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MENA as Carceral States

Panel I-6, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
The prison proliferates authoritarian control in MENA countries. Despite the salience of this carceral control, understanding MENA countries as ‘carceral states’ is still lacking in the literature. Differing in their level of development, institutionalization, and the dynamism of crackdowns and resilience, we posit that there is a throughline to these dynamics. Prisons throughout the Middle East and North Africa serve a central role in the state’s organization of political, social, cultural and religious life through its disciplinary power. The carceral experience, however, is as generative as it is disciplinary. We are interested in questions that examine state carceral practices, subjectivities and subjectification of the prison population, gender and sexuality in prisons, religious practices, medicalization and psychologization of prison communities – as well as the historical origins of these practices and their transnationalization. Furthermore, we seek to understand how the incarcerated (and formerly incarcerated) contend with, resist, and are influenced by these experiences. Overall, what can prison and prisoners tell us about the authoritarian state(s) in question.
Political Science
Religious Studies/Theology
  • Co-Authors: Yousuf Abdelfatah
    The idea of carcerality and the carceral is an unspoken and understudied reality in many MENA countries. When political scientists think of what the literature has to say about repressive regimes we often consider studies of repressive spells (and associated violence databases) or regime types. However, growing literature has shown that institutions within the state do not necessarily act uniformly. We argue that to understand carcerality in the region, it is necessary that we examine the carceral state’s component parts. In this paper, we articulate what a carceral state looks like and how to measure it. We note that the development of this concept within this regional context will better our understanding of the repression-dissent nexus, the consequences of mobilization, what Aly ElRaggal called the permanent state of incarcerability, and further our ability to unpack the black box state repression. The paper starts with a comprehensive review of the literature on counting repression, presents a critique of existing methods, and conducts a series of elite interviews with scholars and NGO workers who work on different forms of documentation of the same incidents to inform this analysis. Finally, we propose a method for data collection and analysis and note what empirical tests would validate the theory.
  • Inside Barre’s Prison: Carcerality and its Consequences in Socialist Somalia In the early days of October of 1969, Mohamed Siyad Barre and officers under his command would forcefully assume leadership of the nascent Somali Republic. Just days earlier an unrelated conspiracy had resulted in the murder of the president, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. Taking advantage of the chaos, Barre, and his Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC) established themselves in the capital, cordoning off access to the city, and taking full control of the military, media, and parliament. What would follow can only be described as an all-out crackdown on any potential challengers to the legitimacy of the new regime. Major governmental figures, religious leaders, and tribal elders were all arbitrarily detained by the security apparatus. It was precisely this arbitrary imprisonment that led otherwise unconnected opposition figures: Islamists, tribal leaders, and democratically minded civil servants to form a loose coalition of resistance. I seek to interrogate and explore the history, transformation, and trajectories of these prisoners during and following their experience in Barre’s prisons. How did they remember, forget, or memorialize their time in this space? To what ends did the regime seek to punish, re-educated, and reshape its “carceral” subjects? How did religious/tribal/geographic similarity or difference function inside of the carceral space? What are the breaks/continuities of solidarity that formed inside this space? Ultimately, I seek to understand how Barre’s carceral practice was couched in a discourse of power, authority, and the [re]construction of national memory in Somali society.
  • In the years following the military coup in Egypt, there has been a dramatic upsurge in the state’s carceral practices. Indeed, political prisons in Egypt serve a central role in the state’s organization of both political and religious life through its disciplinary power. The carceral experience, however, is as generative as it is disciplinary. Still, studies on prisoners’ political and religious lives continue to be analyzed through the wider rubric of the ‘War on Terror’. In this paper, I show, that beyond securitized narratives on prison population, the religious experiences of prisoners are intrinsic foremost to their personhood, formations of popular theology and hermeneutics, and even to ethereal beliefs. Muslim prisoners are regularly confronted with issues that are unique to their situation – such as maintaining ritual purity when there is little access to clean water, maintaining communal prayers in isolation or discerning prayer times and Qibla when knowledge of time and space is unattainable. In doing so, I pose a central question: what does the adaption of religious practices and popular carceral theologies indicate about religious subjectivities and intersubjectivities of the prison population?
  • The Syrian migrants’ legal consciousness of the principles of Universal Jurisdiction in Germany in particular and the West in general is the recognition of the possibility of prosecuting members of an oppressive regime outside the borders of the nation-states and/or beyond the official national judicial systems. But in a country like Syria where accountability has always been absent and impunity has been an essential principle of ruling, this consciousness should not begin from May 2020 when the prosecution of two members of the Syrian regime started in the German city of Koblenz. Instead, it is a story connected to the long years of struggle that preceded and succeeded the 2011 uprisings in Syria. This paper sheds light on the life histories of former Syrian prisoners who currently live in Germany and who share their memories not only as part of but also as critiques of the legal and institutional limits of the Koblenz trials. Put differently, I show how acts dissidence, street protests, loss of beloved ones, traumatic experiences, massacres, and shattered bodies and souls have contributed to the consciousness developed by the Syrian migrants in Germany. Via chapters written with blood and fire for, at least, the last 50 years of the Ba’th regime, I argue for a vernacular, grounded theoretical approach that should temporally and spatially expand the court sessions in Koblenz. I stress that the Syrians’ legal consciousness as the institutionalization of human rights consciousness should refer to earlier phases of activism, a failed but enduring revolution, and a lasting pursuit of justice and human dignity.