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“Affective Authoritarianisms”: Affect, Emotions and Authoritarian Governance in the Arab World and Turkey

Session II-06, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
The mass protests of 2011 in Egypt and of 2013 in Turkey represented a major challenge to the ruling elites and the authoritarian (Egypt) and illiberal (Turkey) systems of governance which were in place at that time. These shifts have attracted considerable scholarship so far. Political science in particular has focused strongly on the central role of violence and coercion, institutional manipulation, or clientelism in establishing and sustaining authoritarian rule. Affect and emotions, however, are either ignored completely or are treated as “bad affects,” exemplified by artfully manipulative populist leaders immersed in mindlessly cheering crowds. In contrast, this panel looks deeper into affective dynamics in authoritarian settings in order to understand better how they create and sustain such systems of rule. Starting from the assumption that the affective is “the substance of politics” (Stoler 2004: 6), we argue that unpacking the role of affect and emotions in authoritarianism will enhance our understanding of the intricate, contradictory and ever-changing political practices which feed into the creation and stabilization of authoritarian rule. Among others, the contributions show, how dictators invoke love and hate, how they actively engage in othering and thus create and feed into the “affective economies” (Ahmed 2004) of authoritarian rule. The complex relationship between love and hate is at the core of such processes of creating political legitimacy through emotional bonds, affective inclusion and exclusion. All papers build on original empirical material from Egypt and Turkey media, observational data and from interviews with activists while at the same time engaging with the relevant conceptual and empirical literature. The qualitative in-depth-analysis presented here, shows how al-Sisi and Erdogan employ a certain “affective pedagogy” while mapping how they envision the “deserving citizen”, “the honorable citizen” and the lovable nation in contrast to all those who assumingly need to be excluded, and repressed. At the same time, the panel looks into the mobilization of oppositional affects, e.g. in the framework of trials against peace activists. It addresses how gendered positionalities are invoked “from above” and “from below” while feeding into the diverse political affects of the governing and the governed alike.
Political Science
  • A decade after the 25 January Revolution in 2011, the question if the Egyptian revolution failed or was defeated is one that has sparked high interest and controversy. Similarly, scholars have thoroughly discussed the emergence of the even more repressive and violent military regime under President ´Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi. Interestingly, even though no authoritarian leader can rely only on violence, oppression, and a ruling elite backing him, the scholarly debate about affect, emotion and contemporary authoritarianism is quite limited. I argue that the Egyptian regime needs legitimacy and this is not obtained easily – even less so if one considers the uprisings of 2011 as a crisis of political legitimacy itself. In this paper, I analyse how al-Sisi deals with the legacy of the revolutionary moment while invoking – among others - fear and loathing. Hence, my paper focuses on the affective and emotional aspects of the construction of legitimacy and how they support the supposedly “new” authoritarianism (Armbrust 2017; King 2009; Rutherford 2018; Yefet and Lavie 2021) under al-Sisi. I draw on discourse analytical methodology (Wodak 1998) when analyzing the official speeches of President al-Sisi on the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution (2015-2022) with particular focus on affect and emotions within these performative elements of state discourse. I argue that al-Sisi governs with the constant fear of a repetition of the uprisings of 2011. During official speeches at the revolution’s anniversary, he tries to alter the collective memory of the 25 January Revolution into a state-and-presidency-centered narrative of development, security, and scapegoating. Using this narrative, he constructs his own legitimacy while rewriting the story of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. I argue that his public performances are geared towards a politics of diminishing to discursively unhappen the revolution.
  • A vast literature is preoccupied with the (new) authoritarian drift of Turkey in the last decade and it focuses mostly on legal and institutional changes. It also comprises different perspectives about the specific starting moment of the “authoritarian turn” as well as varying assessments about the place of the country on the authoritarianism spectrum (Esen& Gümüşçü, 2016; Erensü& Alemdaroğlu, 2018; Arat& Pamuk, 2019). In fact, Erdoğan has completely ripped the political system off its checks and balance mechanisms and ruled out any political opposition. Yet, I argue that such institutional changes and coercion are as important as the affective and emotional dynamics of his authoritarian rule. Accordingly, what is being missed in existing discussions is the “connection, love and respect” as Erdoğan likes to call it, between the Turkish leader and his people. Portraying himself as a man of heart, and the relation between him and his people as a love-story, Erdoğan points to these features as the core of the AKP-style politics. In this paper, I will analyze how Erdoğan performs affective authoritarianism through governing with love. Empirically, my analysis is grounded in his election campaign speeches between 2014-2019. Conceptually I base my analysis on Sara Ahmed’s approach to emotions as an economic model in her famous “affective economies”. This conceptualization enables us to see how emotions, by working as a form of capital, “do things” in affective economies through circulation. I will scrutinize the distribution and circulation of (signs, figures and bodies of) love, glory and admiration in Erdoğan’s campaign speeches. I argue that these circulating signs work to affectively construct boundaries and assure forms of the collective, i.e. the millet of the “new Turkey”. And it is through such a “governing with love” which is one of the core features of Turkey under Erdoğan, I hold.
  • Common representations of the counter-revolution in Egypt reflect a narrow understanding of authoritarian articulations of power as only top-down and coercive, in a sense, implying the inevitability of the failure of revolution in places like Egypt (Bishara 2013; Selim 2015). However, I argue that there is more to authoritarian rule than mere repression. Departing from R.B.J Walker’s remark that ‘Absolute authority has itself no absolute ground to stand on. What counts is the degree to which people can be persuaded to underwrite the sovereign power’ (1996: 20), I show in this paper how the mobilisation of the figure of the honourable citizen acts as a technology of government. I ask how citizenship and nationalism are mobilised and constructed in state discourses around the Egyptian January Revolution – temporally, affectively, and performatively? How do these discourses (re)produce counter- revolution? In this paper I trace the genealogy of the figure of the patriotic ‘honourable citizen’. I hold that this figure should be read as an eternal ideal type of citizenship to aspire to - ‘Egyptianness’ as it should be - that figures some citizens as normal/honourable and others as deviant (e.g., the ‘male homosexual’), and therefore constructs political subjectivity through perceived moral difference. This binary distinction is used to delegitimise the January Revolution by deeming its demands, aspirations, and actors as foreign and alien to a monolithic and hegemonic understanding of Egyptianness. The construction of this political subjectivity purports a citizenry that is incapable of self-government and seeks to inculcate an Egyptianness that is not ready for democracy (Abdelhamid 2020). I will draw on Foucauldian discourse analysis and figuration (Weber 2016) when analysing official speeches in the period between 2011 and 2021 to illustrate how the counter-revolution has been produced through biopolitical techniques that aim at the forsaking of multiplicity to form homogenous subjects who ‘loyally repeat the nation’ (Kuntsman 2009: ix; also see Haritaworn 2008).
  • This paper explores how gendered feelings are put into circulation to coagulate oppositional political subjects. Over two thousand academics from Turkey signed a peace petition in 2016 calling the Turkish state to halt military operations in Kurdish cities and to pursue a peace process with Turkey’s Kurdish guerilla organization. When signatories were prosecuted for the alleged crime of terrorist propaganda, hundreds of them spoke out to defend themselves and reiterate their pro-peace positions in the courtrooms. This research focuses on over fifty of these court defenses in which gendered speaking positions were highlighted. Examining these defenses for various expressions of feeling, the research seeks to address research questions such as: How do particular forms of resistant action and repression facilitate flows of political affect? How are certain affective states claimed as grounds for certain moral/political positions? How are certain kinds of political feelings such as “feeling for others” and subject positions such as motherhood circulate in the political public sphere and get mobilized for variant political projects? The paper focuses the affective politics fostered by Turkey’s pro-peace academic activists who publicly highlighted their gendered identities as mothers and fathers to claim to feel (with) Kurdish mothers’ and children’s suffering during the conflict between state and the Kurdish guerilla organization and to render legible and legitimate their motivations for signing a peace petition. It situates this parental mode of feeling with others into the broader political field in Turkey where motherly feelings are mobilized by various political actors ranging from Monday mothers of the disappeared to the pronatalist government to argue for the versatility of familial and seemingly familiar political feelings.