Panel 8A

Forces for Change in the Post-Arab Spring Middle East

11.30 – 13.30
Chair: Noha Mellor, University of Bedfordshire

Digital Resistance, Resource Scarcity and Refugees:  Will the Kingships Crumble?

Deborah Wheeler, American Public University and United States Naval Academy

I have been an observer of digital media diffusion, use and impact in the MENA region since the mid-1990’s when the first public connections to the Internet were emerging in the region.  By grounding my analyses of digital acts in ethnographies of everyday life, I have created a concept called “working around the state” to describe the rise of new, digitally enabled civic cultures throughout the region.  The puzzle of why kingships including those in the Arabian Gulf, Jordan and Morocco, have survived, even in the face of increasingly activist publics, remains an important post-Arab Spring line of inquiry.  This paper asks the question, “Will the Kingships Crumble?”  Inspired by Christopher Davidson’s 2015 book After the Sheikhs, I use recently collected ethnographic evidence from Kuwait (2014) and Jordan (2016) to examine increasingly unstable relationships between state and society in these two monarchies.  The decline in oil prices (Kuwait) the rise of the Syrian refugee crisis (Jordan), and the threat of ISIS based terrorism (Kuwait and Jordan) have placed enormous strain on both regimes.  Will they survive?  If so, how?  What is the best course of action for Middle Eastern monarchs who are increasingly resource periled, facing mobilized angry publics, with increasingly overt threats from radical Islamist movements?  What can we learn about governance and consent (or lack thereof) in these two increasingly fragile countries? My argument is that government coercion and authoritarianism in Jordan and Kuwait indicate increasingly fragile polities.

Voice of the Brotherhood

Noha Mellor, University of Bedfordshire

Despite the burgeoning literature about the Muslim Brotherhood movement, knowledge about the movement is still rather limited. There is little information available regarding its recruitment and socialization methods, the extent of its funding, and its leaders’ methods for limiting dissent, but more importantly, in my view, there is rather little known about its most strategic tool – media and communication. This paper draws on an extensive study into the communication strategy of the group, focusing on published periodicals, biographies, and websites that represent the voice of the Brotherhood. In this study, I argue that rhetoric and discourse are integral elements in the process of sustaining the image of the Brotherhood as a legitimate society, communicated via the Brotherhood’s media – whether print, broadcasting or digital. Through analyzing the Brotherhood media, an exploration can be made on how this movement not only appropriates but also negotiates its interpretation of past and current events, and the way its members create shared meanings, which binds them as an “interpretive community” or a community that shares its own conventions of creating and conveying its own identity, including shared understanding of its history, mission and role in society.

Refugees, Hijrah, and the Syria Crisis

Brannon Wheeler, American Public University and United States Naval Academy

Why are Countries Rarely Hospitable to Muslim Refugees? Moreover, Why do Those States Whose Political Legitimacy is Based on Claims to Islamic Principles Seem to be the Least Hospitable to Muslim Refugees? In the past few years the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq has reached unprecedented proportions with more than 13 million people displaced. The refugees produced by this conflict have in part been absorbed by neighboring countries. To date, however, GCC states have officially settled less than 100 refugees from this crisis although it is these same states who are most heavily invested militarily in the conflict that is producing these refugees. Given the integral role played by migration and the protection of refugees in Islamic tradition, it is remarkable that the GCC states do not even officially recognize the 1951 United Nations refugee conventions.  This study examines the competing definitions of migration and the status of Muslim refugees caused by the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq. It asks whether or not there is an Islamic solution to the refugee crisis; and if a solution can be found in the principles and practice of maqasid al-shariah, especially given states whose political legitimacy is based on claims to Islamic principles?

The Media Elite: Agent of Change or Conformity? An Egyptian Case Study

Fatima Issawi, London School of Economics

The post Arab uprisings era witnessed a wider plurality in national media content, allowing more diverse sectors of society to be represented, including political opponents who used to be denied access from national media platforms. But this unprecedented diversity in media content then became polarised, owing to the intense struggle over the identity of new regimes and fierce competitions between new and old elites. This polarisation was fuelled by an antagonistic media which emphasised divisive debates, a discourse promoting the exclusion of the ‘other’, and a return to coercive practices. This paper looks at the role played by media elites (editors and talk show hosts) in framing transitions to democracy, taking Egypt as a case study. The paper will use semi structured interviews with a sample of journalists and media stakeholders as well as a monitoring of media coverage on the media elite and their connections to spheres of power. I argue that the excessive parallelism between political elites, business elites and media editors/media stars contributed to the promotion of a media discourse which presented the democratic experiment as a danger threatening the identity of the state and its future. The competition between two forms of agency in newsrooms, in favor of conformity with the dominant political discourse and in support of change and resistance to autocracy, demonstrates complex shifts and struggles within the journalistic community, as agent of conformity or change.