Panel 7B

Theories and Practices of Political Movements and State Formation in Egypt and the Middle East

9.00 – 11.00
Chair: Shima Shahbazi, The University of Sydney

Feminism and Social Change in Contemporary Egypt

Lucia Sorbera, The University of Sydney

The debate on social change is traditionally linked to cultural disputes about women and gender, and revolutionary processes have been historically connoted by women’s participation in the struggle. Yet, as observed by feminist scholars, post-revolutionary regimes have never acknowledged women’s right to equal political participation, and even in the first decades of the twentieth first century, gender gap remains an internationally shared concern. In this paper, I contribute to the panel’s debate on social change in Egypt, through an in depth analysis of feminists’ cultural, social, and political activism since the 25th of January revolution. After decades of State manipulation of the “women’s agenda”, whether exercised by means of co-optation of prominent women in the institutions, or by means of repression of the independent organizations, the 2011 Revolution appeared as a window through which new horizons for feminist political activism could have open. Yet, the processes ongoing over the past six years show that this process of change is not devoid of challenges, and it is opening new questions and debates within the feminist movement itself. Grounding on previous historical research, and on several fieldworks in Egypt, which allowed me to collect and compare multiple narratives of the processes occurring in the past four years, I look at new configurations of feminism in Egypt, and I argue that gender policies reveal broader processes of configuration of the political power.

Marxism or Left-wing Nationalism: The ‘New Left in Egypt’ in the 1970s

Gennaro Gervasio, University Roma Tre

An Arab ‘ New Left’ (al-Yasar al-Jadid) emerged after the Naksa (1967), as a reaction to both the failure of the self-proclaimed revolutionary regimes (al-Azm, 1967) and to the ‘traditional’ Left which had mostly supported them. The trajectory of the ‘New Left’ in Egypt is part of this new Arab radical trend but it is also peculiar since the Egyptian Communist Parties had officially dissolved themselves in 1965 to join Nasser’s (pseudo) revolutionary platform. In this respect, while both Nasser and the ‘official Left’ survived the June Defeat somehow, a new wave of younger and more radical Marxists made its appearance on campuses and, later, in the factories, thus challenging the established ‘revolutionary credentials’ of the regime and of the ‘older comrades’. Based on mostly unpublished archive materials and personal interviews, this paper attemps to shed the light on the theory and political praxis of the Egyptian Radical Left in the 1970s. In particular, I will focus on the ‘extreme left’, embodied by the al-Tanzim al-Shuyu‘i al-Misri (TShM), formed in 1969, which became the Egyptian Communist Workers’ Party (ECWP, Hizb al-‘Ummal al-Shuyu‘i al-Misri) in 1975. Whilst this group attracted many radical intellectuals, helping to spread the ideas of the new radical Third World Left (Vietnam, Cuba, Mao’s China, etc) in Egypt and in the Arab East, this paper argues that both TShM and ECWP remained trapped within a nationalist and pan-arabist discourse, by de facto focussing on the ‘national question’ at the expense of the ‘social question’ (Gervasio, 2010).

Foran’s Third World Revolutions: A Theoretical and Empirical Critique in the Wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian Uprisings

Gianni Del Panta, University of Siena

In his masterpiece – Taking Power: The Origins of Third World Revolutions – John Foran argues that the combination of five inter-related casual factors brings to a successful social revolution. Adopting Skocpol’s definition of revolution – that is, a rapid transformation of a society’s state and class structures – Foran points out that a) dependent development; b) a repressive, exclusionary, personalist state; c) the emergence of political cultures of resistance; d) an economic downturn; and e) a world-systemic opening are necessary and sufficient conditions to the success of a revolution. This article, drawing inspiration from the 2010-2011 Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, proposes a theoretical and empirical critique to Foran’s argument. Indeed, although all five conditions were met both in Tunisia and Egypt, the final outcomes have been all, but social revolutions. The reason lies in Foran’s misspecification of the process. In particular, it seems that the combination of factors proposed by the scholar can bring either to ‘mere’ regime change – that is, the breakdown of an authoritarian regime without pacts – or to social revolution. The latter requires, it is argued throughout the article, three further conditions. That is: a) the disintegration of the state and coercive apparatuses; b) the emergence of a phase of ‘dual power’; and c) the presence of an organized revolutionary party or force that might take advantage of the revolutionary process itself. It was the lack of all these three factors that prevented the unfolding of a social revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, discrediting Foran’s model of Third World revolutions.

Download Paper (Del Panta)

Everyday State Formation in Revolutionary Societies

Sandra Pogodda, University of Manchester

In the contemporary Middle East and North Africa, oppressive and exclusionary state apparatuses have generated large-scale resistance, most prominently in the Arab Uprisings of 2011. Explaining the paths of this resistance in the post-2011 transition processes, however, has been no easy task. Many scholars have critiqued the use of Western concepts (such as civil society or social movements), yet without suggesting convincing alternatives. This paper uses the concept of everyday state formation, defined as grassroots agency aimed at demarcating the political space of the state outside of formal decision-making processes. Applying this concept creates a conceptual link between the revolutionary societies of the Arab region and post-conflict contexts in other parts of the world, where this type of local agency is similarly pervasive. This paper contrasts different institutional and strategic pathways of everyday state formation. Firstly, it explains how the theoretical conceptualisation of this agency diverges from traditional notions of state formation and resistance. Secondly, the paper illustrates different manifestations of everyday state formation and their spatial consequences. Thirdly, this paper discusses the capacity and limitations of this type of agency and argues for an understanding of such political mobilisation as a new variation of state formation dynamics.