Panel 6

Panel 6 – Gendering the MENA Uprisings: Women and Politics of the Body
Ellen Amster

Title: The Politics of the Body in the Arab Spring

Abstract: In the Arab Spring, we have seen multiple examples of human bodies as the forum for political debate. Not just the dead body as evidence—corpses laid out to bear witness against the Assad regime—–or the body as political symbol, when the statues of Qaddafi and Ben Ali were pulled down and dismembered by the crowds. Corporeal politics demonstrate that the body and the body politic are intertwined, they are mutually constitutive, as Jean Comaroff has argued. New political communities created themselves around the images of the brutalized bodies of the child Hamza al-Khatib in Syria and Khalid Saʿid in Egypt, (“We are all Hamza al-Khatib, We are all Khalid Saʿid”). The self-immolation of Muhammad Bu ʿAzizi brought massive street protests and toppled the regime of President Bin ʿAli; Egyptian women cut their hair in Tahrir Square to protest the new Egyptian constitution; Salafi Islamists destroy Sufi shrines and dig up saintly bodies. These are political struggles to define emerging polities, sovereignty, and rights through the body—who is the citizen, what are his rights, how should the polity be constituted?

Yet we do not look for politics in the body. We flee the body to imagine ourselves as self-determining citizen-subjects. This liberal model of sovereignty, invented in the West and adopted to degrees in the Middle East and North Africa, is now in manifest crisis, yet so paradigmatic that it is difficult to think beyond. Corporeality offers a lens through which to understand the nature of sovereignty and the debate over its terms, with the body as a place of dialogue between the citizen and the polity.

Bio: Ellen Amster is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at McMaster University and an Associate Professor, jointly appointed to the Departments of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Department of History. She is the author of Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877- 1956 (University of Texas Press 2013) and developed a determinants of health global field study school, “Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco: Women’s Rights and Family in Islam.” Her next projects include a global history of public health and body politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

Mark Ayyash

Title: The Egyptian Uprisings, the Social-Political, and Sexual Violence

Abstract: Analyses of contemporary social movements in the MENA region often focus on the difficulties that movements face in their efforts to transpose certain ideals and goals in the moment of social revolutionary generation to the realm of political structures. While such analyses are necessary, I argue that social scientists must also examine the difficulties that these movements face in forming and transposing their transformations of the social-political relation itself, which can be observed through the question of gender relations. The paper examines the case of the Egyptian Uprisings, particularly focusing on materials from two groups, the April 6th Youth Movement and Nazra for Feminist Studies. Much different from superficial Orientalist critiques, I argue that these two groups presented a scathing critique of the sexual contract that underpins the social- political divide in the Egyptian authoritarian postcolonial regime. It is in these groups’ (and others) transformation of gender relations and the undoing of the sexual contract that can be seen the Uprising’s promise and in some respects major achievement. But is also here that can be seen the Uprisings’ major difficulty, which manifested itself in greater scope in the (post)revolutionary moments. The failures of the Egyptian Uprisings can be found not in the fact that there were competing ideologies and political affiliations within the movement, which were united only in so far as there existed a greater common enemy (Mubarak). The main difficulty of the Uprisings was that the movement never managed to bridge the social-political divide during the revolutionary moment, which was manifested in the instances of sexual violence and the “virginity tests.” The social and the political were allowed to maintain their oppositional divide, and in this, the military was able to reassert itself, highlighting that the persistence of postcoloniality is secured on, not its own ideological ground, but on the difficulty of thinking and living the social-political relation in a complementary form.

Bio: Mark Ayyash is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Mount Royal University, Calgary. He specializes in social and political theory, the study of violence, decolonial conceptions of space and time, social movements, as well as culture and politics in the Middle East. His articles have dealt with the ‘violent dialogue’ between Hamas and the Israeli State, the exiling writing of Edward Said, the question of past violences in transnational Palestinian youth movements, and the paradox of political violence.

Lahoucine Ouzgane

Title: Gendering Dignity in the Moroccan Family Code

Abstract: Political observers credit Morocco’s adoption of a new Family Code and a new Constitution with helping King Mohamed VI ride the waves of popular unrest in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that has swept from power the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. While violence continues to plague much of the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco is often cited for its stability and smooth transition to democracy and protection of human rights.

For instance, in the Preamble to the Moroccan Family Code (or La Moudawana) of 2004, Driss Jettou, former Moroccan Prime minister, outlines the three major goals of the new law:

Doing justice to women, protecting children’s rights and preserving men’s dignity are a fundamental part of this project, which adheres to Islam’s tolerant ends and objectives, notably justice, equality, solidarity, ijtihad (juridical reasoning) and receptiveness to the spirit of our modern era and the requirements of progress and development. [Outre son souci d’équité à l’égard de la femme, le projet vise notamment à protéger les droits de l’enfant et à préserver la dignité de l’homme, sans se départir des desseins tolérants de justice, d’égalité et de solidarité que prône l’Islam]

But in spite of Morocco’s reputation as a progressive and liberalizing state and society, an examination of Morocco’s much celebrated Family Code reveals the extent to which its articles in fact reaffirm patriarchal relations and perpetuate gender inequality, as can be seen in three films by Nabil Ayouch: Ali Zaoua (2002), the story of Casablanca street children; Horses of God (2012), a fictionalized portrait of the suicide bombers who, in 2003, attacked five locations in Casablanca, killing 44 people, the deadliest act of terrorism in Moroccan history; and finally Much Loved (2015), a film currently causing so much controversy in Morocco (with some people calling for the death of its director) that the government has decided to ban it because of its “grave outrage against moral values and the dignity of Moroccan women, as well as its flagrant attack on the Kingdom’s image” [“il comporte un outrage grave aux valeurs morales et à la femme marocaine, et une atteinte flagrante à l’image du royaume.”]

Bio: Lahoucine Ouzgane is an Associate Professor of English and Film Studies at University of Alberta. He locates his teaching and research interests in postcolonial theory, Middle Eastern and African literatures, composition and pedagogy, and masculinity studies. His recent publications include Crossing Borderlands: Composition and Postcolonial Studies (U of Pittsburgh P, 2004), African Masculinities: men in Africa from the late 19th century to the present (Palgrave, 2005), and Islamic Masculinities (Zed Books, 2006). He is on the editorial board of Jouvert: a journal of postcolonial studies and The Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, and is also Consultant Editor for The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities.