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Legacies of Revolution and Counterrevolution

Panel VII-27, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This paper analyzes the role of gender in recent Iranian mobilizations compared with events in Tunisia a decade earlier. In both Tunisia and Iran, the tragic death of a young person from a provincial region focused and enlarged widespread public frustration and anger over existing political, economic, and social conditions. In both cases, the gender of the protagonists played a role in triggering popular response. The very ordinariness of these young people, from areas on the margin usually ignored by the central government, helped make them iconic figures of popular identification, and sparked national movements that challenged the stability of the existing state. But the underlying gender politics of the two cases are almost mirror opposites. What difference do social conceptions of gender roles make in grassroots efforts to challenge an authoritarian state? How do popular protests position themselves in opposition to the (gender) ideologies of the state, and how does that shift possibilities of democratization? I explore these questions through an analysis of different popular conceptions of gendered citizenship, and the effects these different conceptions can have in shaping grassroots movements for political change. In Tunisia in December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old male street vendor in the provincial city of Sidi Bouzid, committed suicide by immolating himself in front of the town hall after he had been repeatedly accosted by a woman police officer. Tunisia since independence had been a formally secular state with a reputation as a regionally progressive promoter of women’s rights. Yet Bouazizi’s public humiliation was as much to his gender identity and general aspirations as a man as to his expectations as a citizen. His death sparked uprisings that brought down the Tunisian state and swept across the region, but the political after-effects have disappointed popular hopes. In September 2022, protests erupted across Iran after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old Kurdish-Iranian woman. Visiting Tehran with her brother, Amini was arrested by for improper hijab, although she was wearing clothing most Iranians would consider quite modest. Iran since the revolution has been an explicitly theocratic state with formal limits on women’s legal equality. Yet Amini’s arrest and death coalesced Iranian public understandings of (women’s) rights to participatory citizenship around the common slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.” These examples focus a comparative examination of the effect gendered conceptions of citizenship have on struggles for sustained democratization under authoritarianism.
  • Starting in 1955 and persisting until the end of the decade, rural Morocco experienced a series of uprisings, even as colonial administration ended in 1956. This paper examines why uprisings in the Rif and Central Atlas Mountains occurred in the few years following independence, and additionally evaluates the application of theories regarding state formation and the center-periphery model to understanding the movement’s motivations. I argue that the uprisings challenged the state’s projection of authority in the Middle Atlas and Rif Mountains rather than the legitimacy of the state’s authority to govern there. Stein Rokkan’s writings on the center-periphery model inform the paper’s approach to peripheralization. The paper additionally uses the theory on peasant and highland uprisings developed by James C. Scott, though it argues that Scott’s theory of state evasion inadequately explains the outbreak of insurrections in rural areas following independence. Archived news stories from Le Monde and the New York Times from between 1956 and 1959 track the progression and evolution of the movements until their end. Diplomatic records and the writings of foreign observers provide detailed accounts of Moroccan politics and the military actions which shaped the movement’s trajectory and outcome. Writings produced by Moroccans during and after the uprisings, in addition to interviews collected by Tarik El Idrissi in his documentary Rif 58-59: Briser le Silence, reveal the perspective of the communities in which members participated in the uprisings. David M. Hart’s ethnography, The Aith Waryaghar of the Moroccan Rif, proved an invaluable resource for providing additional local perspectives. The paper discusses two conflicting perspectives on tensions in the Rif, one privileged political tensions, and one systematic peripheralization. I find that an amalgamation of the two perspectives is required to better understand the events between 1957 and 1959: both political tensions between royalists and Istiqlal party proponents, and increasing peripheralization of the Rif following independence, created the set of conditions that led to the uprisings. This paper contributes a nuanced approach to social movements and state avoidance in the immediate aftermath of independence and details the fraught position in which some in the periphery found themselves during this period.
  • Over ten years removed from the Arab Spring, and questions regarding political expression, representation and justice are as prominent as ever in the Middle East. The political concept of democracy, in particular, remains a contentious one—both for scholars who critique democracy as an imperial import, as well as Western policymakers and political scientists who uncritically prescribe it. Based in the disciplines of anthropology, political science and history, this paper neither celebrates nor censures democracy. Instead, this paper engages with Talal Asad’s distinction (2011) between democracy as an ethos and democracy as a state system. Specifically, this paper examines political discourse at a provincial Egyptian civil society club across three distinct periods: 1) the decade before the 2011 uprising, 2) the 2011-2013 revolutionary period, and 3) after the 2013 counterrevolution. Through an analysis of local archive materials, I will first survey how the civil society club’s administrators managed political discourse under Hosni Mubarak’s police state. Next, I employ ethnographic data gathered through participant observation and semi-structured interviews to illuminate how the club transformed during the relative freedom and democracy of the revolutionary period. The final post-2013 section of the paper uses ethnographic data to provide a glimpse into Egyptians’ everyday lives under a corrupt, violent, and authoritarian military state. The overarching premise in this paper is that scholars must historicize in order to decipher the manner in which any one concept (in this case, democracy) interacts with and within a state system. My primary argument is that democratic sensibilities as an ethos increased amidst the rise of democracy as a state system at a certain place and time: Egypt between 2011 and 2013. My corresponding thesis is that, after the 2013 coup d’état, democracy as an ethos and democracy as a state system died a simultaneous death. Thus it was not democracy as a state system that undermined democratic sensibilities as an ethos, as Asad wonders, but authoritarianism and empire. This conclusion, in turn, raises new questions about repression, representation, and justice in the Middle East.
  • In this article, I analyze how authority is represented in visual culture, how it is interpreted by the targeted audience, and what is the effect of national cultures on the way it is represented and interpreted. I aim to explore how political leaders in the Middle East used visuals to impose disciplinary power and control their people’s minds; furthermore, I aim to probe the role of national culture in impacting how authority is represented. Drawing upon Foucault’s premises that human subjects and social practices are products of historically created discourses where national culture plays a powerful role in building the coding system. I use Foucault's analytical framework of genealogy from a historical perspective, treating each visual work I discuss as a visual discourse. The primary goal of my research is to understand the rationale behind the deployment of symbols of power and their interpretation by individuals in accordance with their national cultures. The focus of this paper is to explore three related questions: How do political leaders represent authority in the Middle East? How does national culture affect the construction and visual representation of leadership figures? What is the effect of national culture on 'viewers' perceptions and interpretations of visual representations of authority? This paper expands the scope of the inquiry by looking at the use of visual culture and art in representing authoritarian figures in certain countries of the Middle East region. Thus, after discussing the key concepts of culture, visual art, authority, power, and discourse, the paper's core is an analysis of three visual works for authoritarians who successfully controlled their countries and represented a range of national cultures. To this end, it will call on visual culture studies, power of gaze, and national culture to highlight how visual representative messages are used to create a powerful instrument to control human minds and to build docile bodies in the Middle East region. Keywords: Authority, images, visual culture, power, gaze, national culture, The Middle East.