About the Conference

International Conference

The Unfinished Project of the Arab Spring:
Why “Middle East Exceptionalism” is Still Wrong

University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
September 25-27, 2015

Four years after the recent revolutions/social movements (2011-12) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the crisis in the region is evident. The MENA region after the Arab Spring is caught between a number of rocks and many hard places. The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the return of a military regime in Egypt, the breakout of proxy/civil war in Syria and Yemen, and the chaos and collapse of the Libyan polity have largely replaced hope with despair, and excitement with resentment. Is the Middle East exceptionally immune to democratic movements, values and institutions? 

This international conference is an attempt to examine why and how the MENA region is not immune to democratic social movements. We propose that these revolutions were indicative of deep-rooted socio-cultural and structural transformations in contemporary MENA; they symbolized a popular quest for human dignity, social justice and freedom. The genie is out of the bottle and more progressive changes have yet to come. The contemporary social movements in MENA are open-ended and unfinished projects.

The conference aims to study these movements and their aftermath with an eye to the socio-political opportunities and potentials for progressive change they left behind. This is significant given that scholarly debates on social movements and democratization in the MENA countries have largely focused on the democratic setbacks following these movements. The mediated effects and subtle reforms resulting from these movements are, however, less highlighted and rarely examined in great details. Such focus is significant for theorizing the uprisings, informing domestic and foreign policies, and imagining an alternative and unconventional perspective for the future of popular and progressive social movements in the MENA region.

This conference and the subsequent publications aim to examine the local, regional and global impediments to grassroots democracy, and advance our knowledge about deep socio-cultural transformations in the region. It facilitates a critical dialogue between Western and MENA scholars and activists. Scholars from the Middle East, Europe, Canada and US critically examine the impact of global and regional politics, political economy, post-colonial condition, and socio-cultural factors – gender, ethnicity, class, and religion – on the rise and the current crisis of contemporary social movements in the region. The conference features distinguished scholars of the Middle East and Islamic Studies across various academic disciplines. They include Tariq Ali, Karima Bennoune and Amina Wadud, among others.

This international conference and the subsequent edited volume are our first step towards a comprehensive research project on socio-political transformations in contemporary Muslim majority states/societies. On behalf of the organizing committee, I would like to thank the sponsors and welcome the participants. We look forward to meeting you at our international conference in Edmonton in September 2015!

Mojtaba Mahdavi 2015 copy (1)
Conference Chair,
Mojtaba Mahdavi, PhD
ECMC Chair in Islamic Studies
Associate Professor, Political Science
Department of Political Science – University of Alberta

Cover photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany/REUTERS