Panel 3

Panel 3 – “The Quiet Encroachment” of the Counter-revolutionaries: How the Autocrats Survived the MENA Uprisings
Merouan Mekouar

Title: Social Protest and Authoritarian Manoeuvring in Algeria: How Bouteflika Survived the Arab Spring

Abstract: Although Algeria witnessed hundreds of spontaneous acts of popular protest since the beginning of the Arab Spring, these protests failed to generate mass mobilization against the regime. Why is that the case? This article builds on the literature on informational cascades to show that the absence of mass mobilization in Algeria during the Arab Spring of 2011 is due to the non-involvement of respected political agents whose participation could have sent a clear signal to the population about the presence of an opportunity for contestation and triggered a national protest movement. The non-participation of the local elite is the result of the ambitious redistribution policy implemented by the regime since the end of the civil war (and the serendipitously concomitant increase in the prices of commodities in 2002) as well as the complex legacy of the civil war which allowed for the consolidation of an inter-elite political and economic consensus that no one so far is willing to break.

Bio: Merouan Mekouar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Science at York University. He completed his PhD in Political science at McGill University. He has published three book chapters related to North African politics and an article in the International Studies Review Journal. He has also published a number of articles in the Washington Post and Foreign Policy; he is regularly invited by Canadian television and radio outlets to analyze current events in world politics in relation to the Arab world. He is currently finishing his book, tentatively titled Protest and Authoritarian Collapse in North Africa, to be published with Ashgate in February 2016.

Larissa Alles

Title: The Elite and the Street: Why those who Shape Yemen’s Future Were Neglected

Abstract: The so-called transition period after the 2011 uprising in Yemen and the subsequent ouster of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh made policy makers and MENA experts hailing the ‘Yemen model’ as a success for a short while. Yet, the return to elite power struggles through violent means and the sweeping success of the Houthis backed by forces loyal to Saleh left the international community puzzled, and the Yemeni population disappointed in the UN efforts to enable a stable transition to a new political system. Part of the problem is however, that two distinct phenomena have been consistently overlooked since the fall of the old regime, the central issue of intra-elite disputes and the role of social groups in what was supposed to be a ‘new Yemen’. Both factors were crucial over the course of the uprising in 2011: A vibrant and new part of civil society had emerged in a matter of months with the potential to bring about change in society. At the same time, intra-elite tensions that had been developing over the previous decade found an arena for open struggle during the protests and brought the country to the verge of civil war. The internationally brokered GCC-initiative initiated a transition period at which end (in February 2014), the country should elect a new president and a new parliament based on the regulations of a new constitution. Yet instead, Yemen is entangled in a civil war with multiple factions and subject to a Saudi-led bombing campaign. This paper argues that the neglect of the intra-elite struggle just as much as the marginalization of social actors during the transition period and the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) account for Yemen’s state of devastation. As examples will show, both groups of actors deal very differently with this grievance. Whilst elites engage in new alliances and old violence, social actors carry on a peaceful struggle through innovative means such as art, filmmaking and music.

Bio: Larissa Alles is a PhD candidate  at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In her thesis “Vulnerabilities of authoritarian upgrading in Yemen,” she analyses sources of legitimacy and authority during the Saleh-regime in Yemen, and how liberalizing means were employed to secure authoritarian power. Larissa spent a year in Yemen and studied at Sana‘a University. She also worked with the Yemeni constitution drafting committee during a working retreat in Germany.

Nadia Hajji

Title: The Exhaustion of the February 20th Movement and the Re-sectorization of Struggles in Morocco

Abstract: Constructed from a field survey, this research analyzes through the framing theory the mobilization and dismantling strategies of the February 20th Movement, founded by young people in the Moroccan capital in 2011. The social movement brings together heterogeneous actors with distinct ideologies throughout the kingdom about political, socioeconomic and identity demands and is challenged to mute animosities of its various actors to successfully mobilize the citizens. It openly denounces authoritarianism and calls for judicial independence, the separation of powers and social justice. On the one hand, the Movement’s mobilization strategy is built around a speech against the transitional ideology of the rulers, an ideology to which a large majority of Moroccan political and social actors has adhered since the 1990’s. This is the first time since the “Years of Lead” and the coming to power of King Mohammed VI in 1999 a social movement fully affirms its contentious politics. Unlike political parties participating in the official policy, permitted by the institutions controlled by the Royal Palace, the February 20th Movement is part of a wider and deeper collective contentious field.

On the other hand, through the de-legitimization and repression of the Movement, the dismantling strategy contributed to the transformation of contentious practices which led the young activists to continue their struggles in new sectoral movements (such as the student movement, the underground film movement and the feminist movement), in a multi-sectoral response. This re-sectorization of struggles the February 20th Movement had outgrown, does not preclude their politicization, unlike previous sectoral movements which played down the political responsibility of their struggles.

Despite the exhaustion of the February 20th Movement, the new militant commitments of its activists in recent mobilizations invite researchers to be alert about the development of contestation in Morocco.

Bio: Nadia Hajji holds a Master’s degree in political science from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Her dissertation studies the mobilisation and the dismantling of the February 20th Movement in Morocco. She joined Amnesty International Canada and volunteered in the North Africa community group for three years. She is the current president of the Québec Support Committee for the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (CSAQ).

Calum McMillan

Title: “Unlicensed Protests”: An Analysis of the Representation of the Bahrain Arab Spring Uprising by the Bahraini Government

Abstract: In 2011, with uprisings across the Middle East in full swing, the Persian Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain saw the birth of its own pro-democracy movement. This movement, comprised in large part of Bahrain’s oft-oppressed Shia Muslim population, found itself opposed by brutal security forces and a sophisticated and insidious government campaign of misinformation. Protesters with a concrete set of reasonable political demands were painted as anti-government radicals causing trouble at Iran’s behest. This paper cuts through the misinformation by analyzing the ways the Bahraini government attempted to discredit the protest movement as exemplified by the book 20/20. The book was released by Miracle Publishing, a Bahrain-based design and advertising firm with clients like the Bahraini Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Culture, and purports to document the first forty days of the protest movement, from February 14th to March 25th 2011. It presents photos for each day in the forty, and constructs a narrative which would be unfamiliar to any observer of the uprising. Some photos tie protesters to Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei, others exaggerate the participation of religious officials, and still others emphasize the “disruptions” caused by “unlicensed protests”. These statements, when compared to more impartial accounts of the protests, clearly illustrate a Bahraini government desperate to maintain power and salvage its reputation abroad by crafting a falsified narrative which serves its interests. Analyzing this narrative, then, is the first step in the critically important process of establishing a credible historical record.

Bio: Calum McMillan holds a BA in Political Science and International Studies from Macalester College. He is interested in the politics of the authoritarian monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula.