Panel 4D

In-between Borders: Practices, Spatialities and Fragmented Politics

9: 00 – 11.00
Chair: Daniel Meier, University of Grenoble

Transnational Norms and Political Fragmentation in the MENA: Free Speech, Nahed Hattar and Jordan

Paul Esber, University of Sydney

Globalisation since its advent has prompted an evolution of states’ political authority as domestic populations became increasingly exposed to the transnational flow of, among other things, ideas and norms across borders. Particularly interesting are the multi-faceted ways in which local norms, and practices have intersected with their prevailing hegemonic counterparts in the international and increasingly transnational realm. Debates regarding freedom of expression, being but one example is the focus of this paper.  Explicitly, the paper is concerned with the manifestation of this intersection in the case of the assassination of Jordanian writer and intellectual Nahed Hattar in September 2016. Hattar was assassinated by a lone gunman in front of the Palace of Justice in Amman as he entered to begin court proceedings for his trial on charges of blasphemy and incitement following his posting of a cartoon on his Facebook page which some in Jordan interpreted as an insult to God. The ensuing public debate in Jordan centred on the interconnected issues of freedom of expression, guaranteed with caveats in the Constitution, the influence of transnational norms on Jordanian society, and the rule of law in the Kingdom. Such is demonstrative of the scepticism held by some Jordanians regarding the capacity of a state court to handle a matter of this nature. This in turn illuminates the precarious nature of domestic political authority wielded by ruling elites who are required to balance the sometimes competing ‘push and pull’ factors from the domestic and international/transnational spheres.

Download Paper (Esber)

Representing Iraq as a Segmented Space in Films

Thomas Richard, University of Auvergne

The aim of this study is to try to understand the way in which the Iraqi territory has been represented in films since 2003. The country has been represented as a fragmented territory, according to James Longley’s documentary title, divided into different spaces, each with its own visual identity. These spaces range from refuge spaces to no man’s land, separated by new boundaries.  Our goal, through the use of both fictional works and documentaries, is to focus on the very representation of these spaces, using films such as Green Zone, The mark of Cain, Standard Operating Procedure, or Occupation, among many others. These international productions are to be confronted with the representation carried by Iraqi cinema, for instance Dawn of the world, or Abbas Fahdel’s Homeland. The Iraq war played a great part in the visual redefinition of conflicts (Pister 2010, Mirzoeff 2012), but beyond this observation, we would like to see how this visual culture has been intertwined with the redefinition of spaces, creating a new map for the representation of Iraq, as a battlefield, and within the minds. Our aim is to study the cinematographic construction of Iraq’s lines of fragmentation, and the way this construction is to be understood in the light of war narratives in the Middle East (Khatib 2006 and 2012), and the Iraqi war experience (Koury 2013).

Exploring ‘In-Betweeness’ in Nicosia’s Buffer Zone: Local Practices of (de)Bordering

Zinovia Foka, Bauhaus University Weimar

Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, was officially divided in 1974 in the aftermath of an eleven-year-long conflict between the island’s Turkish- and Greek-Cypriot communities. As a result, a heavily militarized Buffer Zone has been cutting through its medieval urban core for 43 years. Carved out of its urban fabric and under the control of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, this abandoned and slowly degrading cityscape was impermeable until 2003.  In the aftermath of the conflict, the Buffer Zone acquired the status of a symbol in Cypriot imagination, becoming central to antipodal national master narratives that see their ‘own’ as victim and the ‘other’ as perpetrator. It has come to embody the Cypriot conflict itself, becoming a reference point for identity formation and construction of political subjectivities. Moreover, employed to legitimize opposing political claims it has also become a primary vehicle to sustain the state apparatus and its political elites in power on both sides of the divide. The reinstatement of mobility between the city’s two sectors in 2003 saw an unprecedented surge in local initiatives, as various formal and informal actors gradually stepped forward, often reclaiming space in the Buffer Zone. This paper focuses on their socio-spatial practices, exploring the multiple ways in which they reaffirm or contest past and present narratives of partition, as well as established notions of Nicosia’s Buffer Zone as a border. Based on qualitative field data and archival research, the paper interrogates this space’s ‘in-betweeness’, problematizing the historical relevance of bordering and de-bordering in Nicosia.

The Disputed Territories in the North of Iraq: The Frontiering of In-Between Spaces

Daniel Meier, University of Grenoble

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, an new Iraqi Constitution tended to reshape the post-baathist Iraq. Among the many aspects, it lay the ground for a Kurdish autonomy in recognizing the authority of a Kurdistan regional Government (KRG) over three northern provinces : Dohuk, Erbil and Suleimanyieh. The southern limit of the KRG was defined by reference to the Green Line, the withdrawal line of the former Iraqi Army in 1991. Article 140 of the new Iraqi Constitution set up a decision procedure mechanism that intended to solve the issues of the disputed territories, borderlands located in-between the Green Line and the de-facto advanced lines occupied by the Peshmergas beyond the Green line.  A lack of political will in Erbil as well as in Baghdad to solve the issue of the disputed territories brought a de facto Kurdish rule over numbers of districts that dramatically expand in 2014 following the disband of the Iraqi Army when facing the Islamic State troops. It is particularly true for the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. While the eyes of the world are watching Mosul reconquest, worrying signs are coming from the disputed territories where new lines of divisions between Kurds seem to fragmented these lands. The conceptual tools provided a way of understanding this change of definition: the territories started to be seen as a « buffer zone » between Erbil and Baghdad and ended nowadays as a « frontier zone » where wars can be waged to seize lands in a process defined by Boal (2014) as « frontiering ».

Zahle in the Lebanese war: A Buffer Zone between Syria and the Lebanese Forces (1978-1981)

Julie Tegho, University Saint Joseph- Beirut, Lebanon

This paper examines the strategic geographic position of Zahle in serving the military and political interests of Syria vs the Lebanese Forces (LF) in the Lebanese war turning the town into a buffer zone from 1978 to 1981.  In the summer of 1978 conflict broke in Beirut East between the Syrian army (who entered Lebanon in November 1976 as part of the Arab Deterrence Force) and the LF who opposed the presence of the Syrian army on Lebanese soil, considering it a breach of sovereignty. The abduction of 40 young men in Zahle, in the Bekaa, triggered this first military confrontation between the 2 forces that would last 100 days. In Zahle the atmosphere grew tense between locals and the nearby-stationed Syrian forces in Chtaura as hostages and abductions punctuated daily life. Simultaneously the summer of 1978 coincided with the Israeli intervention into South Lebanon. This new geopolitical reality posed a threat to Syria’s overall ambitions as the South turned into a buffer zone between Israel and Syria. It is in this context that Zahle, strategically located between Beirut and Damascus, became prey to the rival ambitions of the LF vs. the Syrians, bearing different strategic utilities. To the former a control of Zahle equated the confirmation of a National project while for the latter it meant control of the Bekaa, a preamble to a full occupation, and keeping Israel’s ambitions in check and limited to the south. Clashes in December 1980 put an end to these indirect tensions leading to the Zahle war of April-June 1981.