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The Journal for politics, economics, and culture of the Middle East published by the German Orient-Institute

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01/01/21

Traditional media, digital platforms and social protests in post-Arab Spring Morocco

The Arab Spring protests in Morocco, which started on 20 February 2011, have left a significant impact on political configurations and practices as well as on political culture and civil society activism. Moroccan citizens have taken to the streets and squares and to the virtual spaces more often in the last ten years than ever before. This paper discusses the role that offline and online media played in different social protest events. It demonstrates how online media managed to create a public space for free political expression, which led to a series of mass protests, and how the state has clamped down on Internet freedom through the use of a variety of repressive mechanisms. The Moroccan experience proves that the role of digital media is ponderable rather than deterministic in promoting social activism.

Abdelmalek El Kadoussi is Assistant Professor of Media and Communication at Ibn Toufail University, Kenitra, Morocco. Over the last 15 years, he has conducted research on different layers of media scholarship, including but not confined to media and democratisation, media political economy and others. He has presented papers in national and international congresses and published in national and international journals.

Bouziane Zaid is Associate Professor of Global Communication at the University of Sharjah, UAE. His research interests are in the areas of media technologies, media law and policy, media advocacy and strategic communication. He has presented his research in more than 20 countries in North and South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Dr. Zaid has authored and co-authored two books and numerous journal articles, country reports and book chapters. He has served as a consultant for UNESCO, Open Society Foundation, Freedom House and other international organisations.

Mohammed Ibahrine is Associate Professor for Marketing Communications at the American University of Sharjah, UAE. His research interests cover technology and marketing, design thinking, entrepreneurship, innovation and the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.

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01/01/21

Civil society, social mobilisation and the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring uprisings drew attention once more to the potential role that civil society might play in promoting political change in the Middle East and North Africa. This article will critically appraise the relationship between civil society and the state in the region from the end of the Cold War to the aftermath of the Arab Spring. In doing so, it will assess the implications of recent events for our understanding of the ways in which civil society functions in the MENA region.

Vincent Durac is Associate Professor in Middle East Politics at University College Dublin, Ireland. He is co-author of Politics and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave) and of Civil Society and Democratization in the Arab World (Routledge).

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01/01/21

Civil society as revolutionary diplomats?: Foreign policy after the Arab Spring

This article examines civil society’s evolving role in the development of foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, a near-decade after the Arab Spring. By focusing on four sets of civil society actors: youth, women’s, labour and human rights groups, I argue that civil society initially flourished in its ability to impact foreign policy after 2011. However, this initial optimism faded in 2013 as organisations grappled with increasing authoritarian backlash.

Kirstie Lynn Dobbs is a full-time lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Policy at Merrimack College in North Andover, United States. Her research focuses on political behaviour in transitioning and established democracies, with a particular emphasis on elections, public opinion and youth in the Middle East and North Africa.

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01/01/21

Lessons from political transitions in the Arab world: A citizens’ perspective

While the paradigm of authoritarian resilience dominated the literature on the Arab world during the 2000s, the Arab uprisings saw the resurgence of the democratisation literature to explain political developments in the region. Building on the theoretical assumptions of the democratisation paradigm, several studies appeared attempting to explain why some political transitions to democracy were successful and why others instead failed. When it became clear that many Arab regimes simply would not fall, the paradigm of authoritarian resilience was revived. The empirical reality escapes both paradigms though, and ten years after the beginning of the uprisings the main trends in Arab politics cannot be captured easily within the parameters of either paradigm. The article discusses what these trends are, who the main actors are and how they relate to both paradigms.

Francesco Cavatorta is a Professor at the Department of Political Science of the Université Laval. His research interests include political transformations, Salafism and the moderation of Islamist parties in the Middle East and North Africa.

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01/01/21

Tunisian youth: Demands for dignity in the context of challenging socio-political and economic upheaval

Tunisian youths form a significant constituent of the Tunisian society. They represent Tunisia’s ultimate chance for progress. However, ten years after the revolution, the Tunisian youth have been pushed even further into the margins of society and towards idleness, catalysing a culture of resentment and apathy. Political infighting and corruption have undermined the youth’s role as the torchbearers of progress. This article analyses the Tunisian youth constituency and reflects on the Arab Spring’s impact on youths in the context of political and socio-cultural change.

Zouhir Gabsi is a senior lecturer in Arabic and Islamic studies. He has wide research interests in youth studies, Islamophobia, post-Arab Spring Tunisia, and language and Discourse.

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01/01/21

Tunisia is a beacon of hope, but things can still go terribly wrong

Even before Tunisia kick-started the 2011 uprisings across the Arab world and emerged as the only state in which they led to lasting positive change, the North African republic was considered a bit of an Arab exception. It went further in embracing liberal and secular values and had a well-educated middle class, a strong civil society, a comparably moderate Islamist party as well as a military that remained fairly absent from domestic politics. This article takes stock of how these factors helped to set the country on a trajectory different from that of many of its neighbours. At the same time, it warns that the Tunisian transition is far from secured. The post-2011 political system has so far failed to meet the high expectations that it had raised within the population and the political forces that would like to return to the old ways are on the rise. Tunisia might need – and it certainly deserves – more external support to overcome its domestic socio-economic challenges. Europe in particular should make a more substantial effort. Doing so is in its own interest: less than 70 kilometres separate Italy from Tunisia. Should the transition fail, Tunisia’s problems could quickly become Europe’s problems.

Ragnar Weilandt is a postdoc at KU Leuven and an adjunct professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. His research focusses on EU democracy promotion in the Arab world, with a special focus on the EU’s support for and interaction with Arab civil society. More generally, he is studying and teaching EU external action, Euro-Mediterranean relations as well as the politics and international relations of West Asia and North Africa.

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01/10/20

Explaining rebel behaviour during the Syrian Civil War

The civil war in Syria rages on and the lessons we can draw from this conflict remain as relevant as ever. This paper outlines the research conducted in Kapstein & Ribar’s 2019 article on the dynamics of inter-rebel conflict in Syria, noting how the conclusions drawn from this research still apply to the currently unfolding war. By examining the conflict through the lens of industrial organisation and by leveraging granular data on conflict events, the authors show how factors like ideology and local dependence influence the ways in which rebel groups interact and where they choose to target their violence.

David Ribar is a PhD Candidate at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. His research focuses on America’s foreign policy, political psychology, and their intersection.

Ethan B. Kapstein is a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State and Associate Director of the Empirical Studies of Conflict project at Princeton University.

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01/10/20

How did the Syrian uprising become militarised?

Many researchers treat violent and non-violent resistance as two strategies that groups choose between based on rational calculation of their perceived success. However, Syrian activists did not experience the turn from non-violent to violent resistance as a rational choice, or even a choice at all. Based on interviews with activists and citizen journalists, this article shows how emotional mechanisms of revenge and fear caused by the crackdown by the regime drew activists and non-activists to take up arms. Motivational and emotional factors alone cannot account for the militarisation of the uprising. Drawing comparisons to the uprisings in Bahrain and Tunisia, where protests did not become militarised despite regime repression, the article shows how the availability of weapons and the involvement of groups with experience in military action not only enabled but also to a large extent promoted the militarisation of the uprising. Taking its point of departure in these findings, the article reflects upon the potential policy implications for how to prevent militarisation in other uprisings.

Isabel Bramsen is Associate Senior Lecturer at Lund University, Department of Political Science and postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC), University of Copenhagen. She is the co-author of International Konfliktløsning (Samfundslitteratur 2016) and co-editor of the anthology Addressing International Conflict: Dynamics of Escalation, Continuation and Transformation (Routledge 2019).

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01/10/20

Reconstruction-induced land and property restitution in post-war Syria: The problem with sanctions

Western sanctions on reconstruction in Syria present an obstacle to the return of forcibly dislocated populations and the restitution of their housing, land and property. With little chance of affecting political concessions, sanctions do however have significant repercussions on restitution by amplifying opportunities for expropriation, unrest and a continuation of the regional and European refugee crises. This article examines new how specific forms of reconstruction can induce restitution, and argues that Western sanctions need realignment toward a realistic form of recovery.
John D. Unruh is a professor in the Department of Geography at McGill University in Montreal. He has over 25 years experience in developing and implementing research, policy and practice on war-affected land and property rights in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and has published widely on these topics. His specialty is housing, land and property (HLP) restitution claims in war-affected scenarios. Most recently he has assisted the UN in Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
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01/10/20

Waiting for blowback: The Kurdish question and Turkey’s new regional militarism

Recent Turkish interventions in parts of Syria, Iraq and Turkey itself look like pushing various Kurdish armed forces and political groupings towards ‘defeat’ via a concerted regional strategy that combines battlefield action with repression and co-optation. But the ‘anti-terrorist’ frame and tactics that Ankara uses in a bid to solve its Kurdish problem feature many sticks and no compromises to improve Kurdish collective minority rights. It is likely that this approach will inhibit peaceful resistance and fail to reduce support for armed groups like the PKK and PYD despite their own authoritarian practices. Moreover, Turkey’s new regional militarism risks escalating conflict across the Middle East because of the complex international and transnational contexts in which Ankara’s interventions take place.

Erwin van Veen is a senior research fellow at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit, where he leads a team that analyses the political economy of conflict in the Middle East. His own work examines the political use of armed groups in processes of state development and geopolitical conflict.

Engin Yüksel is a research associate at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit who focuses on Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Leiden where he researches Russia’s historical and contemporary approaches to warfare.

Haşim Tekineş was a junior researcher at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit and is also a student at the University of Leiden.

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01/10/20

The myth of return

The Syrian conflict is far from over and the return of Syrian refugees is not indicative of mass influx into the country. Syrian refugees and their return have been instrumentalised and used as a political card and refugees should not be forced to return, as this would lead to further displacement and turmoil. Effective and consistent policies based on human rights, justice and accountability must be the driving factors for return. Both the return and reconstruction process in Syria must always be linked to genuine political resettlement in the country.

Kholoud Mansour is a MENA Senior Analyst at iMMAP and affiliated researcher with the Center of Middle of Eastern Studies CMES at Lund University.
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01/07/20

Power consolidation through turmoil: COVID-19 in the GCC

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted political relations around the world; however, none have been felt as abruptly as within the Gulf Cooperation Council States. As a result of the sudden of threat materialisation, there has been a surge in the manipulation of technological and social applications in a bid to increase the state’s control over society. This has been legitimised by the pandemic but has its roots in the survival of the state.

Matthew Hedges is undertaking a PhD at Durham University in the School of Government and International Affairs. He is researching strategies of authoritarian resilience with a focus on the GCC states. Matthew has a special interest in Middle Eastern politics and security studies, with a focus on weak and failing states. While finishing his PhD thesis, he is preparing additional research projects examining the evolution of elite composition after regime change across the Arabian Peninsula.

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