MENA Academy Weekly Roundup #13
Your regular collection of new academic work returns after a brief pause
My apologies for not producing the blog or the podcast the last couple of weeks. It had already been just a really overwhelming period, what with the baby aardvark’s medical issues (she’s doing much better!), the complications and stress of moving houses, and commuting back to DC every week to teach. In the midst of it all, I had to deal with the sudden and extremely sad passing of one of my beloved dogs (the good boy pictured above). It did not leave me with much time or emotional energy to read Middle East politics books, write, or record podcasts. But I’m back now.
In the background, of course, has been the relentless trauma and horror of Israel’s devastating blockade, bombardment, and ground invasion of Gaza. It’s good that there has finally been a pause in the fighting and some prisoner exchanges. It would be better to lock a ceasefire into place and begin massive humanitarian reconstruction of Gaza while focusing attention on the rapidly deteriorating situation on the West Bank. I have a few pieces on different aspects of the war coming out soon, hopefully; I won’t spoil them here, but I think you will find them interesting.
In the meantime, I wanted to draw attention to the “Campus Climate Resources” page recently released by the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom. This is a tremendously useful collection of resources about the challenges facing Middle East-focused academics under current conditions. It includes statements by MESA, model statements from other institutions, resources on legal rights and responsibilities, background on the contentious efforts to define antisemitism, and more. This is badly needed at a time when academics working on the Middle East have been facing extraordinary levels of pressure from students, academic peers, external advocacy groups, the media and — too often — their own academic administrations. Check it out here.
You may also be interested in the collection of two decades worth of writing about Gaza just released by the Journal of Palestine Studies. Check it out here. And the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, published by the American University of Cairo, has just published a fantastic 50th anniversary retrospective on the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
And now for our weekly roundup of new academic publications on the Middle East and North Africa. This week we feature articles on “retrospective understandings of grievance” in post-revolutionary Tunisia, localization in the humanitarian response in Syria, autocratic legitimacy and the COVID response in Saudi Arabia, community resilience in Yemen, the role of gender in climate change-driven migration decisions in Morocco, and the shifting role of clientelism at the local level in Moroccan politics. As always, I’m absolutely delighted to see so many friends of POMEPS publishing in these top journals, including two POMEPS board members, multiple recipients of POMEPS TRE grants, and multiple contributors to POMEPS Studies collections.
Chantal Berman, Dina Bishara, and Michelle Jurkovich, “When citizens look backwards: retrospective understandings of grievance in post-revolutionary societies,” Acta Politica (November 2023). ABSTRACT: How do citizens understand the drivers of revolutionary mobilization? Studies of revolution and contentious politics often focus on expressed grievances at the moment of protest in order to theorize the causes of mobilization. Yet citizens’ retrospective understandings of their country’s revolution may hold important implications for post-revolutionary politics. We argue that citizens in the aftermath of revolution may well hold divergent views about the main drivers of mass mobilization, and that these divergent views often map on to important social and political cleavages. Using an original nationally representative survey conducted in 2017, we analyze retrospective accounts of the socio-economic grievances underpinning the 2010/2011 Tunisian revolution, focusing on which socio-economic grievances Tunisians perceived as most important in driving revolutionary protests. We find the most significant variation at the regional level. We draw on existing scholarship on regional disparities to contextualize these findings. In interior governorates, where spontaneous anti-regime mobilization began in December 2010, citizens overwhelmingly identified unemployment as the key revolutionary grievance. In the capital and coastal regions, where mass protests emerged later in the revolutionary cycle and included a broader range of formal civil society actors, including powerful labor syndicates, citizens identified a wider array of grievances, including inadequate wages and lack of adequate access to healthcare. Beyond revolutionary contention, this article’s focus on retrospective grievances can serve to illuminate broader dynamics of contentious politics, particularly how important episodes of contentious politics are conceived years after they took place and how those conceptions might differ along politically or geographically salient cleavages in society.
Rana Khoury and Emily Scott, “Going local without localization: Power and humanitarian response in the Syrian war,” World Development 174 (February 2024). ABSTRACT: International aid organizations and donors have committed to localize aid by empowering local actors to deliver and lead in humanitarian response. While international actors do often rely on local actors for aid delivery, their progress on shifting authority falls short. Scholars suggest that while localizing aid may be desirable, the organizational imperatives of international actors and aid’s colonial past and present make it difficult at best. Can localization efforts produce locally led humanitarian response? Adopting a power framework, we argue that localization reinforces and reproduces international power; through institutional processes, localization efforts by international actors allocate capacity to, and constitute local actors as, humanitarians that are more or less capable, funded, and involved in responding to crises in the latter’s own countries. This article interprets aid efforts during the Syria War. In this crucial case, we might expect localization to be “easy” due to the dependence of international actors on local actors because of security concerns and constraints on international access. We draw on fine-grained qualitative data collected through immersive observation and 250 interviews with Syrian and international aid workers in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as descriptive analysis of quantitative data. We reveal the ways Syrians were constituted as frontline responders, recipients of funds or trainings, risk-takers, gateways to access, and tokenistic representatives of the crisis. Our research shows that while the response seemed to “go local” by relying on the labor and risk-taking of Syrians to implement relief, it did not transfer authority to Syrian actors. Findings contribute to current debates in global development and humanitarian scholarship about who holds power within the global aid architecture.
Bruno Schmidt-Feuerheerd, ““The Pandemic Was a Global Exam, and Our Country Came in First”: Autocratic Performance Legitimacy in Saudi Arabia,” Perspectives on Politics (November 2023). ABSTRACT: Existing scholarship establishes that authoritarian regimes make claims about their legitimacy yet does not tell us what makes these claims effective. This article argues that authoritarian legitimation is more effective when coproduced by the government, media, and progovernment supporters, rather than just being centrally disseminated talking points. This article uses the effective handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Saudi government to demonstrate how this narration translated trust in state capacity into performance legitimacy of the Saudi regime and system of governance. Saudi media figures and progovernment supporters expanded basic government talking points for audiences and discussed successful policies in relation to countries with higher international status (chiefly in the West) and higher state capacity (such as China). This article evaluates statements by the government, original media sources, and more than 90 interviews with Saudi nationalists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs, while speaking to the relational character of performance legitimation beyond Saudi Arabia.
Manuel Almeida, Raiman al-Hamdani, and Austin Knuppe, “Understanding community resilience in Yemen: how parallel institutions meet essential needs in the absence of the state,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (November 2023). ABSTRACT: How do Yemeni communities build and sustain resilience in wartime when state institutions are weak or absent? Based on original research across 14 communities in Yemen, this paper compares international and Yemeni conceptions of community resilience, explores how local residents assess threats to their communities, and identifies the actors, institutions, and norms that enhance community resilience. We show that parallel institutions—non-state socio-political, cultural, religious and economic networks and practices used to fill governance gaps or bypass state institutions—bolster community resilience through the provision of material, social, and existential resources. Data from the field demonstrate that patronage, kinship and brokerage are three categories of parallel institutions which, alongside civil society organisations (CSOs), play a particularly salient role in sustaining community resilience in Yemen. However, the downsides of parallel institutions—including nepotism, favouritism and further weakening of state legitimacy—pose complex challenges for the donor community and local stakeholders. The further weakening of state institutions will likely lead parallel institutions to play an increasingly salient role, while increasing the burden of providing essential services.
Loubna Ou-Salah, Lore Van Praag, and Gert Verschraegen, “Household Gender Roles and Slow-Onset Environmental Change in Morocco: A Barrier or Driver to Develop Migration Aspirations?” Journal of Development Studies (November 2023). ABSTRACT: We study how slow-onset environmental changes impact the adaptive capacity of rural women living in the Souss-Massa region of Morocco. Given the immobility of many women in rural regions, we especially focus upon the internal migration aspirations of rural woman. In this way our study aims to shed light on the interrelationships between environmental change, gender relations and social and migration aspirations in a gradually environmentally degrading region. Based on Carling’s aspiration/ability model, we analyse how slow-onset environmental changes influence the internal migration aspirations and trajectories of rural women, taking into account important background factors such as household characteristics, land heritage systems and migration networks. Our study is based on 38 interviews with inhabitants of the Souss-Massa region of Morocco that (used to) work in the agricultural sector, of which 15 interviews were conducted with rural women. Our findings show the ambiguous role of slow-onset environmental changes in the development of migration aspirations of rural women in a Moroccan rural context and underscores that environmental changes should be taken into account in migration decision making processes, both for internal and international migration.
Angela Suarez-Collado, “Navigating turbulent waters: associative clientelism and the rise and decline of Riffian elites in Morocco,” Territory, Politics and Governance (November 2023). ABSTRACT: This article examines the pathways followed by peripheral elites to gain access to the Moroccan state apparatus and play a broker role between the centre and the periphery in Morocco. It focusses on Riffian elites and how their profile has changed since independence according to the different social pacts and dynamics of inclusion promoted by the Moroccan regime. The study pays special attention to analysing the landscape of the new elites that emerged during the reign of Mohammed VI through what has been termed associative clientelism, the limits of this new model of inclusion and the decline of these elites.
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