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Social Movements, Protests and Radical Currents

Session V-09, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • While the literature on contentious politics largely focuses on sources of radical opposition, less attention is paid to how governments respond to discontent within their ostensible bases of support. As one of the remaining public sector-driven economies outside the Gulf in MENA, Algeria’s response to the grievances of schoolteachers, police officers, and national oil workers from the Arab Spring (2010-2013) to the Hirak protests (2018-present) pose a unique opportunity to assess this question. Using process tracing and quantitative analysis of original protest and parliamentary datasets from 2010-2020, this paper examines patterns of Algerian public sector strikes and government responses along three facets. First, did the government privilege urban over peripheral public workers or vice-versa? Second, did the regime seek to coopt one segment of the public sector more than another? Third, to what extent were these responses correlated with upticks and downturns in contentious political activity? We hypothesize that the Bouteflika regime unsuccessfully sought to coopt urban security forces at the expense of rurally stationed forces and other public sector groups, and that this helped fuel the Hirak movement. In light of the limited success of recent protests in Algeria, this study holds generalizable implications for how governments seek to instrumentalize parliaments to quell protests after the Arab Spring. In doing so, we also seek to present a theoretical and methodological intervention that can help bridge the studies of parliaments and contentious politics under authoritarian regimes.
  • Why do some minority-based social movements seeking rights and autonomy respond to state repression with armed resistance, while others respond with unarmed resistance? To answer the research question, I will examine variations in strategies of resistance that have occurred across two structurally similar ethnopolitical struggles in Islamic countries: the struggle for Pashtun rights in Pakistan and the struggle for Kurdish rights in Turkey. Incorporating a longitudinal paired comparison methodology, the research will explain how and why strategic shifts between armed and unarmed resistance have occurred over time among groups struggling for ethnopolitical rights and autonomy and how strategies of unarmed resistance can gain leverage in repressive authoritarian contexts. The research findings should be generalizable beyond the two struggles and provide insights on the possibilities of civil resistance in autonomist and separatist struggles more generally. The research will make a significant contribution to the comparative and historical study of political conflict and the literatures on social movements and ethnopolitics.
  • Talking about communism in Southwest Asia and North Africa involves reckoning with a formidable array of longings and anxieties. During the Cold War, Western scholars wrung their hands wondering whether the region would slip into the Soviet camp, while authoritarians jockeyed to paint themselves as anti-communists. As political Islam gained prominence in the 1970s, leftist observers both within and outside SWANA lamented the weakness of communist movements, imagining them as a preferable (perhaps even “rational”) alternative to Islamism. Despite the (seemingly) commonsense assumption that SWANA societies are too religious to embrace communist ideologies, the region is home to a range of possible communist trajectories. Some communist parties have stayed small, illegal, or marginalized (in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, for example), while others have enjoyed considerable prominence but then been repressed or decayed (Egypt’s original Communist Party). Still others (in Iraq and Sudan) have retained some political relevance over decades, and, of course, in South Yemen an explicitly Marxist movement came to—and held—state power. What accounts for the variation in these movements’ longevity, prominence, and success? Is it their organizational and ideological characteristics? The societies they operate in? Some feature of the regimes they challenge? Or the strength of labor movements upon which they can build? This paper offers an explicitly comparative perspective on the success of communist organizations across the region. As such, it speaks to a resurgent scholarly interest in the Arab left (e.g. Bardawil 2020; Ismael 2020; Guirguis 2022). Engaging with scholarship on ideology, parties, and repression across multiple disciplines, I argue that—contrary to common expectation—the strength of a country’s labor movement is not the best predictor of communist movement success. Drawing on two cases, the original Egyptian Communist Party (founded 1921) and the Sudanese Communist Party (founded 1946), I find the roots of these movements’ disparate trajectories in their different levels of ideological adaptability—stemming, in turn, from their different relationships with international communism. Moving beyond the standard juxtaposition of leftist and Islamist movements, I take intra-leftist variation seriously to explain why communism has maintained a better foothold in some countries than others.
  • The radical transformations that occurred within the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN) during the revolutionary decade of the 1960s resulted in one of the most significant ideological shifts in contemporary Arab history. From as early as 1960, figures within MAN including Nayef Hawatmeh, Muhsin Ibrahim, and Abdel Fattah Ismail grew increasingly critical of the limits to Arab nationalism as they begun challenging the leadership over the role of revolutionary armed struggle in the Arabian Peninsula and the absence of any class analysis in the movement. These frustrations were demonstrated in MAN’s willingness to collaborate with Arab bourgeois nationalists and regimes who were viewed by the radical generation of MAN as complicit in the loss of Palestine in 1948. This paper examines the social, historical, and political conditions that shaped the dissolution of the MAN and the subsequent rise of revolutionary Marxist organizations from Palestine to Aden, arguing that these processes constituted a radical reconfiguration, rather than a suspension, of transnational bonds of solidarity tying the Arabian Gulf and Peninsula to the liberation of Palestine. These bonds were now conceptualized anew. Rather than being viewed as struggles primarily connected through common national belonging, the struggles of Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula were now situated as part of an anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggle in the Global South. How did this new conceptualization emerge? Utilizing primary sources published by these movements along with Arabic memoirs, this paper will answer this question by revisiting significant 1960s ideological milestones. It will specifically focus on the clash between the conservative leadership of the MAN and its radical cadres who questioned the efficacy of the anti-colonial nationalist regimes in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. Whereas most accounts of Arab intellectual history focus on the Arab defeat of 1967 (Naksa) as the key ideological turning point of the decade, this paper argues that the defeat of Arab armies in that year expedited, rather than initiated, a trend that had started much earlier. This intellectual current culminated in the formation and rise of radical liberation struggles out of local MAN branches in the Arabian Gulf and the Palestinian refugee camps throughout the revolutionary decade of the 1960s. As this paper will show, throughout these ideological clashes, the MAN’s successor organizations shifted away from nationalist towards Marxist politics as they fought to internationalize their struggles against colonialism and imperialism.
  • In this paper, I trace a burgeoning movement of Coptic women who are contesting gendered liturgical exclusions, recording themselves singing the liturgical song only their male peers can sing and sharing them online. Others have initiated a Facebook page petitioning the Church to allow woman to actively participate during liturgical services, pointing to the position of deaconesses in the Syrian and Armenian Orthodox Churches as evidence of their shared history. In growing North American “missionary” Coptic Orthodox Churches, spaces that target new converts and provide English-only services, some women have even managed to bypass liturgical restrictions leading male cantors though again, they are restricted singing non-liturgical hymns at the end of the service. Drawing on both virtual and “off-line” ethnography, I ask: how do Coptic women’s sounded experiences in the church, and increasingly in what Jennifer Brinkerhoff calls “digital diasporas” question some of the Church’s traditional values around gender, voice, and the pious singing body? And, how have Coptic women depended on what she calls “selective acculturation” (Brinkerhoff 2016), picking and choosing from North American discourses on piety and gender, to navigate their own hyphenated identities outside of Egypt? In this project, I illustrate how women are increasingly challenging these assumed inaudibilities in Coptic contexts, levying their own expertise of Coptic liturgical hymns to forge new sounded spaces in the Coptic Church, off and online. And in the face of systemic patriarchy, these women engage in a strategy Copts have long used to navigate systemic religious discrimination in Egypt: they leave. Or they withdraw to create their own virtual singing spaces, reevaluating and reinventing alternative gendered identities online. While not all women choose to part with the Church, many are increasingly vocal about the gender reckoning that is now challenging the Orthodox institution. In the words of one interlocutor: “in the end, we will vote with our feet. We will walk out of the church.” While not all women choose to part with the Church, many are increasingly vocal about the gender reckoning that is now challenging the Orthodox institution.