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This event is sponsored by the British Society for Middle East Studies (BRISMES) and the British Academy (BA) as part of an effort to re-set the agenda on thinking/discourse surrounding the Middle East.

Domination, Expression and Liberation in the Middle East

Workshop Report

Introduction - Frederic Volpi (St. Andrews University)

This event is sponsored by the British Society for Middle East Studies (BRISMES) and the British Academy (BA) as part of an effort to re-set the agenda on thinking/discourse surrounding the Middle East. This workshop illustrates the activities of a new network of researchers established with the support by BRISMES and BA and investigating the theme: 'domination, expression and liberation in the Middle East in the framework of globalization'. This network workshop is the first in a series of events designed to reflect on and plan ahead how new research directions in the field of Middle East studies in the UK could develop in over the next few years. In particular, this workshop and its accompanying network of researchers address the political dimensions of the discourse on the Middle East and investigate to how globalization is affecting identity, dominance and resistance in the region. Based on their diverse research expertise the network participants are well position to begin to provide the building blocks needed to begin to answer these issues meaningfully and propose a further agenda for investigating issues that are currently being neglected. The aim of the workshop, then, is to outline some of the main elements of global and regional politics which might become foci of collective reflection on the future of both the region itself, and thus of the field in the UK and beyond.

Peter Mandaville (George Mason University)

Globalization and Political Islam: Beyond the 'Post-Islamism' Thesis
Peter Mandaville called for the construction of an agenda for research that could achieve the 'escape velocity' needed to break away from the current focus of Middle East studies on security, terrorism, and Islam's relation to democracy. This current focus is grounded in a normative framework that Mandaville argues ignores the evocative trends present in Political Islam's ongoing generational shift. This shift, according to Mandaville, is occurring in political parties throughout the Muslim world that are breaking with the standard Muslim Brotherhood platform and moving beyond traditional communal boundaries. He captures this phenomenon with the term 'post-Islamism.' Arguing in favour of a conception of post-Islamism that incorporates social movement and political theory, Mandaville called for the normalization of political Islam analysis that avoids a heavily normative framework and situates these movements as part of a larger anti-hegemonic discourse.

Emma Murphy (Durham University)

Spectacle and the Public Sphere: Theorising ICTS in the Middle East
Emma Murphy began her investigation of information and communication technologies' (ICTs) impact on the public sphere in the Middle East with an assessment of the heterogeneous nature of the concept as it is currently used in studies of the region. Looking back to Habermas' conceptualization of the public sphere, she attempted to re-examine her earlier findings regarding the ability of the state and its allies to maintain significant control over the public sphere in the Middle East. Within this discussion, Murphy acknowledges that there are two camps: those like Anderson and Lynch who argue in favour of the idea that a public sphere exists in the Middle East which is aided by new technologies in allowing a broader public opinion to be formed, and those that are more sceptical of the impact of ICTs on a regional level given the heavily heterogeneous connectivity between states like Yemen and UAE and the lack of institutions needed to translate this sphere into organized, communicative action. Others such as, Fraser, have argued that there are also subaltern public spheres now answering back at the more managed, elitist sphere. In her work, Murphy looks at the critical nature of the Middle East new media in creating an image of the Arab public sphere, and how far the local media are mimicking Western programming. The focus of her inquiry becomes: is this development in/of the public sphere enough to translate into action?

Simon Lovett (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The impact of visa regimes on mobility and identity
Simon Lovett addressed the issue of the new visa regime emerging in the UK that moves away from the classical formula that identifies risk factors based on nationality and is primarily concerned with illegal working. This new system has new risks, which will require representatives abroad to make quasi-judicial decisions based on an estimation of future action but will also seek to lower the inconsistent and unfair decisions that have plagued certain nationalities under the old system (e.g. Iraqi nationals). Although he recognizes that visa regimes are not particularly effective at anti-terrorism action, due to recent political crises they are being called on to be more effective at addressing issues of general criminality. Also important in this shift are issues of economic challenges ranging from the need to recruit certain industrial skills to expectations from the government of visa revenues to support law enforcement toward illegal working. New visa regimes will wrestle with new technological solutions/security measures and efforts to create a more integrationist agenda, as information will increasingly be shared between states. The question for the government is how to get control without being overly oppressive?

Andrea Teti (Aberdeen University)

Confessions of a dangerous paradigm: democratisation and the politics of care
Andrea Teti used Foucault's analysis of the relationship between Confessor and Sinner as a prism through which to understand the power relations within Orientalist discourse and the way these relations enabled discipline to be exercised upon the 'Oriental Other'. Just as in confession, the sinning subject (Arabo-Islamic alterity) must make recourse to a truth produced by and for the Western Self (in itself a mythologised reading of its own virtue) but can only gain temporary retrieve before again having to consult the 'confessor' - and thus accept its authority. This argument can be extended from classical Orientalism to the 'Democratisation Paradigm', and this parallel was used to make sense of how Islamist groups from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas or Hezbollah were being systematically excluded from pluralist politics, and how discipline was targeted at them in order to continue their marginalisation from 'normal' politics. In this paper, like in Emma Murphy's, the difference between representation and reality is a causal cornerstone of a series of political practices - in trade and aid as much as with regard to democratisation - and the use of a number of Foucaultian tools from the conventional (e.g. 'discourse') to the less common (governmentality, discipline, exception and spectacle) helps make sense of concrete political dynamics 'on the ground'.

Ray Hinnebusch (St Andrews University)

Globalization and Empire: implications of the Iraq war
Ray Hinnebusch's presentation outlined the debates over the causes and impact of the US' second engagement in Iraq, and presented a sophisticated analysis which relied upon a number of theoretical sources, both 'mainstream' and 'critical'. In approaching his topic, Hinnebusch drew as much on Structural Realism (IR) as much as Marxian political economy, as much on Hardt and Negri as on Liberal traditions, showing the way in which they themselves and their interplay could generate interesting hypotheses concerning both the problem immediately at hand - the causes and outcome of the 2003 Iraq war - and its implications in terms of forms and configurations of global order. The variety of sources used in this wide-ranging analysis of the Iraq war and its geopolitical significance challenged the notion that Middle Eastern scholarship is ineluctably bound to the boundaries of either 'disciplines' or 'schools of thought', and outlines the kind of scholarly interconnectivity which is most likely to afford the field advances - both in the UK and beyond.

Tim Jacoby (Manchester University)

The Turkish State's Response to Resistance
Tim Jacoby presentation focused on a historical sociology approach derived from Mann applied to Turkey's governmental strategies in the context of the apparent growth of democratic governance in the country and the region. Highlighting a significant disparity between the techniques the regime - and particularly the military - deploys for political control in the Turkish 'heartlands' and in the Kurdish areas, he raised the issue of how to conceptualise this 'selectivity' in techniques for managing power. Here again, the theme of the politics of the spectacular - and of the exceptional - do play a role. While the politics of 'normal' democratic control and nationalism apply to 'Turkish' areas, the 'Kurdish Question' requires exceptional methods of control and 'rules' of political life. The ability to differentiate and (thus) divide is clearly a kind of technique used by several regimes, in the region and beyond it, and this method of analysis can be usefully deployed to analyse democratic transformation in other states.

Fiona McCallum (St Andrews University)

Religious Diaspora and Communications Technology: A Fresh Challenge to Communal Harmony in Egypt
Fiona McCallum's paper explored the tensions between diasporic and national-based Egyptian Coptic communities, focusing on the way in which the politics of intra-community relations, Coptic relations with the Egyptian state, and diasporic communities with their states of settlement (particularly the US and Canada) all affect each other, and how ICTs have impacted on those relations. Internet-based technology in particular gives greater voice to diasporic communities due to better access. This situation increased the diasporas' ability to escape the Coptic Church's corporatist duopoly over Coptic politics. Now independent civil society groups engage in political debates alongside the national-based community and question the role played by the Egyptian state. This greater voice, and its greater impact on Western centres of power, affects intra- and intercommunity relations in Egypt, though not necessarily positively as their unbridled advocacy sometimes contribute to raising the tensions between Muslims and Christian and the State and the Church.

Anthony Gorman (Edinburgh University)

Globalising the Prison: the Middle Eastern case
Anthony Gorman presented a case study of the way in which 'norm transfer' operated during the 19th and 20th centuries between the European and Ottoman worlds with regard to the founding principles and practical organisation and operation of the prison system. Here, all the ambiguities of 'norm transfer' and of the 'inscription' of European 'modernity' into its Ottoman counterpart became apparent, as contemporaries had themselves noticed. Providing a counterpoint to Mitchell's analysis of the impact of European modernity on Egypt, this work alerts us to the subtleties and complexities of reciprocal politico-cultural influences, particularly across the Mediterranean. Such historical perspectives are required in approaching contemporary questions of 'norm migration' - particularly with regard to the 'reverse norm migration' one might see operating from the southern to the northern shores of the Mediterranean after 9/11 with regard to policing and intelligence work, but also newly 'securitised' issues such as asylum, immigration, and the politics of 'democratic transitions' in the MENA region.

Roundtable discussion

The participants first debated the notion that the 'West' is politically and academically proposing a hegemonic discourse in its approach to the Islamic world, with as a result the presentation of political Islam as a relatively homogenous entity. Instead the contributors recognised that political Islam is usually based on different premises that are often seeking to play a counter-hegemonic role. Thus, there need to be more analyses that include recognition for the role that an overwhelming state has on the migration of a religious inspired movement to colonize new places outside of the traditional political sphere. In addition, this line of inquiry should be revised by looking at the interplay between groups seeking to construct/re-construct these spaces, and the methods they utilise. In the field of media studies, the diversity of this movement could be easily witnessed in the fact that local actors can easily change their TV viewing preferences from Islamic programming to Western life-style management.
The participants then debated the issue of whether power is missing from our analysis of the visa regime and the role that the punitive nature of the regime contributes to undermining security. There was recognition that visa regimes are used for a variety of different purposes globally and the issue of reciprocity is increasingly being integrated. However, the system remains highly punitive as a response to the political desire to maintain control.
The debate then turned to a discussion of who is doing the disciplining of individuals and communities, and how does it get done. The participants considered the idea that post-Islamist parties might actually be 'learning' how best to represent the interests of their constituents rather than be 'disciplined'. It was queried how much of the disciplining has come from below and the extent to which these technologies affected outcomes by presenting alternative views (i.e. the al-Jazeera effect). It was recognized that the there is still very little content on the internet in Arabic, having just recently achieved top-10 status for the most used languages on the net. This inevitably brings up the question of whether the new media deserve the sort of attention we give it or whether it is instead more spectacle than reality. It was proposed that although this phenomenon does not seem to affect foreign policy in the short-term, in the long-term it seeps away the legitimacy of Arab regimes and makes democratization impossible.
In regards to discipline, we also address the issue of discipline from the perspective of whether fossils of civil society are being crushed from above or simply disappearing due to lacking a constituency. It was argued that there is actually a combination of learning and disciplining taking place in Islamist movements as Muslim politics is an extremely vibrant arena. In addition it was stressed discipline in the Foucauldian sense works better when it is not coercive.

Concluding remarks

This workshop was notable for the complementarity of a number of concerns, which go from more or less conventional International Relations theory and Comparative Politics, to Historical Sociology and World Systems Theory, to more 'critical' scholarship influenced by political philosophy. This synergy was facilitated by a focus on a series of concrete problems to be analysed. The workshop helped to stimulate debates about both the possible ways in which scholarship about the MENA might be theoretically and empirically enriched, and about the kinds of empirical issues which are likely to prove central to both politics and scholarship in the near future.
The workshop highlighted a series of empirical phenomena within the region but very much embedded in wider global dynamics, and suggested not only various intellectual perspectives from which these issues might be approached, but also how those approaches might be linked with each other. One central theme was certainly the relationship between trends on a material level - e.g. economic, military/security, communications - and their counterparts at an 'ideational' or 'discursive' level. The other key issue was the relation between the modes and sites of collective political participation, and the techniques of political control a series of agents - from regimes to global actors, to capital itself - deploy to channel such participation.

Agenda for the future

Key research topic for Middle East Studies in the framework of globalisation:

  • Systematic analysis of the interaction between technological access to global views and the political management of social normativity at the local level.
  • Explore and test the application of general theoretical frameworks that resist 'exceptionalist' approaches to Middle East Studies and situate political and social developments in the region within wider global trends.
  • Identification of the specific roles played by regimes, enterprises and global communication actors (both hierarchical (tv) and non hierarchical (internet))
  • Analysis of the management by authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes and their international backers of the increasingly weak public legitimacy of the ruling elites and its implications for foreign policy
  • Developing a sound methodological approach to investigate the construction of 'civility' in domestic and international affairs, from the perspective of the general public, the state, and the Islamic movements.