Subtopics

Due to a variety of potential topics, we have chosen five topics which we will feature in our IAPSS Winter School 2016. These sub-topics are the most debated when it comes to the question: Is the Middle East and North Africa at a crossroads? Here is a short summary for each sub-topic:

(1) Revolutions and Counter-revolutions

After decades of oppression, a wave of uprisings swept the Arab World, bringing hope of a better future to many. Five years later, what has been dubbed as the “Arab Spring” has turned to a dark winter for most of these countries. Tunisia, the first country to witness an uprising, may well be the only country that is slowly moving towards a brighter outlook despite many obstacles. Egypt seems to have come back full circle, Syria is in peril, and Libya is nowhere near a democracy. Therefore, we need to think if the Arab World has really witnessed revolutions. What does a revolution mean? How can the study of revolutions in a historical framework give us new insights on the trajectory of the Arab Spring? Why are some regimes resilient, while others collapse?The reason why the uprisings of the Arab World did not produce the desired outcomes may be attributed to a general regional turmoil that started long ago and intensified because of the quest for regional hegemony by different forces.  At the same time, most of the countries in the MENA region are witnessing a counterrevolution from within: Old forces that are struggling for survival after the masses clearly rejected them. This topic is important to understand the domestic and regional factors that have led to the perceived failure of the uprisings of 2011. It also serves to understand why some countries did not witness an uprising despite initial protests and are still resilient to change.

(2) Geopolitics and Regional Hegemony

Geopolitics play a large role in the domestic affairs of the countries that are in a period of transition. The struggle among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and the geopolitical shifts the region is witnessing, especially after the successful Iran deal, is carried out through proxies. The small states of Bahrain and Qatar became important global players within a decade and led to regional and global political shifts. The situation in Yemen, the financial assistance to Egypt and the complicated interplay of different actors in Syria are all points that this topic covers. This sub-topic offers a macro perspective on the MENA region and aims to set the Arab Spring in an international context. The question of how far regional issues influence domestic politics is important to understand why countries do what they do and how alliances in the Middle East are formed.

(3) Security Threats: Terrorism, Salafism and Jihadism?

The world is witnessing a wave of terror that claims the lives of innocent people with terrorists constantly expanding their objectives. Beirut, Baghdad, Mali and Paris are the most recent examples of political violence affiliated to radical interpretations of the Quran, among other factors. The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has emerged as the most dangerous terrorist organization and raises questions about the nature of Islam and Muslims. After each incident questions about religion and ideology emerge and debates about their interdependence dominate the discussions. Concepts like Jihad, Salafism and Islamism are used interchangeably, sometimes resulting in confusion and prejudices that are misleading. At the same time, this confusion may be a goal of those who are planning and executing these task in order to divide people – not only in the Middle East and North Africa. What do Salafist apolitical groups and Jihadists have in common? Is Islamic terrorism just a question of ideology or religion? Is religious reformation really the answer to radicalism? This topic is important to understand what drives organizations like IS to violence, what Islam has to do with it, and how it influences the region.

(4) The Evolution of Political Islam in the region

Before the uprisings in 2011, Islamic political activism was present in many countries. Islam always played a role in forming the national identity of Arab countries, and naturally it found its place in politics as well. Islam was sometimes either the driver of domestic politics or was oppressed in the name of secularization. The relationship between political Islam groups and the state have ranged from oppression to tolerance to short lived alliances. After the uprisings, many of those groups came to power, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood in both Egypt and Tunisia. This was regarded by many as a win for “moderate Islam” and the beginning of a new era. Years later, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is considered a terrorist organization by the state, was praised for its political shrewdness in Tunisia, and made considerable political gains in the latest local elections in Morocco. This topic examines the interplay of Islam and politics , how political Islam developed since 2011 and the various forms it has taken in different countries.

(5) Migration politics in Maghreb

The refugee plight has affected the whole world after the war in Syria displaced millions and pushed millions other to risk their lives in order to escape. Countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey bear the brunt of the refugee crisis, while European countries are struggling with thousands of refugees seeking safety. Debates about why rich Arab countries are not doing more to help their neighbors have been emerging lately. This topic is stronlgy connected to our host country Morocco and will examine the migration policies in Maghreb and how it is reflected in today’s crisis.

If you have any additional questions regarding our sub-topics, then please feel free to contact us at winterschool@iapss.org