Arabia Incognita

by The Editors | published May 6, 2016 - 1:23pm

The disastrous Saudi-led war on Yemen has entered its fourteenth month.

More than 9,000 people have been killed, according to UN figures, one third of them civilians. Some 2.4 million Yemenis are uprooted from their homes, and a staggering 80 percent of the population lack reliable supplies of food. The displaced and the hungry are unable to flee the country—all the borders are closed—and a naval blockade has prevented all but a trickle of outside aid from reaching those in need. On May 3, the UN inaugurated a program to screen relief shipments, which may ameliorate the humanitarian emergency, but the Saudi-led bombardment and the ground battles have left much of Yemen without fuel, electricity and water.

Why did Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies mount this assault? How did Yemen’s peaceful uprising of 2011 degenerate into civil strife and external intervention? Why has the Obama administration supported the Saudi-led war effort with munitions, mid-air refueling and intelligence, even as human rights organizations have documented war crimes?
To help answer these and other questions, our contributing editor Sheila Carapico assembled Arabia Incognita: Dispatches from Yemen and the Gulf, an anthology of previously published MERIP material, released on May 3 by Just World Books. The collection includes her introductory commentaries as well as maps and striking political cartoons by Samer al-Shameeri.

The Institute of Middle East Studies at George Washington University and the Institute for Policy Studies hosted Carapico to discuss the volume on April 28 and May 3, respectively.

A central premise of Arabia Incognita, she began, is that the Arabian Peninsula is “a distinct political unit.” Upheavals in one country reverberate in the others. The oil-rich monarchies, particularly Saudi Arabia, have long sought control over the course of events in poor, populous Yemen and its rulers. In the 1960s, the Saudis backed the imam against republican rebels; after unification in 1990, they cultivated the strongman in Sanaa, ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih. In 2011 came the shock of the revolt against Salih, whose most visible leader, Tawakkul Karman, was a woman. The Gulf monarchs’ attempt to manage the succession to Salih is the backdrop to the Houthi rebels’ overreach, the subsequent internal war, the intervention and the current catastrophe.

The US, for its part, “has a Saudi policy of which its Yemen policy is an outgrowth.” For decades, the US-Saudi “special relationship” was underwritten by the kingdom’s fervent anti-Communism, its hydrocarbon wealth and the petrodollars it pumped back into Western economies. Today, perhaps, it is rooted more in massive arms sales.

Arabia Incognita brings together four decades of MERIP coverage of the Arabian Peninsula—on topics ranging from political Islam, labor migration and resource politics to arts and culture. It is now available from Just World Books.

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Jordan Drops the Pretense of Democratic Reform

by Jillian Schwedler | published April 28, 2016 - 12:19pm

In September 2012, King ‘Abdallah II of Jordan stopped by “The Daily Show” to chat with Jon Stewart about his commitment to democratic reform in his country. In the wake of the uprisings across the Arab world, he said, “We changed a third of the constitution. We did a lot of different things—a new constitutional court, a new independent commission for elections,” all in preparation for a transition from monarchical rule to meaningful parliamentary governance. “This is the critical crossroads for Jordan to get it right, these next four years,” the king concluded.

It was a pretense that few in Jordan ever believed. Indeed, if anything, those four years have seen King ‘Abdallah peel the veneer of parliamentary governance off an increasingly autocratic system. In mid-April, Prime Minister ‘Abdallah al-Nusour submitted draft constitutional amendments to Parliament, requesting the body’s approval of changes that give the king absolute power over the judiciary, foreign policy, defense and security. By the terms of the amendments, the king would be able to appoint members of the constitutional court and the head of the paramilitary police force, which is tasked with suppressing domestic dissent, by himself and without further ado. In practice, ‘Abdallah already exercises these powers, but the draft amendments codify them, eliminating the need for lip service to checks and balances. The king would no longer need signatures from the prime minister or cabinet members to rubber-stamp his decrees.

On April 27 the draft amendments passed the lower house of Parliament by an overwhelming margin. They are sure to sail through the upper house, whose members are handpicked by the king. State-run media says the changes “strengthen the principle of separation of powers,” but this claim is too risibly thin to be called a smokescreen.

It is, in fact, a bizarre instance of greater transparency. The constitutional changes effectively acknowledge that Jordan is an autocracy, not the developing constitutional monarchy that the king markets to Western audiences eager to find a likable, “moderate” ally in the region. Perhaps ‘Abdallah thinks that no one will notice: With civil wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria, and President Barack Obama struggling to patch up relations with the Gulf Arabs while members of Congress (and other nations) call for suspending sales to Saudi Arabia of arms being used to commit war crimes in Yemen, Jordan’s amendments have attracted almost no international attention.

Let’s take further stock of ‘Abdallah’s critical four years. He told Jon Stewart in 2012 that Jordanians were politically immature, but rather than encouraging a vibrant public sphere, he portrayed Jordanians as politically ignorant, not understanding what it means to be positioned to the right, left or center. Jordan has numerous political parties, however; it is just that the regime treats them as a nuisance rather than a resource to be developed. Many parties boycotted the 2013 parliamentary elections as illegitimate because the electoral law and and the boundaries of electoral districts ensure that regions loyal to the royal court are overrepresented in Parliament. A new electoral law passed in March (ahead of the contests slated for 2017) scrapped the controversial one-vote system that significantly disadvantaged the political parties, but failed to address the skewed districting. Jordan’s elected Council of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, has always been constrained in its freedom of action, as the royally appointed upper house, the Council of Nobles, can veto any of its legislation. The constitutional amendments formally sign away the last of the elected assembly’s nominal prerogatives of note.

The name of the game in Jordan today is security. The civil wars in neighboring Syria and Iraq, and the attempts by ISIS to launch attacks in Jordan, have led to a near lockdown of the kingdom. But the regime has not limited its repression to those suspected of connections to or sympathy with ISIS. Instead, its reach has been largely indiscriminate: It has imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression, whether that of journalists, activists or any dissident voices. The penal code has long been banned criticism of the king. But revisions of the anti-terrorism law in 2014 go much further, classifying statements that “disturb” Jordan’s relations with foreign states as acts of terrorism. A Jordanian citizen who questions the wisdom of Jordan’s alliance with the Gulf monarchies, for example, could be prosecuted as a terrorist. So could one who suggests that Jordan’s gas pipeline deal with Israel might be bad for the Jordanian people. 

Peaceful dissenters face repeated harassment at the hands of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), or mukhabarat. The regime has tortured government critics and shut down all forms of public assembly. An event planner at a major Amman hotel told me in March that he would not book any conference or event even remotely connected to political debate without the GID’s verbal approval.

The crackdown extends to the realm of entertainment. The Lebanese alt-rock band Mashrou‘ Leila was scheduled to appear this week at the Roman amphitheater in downtown Amman, but the concert was abruptly canceled because the group’s songs “threatened the values, customs and traditions” of Jordanian society. The band issued a statement condemning the censorship, noting that it had previously played several times in Jordan, including at the amphitheater. And what were the dangerous ideas in the songs? Gender equality and sexual freedom seemed particularly to offend some powerful regime officials.

If the global history of state repression offers any lesson, it is that wholesale quashing of dissent, even alternative voices in arts and culture, is very likely to radicalize many of those who have been silenced. King ‘Abdallah may be willing to take that risk, but it is not a good bet.

But as the king amends the constitution to concentrate power in his own hands, at last he has dropped the pretense of democratic reform—though not, of course, the parallel conceit that he and the Jordanian regime are “moderate.”

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Suspend US Military Aid to Egypt

published April 18, 2016 - 9:44am

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

April 18, 2016

Dear President Obama,

As scholars of Egypt and the Middle East, we the undersigned would like to urge you, on Tax Day, to support civilian, democratic rule in Egypt by suspending military aid to the country.

For more than thirty years, the US government has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain a system of rule that does not serve the interests of the Egyptian people. The core of that regime has always been a small military class whose power is underwritten by American taxpayers. This was true under Hosni Mubarak and it is just as true today.

The current president of the country, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, may have been elected, but observers have never ceased questioning the legitimacy of those elections, nor the bloody circumstances of his rise to power. As the Sisi government stumbles from one crisis to the next, it has become increasingly violent toward its critics, the vast majority of whom propose nothing more than civic, pragmatic solutions to the country’s most vexing problems. Their non-violent, civic engagement has been met with arbitrary arrests and incarceration, disappearances and torture. Free speech and expression are a thing of the past, and violations of the right to organize, travel and conduct research are rife. Today, Egypt has become a vast penal colony.

As taxpayers, we morally object to the idea that our money goes to prop up an autocratic and violent regime in Cairo. We urge your administration to turn away from the old policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of Egypt. We call on you to suspend military aid to Egypt’s military rulers until you have time to undertake a comprehensive review of our policy toward the country.


1. Khaled Abou El Fadl (UCLA)
2. Fida Adely (Georgetown University)
3. Anthony Alessandrini (City University of New York)
4. Samer Mahdy Ali (University of Michigan)
5. Lori Allen (SOAS, University of London)
6. Nabil Al-Takriti (University of Mary Washington)
7. Noha Arafa (National Lawyers Guild)
8. Andrew Arato (New School)
9. Walter Armbrust (University of Oxford)
10. Mona Atia (George Washington University)
11. Aslı Bâli (UCLA School of Law)
12. Beth Baron (City University of New York)
13. Lydia Bassaly (Columbia University)
14. Moustafa Bayoumi (Brooklyn College, CUNY)
15. Joel Beinin (Stanford University)
16. Amahl Bishara (Tufts University)
17. Audrey Bomse (National Lawyers Guild)
18. Marilyn Booth (University of Oxford)
19. Laurie A. Brand (University of Southern California)
20. Michaelle L. Browers (Wake Forest University)
21. Jonathan Brown (Georgetown University)
22. Jason Brownlee (University of Texas, Austin)
23. Rosie Bsheer (Yale University)
24. Charles E. Butterworth (University of Maryland)
25. Sheila Carapico (University of Richmond)
26. Noam Chomsky (MIT)
27. Elliott Colla (Georgetown University)
28. Don Conway-Long (Webster University)
29. Rochelle Davis (Georgetown University)
30. Lara Deeb (Scripps College)
31. Andrea Dessì (London School of Economics)
32. Emily Drumsta (University of California, Berkeley)
33. Mona El-Ghobashy (Independent scholar)
34. Mohamad Elmasry (University of North Alabama)
35. Omnia El Shakry (University of California, Davis)
36. John Esposito (Georgetown University)
37. Ilana Feldman (George Washington University)
38. Alexa Firat (Temple University)
39. James Gelvin (UCLA)
40. Alan Gilbert (University of Denver)
41. Ellis J. Goldberg (University of Washington)
42. Joel Gordon (University of Arkansas)
43. Elaine C. Hagopian (Simmons College)
44. Sondra Hale (UCLA)
45. Hanan Hammad (Texas Christian University)
46. Ian M. Hartshorn (University of Nevada, Reno)
47. Nader Hashemi (University of Denver)
48. Jane Hathaway (Ohio State University)
49. Donald Hindley (Brandeis University)
50. Elizabeth M. Holt (Bard College)
51. Deena R. Hurwitz (American University)
52. Toby C. Jones (Rutgers University)
53. Lorenzo Kamel (Harvard University)
54. Arang Keshavarzian (New York University)
55. Laleh Khalili (SOAS, University of London)
56. Dina Rizk Khoury (George Washington University)
57. Laurie King (Georgetown University)
58. Marwan M. Kraidy (University of Pennsylvania)
59. Vickie Langohr (College of the Holy Cross)
60. Mark Andrew LeVine (University of California, Irvine)
61. Darryl Li (Yale University)
62. Zachary Lockman (New York University)
63. Miriam R. Lowi (The College of New Jersey)
64. Melani McAlister (George Washington University)
65. Clea McNeely (University of Tennessee)
66. Shana Minkin (Sewanee: The University of the South)
67. Timothy Mitchell (Columbia University)
68. Pete W. Moore (Case Western Reserve University)
69. Amir Moosavi (New York University)
70. Norma Claire Moruzzi (University of Illinois, Chicago)
71. Tamir Moustafa (Simon Fraser University)
72. Bruce D. Nestor (National Lawyers Guild)
73. Roger Owen (Harvard University)
74. Sumita Pahwa (Scripps College)
75. Lisa A. Pollard (University of North Carolina, Wilmington)
76. Sara Pursley (Princeton University)
77. Noha Radwan (UC Davis)
78. Aziz Rana (Cornell University)
79. Kamran Rastegar (Tufts University)
80. Sarah Roche-Mahdi (Independent scholar)
81. Mona Russell (East Carolina University)
82. Atef Said (University of Illinois, Chicago)
83. Christa Salamandra (City University of New York)
84. Hesham Sallam (Stanford University)
85. Stuart Schaar (Brooklyn College, CUNY)
86. Aaron Schneider (University of Denver)
87. Jillian Schwedler (Hunter College & The Graduate Center, CUNY)
88. Samer Shehata (University of Oklahoma)
89. Paul Sedra (Simon Fraser University)
90. Omar Shakir (Center for Constitutional Rights)
91. Stephen Sheehi (College of William and Mary)
92. Tamara Sonn (Georgetown University)
93. Josh Stacher (Kent State University)
94. Gregory Starrett (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)
95. Rebecca L. Stein (Duke University)
96. Christopher Stone (Hunter College, CUNY)
97. Ted Swedenburg (University of Arkansas)
98. Elizabeth F. Thompson (University of Virginia)
99. Levi Thompson (UCLA)
100. Chris Toensing (MERIP)
101. Judith Tucker (Georgetown University)
102. John Voll (Georgetown University)
103. Jeremy Walton (The Max Planck Institute)
104. Lisa Wedeen (University of Chicago)
105. Max D. Weiss (Princeton University)
106. Mark R. Westmoreland (Leiden University)
107. Jessica Winegar (Northwestern University)
108. John Womack, Jr. (Harvard University)

Open Letter from Scholars of Yemen

published March 31, 2016 - 2:33pm

US Secretary of State John Kerry
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayraut

On the occasion of a year of the bombardment and blockade of Yemen, we write for a third time as scholars of Yemen to deplore the actions of the governments you represent, which have served cumulatively to erase fundamental principles of international and international humanitarian law: a) drafting the one-sided UN Security Council Resolution 2216 used to legitimize war; b) attempting to protect Saudi Arabia and the other Coalition countries against condemnation by the UN Human Rights Council, leaving the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights alone to issue a condemnation of war crimes; c) continuing massive arms sales in the face of documented war crimes by the Coalition; and d) participating in refueling warplanes, identifying targets, and facilitating the blockade of vital imports of food and fuel to Yemen.

We are aligned with no party in the internal political divisions of Yemen and deplore human rights violations by all the warring parties. However, we note that the major targets of the Yemen war, the Houthis and the bulk of the former Yemeni army, have over the past years fought Islamic State and al-Qaeda, which your governments view as terrorist groups and which have targeted Arab as well as European cities—most recently Brussels. Against this background, we renew our call to you to do everything to obtain an immediate and complete ceasefire and the launch of unconditional Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations for the formation of a transition government. And we ask that you offer no cover to the attempts of the Coalition states to extract commercial gains from their war and to avoid, in the name of plans for Gulf Cooperation Council “reconstruction” of Yemen, legal responsibility for war reparations.

Najwa Adra, Independent scholar
Geneviève Bédoucha, CNRS, Paris
Isa Blumi, Stockholm University
Laurent Bonnefoy, Sciences Politiques, Paris
François Burgat, IREMAM, Aix-en-Provence
Robert Burrowes, University of Washington
Sheila Carapico, University of Richmond
Steven Caton, Harvard University
Don Conway-Long, Webster University
Rochelle Davis, Georgetown University
Blandine Destremau, CNRS, EHESS, Paris
Paul Dresch, University of Oxford
Ulrike Freitag, Free University of Berlin & Centre for Modern Oriental Studies
McGuire Gibson, University of Chicago
Michael Gilsenan, New York University
Andre Gingrich, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Najam Haider, Barnard College, Columbia University
Mouna Hashem, Independent scholar
Juliette Honvault, IREMAM, Aix-Marseille Université
Eirik Hovden, Institute for Social Anthropology, Vienna
Lamya Khalidi, CEPAM, CNRS, France
Laurie King, Georgetown University
Thomas Kühn, Simon Fraser University
Jean Lambert, CERMOM-INALCO, Paris
Anne Meneley, Trent University, Canada
Brinkley Messick, Columbia University
W. Flagg Miller, University of California-Davis
Martha Mundy, London School of Economics and Political Science
Michael Perez, University of Washington
Christa Salamandra, Lehman College, CUNY
Jillian Schwedler, Hunter College, CUNY
Gregory Starrett, University of North Carolina
Lucine Taminian, Independent scholar, Amman
Daniel Varisco, American Institute for Yemeni Studies
Gabriele vom Bruck, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago
Shelagh Weir, Independent scholar
John Willis, University of Colorado
Jessica Winegar, Northwestern University
Stacey Philbrick Yadav, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Sami Zubaida, Birkbeck College, University of London

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Éloge de la Naïveté

by Paul Silverstein | published March 30, 2016 - 10:00am

In the week since the attacks on Brussels Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek subway station, there is an atmosphere of deep mourning in Belgium, where I am spending the year as a Fulbright scholar. While I happened to be out of the country on the day of the attacks, I returned shortly thereafter to memorials to the victims marking the urban landscape. Moments of silence have become de rigueur additions to formal gatherings, and public declarations and acts of compassion and solidarity abound, most of them heartfelt and touching. In the university town of Leuven, where I live, many students—even those who knew none of the victims—broke down in grief and fear, their world evidently shaken to the core. They received comfort from friends and colleagues who were themselves feeling conflicting emotions. As in Paris this past November, or in many other places before or since that have experienced equally terrible events, the country seemed to come together in sorrow and succor, as collectively suffering humans beyond any divides of identity or ideology.

But behind such harmony a minor key of rancor could already be heard. If who the attackers were was little in doubt, how they managed to perpetrate such violence in spite of a mobilized security apparatus and national state of emergency raised significant questions both inside and outside the country. Accusations of police or ministerial incompetence, or failures of coordinating among federal, provincial and municipal security forces, pointed toward something broken or failed within the Belgian “state,” seemingly forever culturally and structurally split between Flanders and Wallonia with Brussels in the unhappy and often unloved middle.

But an even deeper line of critique accused Belgian society more generally of complacency and naïveté. Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz and French Transportation Minister Michel Sapin said as much mere hours after the blasts, even as victims were still being identified, hinting that something in Belgians’ lifestyle (“eat chocolate and enjoy life”) or their blasé approach to “integration” created the conditions of possibility for the attacks. While these comments were resented by Belgians and quickly disavowed by Israeli and French officials, even the distancing took the form of generalizing Belgian society’s failings to Europe as a whole. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, speaking the day after the attacks on Europe 1 radio, said that France too had “closed its eyes,” and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, similarly defended Belgium by citing the Biblical adage, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

What was the nature of this sin? To what had Europeans closed their eyes? 

For Valls it was explicitly “the rise of extremist salafi ideas in neighborhoods where a mix of drug trafficking and radical Islam led astray...some of the youth.” These transgressions were by no means new. The accusation of Belgian complacency toward Molenbeek as a breeding ground for terrorists was raised in the immediate wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris, and indeed since the early 1980s the district had been portrayed within Belgium as a dystopian space of Islamic threat, as anthropologist Nadia Fadil has traced. Similar journalistic portrayals of the French banlieues as spaces of jihad go back at least as far, indeed arguably back to the 1954-1961 French-Algerian war, and have been periodically reanimated after moments of violence, such as the 1995 subway bombings attributed to the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, which bear eerie resemblance to the recent Brussels attacks in terms of targets, means and likely repercussions. Juncker himself, in his plea against Belgian exceptionalism, cited “terrorism in Britain and Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Minimally, then, according to these long-standing anxieties, the Belgian state, like other European governments, had allowed (or even facilitated) so-called radical, extremist salafi or other jihadi groups to establish networks within “immigrant” neighborhoods under the guise of providing religious or social services, sometimes at the behest of Saudi Arabia or other states, sometimes ignoring their warnings. At their extreme, such anxieties build into conspiracy theories about a byzantine plan to transform Europe into “Eurabia,” with Christian or secular societies forced to submit to Islamic authority. Such fantasies certainly have a market amid heightened Islamophobic public sentiment, but remain relatively marginal, mostly spouted by media pundits with minimal traction in official or scholarly circles. 

Yet a growing consensus does seem to be emerging across Europe about a more widespread and apparently pernicious form of naïveté: namely, that of past multicultural tolerance whose inherent failures have now come home to roost in terrorist violence, as well as sectarianism, US-style ghettos, criminality and even racism itself. European state leaders seem to be trying to outdo one another in declaring multiculturalism a dead letter. Neighborhoods like Molenbeek, once celebrated for their cultural diversity, now come off as closed spaces of otherness ruled by an ethno-religious code of silence, which protects criminals-turned-terrorists. The new mot d’ordre is national identity and cohesion, with European Muslims called upon to publicly declare their allegiance; apologize for violence; denounce anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia; and even distance themselves from the obligations and prohibitions that Islam entails. Those who fail to adequately perform such mandatory politesse quickly become objects of suspicion and harassment, with personal and professional consequences. 

Again, there is nothing particularly new about such a predicament. Indeed, Abdelmalek Sayad, writing about the Algerian-French experience, spoke eloquently of such “suffering” back in the 1980s. But the younger generation of Muslim Europeans is increasingly explicit in demanding their social, political and religious rights as Muslims and European citizens. They refuse to accommodate themselves to a set of pre-existing norms, but rather call for accommodation and even transformation of the societies of which they are fundamentally a part. For these actors, the problem with multiculturalism is that it maintained the (white, Christian-secular) state as that which tolerated, managed and set the terms for public expression of cultural and religious differences—such as what dress might be worn in school or where one might pray. Muslim Europeans had to accede to these terms or be socially or even physically excluded. Young activists are now seeking an active role in setting new terms, much to the chagrin of observers who see in such claims a violent effort to impose the demands of the few on the lives of the many. From this perspective, the Brussels attacks, like the Charlie Hebdo and November 13 attacks before it, were not understood as a transnational military riposte to the war in the Middle East, but as the outcome of a homegrown predicament, perpetrated by those who had failed to “integrate” into European (multicultural) society and resorted to the only language they knew—Islamic extremism.

Indeed, it arguably was naïve—or, more accurately, hubristic—to think that an officially secular (“neutral”) state like Belgium could simply set from above, and based on past accommodations with the Catholic Church, the terms by which its multi-religious citizens could publicly express themselves without people eventually pushing back. And it was naïve and hubristic to act as if Belgium would not transform in the process.

But if the naïveté and complacency that Belgium, and Europe more broadly, is being currently accused of is the belief (or at least hope) that such dissensus would transpire more or less peacefully, then that is not a naïveté we should be willing to give up on. To do so would be to affirm a supposed incompatibility between Islam and whatever defines Belgium or Europe. It would be to ignore all the ways in which Islam—whether as a long-standing religion on the European continent or as a constitutive outside through which the idea of a (Christian) Europe was formulated—is immanent to and indissociable from Europe. It would be to envision a future along the lines laid out by Samuel Huntington’s self-fulfilling prophecy of a clash of civilizations. If that is what abandoning naïveté entails, then call me naïve.

Here it’s instructive to recall the scenes of collective sorrow and comfort in Belgium today. For scholars like myself—inured by too many similar events quickly exploited by state actors to justify aggressive foreign policies and constraints on civil liberties—such comings together are but evanescent, superficial moments that will quickly give way to a reality of prejudice, distrust and further violence. Even the attacks themselves fail to shock us, insofar as they seem but the inevitable blowback of US and European war-making in the Middle East—wars that were supposedly designed to keep the conflicts abroad, far away from “home,” but which from the beginning seemed sure to increase homeland insecurity. Cynics that we are, we have plenty of sympathy but ultimately little empathy for our students who break down in tears, who crave their parents’ embrace but are afraid to get on a train to see them. Welcome to the real world, we are inclined to say. You have somehow made it through your first 20 years naïvely protected from the effects of political violence, but for millions across the global south such is everyday existence. Your so-called innocence is a privilege you have done nothing to deserve.

But then we perhaps remember that these students are not just rich Flemish kids, but include twenty-somethings from places like Eastern Europe, East Asia and even the Middle East; from the very multi-ethnic neighborhoods of nearby (but cognitively distant) Brussels so derided in the press; from all sorts of socioeconomically under-privileged and racially under-represented backgrounds. Universities strive to be utopias (or maybe better, heterotopias, in Foucault’s terms—not no-places but different kinds of places), settings of collective striving for knowledge and betterment, where diversity of approach and background is precisely a strength, not an impingement on social cohesion. It was these students and their faculty and staff mentors who had come together in mutual care, support and solidarity, strengthening their own bonds and projecting a model of a compassionate society that could possibly come to be. Such a hopeful future requires forgetting what we think we already know from past experience about the world and how it works. It requires setting aside cynicism and taking inspiration from the Blakeian (or perhaps Lennonian) childlike innocence that had imagined, as much out of ignorance as wishful thinking, a peaceful globe where tragedy is not inevitably lurking in departure lounges and subway cars, at bus depots, music venues and malls. It may indeed require rejecting complacency with the world as it currently is, but only by doubling down on naïveté itself. In the end, all transformative politics is a naïve undertaking.

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Did Russian Intervention Break the Syrian Stalemate?

by Samer Abboud | published March 15, 2016 - 4:01pm

It is now a cliché to say that the Syrian conflict is complicated, and has multiple regional and international drivers.

For some time, all of these complications were adduced to answer the question: “Why is there a military and political stalemate in Syria?” Beginning in September 2015, however, Russian intervention on the side of the regime of Bashar al-Asad dramatically altered the dynamics that gave rise to the deadlock. Now that Russian bombing has been suspended, many hope a political process can bring an end to the war. Instead, the conflict is likely to continue, but on a very different trajectory.

The concept of networks of violence is very useful—not for figuring out who is fighting whom at any given moment, for that is impossible, but in tracing how the stalemate emerged. Networks of violence have formed throughout the country and are a key feature of both regime- and rebel-aligned forces. There are three basic structures that serve as the nodes of the violent networks and which contribute to the non-hierarchical, fragmented nature of violence. The first node is that of the battalion or company. These battalions are typically made up of a small number of fighters who are concentrated in specific areas. An excellent example is the shabbiha groups that eventually evolved into the core of the National Defense Forces (NDF), a regime-aligned militia.

Brigades, the second node in the network, are conglomerations of battalions under a central command. These units have a much wider geographic range than battalions and are active in larger parts of cities and provinces.

A larger, non-hierarchical form of coordination is the front, the third node in the networks of violence. Fronts are amalgamations of brigades that serve more as military alliances than as chains of command. The fronts usually form in situations of battlefield necessity, and are typically composed of dozens of brigades, with a small number of powerful brigades that dominate. Loyalty is often very weak with different brigades pledging and withdrawing allegiance with alarming frequency.

The Army of Conquest, a front formed in March 2015, contained three of the more powerful rebel-aligned brigades in the northern provinces, Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as four smaller brigades. Upon its formation, the Army of Conquest made military advances in Idlib and Hama provinces. These advances were halted by regime-aligned forces, as well as the defection of Jund al-Aqsa over administrative disputes. The defection of this powerful brigade emasculated the front’s capacity and led to the eventual departure of Sham Legion, one of the smaller brigades. While still operating in the northern areas, the Front’s advances have subsequently been limited.

A second example is that of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, started in 2014 as a conglomeration of northern-based brigades to coordinate military activities against the Islamic Front and other rebel brigades. Quick defeats on the battlefield led to the defection of some of the Free Syrian Army affiliates backed by the West, who formed a new coalition with Harakat Hazm and other Islamist-oriented groups called the Revolutionary Front. Within less than a year, that front, too, had been gutted by defections, including of Harakat Hazm, which dissolved into another grouping called the Levant Front. Such examples abound. As such, these networks are defined by their fluidity.

In Syria, the structure of the armed groups aligned with both regime and rebel forces is what Paul Staniland calls “fragmented,” based on their weak social and political entrenchment in the conflict landscape. The possible exception is the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units. But neither the Free Syrian Army brigades nor the NDF militias that have terrorized civilians under the pretext of security provision are deeply rooted. This lack of entrenchment is the outcome of many factors, including: the lack of political parties and associations from which to mobilize the population; the atomization of the uprising; material drivers of the conflict; and competing social bases linked to different authorities that change over time. The lack of entrenchment reveals itself in the constantly changing administrations and armed groups present in different areas. In turn, the absence of solid social bases forces different armed groups into cooperative networks that enhance their geographic reach, contribute to resource distribution and ensure their survival. In short, these groups enter into cooperative agreements for material, political or military reasons, and not necessarily ideological ones. Cooperation occurs out of necessity.

The military and political stalemate emerged because these networks are strong enough to continue fighting yet not strong enough to overtake and control territory. Regional rivalries, such as between the Saudis and Qataris on the rebel side, further ensured that resources were directed toward different networks to help maintain the stalemate. Such balances on the battlefield were reflected in the political arena, where major actors, including those inside of Syria, remained intent on a military solution to the conflict rather than a political one. A military stalemate never made political concessions attractive.

This fluid and unstable, yet proliferating, organizational structure of violence in Syria was the immediate backdrop to the Russian intervention.

One of the central questions facing armed groups in conflict is their ability to reproduce, socially, militarily and economically. They need to get recruits, find weapons and make money to finance their operations. The Russian intervention squeezed the ability of these groups to reproduce, thus altering the material and geographic conditions under which the networks of violence form. The indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, not to mention the suffocation of supply routes, reduced and degraded the capacity of many armed groups to the breaking point.

The disruption of the stalemate resulted in an agreement on a ceasefire, which took effect on February 27. Paradoxically, Russia’s intervention has made politics possible. But the particular kind of politics prefigured by Russia’s intervention is not one in which violence and conflict are discouraged or one in which any meaningful political demands, such as a serious, substantive political transition, may emerge.

The networks of violence have little interest in engaging in a political process that offers no tangible material benefit to them. After five years of conflict, and the development of robust war economies throughout the country, these networks in fact have a larger stake in continuing violence. In the absence of a unified rebel vision and continued infighting and fluidity between networks, there is no reason to believe that a Russian-brokered peace process would help to dissolve the networks.

When the history of the Syrian conflict is told, it will be disaggregated into various stages and periods. The transition from the period of stalemate to the period after the Russian intervention will be seen as a key turning point in the trajectory of the conflict. It will also help give insight into the different forms of authority included or excluded in future political arrangements, and the continuity of different, although no less disturbing, forms of violence in Syria.

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Notes on Low Oil Prices and Their Implications

by Miriam R. Lowi | published February 24, 2016 - 10:50am

After about three years of hovering around $110 per barrel, with highs of $125 and lows of $90, oil prices began a precipitous decline in the summer of 2014, reaching a low of $48 per barrel in mid-August 2015 before plummeting to just under $30 per barrel five months later. While investors are no doubt reeling from the impact of this price decline on their portfolios and ventures, it’s well worth pondering how the Middle East and its geopolitics are likely to be affected.

But how to explain this downward spiral in the first place? By all accounts, reasons abound.

Among them: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) chose to drive down the price of oil so as to encourage demand for oil from its member states relative to that from non-OPEC producers. Toward the end of 2014, OPEC took the decision to work to maintain its market share rather than cut production in response to falling demand. This focus on its own share of the oil market is fairly new; previously, OPEC seemed especially concerned to maintain the price of oil within a particular range. (And with that stance as “policy,” Saudi Arabia assumed the role of “swing producer,” tasked with raising or reducing production to maintain the price range.) No doubt, Saudi Arabia was at the forefront of OPEC’s new direction: It is anxious to regain domination of the oil market. And to this end, the kingdom has been keen to push Russia, which is not a member of OPEC, to pump less oil as well.

Be that as it may, analysts insist that another reason is that the supply of oil in recent years has exceeded expectations, due, in part, to the growth in supply of non-conventional oil (from such sources as shale and biofuels), while demand for oil, in an environment of relatively weak global economic growth, has been lower than expected. They add that increased energy efficiency and the declining oil intensity of energy consumption have contributed to the lower demand.

As for the latest fall in prices, some argue that it was prompted by concerns that while the market was already saturated with oil from Saudi Arabia and Russia, it would receive additional supplies from the lifting of sanctions on Iran and the end of the ban on that country’s exports. Needless to say, Iran is unwilling, at this time, to cap its production, having just returned to the global oil market. And despite last week’s agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut their production, in response to international pressures, nothing really compels them to comply; besides, without the inclusion of Iran and Iraq such an agreement is reduced in efficacy.

Furthermore, the appreciation of the US dollar since 2014 has also pushed down the price of oil. Countries that have experienced an erosion of the purchasing power of their currencies as a result of the strong dollar may respond by curtailing demand.

What about the impact of low and falling oil prices on the Middle East, its international relations and domestic politics? There are likely to be both direct and indirect effects, but much will depend on the duration of the new lows.

Having said that, it is clear that China’s economic growth stands to benefit tremendously from low oil prices. And given that China is the largest importer of oil in the world, it is likely that the ties between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and East Asian countries, and between Saudi Arabia and China especially, will increase and deepen. Indeed, the Gulf’s eastward turn has been underway for some time, and long-term contracts are bound to grow in number and intensity.

Insofar as regional relations are concerned, no doubt the lifting of sanctions on Iran means that as Iranian oil enters the market, Iran will have the means to be more assertive in the region—precisely what gives Saudi Arabia the jitters. Nonetheless, if low oil prices persist, the growth of Iran’s refinery capacity, and therefore of its exports of refined petroleum, will be constrained somewhat.

For those oil-exporting states engaged in war, persistent low prices are potentially deeply consequential. Yet for Russia (in Syria) and Saudi Arabia (in Yemen) today, they do not yet appear sufficiently consequential.

Both countries built up large currency reserves during periods of high oil prices; both are now drawing down those reserves to sustain spending, fight wars and finance a budget deficit. It was suggested that Russia was approaching the limits of its reserves even before the intensification of Russia’s military intervention in Syria in the fall of 2015. In October, the Russian finance minister told the parliament in Moscow that at current rates of spending, reserves could be exhausted by the close of 2016. As for Saudi Arabia, its reserves remain substantial. While one analyst, Jean Francois Seznec, has suggested that in February 2015 the kingdom had access to reserves from several different sources amounting to a whopping $1 trillion for a total population—citizens and imported labor—of about 30 million, most sources refer to cash reserves of $750 billion. Ten months later, however, reserves had declined to $600 billion. At this rate of spending (and with access to the reserves of a few domestic funds), Saudi Arabia could manage for a few more years, at least. Indeed, the monarchy has shown no disposition to retreat from its devastating war footing in Yemen.

What about the budgetary implications of low oil prices on government spending more broadly? For one, foreign assistance from GCC states to other Arab countries will likely be reduced. But while the relatively poor, non-oil exporting states of the region are bound to suffer, those to whom assistance is closely linked to political expediency will suffer somewhat less than others. (In this regard, it would be interesting to examine changes to the aid package to Egypt from Saudi Arabia and the UAE since the beginning of the presidency of ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.) At home, ongoing budgetary constraints mean that government spending will have to be reduced. No doubt, austerity is far riskier in Algeria than in (most) GCC states since the per capita cushion of cash reserves is not as generous, while the provision of welfare and social services has been wanting, and popular grievances are manifest. There, the resurgence of relative scarcity and rising frustrations in an impoverished political environment could encourage, as in the past, the mobilization of social forces.

If the price of oil continues to fall and/or remains low, the creation of job opportunities (for the growing numbers of unemployed) will be even more difficult (in the short term, at least) than it has been, while subsidies extended to citizens will have to be reduced, to varying degrees. The GCC has already publicized the decision to introduce, for the first time, a value-added tax, to become operational within the next few years. Were low prices to persist, if not continue to fall over the longer term, domestic politics could be affected insofar as the distribution of oil rents functions as a powerful instrument of social control. Recall that in the early days of the 2011 Arab uprisings, fearing contagion, the Algerian regime, as well as each of the GCC states increased allocations from their burgeoning revenues to their citizens (in the hopes that this would keep them happy and off the streets).

But much depends on whether oil prices continue to fall and how long this period of low oil prices lasts. Given these uncertainties, it would be foolhardy to predict revolution in the Gulf monarchies, to say nothing of an imminent end to the Saudi aggression in Yemen.

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Defending Academic Freedom

by Laurie A. Brand | published February 23, 2016 - 11:56am

Constraints on academic freedom or violations of it are not new in the Middle East and North Africa. Indeed, while there is certainly variation among the countries of the region, regime attempts to control what is studied, how it is studied, and what faculty and students may do and say both on and off campus have a long history.

While the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) was founded in 1966, its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) was not established until 1989. CAF’s mandate is to monitor violations of academic freedom and, where necessary, to write letters of protest to the relevant authorities, both as a means of publicizing the violations and in hopes of generating some pressure for their redress. In its first decade, the committee’s interventions were limited, in part as a function of the size of the body, but also of the sources of information available.

As use of the Internet increased, however, and through it access to a range of official and non-official news sources, so did CAF members’—indeed, everyone’s—access to information about violations. The explosion in the use of social media in the mid-2000s has also enabled committee members to obtain information from the region and our contacts there much more easily than before. Closer to home, the impact of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the scholarly community’s reaction to it put increasing numbers of US (based) scholars into the sights of a terrorism-focused security state and its fellow travelers. Indeed, by 2007 the need to write regarding academic freedom violations in the US and Canada while maintaining our efforts vis-à-vis Middle Eastern cases led CAF to establish two wings—one covering the Middle East and the other North America. Concomitantly, the MESA board approved increasing the number of committee members. A review of CAF’s work reveals a jump from five or fewer letters annually before 2004 to an average of 20 letters per year in the period 2007-2015.

Many of the letters written about Middle Eastern cases in the last few years are directly related to the security deterioration and violence that has come to plague a growing number of countries since 2011. The scale of the destruction in the educational sector—as an integral part of broader society—has been all too clear, from Iraq to Syria and Yemen. In these cases, where documenting individual abuses is beyond the capability of the committee given the extent of the devastation, CAF has written several broad statements deploring the violence in the educational sector and its future implications.

As some Middle East Report readers who are also members of MESA know, in the first two months of 2016 CAF has already produced an unprecedented 16 letters, and others are on the horizon, including what may well be a series of interventions regarding US state lawmakers’ attempts to curb free speech regarding the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, directed at Israel.

The majority of our 2016 letters have so far been addressed to two countries. The first is Egypt, where the continuing uncertainty of the political transition in the context of a brutal military-security regime has produced a dangerous academic and research terrain in which former red lines are shifting or have blurred. The second, and the one that has triggered the unprecedented number of letters, is Turkey, where against the backdrop of an already clear authoritarian turn, the government has launched a wave of administrative, judicial and security assaults in the wake of the publication of the now famous Peace Petition regarding the escalating violence in the country’s southeast. The criminalization of all 1,128 academic signatories of this Petition, and the arrests, dismissals and threats to which the signers have been subjected, represents, at least in CAF’s experience, the broadest targeted assault against academics that we have ever seen.

There is no question that the increased access to information afforded us by various electronic media has played a role in driving the number of letters. There is also the human factor, however. CAF members are volunteers, all giving to this endeavor hours and hours of research and writing that could otherwise be spent on scholarship to advance their careers. CAF’s mission in the past and today attracts members who, for reasons of professional concern, personal commitment and deep moral outrage, have literally thrown themselves into the work of documenting what are increasingly broad and alarming threats, not just to academic freedom, but to personal freedom and, as we saw recently in Egypt, human life itself. The committee’s work is only as strong as the diligence and concern of its members, and in my experience over the past ten years as chair, its successive iterations have continued to grow in depth of commitment.

So, if it is to the tyrants of the region that we look as the source of our work, it is to committed academics like those currently serving on this committee who have embraced the growing need to defend colleagues, contacts and friends abroad that we can look for examples of some of the highest forms of professional and personal integrity that the academy can claim.

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From the Archive: Egypt

by The Editors | published February 17, 2016 - 8:24pm

Last week marked the passage of five years since Husni Mubarak was compelled to resign as president of Egypt by the enormous uprising centered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Around the anniversary, we asked some friends and colleagues who have written on Egypt to list their favorite MERIP articles about that country. Not surprisingly, the lists are skewed toward coverage from 2011 to the present, but there are some older items as well. We offer these samples from our archive in hopes of shedding light on the historical roots of the uprising, the subsequent retrenchment of the authoritarian state and the popular struggles for “bread, freedom and social justice” that continue to this day.

Joel Beinin

Tim Mitchell, “America’s Egypt: Discourse of the Development Industry” (1991)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)
Shana Marshall and Joshua Stacher, “Egypt's Generals and Transnational Capital” (2012)
Issandr El Amrani, “Sightings of the Egyptian Deep State” (2012)
Hesham Sallam, “Striking Back at Egyptian Workers” (2011)

Steven Brooke

Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Marie-Christine Aulas, “Sadat’s Egypt: A Balance Sheet” (1982)  
Joel Beinin and Hossam El-Hamalawy, “Strikes in Egypt Spread from Center of Gravity” (2007)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)
Sami Zubaida, “Islam, the State and Democracy: Contrasting Conceptions of Society in Egypt” (1992)

Issandr El Amrani

Joshua Stacher, “Damanhour by Hook and by Crook” (2006)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Liquidation of Egypt’s Illiberal Experiment” (2010)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “Antinomies of the Saad Eddin Ibrahim Case” (2002)

Mona El-Ghobashy

Erika Post, “Egypt’s Elections” (1987)
Joshua Stacher, “Damanhour by Hook and by Crook” (2006)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)
Joel Beinin, “The Militancy of Mahalla al-Kubra” (2007)
Jeannie Sowers and Sharif Elmusa, “Damietta Mobilizes for Its Environment” (2009)

Vickie Langohr

Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)
Elliott Colla, “The People Want” (2012)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Vickie Langohr, “‘This Is Our Square’: Fighting Sexual Assault at Cairo Protests" (2014)

Shana Minkin

Joel Beinin and Hossam El-Hamalawy, “Strikes in Egypt Spread from Center of Gravity” (2007)
Mariz Tadros, “Sectarianism and Its Discontents in Post-Mubarak Egypt” (2011)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “Boxing In the Brothers” (2007)
Heba Morayef, “Reexamining Human Rights Change in Egypt” (2015)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)

Sumita Pahwa

Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)
Joel Beinin and Hossam El-Hamalawy, “Strikes in Egypt Spread from Center of Gravity” (2007)

Nancy Reynolds

Jeannie Sowers and Chris Toensing, eds., The Journey to Tahrir (2012)
Joel Beinin, “The Militancy of Mahalla al-Kubra” (2007)
Elliott Colla, “The People Want” (2012)
Issandr El Amrani, “Sightings of the Egyptian Deep State” (2012)
Judith Gran, “Impact of the World Market on Egyptian Women” (1977)

Hesham Sallam

Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Timothy Mitchell, “Dreamland: The Neoliberalism of Your Desires” (1999)
Marsha Pripstein Posusney, “Egyptian Privatization: New Challenges for the Left” (1999)
Joel Beinin and Hossam El-Hamalawy, “Strikes in Egypt Spread from Center of Gravity” (2007)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “The Brotherhood Goes to Parliament” (2006)

Paul Sedra

Elliott Colla, “The People Want” (2012)
Shana Marshall and Joshua Stacher, “Egypt’s Generals and Transnational Capital” (2012)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Jessica Winegar, “Taking Out the Trash: Youth Clean Up Egypt After Mubarak” (2011)
Omnia Khalil, “The Everyday in Ramlat Bulaq” (2015)

Jack Shenker

Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
The Editors, “Red-White-and-Black Valentine” (2011)
Norma Claire Moruzzi, “Gender and the Revolutions” (2014)
Shana Marshall and Joshua Stacher, “Egypt's Generals and Transnational Capital” (2012)
Elliott Colla, “The People Want” (2012)

Erin Snider

Timothy Mitchell, “America’s Egypt: Discourse of the Development Industry” (1991)
Joel Beinin and Hossam El-Hamalawy, “Egyptian Textile Workers Confront the New Economic Order” (2007)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher, “Boxing In the Brothers” (2007)
Ahmad Shokr, “The 18 Days of Tahrir” (2011)

Jeannie Sowers

Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Ahmad Shokr, “The 18 Days of Tahrir” (2011)
Joel Beinin, “Formation of the Egyptian Working Class” (1981)
Timothy Mitchell, “America’s Egypt: Discourse of the Development Industry” (1991)
Mona El-Ghobashy, “Egypt’s Paradoxical Elections” (2006)

Joshua Stacher

Mona El-Ghobashy, “The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution” (2011)
Timothy Mitchell, “America’s Egypt: Discourse of the Development Industry” (1991)
Joel Beinin and Hossam El-Hamalawy, “Strikes in Egypt Spread from Center of Gravity” (2007)
Jessica Winegar, “Taking Out the Trash: Youth Clean Up Egypt After Mubarak” (2011)
Hesham Sallam, “Striking Back at Egypt’s Workers” (2011)
Robert Springborg, “The President and the Field Marshal: Civil-Military Relations in Egypt Today” (1986)

Andrea Teti

Shana Marshall and Joshua Stacher, “Egypt’s Generals and Transnational Capital” (2012)
Hesham Sallam, “Striking Back at Egyptian Workers” (2011)
Joel Beinin, “The Militancy of Mahalla al-Kubra” (2007)
Asya el-Meehy, “Egypt’s Popular Committees: From Moments of Madness to NGO Dilemmas” (2012)
Jean Lachapelle, “Lessons from Egypt's Tax Collectors” (2012)

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The Palestine Exception to Free Speech in America

by Joshua Stacher | published February 17, 2016 - 6:51pm

Omar Shakir and Megan Marzec came to northeastern Ohio last week to discuss the constraints on speech about research and activism with regard to Palestinian rights. Their host was the Northeast Ohio Consortium on Middle East Studies (NOCMES).

Shakir is the Bertha Fellow at the Center of Constitutional Rights and a lead author of the report The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US, published jointly by CCR and Palestine Legal. Shakir was also a lawyer for Steven Salaita in his successful suit against the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. That institution infamously revoked Salaita’s hiring as a tenured professor following his tweets critical of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014.

Marzec is a graduate of Ohio University, where she served as Student Senate President in 2014-2015. Her outspoken opposition to the 2014 assault on Gaza brought hateful attacks on her, replete with misogyny and racism, emanating from Athens, Ohio and around the world.

Shakir’s visit included a lecture for NOCMES at Cleveland State University in addition to events at Kent State that included a Know Your Rights workshop and the discussion with Marzec.

At the Kent State discussion, Shakir and Marzec covered everything from general trends and organizing strategies to personal experiences. Video of the discussion is here.

Two MERIP editors, Pete Moore and Joshua Stacher, founded NOCMES in 2010 to bring the best of Middle East studies to Cleveland and environs. The consortium now includes six universities, with about a dozen civic partners including the City Club of Cleveland and the Cleveland Council of World Affairs. NOCMES has invited over 35 speakers on such topics as the Arab uprisings, oil and Saudi Arabia, women and religion, ISIS, the global war on terror and policing in the US, the Iranian revolution, public opinion and comic books. Lectures are held at Cleveland-area universities, Islamic centers, churches, high schools, public libraries and bars, as well as prestigious venues such as the City Club. Previous speakers include Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Jillian Schwedler, Laleh Khalili, Arang Keshavarizian, Joel Beinin, Noura Erakat and Toby Jones. For more information and video of many previous events, see the NOCMES website.

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