Program 14.8.

Detailed program of the 14th August.

All the sessions will take place at Metsätalo, Unioninkatu 40.

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The Politics of Islam in the Middle East and Europe

Wednesday 14.8. 9.30 – 11.00, Sessions I

Chair: Rola El-Husseini, Lund University

These three papers by Lund university graduate students show the diversity of the politics of Islam in the recent past and the contemporary world. All three papers analyze notorious groups, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Lebanese Shia organization Hezbollah, and the Iranian “Islamic-Marxist” Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The papers explore the discourse of these organizations through an analysis of the speeches of Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, the competing fatwas issued by the religious clerics of ISIS and its rival in Syria Jabhat al-Nusra, and defense speeches given in court by senior MEK members in 1972. These three papers are based on discourse analysis conducted while working on master’s theses at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University.

New and Old Enemies: Hezbollah's Discourse on their Intervention in Syria

Demian Vokši, Lund University

This paper draws on the speeches of Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah between 2013 and 2018, to examine how Hezbollah has attempted to legitimize their involvement in the war in Syria. Hezbollah framed their discourse in several ways, including jihad and martyrdom, themes connected to the issues of Lebanese unity in the face of adversity and nominal rejection of sectarianism, in addition to themes connected to the experience, zeal and readiness of the resistance. Hezbollah also framed the Syria war as both a local and a regional issue, where the future of the region will be decided. This was conducted not only against old enemies, Israel and the US, but also against a new threat manifested in the takfiri forces, supported by Israel, the US, and some Arab states. Hezbollah is therefore able to adapt to geopolitical realities and combine previously established discourses with new ones to mobilize its followers.


‘War of Theology’, The Theological Aspect of the Split between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq in 2013

Orwa Ajjoub, Lund University

In April 2013, Abu Bakr Al- Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), announced his group’s expansion into Syria and merger with Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) to form the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS. JN’s leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani denied the merger while accepting ties between the two groups. Al-Jolani also swore an oath to the head of al-Qaeda Central, Aymen Al-Zawahiri. Tension escalated, and the dispute was referred to al-Zawahiri who ruled against the merger. A theological debate then emerged, dividing the Salafi-Jihadi ulamaʾ into those supporting and opposed to the merger. Each group’s position was supported by texts from the Quran, the Sunna, and narratives from Islamic history. I contend that although Salafi-Jihadi ulamaʾ used the same concepts (al-baya, obedience and Muslims’ unity) to bolster their argument, their distinct interpretations of these concepts support the theological and political divides between the different Salafi-Jihadi factions.

Imagining a Revolutionary Iran: National Narratives in the Revolutionary Discourse of the Mojahedin-e Khalq

James Root, Lund University

The Mojahedin-e Khalq was an Iranian “Islamic revolutionary” guerrilla organisation, formed in the 1960s, and committed to armed insurrection against the ruling dictatorship of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi. Its ideology, a synthesis of Islamic, Marxist, and nationalist discourses, was the first elaboration of a revolutionary Shi’a ideology in the Iranian context.

Through an analysis of speeches given by arrested Mojahedin members in court, I explore their construction of counter-narratives to the prevailing state-nationalist discourse of the Iranian regime, juxtaposing Shia Islamic and socialist-revolutionary themes (such as state legitimacy, class solidarity, anti-imperialism, historical paradigms, self-sacrifice and apocalypse). Theoretically grounded in cultural and genre analysis as well as notions of publics and counter publics, I argue that the Mojahedin reinterpreted the lessons of Islamic and Iranian culture and history to build a narrative making the case that revolution was not only just and legitimate, but inevitable.

Travelers, translations and biographies

Wednesday 14.8. 9.30 – 11.00, Sessions I

Chair: Sylvia Akar, University of Helsinki

Crossing Borders and Boundaries: ‘Ā’ishah al-Bā’ūnīyah and Her Travels

Thomas Emil Homerin, University of Rochester

The Mamlūk period was a productive time for Arabic scholarship and literature, as Damascus and Cairo arose as vibrant urban centers, attracting scholars and students from across the Muslim world. This led to opportunities for travel, education, and employment, yet these opportunities had one common characteristic: they were available almost exclusively to men. In Syria and Egypt, and most of the medieval world, women’s involvement in travel, education, and public life, was often restricted. However, there were exceptions, including the prolific writer and poet cĀ’ishah al-Bācūnīyah (d. 1517) who, as a women, crossed from the margins to the mainstream of religious scholarship and literary production. Drawing from historical and biographical sources, and especially from cĀ’ishah al-Bācūnīyah’s writings, I will examine her social and intellectual background, her travels, and scholarly interactions in order to highlight some of the social trends and intellectual forces at work in the late Mamlūk period.

From John Gustaf Agelii to Abd al-Hadi al-Maghrabi: Breaking boundaries in myth and reality

Sedgwick Mark, Aarhus University

John Gustaf Agelii, also known as Ivan Aguéli and as Abd al-Hadi al-Maghrabi, was born in 1869 in Sala, Västmanland, and broke artistic, political, geographical, and religious boundaries. He became one of Sweden’s leading painters, engaged in violent “direct action” in support of anarchist politics and animal rights in France, and was one of the first people from the Nordic region to convert to Islam and become a Sufi, while living in Egypt. After his early death in 1917, Aguéli became the subject of myth, both in Sweden and, as an early figure in the Traditionalist movement, in France and then America. This paper looks at Aguéli’s life and at subsequent myth-making, especially at Aguéli’s significance for Traditionalism.

Translating traditionalism for an Albanian audience

Mendim Akiti, Ball State University

Sedgwick’s work focuses on Western Europe and North America, however, some of the authors he analyzes have been translated into languages and are read in places beyond the scope of his studies, in this case, Macedonia. These texts have exclusively been translated by Edin Lohja, an Albanian scholar living in Canada. This paper places Sedgwick’s definition of Traditionalism in conversation with Satareh Houman’s, situating Lohja at their intersection. Key to both definitions is Rene Guénon. Guénon, however, is absent from Lohja’s translations. Instead of framing these texts through the lens of Guénonian Traditionalism, in his prefaces Lohja alludes to a tug of war between extremists and moderates, framing Traditionalist Islam as the authentic tradition lost in the struggle. This paper provides an initial foray into the study of Traditionalism in the Albanian community within Macedonia – a context which forces us to rethink our definitions of Traditionalism.

Temporalities and materialities of mobility

Wednesday 14.8. 9.30 – 11.00, Sessions I

Chairs: Anitta Kynsilehto, Tampere University & Bruno Lefort, Tampere University

In this panel, we draw on ethnographic approaches to delve into the multiplicity of temporalities and materialities embedded within assorted configurations of mobile practices in the Middle East and North Africa. We discuss migratory contexts in which forced and more voluntary forms of mobilities come together, including people without a regular migration status and returning diasporas, in a pace that may contrast with imagined timings of moving about and forging spaces where one could feel as someone who belongs. Within these encounters, multiple boundaries need to be challenged and transgressed, not all of which are easy to foresee beforehand. We also argue that, in these processes, new spaces of sometimes unexpected solidarity are being formed.

“Coming back home”? The discovery of boundaries and the delusion of belonging among returning diasporic youth in Beirut

Bruno Lefort, Tampere University

This paper explores the politics of positioning among young people originating from the Levantine diasporas in the Americas as they “come back” to live in a place where they are said to have their roots in. Relying on collaborative ethnographic work conducted in student milieus in Beirut (2007-2016) and Montreal (2016-2019), it discusses how young people arriving in a city they imagined without knowing have to learn how to navigate entangled social boundaries. Not only does the discovery of these multiple potential fault lines affect their ability to interact with their surroundings but it also forces them to confront their understanding of their own life-trajectories as the “normal” direction of migration is reversed and several temporalities collide with each other. Drawing on these micro-sociological situations, this paper questions how we conceptualize basic notions such as “home”, “roots” or “belonging” when we study people and communities on the move and shifts the focus toward the complex interplay between roots/routes and identity/alterity.

Hybrid and mobile protections: migration and humanitarianism across North-East Africa and the Central Mediterranean

Elisa Pascucci, University of Helsinki

The migration route from the Horn of Africa to the central Mediterranean is described one of the most dangerous in the world. International organizations have promoted securitized protection policies for migrants travelling across the route, in which scant assistance is associated with the repression of the networks facilitating mobility. However, recent literature highlights the need for more nuanced accounts of the actual experiences of safety, violence, risk and aid along this and other routes. Drawing on fieldwork in Egypt, this paper proposes the notion of hybrid and mobile protections. Such notion foregrounds: 1) the deterioration of state and UNHCR-based protection; 2) migrants’ demand for a transnationally flexible and mobile system of protection 3) the centrality of work and economic relations, and the role they play in undermining or reinforcing basic protection from violence.

Making do as a migrant in Morocco: Navigating boundaries

Anitta Kynsilehto, Tampere University

The new migration policy, announced by the King Mohammed VI in September 2013 and the ensuing regularization campaigns migrants without residence permits, as well as the possibility for migrants’ associations to formalize their existence are central components of the changing migratory landscape in Morocco. However, despite the pronunciation of this new policy, many aspects have remained the same. These include the criminalization of migrants residing in areas close to the Spanish borders. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic research with people on the move and those engaging in migrant solidarity, this paper focuses on the possibilities and hindrances in trying to “make do” in Morocco. It uses the concept of intersectionality that is helpful in shedding light to gendered and racialized aspects of displacement together with other dimensions, such as age and migration status (or lack thereof).

Syrian national, social and political identities and subjectivities

Wednesday 14.8. 9.30 – 11.00, Sessions I

Chair: Sari Hanafi, American University of Beirut

Syria reimagined, reorganised: new boundaries, communal interests and nationalist aspirations at the onset of French rule, 1920-1925.

Fadi Esber, The London school of economics (LSE)

This paper draws on various archival sources found in France, Britain and Syria to study the short and long term impact of the politics of partition French mandatory authorities introduced in 1920, which divided post-Ottoman Syria into five statelets: Damascus, Aleppo, the Alawite State, the Druze State and Greater Lebanon. This paper examines the instrumentalisation by France of these novel political boundaries to quell aspirations for a united and independent Syria, which had burgeoned under Sharifian rule (1918-1920). This paper pays special to the autonomous regions populated mainly by religious minority (i.e. Druze and Alawites) and the impact the new boundaries had on their political development and their relationship with the rest of Syria. Finally, this paper will shed light on the Union of Syrian States (1922-1924), the first and last Syrian experience with a federal form of government, which has not received much scholarly attention so far.

Syro-Lebanese Bonds and the Permeability of Urban and Social Borders: The Cases of Baalbek, Tripoli, and Zahle

Jean-Baptiste Allegrini, University College London

Since 2011, more than a million displaced Syrians found a shelter in Lebanon as they fled a devastating civil war (Thorleifsson, 2016). Most displaced Syrians settled in the neighbouring areas of the Bekaa valley, Akkar and North Lebanon (UNHCR, 2019). These Lebanese peripheral regions were socioeconomically integrated to the Syrian hinterland under Ottoman rule (Seurat, 2012). Despite the disruptive entrenchment of the Syro-Lebanese border in 1920, the thinness of this frontier sustained practices of interdependence overtime (Chalcraft, 2009; Dionigi, 2017). Hence, these contiguous territories to Syria are marked by their autonomy of practice which generates a local fluidity of identities (Obeid, 2010). As a result, the mapping of the Syrian migration post-2011 expressed these cross-national patterns of affinity or asabiyya (social solidarity). Examining the cases of Baalbek, Tripoli, and Zahle, I will argue that the density of the bonds (weak to strong ties) between Lebanese and Syrian populations within each municipality determined Syrians’ capacity to permeate their hosting communities’ urban and social boundaries. Dense bonds generated welcoming Lebanese attitudes which facilitated the penetration of displaced Syrians into urbanity. This territorial inclusiveness widens Syrians’ access to local social (and clientelist) networks’ protection, while weaker bonds establish their social segregation. This research based on seven months of qualitative fieldwork observes that the thickness of Syro-Lebanese Asabiyya demonstrates a capacity to cross formal, urban and eventually patronage boundaries.

The Re-configuration of Syrian National Identity and Belonging: deconstructing the logic of ‘supporting’ the Baath regime in Syria

Rahaf Aldoughli, Lancaster University

Amidst the excessive violence that has spread across all of Syria since 2011, questions about how the Ba’ath regime has maintained its domination and coercion over Syrians who are still living inside Syria, has been ignored. Beyond the purely military functions of violence, this paper invites a dialectical rethinking of the Syrian war, favouring an analysis that sees ideas inscribed in material practices through viewing material practices as always already structured and laden with ideas. For example, there is no such thing as a police force without the ideas of enforcement and punishment. Within this context, this paper mainly asks the following questions: How has the Syrian war reconstructed national identities and belongings? How does the Baath regime maintain legitimacy, and how do claims of national belonging articulate with other experiences of solidarity? How important is national loyalty for political order anyway? The Syrian war is not only a proxy war, its complexities go beyond the obscurities of the various layers and dimensions of outside intervention and agendas. Such complexity is evident when we see the public demonstrations of support for Bashar al-Assad since the outbreak of the uprising in 2011. For the purpose of this research, the starting point of this research is conceptualising that such support has not come out of the blue but needs a propaganda machine and a national ideology so effective that that they create for the Assad followers a universe of imagined facts. Therefore, this paper aims to explore how new boundaries have been constructed based on those who support and oppose the Baath regime. Such boundaries have reconstructed meanings and concepts of national belonging and identity.

Political Subjectivity, Displacement, and Syrians in the Diaspora

Amany Selim, University of Bergen

In studying Syrians’ political subjectivities, the focus has been often on emphasizing silence, fear, and abjection as integral aspects. Regime practices of surveillance and control enforced through diverse institutions were largely productive of these feelings which were core to the construction of political subjectivities. Spectacles of violence in early 1980s loomed large in the imagination of Syrians, inhibiting for years any kind of political action to emerge. With the upheavals that swept the region in 2011, feelings of euphoria and newfound freedom were widely expressed and celebrated. However, subjectivities rooted in and gained through contentious politics were soon repressed and unmade. In light of this, what kind of a political subject and subjectivity can one talk about amidst massive destruction and displacement, and after years of conflict? It might as much comprise a simplification to ascertain a return to enforced silence and reconciliation with the status quo. Instead, the aftermath has launched a dialectical process of political subjectivization where both ruptures and continuities with the pre-uprising/conflict era are at play. By drawing on interviews with young Syrian political activists in the diaspora in Europe, this paper aims at gathering insights into the past and present experiences of activists with politics and political action and how they are reconfigured in exile. It seeks to integrate the impact of displacement in the analysis of Syrians’ articulations and narratives of the political and how embeddedness in various ‘social fields’ might be giving rise to a new subjectivity.

Tracing transnational tribal networks – the case of Bani Khalid in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

Wednesday 14.8. 9.30 – 11.00, Sessions I

Tribes and tribal networks are not a relic of the past. In fact, they are more relevant than ever, as throughout the region, the tribal relations have influence on state politics, national and transnational conflicts, cultural representations, production of mass culture, and many other forms of the contemporary society. While adapting to the modern world, the tribes are also actively participating in shaping it.

Bani Khalid is considered one of the biggest tribes in Jordan and Syria, and members of the tribe also reside in Lebanon. However, their tribal networks also extend to Gulf Region and to their place of origin in Saudi Arabia. This panel discusses the tribal networks, identities and heritage in the contemporary Middle East, focusing especially on the Bani Khalid and their coping with the social and cultural changes caused by state politics, media, and the war in Syria.

Political authority (Shykhdom) in the northern Jordanian Badia

Ala'aldeen Mahmoud Mohammad Ababneh, Yarmouk University

Jordan is usually described as a tribal nation-state ruled by a tribal leadership and dominated by tribal affiliations and loyalties. Over the years, the regime and Bedouin tribes have developed a unique symbiosis. The regime has depended several times on the tribes and Bedouin elements in the army to crush external as well as internal enemies. However, family and tribal loyalties sometimes surpass the civil attachments created by the state. They play a significant role in people’s everyday lives and their interactions with bureaucratic and judicial procedures.

Tribalism in Jordan has always been intermingled with other forms of collective identity such as pan-Arabism. Thus, local patriotism has competed against other local, regional, and trans-regional identities, whether national, religious, or otherwise. The existence of such myriad forms of identification is not peculiar to Jordan; it is indeed common to many other countries in the region. These constituent elements are not mutually exclusive, for they often overlap and complement one another. The priority and significance given to each of these forms of identity by individuals can be understood in the historical, political and social climate.

Al-Badia and the Bedouin in a Changing World: The Case of Northern Jordan

Mohammed S. Shunnaq, Yarmouk University

The forms of nomadism and their stages of social development are related to the economic and environmental conditions of the population. The latter often contribute to determining the economic resources on which the population depends such as pastures, herbs for grazing, drought, lack of permanent stability, uneven spreading. Additionally, the social systems that distinguish Badawah are the product of human vulnerability to the environment.

The Bedouin kinship system is mainly based on tribal divisions, with links and relations that are at times cooperative and at others hostile. Power remains the most important criterion for extending control and influence over the desert lands of the clans, as the stronger is given the opportunity to benefit from the rich pastures of the Badia to provide adequate food for the animals and livestock in its possession.

This study will explore the socio-economic changes that have taken place in the Jordanian Badia by studying the case of Bani Khalid and other tribes in the region such as Al-Sirdiah, Al-Issa and Al-Sarhan. The study will analyze the internal and external relationships within and between the tribes, and to the state.

Bani Khalid Tribe in Jordan and the Socio-economic Integration Mechanisms of Syrian Refugees from the Same Kinship Group: An Anthropological Study in Al-Mafraq District

Areej Ziad Ahmed Al Smadi, Yarmouk University

This anthropological field study aims at examining how kinship between the refugees and citizens in the host country affects the reception and integration of them in the host communities. It also aims at examining the socioeconomic impact on both parties and whether if geopolitical borders affect the kinship relations among the Arab tribes.

The study has focused on Bani Khaled in Mafraq governorate in Northern Jordan. Because of the war many Syrians from Bani Khaled tribe fled from their country to Jordan. Bani Khaled tribe members from both Jordan and Syria have long-standing historical ties because there were no international borders between the two countries until the divisions defined by the Treaty of Sykes-Picot.

The study has employed the participant observation and the historical approaches to trace Bani Khaled’s tribe in Jordan and Syria family history and observe the relationships between the family members from the two countries.

The study concludes that the tribal relations between the two countries play an important role in integrating refugees into the host society.

Media, social media and the transformations of oral heritage in contemporary tribal communities.

Päivi Miettunen, University of Helsinki

Satellite TVs and smartphones have quickly become standard commodities in the tribal communities of the Middle East. Music, TV programs and other mass culture is being produced and targeted to tribal audiences, especially in Jordan, Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, various Facebook groups and Youtube channels are being utilized to collect and distribute tribal heritage and Bedouin culture transnationally. On a personal level, social networks are maintained through communication via smartphones. WhatsApp and many other chat programs include also video and audio, which allows even the illiterate members of the community to participate in long-distance communication.

What kinds of new narratives and symbols are being formed by these new communication means, and in what ways are they being distributed and represented by the members of the tribe? This paper traces the consumption of media and utilization of social media platforms to produce and reproduce tribal identities. This research is mostly based on interviews and participant observation among the Bani Khalid in Northern Jordan and Lebanon, while also adding comparative material from other tribes.

Great powers in the Middle East

Wednesday 14.8. 9.30 – 11.00, Sessions I

Chair: Pinar Tank, Peace Research Institute Oslo

Russia and the Arab Gulf States: An Evolving “Strategic” Partnership?

Basma El Etreby & Shady Abdel Salam Mansour, Future for Advanced Research and Studies

Moscow’s military presence in Syria and position on the Muslim brotherhood’s affiliated militias in Libya has projected Moscow as a critical powerbroker to Arab Gulf States in the unfolding Middle East security architecture, especially with the evolving US retreat. Moscow’s decision not to side with any party in the Gulf Crisis indicates that Russia is not only pragmatic but is reconsidering its relations with the geopolitically critical Gulf region. Against this backdrop, the perception of the Russian Gulf relations as mainly occupied with economic gains is in fact ignoring the strategic implications that the evolving relations and the surge in official visits between Moscow and Gulf states dictate. This paper will try to address this gap in perception concerning Russian-Gulf relations, especially UAE and Russia and whether or not they have reached a ‘strategic’ partnership. It will examine the understandings on Yemen, Syria and Libya, and possible military cooperation.

Pervasive geopolitical borders of the Middle East politics – the impact of great powers interference on the regional order

Martina Ponížilová, University of West Bohemia

This paper deals with the causes of great powers engagement in the Middle East and its consequences on regional development and stability. It explains its polarization due to the United Kingdomʼs post-imperial security regime, the overlay of the Mid-East politics by bipolar conflict dynamics, the regionʼs division into competing blocks caused by the US and Soviet client relations with local countries and consequent inability to create region-wide organizations and to unify and stabilize the region. The paper shows the causes of the Middle Eastʼs continuing fragmentation: regional powers rivalries, the US policy of strengthening allies against their local rivals and the competition between the USA, Russia and emerging powers resulting in unstable balance of power. The inability of regional powers and organizations to stabilize the conflict-prone Middle East leads to further interference of great powers in regional politics and security guarantees for Mid-East states, which weakens the overall regional autonomy.

Books, Wheat, and US Dollars: tracing the impact of PL 480 on Iraq

Michael Degerald, Lund University

Several Arabic language books published by the Iraqi government from the 1970s located in the University of Washington library had “Public Law 480 Program” stamped on the inside cover, an unexpected detail. PL 480 is described as a “food aid program” run by the USA that began in the late 1950s, so why were books from Iraq, a country with broken ties to the US, part of this program, especially since Iraq was not in the program? The answer ties together US Cold War policy, postcolonial development in the Middle East, and US academia to trace a curious series of connections. A seemingly benign program to aid US farmers not only accidentally shaped “area studies” research in the US for generations to come but had a marked impact on developing countries and their attempts to become self-sufficient in food production.

Re-inventing the Future between Micro-Changes and Macro-Changes: Western Narratives on Saudi Arabia

Annalisa Pavan, University of Padova

Saudi Arabia's rapid transformation at several levels is attracting considerable attention from the media worldwide, and the Saudi social agenda in particular is taking Western commentators and analysts by surprise, despite the inevitable Saudiphobia fueled by Khashoggi's murder. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated that "The crucial requirement for reform is public willingness to change traditional society", and stressed the need for "normality", which will be attainable only by returning to "moderate Islam". The Saudi leadership always clarifies that economic and social development will be achieved without rejecting Saudi traditional values. Drawing on official documents, facts and figures, and recent literature, this paper will explain how Saudi Arabia, caught between a traditionally conservative culture and the rapid macro-changes which are taking place in the country - perceived by the rest of the world as micro-changes, or long overdue changes - is struggling to cross boundaries and to re-invent its future.


Foreign policy analysis: energy, secret relations and words

Wednesday 14.8. 11.30 – 13.00, Sessions II

Challenges and potential solutions: Should Saudi Arabia move towards energy cooperation with its neighbors?

Samuel Willner, University of Haifa

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing unprecedented changes and challenges – both in the realms of economics and politics – which, principally, could become an opening for many unforeseen opportunities and ventures. Currently, Saudi Arabia’s electricity is generated almost exclusively by thermal power plants powered by oil and gas. Within the framework of the “Vision 2030” economic reform program, the Al-Saud has presented its ambitious plan to transform the kingdom and dramatically diversify the Saudi economy. This paper will discuss Saudi Arabia’s current energy situation, its political and economic challenges that the prestigious “Vision 2030” attempts to address. In addition, this paper will discuss Saudi Arabia's potential for energy cooperation with its neighbors and will focus on analyzing the benefits of possible energy cooperation between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. This article will mainly be based on various press reports.

Turkey´s Syrian challenge and NATO´s Turkish challenge

Pinar Tank, Peace Research Institute Oslo

The project will examine Turkey's policy in Syria from an international, regional and domestic perspective, aimed at understanding its dynamics and impact on Turkey's relations to its allies. It asks the following key questions. Firstly, what are the internal dynamics driving Turkish foreign policy in Syria? Secondly, how are the respective foreign policies of Turkey and the United States in Syria impacting Turkey's relationship to its allies in NATO? And finally, how does the developing Turkey-Russia relationship draw Turkey further from the "West" and what may be some of the long term consequences of this shift regarding a more autonomous Turkish foreign policy? The paper uses a qualitative methodology drawing from official documents, discourses and semi structured interviews with NATO officers.

The “Mistress Syndrome”: Israel’s Secret relations with States and Minorities in the Middle East, 1948-2018

Elie Podeh, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

In order to survive in a hostile environment in the Middle East, Israeli decision makers developed a pragmatic regional foreign policy, designed to find ways to approach states, leaders and minorities willing to cooperate with it against mutual regional challenges (such as Iran until 1979, Turkey, the Kurds, the Maronites in Lebanon, Jordan and more). Contacts with these potential partners were mostly covert, creating Israel’s “Mistress Syndrome.” The aim of this lecture, which is part of a new comprehensive project on Israel’s secret relations with its neighbors during the years 1948-2018, is two-fold: First, to offer a theoretical framework explaining the meaning and features of the “mistress syndrome”; and second, to focus on several episodes of such clandestine activity, such as Israel’s ties with Saudi Arabia and Gulf in general.

A dance of words: Iran's foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia

Olivia Glombitza, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Despite Rouhani’s government building on a more constructive approach since his election in 2013, regional tensions particularly between Iran and Saudi Arabia notably deteriorated, which is reflected in Iran’s foreign policy discourse. Approached through constructivism and the sociology of power, where elites constitute actors and ideology constitutes a resource in the elites’ competition for political power, the paper responds to how this domestic competition influences Iran’s foreign policy. It inquires into how the Iranian political elite employs ideology in the representation of Saudi Arabia and argues that the discursive employment of Iran’s Islamic as well as Shi’a identity are taking on both a unifying and dividing role. The paper thereby adds to larger debates on religion’s instrumentalization in politics. Analysing the Iranian political elite’s discourse during Rouhani’s presidency through CDA this paper focuses on three main issues, the war in Yemen, the JCPOA and the Hajj incident in Saudi Arabia.

Mandate period – western imperialism

Wednesday 14.8. 11.30 – 13.00, Sessions II

Chair: Mark Sedgwick, Aarhus University

Challenging Skyly Boundaries: Approaching Aviation in 1920s-1950s Middle East

Ögütcü Özgür, Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures & Societies

This paper is an introduction to my ongoing dissertation project on the emergence of airspace and aviation in the Middle East during the transition from British colonial rule to post-colonial nation states. While this is a limited and emerging research field, my working hypothesis is that airspace played a significant but thus far overlooked role in the making of nation states, borders and existing power structures in the Middle East. Focusing on the airspace above Egypt, Mandatory Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, my research traces notions of airspace and implementations of air policies as represented in British colonial documents and in Arabic-, Hebrew-, and English-language media coverage. In this paper, I will engage two archival case studies to discuss how an aerial perspective on bordering processes can potentially offer a nuanced understanding of the development and renegotiation of borders within colonial and imperial structures.

Maps, borders and the accuracy of knowledge in the desert periphery of the modern Middle East.

Magnus Halsnes, University of Bergen

This paper explores the role of maps and cartographic technology in the establishment and implementation of borders in the desert periphery of the Middle East during the mandate period (c. 1916–1948). Maps were used in negotiations of territorial settlements and served as sources of knowledge and information. They provided a basis for border negotiations, definitions and agreements. However, the maps were often inaccurate, especially in the largely unknown desert areas, and as such created both confusion and conflict in translating the paper lines into reality on the ground. The maps from the mandate period are interesting historical sources of knowledge that have not received much scholarly attention. Drawing on archive material and contemporary maps this paper focuses on the relation between maps, borders and the frequent use of surveys and exploration in the creating and implementing the desert borders of the Middle East after the First World War.

Alcohol in North Africa during the era of French colonization

Nessim Znaien, Aix-Marseille University

This communication is a part of a research project on the role and impact of alcohol in the French Empire during the colonial period. Financed by a French foundation, my research team has explored the question of alcohol in colonial North Africa (Morocco, Algeria), and the Levant (Syria and Lebanon). This work had completed a Phd Dissertation on alcohol in colonial Tunisia that I defended in Paris-Sorbonne University in september 2017. We have tried to establish whether rates of alcoholism increased within these societies during this time, and how local government and Oulema subsequently reacted to this phenomenon. Our primary aim has been to identify whether there was any consistency in approach to the issue of alcohol consumption across the French Empire during this period, whilst assessing the role of other global factors and muslim culture at the same time. To carry out this research, my team has drawn on extensive archive material within French administration record offices, hospitals, courts and police stations, as well as source material from novels and local newspapers written in French and Arabic.

Policing the Livestock: Bedouins and the Colonial State in the Iraqi-Syrian Borderlands, 1919-1939

Laura Stocker, University of Neuchâtel

Adopting a trans-border perspective, this paper examines processes of state formation and border delimitation in the interwar Middle East with a focus on Bedouin tribes in the Syrian-Iraqi borderland. By looking at the cross-border movement of tribes and their livestock and systems of tax collection by the French and British Mandatory authorities, it intends to analyze the multi-layered and complex power relations between different state authorities and Bedouin groups in the desert borderland. Drawing from the French and British records, this paper shows how colonial state power was implemented at the margins and how it modified the economic, political and social structures of Bedouin communities. On the other hand, the impracticability of taxation systems, caused by cross-border movement of tribes and their livestock, as well as unsettled border disputes, reveals the fragility of the colonial states in these regions, eventually opening new spaces of agency for their inhabitants.

Syrian experiences through interviews

Wednesday 14.8. 11.30 – 13.00, Sessions II

Chair: Marko Juntunen, University of Helsinki

”I was after something I could identify with” – A Danish Islamic State warrior tells his story

Mehmet Ümit Necef, University of Southern Denmark

This paper will present an analysis of two recorded interviews with Enes Ciftci, a Danish citizen of Turkish-Kurdish origin, sentenced to seven years in jail in 2016 for having gone to Syria to fight for Islamic State (IS). The interviews are a part of a project aiming to shed light on the reasons behind why some Danish Muslims are attracted to IS. The author visited the inmate four times and has spent approximately fourteen hours with him. The paper will also present moods, feelings and reflections of a researcher and former left-wing extremist during the visits. Taking inspiration from “Lifeworld Method” the author acknowledges that he has to establish a distance from his preconceptions stemming from his experiences in left-wing extremism in Turkey in the 1970’s.


”Completely ordinary girl”: Firsthand narrative from a Swedish syrian traveler who joined Islamic State

Henriette Esholdt, Lund University

This paper presents a single case study of a young female Swedish so-called Syrian traveler (hereafter called Jasmine), who went to Syria in 2014, after IS’s self-proclamation of the Caliphate. The analysis takes its point of departure in data consisting of: 1) Visual materials of Jasmine and two blogs (consisting of uploads of texts, pictures and a short story) created by Jasmine a couple of years before leaving for Syria, and 2) A Facebook profile (consisting of uploads of texts, pictures and videos) created by Jasmine around the time she went to Syria. The analysis describes how Jasmine went from, in her own words, being a “completely ordinary girl” to propagandizing for radical Islam on social media from Syria. The analysis is complemented with data from interviews with persons in Jasmine’s close social milieu as well as with professionals in the field (such as police officers, social workers etc.).

Healthcare under fire in Syria

Agneta Kallström, University of Eastern Finland

This paper explores what kind of violence health care workers have met and whom they believe to be the perpetrators in Syrian conflict. This study is based on semi-structured interviews of 26 health care workers. The preliminary results confirm that the interviewees consider the Syrian regime and Russia as the most serious threats to the health care system. Armed groups were seen as less dangerous with the notable exception of Islamic State in Syria (ISIS). While the actions of the other armed groups also came up in the interviews, their degree of severity was notably lesser. In order to protect health care in modern conflicts it is imperative to comprehensively understand this manifestation of violence. This includes knowing the environment, perpetrators, their motivations and modes of action among other things. The results of this study lay the groundwork for such efforts on the long term.

“Greening the Middle East”: Discourses on climate change and a green shift in the MENA region

Wednesday 14.8. 11.30 – 13.00, Sessions II

Chair: Albrecht Hofheinz, University of Oslo

Climate change and an international energy market increasingly favouring renewables pose serious challenges to the countries of the Middle East and North-Africa, raising many questions regarding (a) the urgency of new policies to facilitate transition towards renewable energy sources, and (b) the fostering of more sustainable patterns of energy consumption. In tackling these challenges, both state and society must handle the difficult transition away from carbon-based “rentier state” economies. Even in authoritarian countries, such transitions depend on a certain degree of public consent and legitimacy. Hence, studying how these challenges are communicated, framed and justified in public provides a window into ongoing processes of the MENA region’s adaptation to the challenges outlined above. Presenting studies of public discourse(s) on climate change and the green shift, and on the many different actors engaged in shaping popular perceptions of these issues, this panel explores prospects for a successful green shift and consequences in the MENA region of the energy transition taking place globally.

Green Activism in the Desert

Tilde Rosmer, Zayed University

The rulers of the UAE are quick to respond to the latest global trends and have over the last decade initiated impressive renewable energy projects such as the multi-faceted Masdar project. Being a top-down organized society, an important question is to what degree these discourses and efforts are paralleled among the public? In order to answer this question, this article will map the environmental and sustainability focused non-governmental organizations in the UAE, exploring which issues engaged individuals are focusing on and how they relate, or not, to state policies. Moreover, it will investigate the size of the engagement by individuals from the local Emirate community, a highly relevant question in an expat-dominated society. Who established and runs Environmental NGOs, what is the response from the local community? Moreover, do they connect to the larger issues of climate change and a green economy, or do they focus in the preservation of nature and animals?

Arabic Literature and the Environmental Discourse

Teresa Pepe, University of Oslo

This chapter adopts ecocriticism as a theoretical framework to analyse how recent Arab literary works deal with the subject of nature. It discusses a number of examples explicitly dealing in a fantastic way with the issue of global warming, as for example Utopia [Yūtūbiya] by Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq (Egypt) and the graphic novels Using Life [Istikhdām al-Hayā] by Ahmed Naji (2014). It also discusses the way other literary works, as for example the critically-acclaimed dystopian novels Otared [ʿUtarid] (2015) by Mohamed Rabie, and The Second War of Dogs [Al-Ḥarb al-Kalb al-Thāny] (2017) by Ibrahim Nasrallah, indirectly deal with environmental questions.  The vision that these works present goes from the dystopian environmental catastrophes to future green utopias achieved through the use of genetic engineering and renewable energy. In the light of these examples, our study objects the use of a specific category of “climate fiction” in Arabic literature, but it argues that the environmental question is a becoming a growing concern for Arab authors, as part of a long-standing tradition of political commitment (iltizām).

Green Gigantomania? Political economy implications of the intra-regional competition for the largest renewable energy projects in the Middle East

Brynjar Lia, University of Oslo

Recent years have witnessed a tremendous surge in new renewable energy projects in the Middle East, in particular within the field of solar energy. A particularly striking feature of these projects is their size, not merely the huge geographical space they occupy, but the importance of size in the public discourse about them.

This paper explores public discourses on selected renewable mega-projects in the Arab world: the Noor Ouarzazate complex in Morocco, the Egyptian Benban Solar Park, and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in UAE. It discusses possible reasons for, and implications of, the portrayal of these projects primarily in the terminology of size (“the world’s largest”), including technical-economic requirements, foreign investor preferences, inter-Arab rivalry motivations and finally, the political elites’ desire for preserving the rentier state model in a new green garb.

Climate Change and the Green Shift in Lebanese Politics: Between Contestation and Co-optation

Jon Nordenson, University of Oslo

The consequences of Climate change will be severe and potentially destabilizing in Lebanon, and substantial efforts towards both adaptation and mitigation are necessary. Yet, for a country facing continued political and economic crisis as well as the impact of the war in neighboring Syria, such a transition will be demanding for state and society alike, and a successful green shift will be dependent on substantial popular support. Given the peculiarities of the Lebanese system, it would also depend on a certain level of political consensus and willingness to challenge entrenched practices and interests. This paper explores these challenges by analyzing how the contentious issue of electricity is treated in Lebanese political discourse through a study of the 2018 parliamentary election campaign. The paper identifies the central actors taking part in these discussions, and their respective positions and frames/narratives on the issue, and investigates whether one (or more) discourse(s) is able to dominate the national debate.

Sanctuary in the City? Assisting Urban Refugees in 21st Century

Wednesday 14.8. 11.30 – 13.00, Sessions II

Chairs: Are John Knudsen & Sarah Tobin (Chr. Michelsen Institute)

An increasing number of refugees live in poor neighbourhoods in towns and cities across the Middle East, a premier refugee region with one of the world’s highest urbanization levels. While host states have taken in millions of refugees, they do not have the resources or capacity to provide for them. Aiding refugees living in cities and urban areas is therefore a major challenge to humanitarian policy. While the size and complexity of cities account for many of the problems facing refuges, they are also part of the solution. Cities have larger and often unregulated labour markets, more shelter options and ready access to health and school facilities. Cities and towns can also offer greater freedom of movement and better prospects for successful socio-economic integration and entrepreneurship. Using examples from urban displaced in Lebanon (Beirut, Tripoli), Palestine (East Jerusalem) and Jordan (Marfraq, Irbid) this panel asks whether humanitarian policies be re-designed to accommodate refugees in urban areas and, indeed, if refugees can find “sanctuary in the city”?

‘Implementing and Influencing’: Participation in refugee governance in Tripoli, Lebanon

Robert Forster, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) & University of Bergen

Facing growing restraints on visas and work permits, Syrian urban refugees in Lebanon are increasingly subject to ‘bureaucratic invisibility’, opting to remain ‘hidden’ rather than face potential harassment, arrest or deportation in their interactions with the Lebanese state. Nonetheless, urban refugees have long been documented as agents of social change engaging with and participating in their host communities through a variety of channels despite overt challenges. Based on ethnographic research among Syrian refugees in Tripoli, this research project investigates the policy context of this group, particularly, how participatory and inclusive area-based approaches are applied to, and experienced by urban refugees in the Lebanese context, as well as the channels through which these groups communicate with actors on the local, national and international levels. An understanding of these dynamics aims to provide insight into site-centric refugee policy design, in addition

“Working for a Country That is Not My Own”: Syrian Refugee Governance and the Jordan Compact’s Work Permit Program

Sarah Tobin, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

In 2016, the Jordan Compact was implemented, holding out promises of economic growth and opportunities through annually-renewable work permits for to up to 200,000 Syrian refugees. Based on field research in Mafraq and Irbid, this paper argues that the work permit project typifies a ‘post-neoliberal’ refugee governance regime where the Syrian refugees are expected to provide for their own livelihood through their own (manual and physical) labour, and to contribute to the economic welfare of the host government through national economic systems such as taxation and promote global ‘good will’ by not migrating onwards. This governance regime relies upon and entrenches stereotypes and subjectivities that make Syrians the most sought-after laborers in the country, region, and beyond: hard-working, entrepreneurial, trustworthy, and ‘deserving’ refugees. Syrians themselves reproduce the narrative, despite high levels of underemployment and skills/employment mismatch, discussing their status under the permit-system as ‘flexible’ and ‘mobile’ that amplifies their status as quintessential workers in the new gig economy.

Emergency Urbanism in Sabra, Beirut

Are John Knudsen, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

Since the mid-1980s, generations of displaced people have sought refuge in the ramshackle Gaza buildings, a multi-story hospital complex built by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Damaged during the civil war, today the buildings blend in with the run-down Sabra-Shatila neighbourhood in Beirut’s “misery belt”. The paper charts the buildings’ history and main characters: the lodgers, landlords, and gatekeepers who respectively lease, rent and control the dilapidated buildings’ dark corridors, cramped flats and garbage-strewn stairways. The multi-story buildings are examples of emergency urbanism whereby displaced people seek refuge in cities and can be read as a vertical migration history of people escaping conflict, displacement and destitution. Examining the buildings’ as archives of spatial and political histories provides a genealogy of displacement and emplacement that can inform the study of emergency urbanism and promote solutions in cities for refugees lacking access to affordable housing.

No sanctuary in the city: The case of Shu’fat camp, Jerusalem

Kjersti Berg, Chr.Michelsen Institute (CMI) & University of Bergen

Home to around 20,000 Palestinians, Shu’fat camp is managed at the margins of the city. The camp is often referred to as extraterritorial, as outside the jurisdiction of both the Israeli and the current Palestinian authorities, and characterized by poverty, physical deterioration and lawlessness. As a refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem, Shu’fat camp epitomizes some core political issues of the conflict over Palestine: Israeli concerns over security, the future of Jerusalem, and the refugee issue, unresolved since the war over Palestine in 1948. In the Palestinian case, camps have been highly contested sites, and spaces of political struggle and confinement, marginalization and improvements, representing both the suffering and the right of return. In this presentation I will focus how this camp and its inhabitants have been handled by Israel and by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).


Elaborating boundaries between groups: from the First Millennium BCE to Today's Middle East: Session 1, First Millennium BCE

Wednesday 14.8. 11.30 – 13.00, Sessions II

Chair: Päivi Miettunen, University of Helsinki


Caroline Wallis, University of Helsinki

Johannes Bach, University of Helsinki

Rick Bonnie, University of Helsinki

Antti Lahelma, University of Helsinki,

Päivi Miettunen, University of Helsinki

Melanie Wasmuth, University of Helsinki

Raz Kletter, University of Helsinki

Jan Retsö, University of Gothenburg

First, we will reflect upon groups and groupness in the Ancient Near East. We will discuss how particular groups such as Babylonians, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Elamites, Judeans, Egyptians etc. appear in our textual sources. What evidence can we put forward to argue that these groups correspond to culturally homogenous entities?  In the same way, what arguments can we put forward to say that is not the case? Are we dealing with methodological nationalism?

Elaborating boundaries between groups: from the First Millennium BCE to Today's Middle East: Session 2, Today’s Middle East

Wednesday 14.8. 14.30 – 16.00, Sessions III

Chair: Päivi Miettunen, University of Helsinki


Caroline Wallis, University of Helsinki

Johannes Bach, University of Helsinki

Rick Bonnie, University of Helsinki

Antti Lahelma, University of Helsinki,

Päivi Miettunen, University of Helsinki

Melanie Wasmuth, University of Helsinki

Raz Kletter, University of Helsinki

Jan Retsö, University of Gothenburg

To the contemporary political actors, the ancient past offers a dense forest of symbols to explore and choose from when elaborating boundaries between groups. How is the ancient past mobilized in competition over political resources today? Material culture inevitably gets tangled up in this process as monuments are preserved, destroyed or left to decay; objects flood the antiquities market or get hoisted back after lengthy legal procedures. What can be said about the antiquities trade and how does it impact academic research? We will also reflect upon the practical and ethical challenges of community archaeology today. What does talking about cultural heritage actually mean?

Christianity in the Middle East

Wednesday 14.8. 14.30 – 16.00, Sessions III

Chair: Riikka Tuori, University of Helsinki

Denomination, History, Language: Boundary Formation in Late Ottoman Syriac Christian Nationalist Movements

Michael Sims, University of Washington

In the late Ottoman Empire, the Syriac Christians sought to promote their communal development and interests within a rapidly changing political and social system. As part of this process, church leaders and lay-intellectuals sought to define communal boundaries through overlapping and conflicting criteria of denomination, history and language. Within the church, this debate often focused on divisions between Orthodox and Catholic Syriac communities. However, an often-overlooked debate is boundary-making between Syriac and Armenian Christians, who frequently intermarried, lived in shared spaces, and even shifted self-identification for emigration, property disputes or political representation. The challenge of delineating these communities was of importance for both church and Ottoman authorities as well as purveyors of nascent Syriac Christian nationalist movements. This paper explores this process and its long-term impact on Syriac Christian identity movements through examining discussions within two underutilized sources: contemporary Syriac Christian periodicals, and correspondence records of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate.

Choose life. Choose Jerusalem. The World Council of Churches and the ’Holy City’ 1945-1970

Laura Arikka, Åbo Akademi

The Ecumenical Movement, and especially the newly established World Council of Churches (WCC), started a more organized cooperation in the end of the 1940’s, just a few years after the Second World War. The ’Holy land’ had had major changes regarding colonial powers, new states, borders and new inhabitants. The area, and especially the city of Jerusalem was of a particular interest to the WCC. For the next twenty years, the WCC not only discussed about the importance of Jerusalem, but also acted to maintain the Christian presence and the status of the Churches in the city. This paper reveals the diplomatic and political acts by the WCC regarding Jerusalem between 1945 and 1970, found in the Archives of the organization. These findings paint a picture of a strong advocacy work by the WCC, while its public statements gave the public another picture.

An Orthodox-Jewish voice from the Holy Land: the rabbinic statement on Christianity (2015) examined

Pekka Lindqvist, Åbo Akademi

An orthodox Jewish statement on Christianity, “To Do the Will of Our Father Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians”, was issued in December 2015, promoting a new inter-faith partnership. It signals a shift in the (especially Israeli) Orthodoxy. The original signatories were rabbis mostly from Israel. The statement received both praise and harsh criticism. Very little scholarly discussion has been published. While the statement has to pass the test of time before anything can be said of its lasting importance, it is a noteworthy new opening. It is also primarily an Israeli initiative, which adds to its importance, since the high level theological Jewish-Christian dialogue has been mostly an European and American phenomenon. I will analyse the document and read it in the light of the long continuum of Jewish-Christian relations. I will also compare it with the earlier Dabru Emet –document, almost unanimously rejected by the Orthodox.

Denominational mobility among Palestinian Christians

Mari Parkkinen, Univeristy of Eastern Finland

The community of Palestinian Christians is relatively small, however, there are thirteen traditional denominations and several evangelical denominations present in Israel and Palestine. Living together has its benefits and challenges. This study examines the prevalence of denominational mobility among the Palestinian Christians and the reasons for it. The preliminary results suggest that denominational mobility is common among the Arab Palestinian Christians. The reasons for the denominational mobility include for example marital status, personal spirituality and economic benefits. The results further suggest that the crossing or switching denomination can cause tensions in the family and in the congregation. This study uses qualitative methods. Thirty-five Palestinian Christians participated in the study. The semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2017. The age distribution was from eighteen to eighty-one and the participants belonged to nine different Christian denomination.

The Future of Iraq: Will it rise or fall?

A discussion event on Wed 14. August at 13-15, at Think Corner, Yliopistonkatu 4, Helsinki

What is taking place in contemporary Iraq? How has the country developed since the US invasion and the following unrest? How safe is it today and what are the prospects for a stable, safe and prosperous Iraq? 

The country is in much better shape today than in 2015, when more than 20 thousand Iraqi asylum seekers arrived in Finland. ISIS was effectively beaten in 2017, the country did not split along sectarian lines, overall security situation has improved significantly, parliamentary elections were held in May 2018 and a promising new president and prime minister took office in the fall. 

At the same time Iraq needs to overcome major challenges in order to maintain stability: chronic corruption of state institutions, weak military dependent on semi-autonomous militias, lack of public services and jobs for young people, economic dependence on oil, internal displacement and refugees, and of course, the effects of global warming. 

You are most welcome to a public discussion event on the contemporary situation in and future of Iraq with prof. Gareth Stansfield and journalist Nina Järvenkylä.


Gareth Stansfield is Professor of Middle East Politics and the Al-Qasimi Chair of Arab Gulf Studies at the University of Exeter, and one of the world’s leading scholars on contemporary Iraq.

Nina Järvenkylä is journalist for Iltalehti, who has written extensively on the Middle East, spent April traveling in Iraq and is currently working on a Finnish-language book on contemporary Iraq and the fears and hopes of Iraqi people.


Sanna Ra is a journalist and a communications specialist who spent over a decade in the Middle East. She worked as an ICRC detention delegate in Iraq 2011-2012. 

The Boundaries of State Intervention: dealing with ‘property’ in modern Syria

Wednesday 14.8. 14.30 – 16.00, Sessions III

Chair: Riina Isotalo

The present panel aims to historicize the relationship between the state and individuals through a reconsideration of the status of property. Law n°10, recently issued by Bashar al-Assad, aroused controversy as it allowed the regime to deprive certain citizens of their rights to own land. The terms of the debate quickly turned to sectarian issues and discussion of how the law enables the Syrian regime to override the Sunni majority and increase the access to property for the minorities. This panel departs from the sectarian hypothesis by highlighting how the very notion of property has been shaped by the emergence of the modern Syrian state (post Tanzimat era), and evolved alongside the dynamic of the state. Authorities have tried to encroach on local power through the definition of landowners’ rights. By focusing on three different stages, the Ottoman period, the Independence, and the current time (from the war to post-conflict stage), the panel aims to explain how property has always been at the core of the dialogue between individuals and authorities, as both struggled to preserve or extend their prerogatives on the local stage. Studying the role and status of property underlines how the state exercised its power overs its territory.

The countryside and land regulations in the Ottoman provinces

Vanessa Guéno, Aix-Marseille University & IREMAM

The present communication aims to discuss the rural conflicts which arose from the mid-19th century Ottoman reform. While recent studies of the Syrian countryside have given an in-depth analysis of the economic aspects of these reforms, the new social relations and the evolution of the laws they engendered, research has focused on how the implementation – and first of all, the translation of the law – at the local stage affected the relations of domination between the notables (‘ayān), who maintained ownership of the land, and the farmers who worked on that land. Studying these relations allows us to understand the new relationship established between the Ottoman authorities and local elites. It also allows us to analyse the interpretation of the law, and explain how this legal category introduced by the reforms empowered some specific groups at the local stage, forcing the reorganisation of the political elites in Ottoman Syria. This presentation is based mostly on an in-depth reading of religious and secular tribunals (shāri‘ and nizāmī) in the Tabū archive.

Reforming property laws, understanding property reform

Matthieu Rey, Wits University - CNRS

This presentation focuses on the agrarian reform in Syria in the wake of the independence. Between 1946 and 1958, land ownership and social rights in the countryside aroused intense debate in the parliament, which ruled the country throughout this period (except during its suspension from 1952 to 1953). By highlighting the different proposals concerning land and social rights as well as the way the issues were interpreted by the different political parties (Baath, socialist, liberal, and Muslim Brotherhood), the present communication highlights how property, as a social, political and legislative category, reflected the scope of state intervention, in other words, how it was an area in which the authorities were conscious of and manipulated their status as a public power over local authorities. In many respects, the authorities during the Independence, often denounced as corrupted absentee landowners, inherited from the Mandate legacy, in which administration lacked of knowledge about properties. The government tried to change the situation by enforcing the power of the state as the embodiment of sovereignty. This course of action was not without its difficulties however. Therefore, an investigation into the nature and application of property rights allows us to understand the competitive view over the conception of the state.


Promoting rivalry and division to improve control: a localised historical analysis of the regime’s use of land reform in the Quseir area of Syria (1966-2019)

Marie Kostrz, European University institute

This paper aims to present a localised historical analysis of the  Syrian regime’s application of the 1958 land reform in the rural and borders area of Quseir, from the reform’s implementation in 1966 until today. The papers argues that supporting a new form of social justice by nationalizing and restoring a fairer land access between big landowners and farmers has not been the only goal pursued by the Baath party and the Syrian regime. The paper looks at how the regime has used the reform to maintain political and land control over the territory by using land and property access as a tool for setting up networks of patronage, alternately building and breaking alliances with competing actors (tenant farmers, big landowners) depending on the country’s political context and the regime's degree of fragility. I will explore how this policy, which damaged Quseir's social cohesion, contributed to the 2011 uprising in the region and the particularly violent civil war that ensued. The paper also specifically focuses on how land reform and property access, during the current transitional phase from wartime to post-conflict era, have been used by the regime to rebuild Quseir’s population based on its degree of loyalty, in order to ensure the regime’s durability. 

Changing bilateral relations

Wednesday 14.8. 14.30 – 16.00, Sessions III

Chair: Martina Ponížilová, University of West Bohemia

Breaking and changing relations; the Moroccan-Saudi Arabian case

Marianne Aringberg Laanatza, Lund University

Breaking and changing relations; the Moroccan-Saudi Arabian case During more than six decades Morocco and Saudi Arabia have been very close friends and allies, giving each other political support in inter-Arab affaires. Morocco has benefited enormously from Saudi financing. Suddenly there is a break. The new Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman did suddenly change the rules of the ”game” in a way that was not acceptable to Morocco’s king Mohammed VI. This development has an impact on both Morocco’s position in inter-Arab context and in its Moroccan-Subsaharan context. Since Saudi Arabia cannot count on Morocco regarding the Saudi-UAE policy to isolate Qatar, support of the war Yemen etc. Saudi Arabia has suddenly started to support Algeria’s policy in Western Sahara and POLISARIO. The paper highlights the consequences of this breaking and changing and analyses its possible impact also in a broader perspective.

boundaries and the saudi-israeli relations

Abdulaziz Alghashian, Essex University

There have been many things that evolved since the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East, and the Saudi-Israeli relationship is no exception. In recent years, the shared security concern they share in Iran has led to speculation of covert Saudi-Israeli cooperation. There have been academic contributions claiming that there is an “unholy alliance” between Saudi Arabia and Israel (Davidson, 2013). I disagree with such conclusions as there are still significant boundaries and constraints due to Saudi identity. I argue that Iran caused Saudi Arabia and Israel to passively cooperate in recent years. My aim is to conceptualize the notion of cooperation by introducing “passive cooperation” as a way that enables Saudi Arabia to maintain the legitimacy of its identity, while reaching its mutual interests with Israel. My aim is to shed more light on the very misunderstood Saudi-Israeli relations. As result, the Saudi-Israeli boundaries are there, but they are shifting.

Agreement of Algiers (1975): Reliability in Doubt

Ali Granmayeh, University of London

The Agreement of Algiers was initially negotiated by the Shah of Iran and Vice-President of Iraq in March 1975 in Alger, signed by the foreign ministers of Iran and Iraq in June 1975 in Baghdad and registered at the United Nations in July 1976, put an end to longstanding border dispute between the two Muslim countries in the Middle East. However, it was unilaterally violated by Iraq five years after the conclusion. Iran and Iraq signed the agreement under different circumstances. Confident of its superiority, Iran intended to clarify the situation of its borders with Iraq and secure its legitimate rights in the Shatt-al-Arab international /navigable river. On the contrary, Iraq wanted to keep the status quo and adamant with Iran’s repeated request for settlement of border disputes. In particular, Iraq had maintained a claim that the Shatt-al-Arab was an Iraqi waterway and that its navigable part should remain under Baghdad’s exclusive control. As such, Iraq accepted the Algiers Agreement not willingly but forced to do so by its domestic problems, particularly the rebellion of Iran-backed Kurdish tribes. As soon as the powerful regime of Iran collapsed in February 1979 and Iran’s armed forces was purged in upcoming months, Iraq took advantage to annul the Agreement of Algiers and declare a war against Iran in September 1980. The war ended in July 1988 without any achievement for belligerents but hundreds of thousands casualties and huge destruction in both countries. Once Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990 and a multinational army was mobilized to expel the Iraqi forces from the occupied emirate, once again the Iraqi government was forced by regional circumstances to approach Iran for normalization of relations and revalidate the Agreement of Algiers. Following the downfall of the Baathist regime in 2003, the Iraqi Shiites seized an upper hand in Iraqi politics and consequently Iran became an influential power in Iraq. Yet, some Iraqi politicians have occasionally expressed dissatisfaction with the Agreement of Algiers and demanded a revision of some articles of this bilateral/international treaty in favour of Iraq. This study should verify the origins of the Algiers Agreement, the attitude of international community towards it at the time of conclusion, annulment and revalidation of agreement, and its reliability in the wake of changing politics in Iraq and floating relationship between Baghdad and Tehran.

The Geo strategic Challenge for launching a New Regional Security order: The Iraqi – Syrian case

Ahmad Shikara, Arab Institute for Security Studies

Defeating ISIS militarily in Iraq and Syria should create a conducive political environment for the two countries to engage in strengthening military capabilities across contiguous boundaries. Interpretative qualitative and analytical methods are used to follow up the dynamics of regional security such as the infiltration of ISIS remnants from crossing Syrian – Iraqi boundaries. The aim centres on launching a new regional Geo-strategic order starting with the determined Syrian and Iraqi efforts to stabilise security across their mutual boundaries. However, the conclusions has real-politic dimensions though admittedly shrouded with uncertainty due to the persistence of the Syrian crisis with all the critical internal and external ramifications. Furthermore, the eventual outcome of Iraqi internal reformation efforts of Adel Abdul Mahdi’s new government creates public and regional optimism but has yet to build a “New Iraq”.

Gender boundaries, bodily experience and public space

Wednesday 14.8. 14.30 – 16.00, Sessions III

Chair: Sylvia Akar

The significance of tradition and its modern components in present day interior Oman

Kajsa Amundsen, University of Bergen

This paper explores the significance of tradition in interior Oman and analyses how to behave “traditionally” today require modern means. It is based on a ten-month fieldwork in the Dakhiliyah-region in 2014, a region regarded as the most traditional and religious part of Oman. The women I spent time with proudly framed practices and choices as traditional. At the same time, they had a generally positive attitude toward (right kind of) change, and they were highly technologically updated. Unformal and formal visits is seen as the core of traditional behaviour, and serves as the empirical basis of this paper. Emphasising the artificial separation between modernity and traditionality, this paper explores how modern means, such as smartphones, have become an essential part of acting traditionally. I argue that today modern technology is necessary to fulfil many traditional social obligations and for the women to show their religious, moral and traditional identity.

Reshaping gendered boundaries in Jordan: Youth-led initiatives build new concepts of gender relations in the country

Ivana Cosmano, University of Leeds

This paper sheds light on Jordanian educated youth’ stories of resistance to dominant models of womanhood and manhood imposed by the country’s socio-cultural conventions. Traditionally, Jordan is a patriarchal society which inscribes men and women into a culturally “gender-appropriate” script that defines people’s behaviour, life-expectations, and aspirations within society. However, Jordan is a young and flourishing country characterized by a thriving and well-educated youth who is willing to promote change by subverting social restrictions and overcoming gender norms. Drawing upon examples of a variety of youth-led projects - such as the Slam Poetry Underground and SheFighter - which aim to promote change by addressing controversial gender-related issues, this paper highlights young Jordanians’ struggle to cross old gendered boundaries and to create new ones. Based on extensive research fieldwork in Amman, this paper gives voice to the often-neglected Jordanian youth whose potential for change is yet to be explored.

Bodies at the Margins?

Marie Bjerre Odgaard, Aarhus University

In recent years research on Muslim-majority contexts increasingly focus on the body and gender in terms of boundary-drawing efforts in and (especially?) on Middle Eastern and Arab countries (Abu-Lughod 2013, Massad 2007). From an anthropological perspective, this leaves us with a pressing question - namely how to understand bodily orientations in Muslim-majority societies, without digging deeper into narratives of self-discovery (Foucault 1978) or resorting to name particular identities or communities through a “Westernized” gaze (Boellstorff 2005). In this article I draw on fieldwork in Amman, Jordan, as I give examples of how a number of men and women relate, in different ways, to the implications that language and ideas about the body have in terms of their own bodily experiences. Concludingly I draw the contours of boundary-crossing discoveries take place in spaces inhabited by multiple others, and how bodily experiences are (and have been) extending into visual arts and (semi)public performance.

Geographies of Intimacy: mapping the social production of intimate spaces within the state-sanctioned public sphere in Iran

Kiana Karimi, New York University

Even though spatial studies after Henri Lefebvre have shown the plasticity of space as a social and cultural construct, the scholarship on public sphere in Islamic societies continues to be dominated by reductive and essentialist boundaries of public versus private, religious versus secular, and male versus female. This paper brings examples of daily life in Tehran that underscore the role of women in the reconfiguration and appropriation of state-regulated public space toward their use and needs. On the metro-line, streets and in bazaar, Iranian women use informal, direct and intimate performances, borrowed from the customs of the private space, that create ephemeral sites of social bonding and social intimacy in an otherwise formal, mediated and segregated public space. These daily performances map on the city a transient geography of agentive bonding that defy the official and ideological borders and demarcation of space. This paper tentatively calls this mapping "geographies of intimacy": sites, locales and movements in which the formal borders of space are crossed toward producing temporal social intimacy. Paying attention to these performances underscores the fluidity of ideological borders in the face of daily demands of life, and underlines the political potentiality of citizen’s gestures, behaviors and performances in in producing unmediated connection and collective identity.

Spaces Beyond: Living and governing the spaces of occupation in Palestine

Wednesday 14.8. 14.30 – 16.00, Sessions III

Chair: Mikko Joronen

This panel deals with the questions related to the interconnectedness of different spaces and spatialities, with particular focus on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It aims to bring together manifold ways through which spatial relatedness operates, for instance in relation to different temporalities, questions of citizenship and gender, co-constitution and interdependency of different sites, and the ways of using spatial relations as means to govern (and resist the violence of) occupation. Specifically, the panel deals with the following issues: the ways of constituting future and past as embedded to the present conditions of Palestinians living in refugee camps; biopolitics of checkpoints and its effects on gender and spaces of family life; the (b)ordering of uneven gender relations and the demographical object of ethnically cleansing West Bank through the Israeli spousal VISA restrictions; and the ways in which (settler) colonial violence is spatialized into negotiated precarities in Palestinian communities under threat of eviction, displacement and land appropriation.

The Effects of Checkpoints in Palestine on Women and the Home

Jemima Repo, Newcastle University

This paper examines the gendered effects of the ‘separation barrier’ in occupied Palestine in the context of Israeli settler colonialism. From 4am every morning, thousands of Palestinian men spend up to two hours waiting to pass through Israeli checkpoints to work in Israel in pursuit of higher wages. Drawing on a series of interviews with women whose husbands undertake the daily commute through Checkpoint 300 near Bethlehem, we analyse the impact of the gendered restrictions and consequences of the border technology on their everyday family lives. We examine three aspects in particular; first, the temporal effects that keep men away from the home and the family; second, the negative psychological impact of the checkpoint on couple and family relations; and third, the effect on the sexual division of labour in the home in the absence of the husband. We conclude that the disciplinary effects of the checkpoint extend beyond the physicality of the checkpoint, governing relations, affects and power relations in the intimate space of the home.

Politics of Future in Palestinian Refugee Camps

Tiina Järvi, Tampere UniverSITY

From the beginning of their refugeeness, Palestinians have aspired to return to the homes. The call for the right of return has been the premise for the Palestinians political struggle, it was the objective around which Palestinian resistance was organized, and it currently manifests itself not only in political discourse but also in the materiality of the refugee camps. However, since the beginning of the Oslo process, refugees have felt increasingly marginalized in the political arena, and the worsening political and economic realities around Middle East continues to deteriorate their living conditions. In this paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and West Bank, I contemplate the ways my refugee interlocutors negotiate their aspirations aiming to answer the pertinent needs of their everyday life in relation to the political call for return. I discuss, in particular, how the imagining of future(s) brings together different spatialities and temporalities, and how ambiguities of everyday life reflect to, what I call, the politic of future.

Marriage under occupation: Israel’s spousal visa restrictions in the West Bank

Mark Griffiths, Northumbria University

In the West Bank, hundreds of non-Palestinian women who are married to Palestinian men have recently been issued shortened visas with tightened restrictions. This means they are often prevented from working, their mobilities are severely reduced and they are placed in extremely precarious bureaucratic and procedural positions. The research in this article draws from fieldwork interviews with women affected by such restrictions to show how politically induced precarities produce gendered effects towards specific ends of the occupation of Palestine. We thus frame a discussion of the women’s experiences of visa regulations through precarity before giving an account of the profound effects on women’s roles in family and political life. We then broaden the focus to consider Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the demographic implications of the gendered effects of visa precarity. In doing so we make the argument that Israel’s spousal visa regulations contribute to the (re)production of uneven gender relations and the demographic objective of emptying out the West Bank.

Negotiating colonial violence: spaces of precarisation in Palestine

Mikko Joronen, Tampere University, Finland

This paper examines the ways in which colonial violence is transformed and spatialized into negotiated precarities at the occupied West Bank. The notion of ‘negotiated precarity’ is developed herein to refer to two aspects in particular. Firstly, to spatial compartmentalization, which show how the settler colonial power operates by creating precarious administrative zones, where the life of the colonized becomes prone to several flexible, negotiated uses of power. Secondly, negotiated precarity is used to refer to the conduct of the colonized that counter, transform, redirect, cancel or hamper the colonial spatialisations of power. By focusing on the ‘negotiated precarities’ in a singular West Bank village, I exemplify how the colonial governing is entwined to spatial compartments that enable several informal, indirect and ad hoc techniques of colonial violence, but also how the colonial governing is constantly mobilized, negotiated, countered and redirected in/through the everyday Palestinian spaces.