigns and lobbying; the nature and effectiveness of their efforts to engage international civil society to take up their continued cause; and how exile and diaspora politics shapes the evolving imaginary of the Bahraini nation for activists abroad, especially the subjective construction of what it means to be Bahraini for those outside the country's borders, including some who have been forcibly deprived of their nationality. By taking as our point of departure the stories of ordinary activists, their encounters with the Bahraini state, and their experiences engaging in diaspora politics, we seek to evaluate how narrative and lived experience shape subsequent political activity in exile, and in turn the extent to which activism abroad influences or changes political consciousness and national imagination.

Biography:
Omar Sirri is currently a PhD student in political science at the University of Toronto. His research interests include the political anthropology of constitution making in the Middle East, and ethnographies of political activism in and related to GCC countries. He was previously a research assistant in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House where he focused on Iraq and the Gulf. He has conducted field research in Iraq on the politics of constitution making, and in Syria on the socio-economic effects of the Iraqi refugee crisis that developed there after Iraq’s 2006-07 civil conflict. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from the University of British Columbia, and a Master’s degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.


Abstract:
This paper engages with the analytically neglected role of exiled and diaspora political activists and their impact on the Arab uprisings, through the case study of Bahrain. Largely as a result of the popular uprising that began in February 2011 and which has continued through various forms of protest and resistance since, a significant number of young Bahraini activists have sought asylum in the UK and other countries. Drawing on interviews with youth activists now exiled in and around London, this paper highlights how activist encounters with the Bahrain state have shaped the nature of the exile experience by analysing: the extent to which exiled activists continue to engage in their home country’s politics, through online activism, international media campaigns and lobbying; the nature and effectiveness of their efforts to engage international civil society to take up their continued cause; and how exile and diaspora politics shapes the evolving imaginary of the Bahraini nation for activists abroad, especially the subjective construction of what it means to be Bahraini for those outside the country's borders, including some who have been forcibly deprived of their nationality. By taking as our point of departure the stories of ordinary activists, their encounters with the Bahraini state, and their experiences engaging in diaspora politics, we seek to evaluate how narrative and lived experience shape subsequent political activity in exile, and in turn the extent to which activism abroad influences or changes political consciousness and national imagination.

Biography:
Omar Sirri is currently a PhD student in political science at the University of Toronto. His research interests include the political anthropology of constitution making in the Middle East, and ethnographies of political activism in and related to GCC countries. He was previously a research assistant in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House where he focused on Iraq and the Gulf. He has conducted field research in Iraq on the politics of constitution making, and in Syria on the socio-economic effects of the Iraqi refugee crisis that developed there after Iraq’s 2006-07 civil conflict. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from the University of British Columbia, and a Master’s degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.


Abstract:
This paper will seek to examine the political participation of Egyptian women in Egypt’s tumultuous history of revolution, particularly 1919 and 2011. By examining events in 1919, and to an extent 1952, this paper will highlight that the high levels of female participation in the eighteen day protests against Mubarak in 2011 was not a historical precedent in Egypt despite the worldwide attention women’s participation in the protests received. Moreover, this paper will seek to underscore that in the Egyptian context, women’s participation in itself has not produced greater gender equality in the post-revolutionary period. This stagnation is not an accident but rather the product of several key indicators of Egypt’s revolutionary protests in 1919 and 2011. This includes the lack of specific women’s rights discourse during the protests as well as the continued false assumption that the removal of an imperialist or authoritarian government will pave the way for a more progressive government towards women’s rights. In conjunction with this, a close look at the attempted marginalisation of women and women’s rights advocates in Egypt after the 2011 Revolution will also be offered, which will in turn reveal the obstacles and challenges Egyptian women face in overcoming socio-political constructs that are often legitimised through a false Islamic framework that is used to defend gender inequality. This paper will also offer insight into the discourse of women’s rights advocates and feminists in Egypt (this distinction is important) and the strategies they have employed in order to meet their objectives

Biography:
Ahmed Kadry is a third year PhD candidate at Imperial College London where he is researching women’s socio-political rights activism in Egypt and its relationship to various forms of the Egyptian State(s) since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. He is particularly interested in the way the concept of nationalism is formed and presented along gendered lines in Egypt and across the Middle East. He is also a frequent writer and commentator on Egyptian and Middle Eastern affairs where his work has appeared for the BBC, ITV, The Huffington Post, and others.


Abstract:
The striking lack of an alternative vision has been one of the biggest obstacles that, not only revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia have struggled with, but also protestors in Europe and the United States. In a paper that is the outcome of a thirteen-month long qualitative field study, I ask what the Jordanian day-waged workers' movement can teach us about alternative ways of doing politics and envisioning political structures. The day-waged labour movement was the trigger that paved the rise of the ‘Jordanian Popular Protest Movement’ (Al-Hirak al-Sha‘bi al-Urduni). Despite its significance, the movement has received surprisingly little attention. The workers' movement is not only unique in the tremendous success of its social activism, but also because of the radical means the workers have used to secure their rights and the innovative gender-equal structure that they developed. The work of the day-waged labourers calls into question commonly held truths about political work, particularly its supposed division from the economic realm, in addition to notions of citizenship and the public/private dichotomy. I argue that it is crucial to examine the work and discourse of the day-waged labour movement in order to help us imagine alternative politics

Biography:
Sara Ababneh is an Assistant Professor and researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, where she coordinates the internship program and the Arab Barometer. Dr. Ababneh taught courses on Middle Eastern politics, gender, and international relations theory at the University of Jordan and at various colleges at the University of Oxford. In addition, she served as the faculty host of the CIEE Interdisciplinary Faculty Development Seminar entitled “Jordan: Women and Gender in Light of the Arab Spring” in the summer of 2013. After receiving a BSc in Politics and Economics from Earlham College in Indiana and an MScEcon in International Politics, at the University of Wales, Aberystywth, Dr. Ababneh earned her DPhil in Politics and International Relations at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford in 2009. Her dissertation was a study of female Islamists in Hamas in occupied Palestine and the Islamic Action Front in Jordan. Currently she is studying the popular Jordanian protest movement (Al-Hirak al-Sha‘bi al-Urduni), the Jordanian Personal Status Law reform in terms of gender and class, and EU-Jordanian relations.