MESA Banner
The Afterlives of the Arab Spring: Exile and Diaspora Mobilization Post-2011

Session XII-16, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Promising as they were, most mobilization in relation to countries of the “Arab Spring” is now unfolding transnationally. Recent literature has started to explore how existent diaspora communities and newly formed exile communities have engaged, and continue to engage, with politics in their homeland, if at all. While diaspora mobilization is hardly a new phenomenon, discussions in both the academy and policy fields are contending with new sets of challenges and conceptualizations facing these newly politicized communities. This panel addresses issues of transnational repression among diasporas and exiles and asks how people decide to repatriate, how experiences and exposure to political violence affects their politicization, and how civic and political skills translate into different diasporas. Other panelists focus on generational fragmentation in mobilization by Coptic Egyptians, the politics of Syrian archive-making in exile, and the politics of expertise among diasporic actors.
  • Scholarship on Egyptian diaspora mobilization towards homeland concerns often ignores ethno-religious minority actors and their claims. Yet minority communities have a stake in both national and minority interests, where, at times, these interests may compete. Even further, the literature on diaspora mobilization has minimally attended to generational divides and their implications for fragmented mobilization. Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork on Coptic-Egyptian advocacy in Washington, DC, I ask how generational divides between older diasporic activists and younger American-born Copts have resulted in fragmented mobilization in the United States. I specifically attend to the discursive battle around framing the role of Islam and Muslims in the homeland in a context where Islamophobia is rampant in the hostland. The lack of coherence around how exactly to define “the cause” not only has consequences for Coptic mobilization and collective memory, but also has implications for coalition building with fractions of the Egyptian diaspora at large.
  • Over a decade ago, Arab youth marched through a number of countries demanding freedom, justice, and equality. Eleven years later, the autocratic regimes have returned in full force and the youth demobilized, exiled, jailed, disappeared, or killed. While much of the literature in the post-Arab Spring period (Brownlee et al., 2015; Cook, 2017; Kandil, 2012; Stacher, 2012) have attempted to explain the unfortunate outcomes of the uprisings, this project looks at the activists themselves and how their political lives were animated by the subsequent waves of violence and repression. In this project, I look at the relationship between victimization by state authorities and political participation. More specifically, I am focused on exploiting this relationship on an individual level highlighting why some people are mobilized by certain types of contact with state authorities, while others are demobilized by it. To that extent, the project tries to argue that repression is not a blanket state, and that people’s experiences of repression vary and that they have implications on their political participation. To that end, I argue that post-victimization mobilization is a factor of perception of the purpose and context of victimization. I posit a two-stage process in which people partake in post-victimization participation. In the first stage, I build on insights by Nugent (2020) that repression in autocracies influence how “actors identify themselves” (Nugent, 2020, p. 15). I argue that this expands beyond only opposition actors to a much wider array of state victims. Social identities and their concomitant discourses are shaped in tandem with the coercive apparatus. The severity of contact with authorities, ranging from everyday intimidations to detainment are not only mediated by the victim’s perception of which of their identities is being victimized, but also created by it. Victims navigate public discourses on some of their identities to internalize their experiences of it. In the second stage, I argue that mobilization is more likely when they perceive a politicized identity is victimized. Instances in which a non-politicized identity is victimized, victims are not as likely to mobilize. That is to say that contact with authorities triggers a process of interpretation of the contact along the lines of social identity. Here, I build on Muldoon’s Social Identity Model of Identity Change (SIMIC) approach (Muldoon et al., 2019). I examine these dynamics through semi-structured interviews with Egyptian and Syrian exiles in Turkey. These will be conducted between July-October 2022.
  • In recent years, a growing number of experts claiming personal and familial ties to the Middle East have joined elite foreign policy think tanks in Washington DC in an effort to shape US policy debates on this complex region, particularly after the 2011 uprisings across the Arab world. Through more than two years of ethnographic research within DC, this study contends that such diasporic experts have come to play a specialized role for US empire. Specifically, I argue that they serve as “multiplicitous diplomats,” who use their connections to the region to navigate and translate the interests of competing political elites, governments, and corporations that seek to influence US policies in Washington through the strategic circulation of ideas, people, and funding to and from the Middle East. Such observations firstly reveal the extent to which the US empire operates in practice as a transnationally-contested site of power. Secondly, this study demonstrates how the “Middle East” operates within and enacts influence over the US, as these diasporic experts bring the voices, anxieties, and power of entities in the region and its many diasporas into elite US policy debates.
  • Post-coup mobilization was characterized, largely, by the student revolutionary wave and activism spread in all Egyptian Universities (2013- 2018). In the years that followed, the leaders of this movement (either immediately or after periods of detainment), moved into exile and started to pursue pathways to continue their activism against the regime. In this paper, I investigate The Second Generation of the Revolution and examine their patterns of mobilization, lobbying, and opposing the Egyptian regime from exile. More specifically, I ask how exile affects the activism of student activism leaders. The paper is based on 25 semi-structured interviews with student activists who are now based in Turkey, Malaysia, Sudan, the UK, Netherland, the US, and Qatar. The paper observes both the effects of experiences of detention, resettlement, as well as an array of host state effects that affect mobilization. This project speaks to established literature on political participation and examines the endurance of the effects of civic skill in exile/diasporas. Further, it has implications for understanding how different host state policies impact resettled persons.
  • This study asks how individuals who leave their country for political reasons make decisions about whether they can return home. Current research on diasporas and transnational repression alleges that states suppress and instill fear in their nationals abroad via embassies, cyber surveillance, and by arresting or detaining individuals who decide to return to their home countries. This research suggests that, in addition to such overt methods, transnational repression may also be less direct, more mundane, and more ambiguous. To further build a theory around informal transnational repression and how political exiles make decisions about the ability to repatriate, this paper utilizes in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Egyptian nationals who left their home state following the 2011 uprising and subsequent political backlash. In doing so, it assesses the many factors and circumstances that individuals take into account when making calculations about whether returning home to a repressive state is possible, and considers how states might shape the actions and politics of their nationals abroad without ever having to directly intervene.