Middle East Report
No. 281 (Spring 2017)
Many commentators declare that the Arab uprisings of 2011 have ended. But in the eyes of many activists in the region, the uprisings are not over, even if the multitudes have retreated from central squares as the regimes re-entrench. Indeed, the throngs that assembled in 2011 set an unreasonable standard for judging the political significance of street protests, which continue—and may even be increasing in frequency—in several countries. And there are numerous other ways in which to express resistance and dissent. The new issue of Middle East Report takes the temperature of ongoing citizen agitation for change across the region.
What is activism? In answering this question, Jillian Schwedler and Kevan Harris write, it is important to understand what the actors on the ground are aiming to achieve and why they choose the words they use to describe their work. “Activism” may not be one of these. Such an approach reveals that “activists” undertake a range of activities, with a variety of goals, and that the meaning of their self-descriptions often shifts over time.
Curtis Ryan reports on the Jordanian movement against the monarchy’s gas deal with Israel, which has not only re-energized street protest but also provided opportunities to rethink the meaning of civic engagement in Jordan. N. Alva tracks the growing rejection by Palestinian workers of the neoliberal economic nostrums on offer from the Palestinian Authority in lieu of an end to Israeli settler-colonial rule.
In Egypt, as Sherine Hafez relates, the military-backed regime has striven to remake spaces of popular insurrection into sites of imposed national unity. But one space the state cannot control is Facebook, where citizen groups are challenging the state’s attempt to define morals and values and creating room for discussion of taboo subjects. Jessica Winegar interviews Wael Eskandar, a writer and participant in the 2011 uprising, about the “darkness” of the present and his “realistic expectation of better prospects for Egypt’s future.”
Tunisia and Algeria—the former the cradle of the Arab uprisings and the latter supposedly unaffected by them—each saw more than 10,000 protests in 2016 alone. Laryssa Chomiak and Lana Salman interview Wassim Sghayr and Hamza Abidi, two key organizers of Maneeh M’sameh, the Tunisian campaign against proposals to pardon the “economic crimes” of old regime insiders. Robert Parks examines the phenomenon of protesta, small, local demonstrations making specific demands upon the Algerian pouvoir.
Stacey Philbrick Yadav talks with Yemeni-American organizer Rabyaah al-Thaibani about citizen struggles in Yemen and their corollaries in the United States, such as the Yemeni bodega strike against the Trump administration’s attempted “Muslim ban.” Alice Wilson measures the disruptive effects of Consultative Council elections in southern Oman.
Nazlı Özkan looks at the efforts of Alevis to achieve visibility for the second largest faith community in Turkey. Jeannie Sowers speaks with Dilsa Deniz, one of the many Academics for Peace purged from universities in Turkey after the failed coup of July 2016.
In North America, much activist energy is channeled into the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel’s violations of international law in its treatment of the Palestinians. Omar Sirri argues that cross-cutting solidarities offer a critical way forward for campus BDS proponents who also seek to combat structural racism and the economic uncertainty of precarious academic employment.
Subscribe to Middle East Report or order individual copies here.
Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles, and the implications of US and international policy for the region.