31 May 2010

CALL FOR PAPERS: Regionalism and Authoritarianism in the Contemporary Arab World: An Interdisciplinary Research Workshop

The Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia (TRI) at Princeton University has issued a call for papers on the topic of 'Regionalism and authoritarianism in the contemporary Arab world: an interdisciplinary research workshop'.

Across the Arab world, most regimes are authoritarian—that is, characterized by a high degree of limitation on political competition, with those limits enforced by state coercion. Within these authoritarian systems, whether republican or monarchical, the state structure is as a rule strongly unitary and highly centralized. With rare exceptions (the United Arab Emirates; in the last decade, Sudan and Iraq), federal systems are absent in the Arab world. Scholars, meanwhile, have tended to take the unitary state at face value. In a number of disciplines, studies of the modern Arab world focus disproportionately on the central state. The state’s relationship to its population is assumed to be invariable across the territory; where differences in that relationship are recognized and analysed in the literature, they are usually communal rather than geographical ones (one regime favours cAlawis or Bedouins; another discriminates against Shicis or Berbers). And yet in practice, the expression of power in authoritarian Arab regimes is clearly modulated according to region—whether it is the Sacid and Sinai in Egypt, the Oranais in Algeria, the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia or the Rif in Morocco. Even in a country such as Syria this is the case: modes of governance differ greatly between the capital and Aleppo, let alone between settled and tribal areas.

That this is so reflects the relative weakness of the concerned regimes, but also the continuing strength of regional identities. Scholars and other commentators are very ready to assert that the borders of modern Arab states are artificial and lack legitimacy in the eyes of their populations. But, whereas this is usually taken to mean that Arab populations would view a larger territorial unity as more legitimate, it is often the case that regional loyalties within states remain stronger than, or at least as strong as, national (let alone pan-Arab) ones.

This workshop, drawing on multiple disciplinary perspectives, will seek to examine the relationship between authoritarianism and regionalism in the Arab world. How have practices of regionalism functioned in authoritarian regimes which recognize little or no formal differentiation between regions within their state? By “practices of regionalism”, we mean both the manifestations of regional loyalties within the central state agencies (such as Takriti domination over the upper echelons of the former Iraqi regime) and regional variations in the implementation of state authority (in Syria, for example, an internal circular of the Ministry of awqaf sets levels of control on the composition of Friday sermons that differ by region).

Authoritarianism, however, has not only been forced to cope with pre-existing regional identities and particularities: it has also reinforced them, either directly, by deliberately neglecting rebellious peripheral areas (the Rif in Hassan II’s Morocco), or indirectly, by opposing a free press and genuine party politics—that is, the arenas that might have helped transcend the regional fragmentation of the national territory. Looking at the question in the other direction, to what extent have regional considerations shaped non-state actors’ interactions with regimes? To what extent have mobilizations characterized as sectarian in nature (including ‘Islamist’ mobilizations) in fact represented an outlet for regionalist sentiment? We are interested in how regional feeling affects interactions with a state whose effective authority is not in itself challenged, rather than separatist or autonomist movements (Kurds in Iraq and Syria, South Yemen) or de facto independent regions within failed states (“Smaller Christian Lebanon” during the civil war, Somaliland and Puntland).

Format: The workshop will bring together a group of 12-15 participants with relevant expertise, including doctoral students and younger academics as well as more established researchers, for a series of round table discussions. Papers will be pre-circulated, allowing the maximum time for discussion and the exchange of ideas. The workshop will not be public, but will involve Princeton faculty and graduate students as discussants.

The language of the workshop will be English.

Submission guidelines: Prospective participants are invited to submit abstracts (up to 400 words) to the organizers: Thomas Pierret (tpierret@princeton.edu) and Benjamin White (bw5@princeton.edu).

Deadline for submissions is Friday 9 July 2010. Abstracts may present a single-country case study or one that draws material from more than one Arab country, but in all cases submitters should draw out the wider comparative significance of their specific subject. The workshop will take place on 15-16 November 2010.

Accommodation and meals will be provided, and travel costs will be reimbursed up to a reasonable limit.

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