Program 16.8.

Detailed program of the 16th August.

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

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Edit: The panel "Tensions between urban and rural" is cancelled

Roundtable on the state of Middle Eastern Studies in the Nordic region

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Hannu Juusola


Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen

Stephan Guth

Marianne Aringberg Laanatza

Hannu Juusola 

Mark Sedgwick

Thorir Jonsson Hraundal

30 years have passed since the first Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies was held in Uppsala in January 1989. Over the decades, studying and teaching of Middle Eastern studies have evolved significantly. The panel focuses on the history, present and, especially, the future challenges of the Middle Eastern and cognate studies in the Nordic countries and elsewhere. What is the current reality of the studies? How the MENA area should be studied and taught? How Middle Eastern and cognate studies should be related to other disciplines and societal changes? The panel consists of the short comments by the panelists followed by a discussion in which the audience can also participate. The panelists are Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, Stephan Guth, Marinne Laanatza, Mark Sedgwick, and Hannu Juusola (Chair). 

Clerical Networks, Discourses and the State in Modern Twelver Shi’ism

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Oliver Scharbrodt, University of Birmingham

After a period of quietism among Twelver Shi’i clerics following the failures of the Constitutional Revolution, the policies of the newly formed Pahlavi state once again prompted the clerics back into discussions about the nature of the modern nation state. Since then, Shi’i clerics have formed differing conceptions about the state and clerical involvement. This panel is part of the interdisciplinary ERC project “Alterumma” that studies the transformation of Twelver Shi’i Islam in the Middle East and Europe since the 1950s. The panel will investigate the various ways that clerical networks and discourses have constructed the state in both Iran and Iraq by combining intellectual history with the qualitative methods of political science. The panel will begin by examining the leadership of the role of the “Maraje Thalath” or the three religious authorities. From there, the papers will show the different ways that clerics imagined participation in the state. This includes the tension between perfectionism and liberty in the works of Morteza Motahari, debates about the creation of shura councils since the 1960s, and the role of the marja’iyya in the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court.

The Hawza of Qum’s Breathing Period: the leadership of the maraje thalath (1941-1953)

Mohammad Mesbahi, The Islamic College

If the modern history of the hawza of Qum could be categorized in a number of defining periods, the second period (1937-1953) would be one of the most profound periods of the hawza ‘ilmiyya of Qum. It marks the leadership of three prominent and outstanding maraje; the Ayatollahs Hojjat Kooh-kamare’i (1892-1952), Khonsari (1888-1952) and Sadr (1882-1953), known as maraje thalath.  Together, they managed to firmly establish the modern hawza against the tide of analysts’ assumptions that the religious sector would be gradually eliminated from the Iranian political scene, and no one had dared to even imagine the possibility of the re-consolidated hawza ‘ilmiyya to capture the entire political arena within a short span of time. This paper will research the political and social contributions of the maraje thalath, in addition to focusing on the impact of Ayatollah Borujerdi (1875-1961) in Qum from 1945, influencing the latter part of this breathing period.

Motahari and the Tension Between Freedom and Perfectionism

Christopher Pooya Razavian, University of Birmingham

Morteza Motahari, one of the principle intellectuals of the Islamic revolution of Iran, argued for perfectionism, that it is the duty of the state to promote the good life. He stated that the moral purpose of the government was to foster faith and righteous deeds among the citizens. Simultaneously, Motahari stated that freedom (azadi) is one of the primary human values. Perfectionism has been critiqued by liberals for allowing the state to limit an individual’s freedom in order to promote the good life. This paper will examine how Motahari brought these two ideas of perfectionism and freedom into equilibrium. It will argue that while Motahari defended state paternalism, he considered liberty of consciousness, and critical engagement with religious beliefs, to be a necessary component of the internalization of faith.

Modernising clerical authority in Twelver Shiism: consultation (shura), clerics, and the state

Oliver Scharbrodt, University of Birmingham

The charismatic and individual forms of religious authority in Twelver Shiism suggest an opposition to more collective modes of decision-making, derived from the Qur’anic notion of consultation (shura). However, with the rise of the modern nation-state in the Middle East in the 20th century, the concept of shura has been propagated and embedded in modern Shia thought by a number of prominent clerical figures in order to reform and modernise clerical authority. Early proponents, such as Mahmoud Taleghani (1911-1979) or Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr (1935-1980), considered shura as a mechanism to institutionalise and strengthen clerical authority vis-à-vis the modern nation-state. Other clerics, such as Muhammad Al-Shirazi (1928-2001), developed consultative notions of clerical authority (shura al-fuqaha’) as alternative to the autocratic tendencies in Khomeini’s concept of “the absolute guardianship of the jurisconsult (wilayat al-faqih al-mutlaqa)”.

The Formal in the Relationship Between the Najafi marja’iyya and the State: The Law of the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court

Yousif al-Hilli, University of Birmingham

The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court has a significant role to play as the highest judicial authority within the state. Article 92 of the Iraqi constitution suggests a role for ‘experts in Islamic jurisprudence’ in this formal body, leading to disputes between the marja’iyya and the government over the implications of this for clerical involvement within the formal state structure. This is accompanied by varying attitudes amongst clerics themselves as to whether such a formal role is suitable for the marja’iyya as an independent clerical establishment. Through looking at the suggested law of the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court, this paper will seek to demonstrate the intricate relationship between the Najafi marja’iyya and the state, assessing the attempts made by the marja’iyya for its formal inclusion in the judiciary and the reasons for the failure of these attempts.

Women, politics and multifaceted feminisms

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Senni Jyrkiäinen

Islamic Feminism in Post 2011 Egypt: Possibilities and Challenges

Mulki al-Sharmani, University of Helsinki

According to Omaima Abou-Bakr - the Egyptian scholar who investigates gender and hermeneutics in Islamic interpretive tradition and the co-founder of the Egyptian non-governmental research organization Women and Memory Forum- the goal of Islamic feminism extends beyond epistemological reform to “developing into a conscientious social and activist movement” (Abou-Bakr 2015: 182). My presentation focuses on contemporary Egyptian Islamic feminism and its socio-political significance after the 2011 Revolution. I tackle the following questions: what are the current knowledge projects in Egypt that can be defined as Islamic feminism? Who are the producers and interlocutors of this knowledge? What role does Egyptian Islamic feminism play in enabling or hindering gender activism? And how are these knowledge/activism projects impacted by the current socio-political context of the country? The paper draws on a five year field research in Egypt (2013-2018).

Crossing boundaries of human rights activism in Egypt: Feminist NGOs since the Arab spring

Emma Sundkvist, Lund University

Based on fieldwork and interviews with feminist NGO-activists in Cairo that frame their work primarily on human rights conventions, this paper argues that the ways in which they have adapted their activism to the changing political climate in Egypt since the uprising 2011 make them enact human rights in very different forms. Drawing from Ingram’s (2008) three images of human rights politics - human rights as implementation, rights and as action - I reveal how NGO feminist activists managed to enact part of all these images in their struggle to battle and confront injustice and oppression based on gender. These findings contribute to the rich body of literature addressing gender activism in Egypt during and after the revolution with the unique perspective of human rights theory, not only as law but as modes of activism that challenges the imagined divide between civil society and other forms of political resistance.

The Role of the First Lady in Egyptian Political Life: An Investigation into Suzanne Mubarak's Thirty Years as a First Lady

Mustafa Menshawy, Doha Institute

Dalia Abdelhady, Lund University

Utilising discourse and content analysis of newspapers from Al Ahram daily, the paper traces the changing role of Suzanne Mubarak during her thirty year tenure as Egypt's First Lady. The paper will emphasise the role she played in promoting state feminism, coopting civil society organisations, and eventual bid for her son's rise to rule. The paper documents the important role she played in promoting social and cultural developments and highlight the shift in her role into more formal issues relating to governance. This shift also coincides with the beginning of the rise of stronger forms of opposition that were eventually culminated in the 2011 uprisings and the ousting of Mubarak.

Breaking Form: Cyberfeminism and (Self-)Promoting Resistance in Contemporary Iran

Kristin Soraya Batmanghelichi, University of Oslo

Less than a decade since the June 2009 uprising that followed Iran’s presidential election, cyberfeminist activities in Iran have undergone significant changes given the global movement of its women’s rights activists and the generational shifts in social media usage. While activists living in exile went online to continue pursuing on-the-ground projects, a younger generation has pursued other tactics, often promoting quick, one-issue social media campaigns through Instagram and Telegram. Viral videos of their unveiling on public streets and/or dancing solo and with friends have turned many of them into Instagram “celebrities.” The transition to cyberactivism for a once flourishing and established Iranian women’s movement has been both uneven and stunted. Numerous rights-based platforms have fallen into disarray due to poor exposure, infighting, funding problems, Internet filtering and mixed messaging; moreover, reception among Iranian publics has been ambivalent. This paper inquires upon the recent bifurcations and shifts in Iran’s women’s rights movement post 2009, looking closely at its potential vulnerabilities given the rise of self-promotive activist strategies and more so, the paucity of feminist, gender equality, and/or anti-discrimination discourses in which to ground them for the purpose of long-term sustainability.

Remaking boundaries in the Gulf

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Jon Nordenson, University of Oslo

This panel addresses shifting boundaries in Saudi Arabia and Qatar post June 2017, which in many ways marks the point where old boundaries was challenged on multiple levels, including physical, political and social. Mohammed bin Salman was appointed Crown prince in Saudi Arabia and the Qatar crisis erupted, when Saudi-Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and UAE cut all ties with Qatar overnight, and closed off the countries only land border. The events unfolding in the months to follow has had widespread consequences, both on the ground and in our theoretical understanding - some of them discussed in this panel. 

The resilience of states and people in responding to closed borders opens up for new ways to engage with taken for granted understandings of the Gulf. In questioning the ways in which boundaries have been re-drawn between people, and between humans and non-humans, the ongoing crisis also becomes a lens for larger theoretical engagements.

Rentier State Resilience: What the Qatar Crisis Can Teach Us About Rentierism

Hend Al Sulaiti, University of Southern Denmark

The 2017 crisis posed a unique test on the rentier state, as regional isolation did not result in international sanctions, a military confrontation, or domestic instability. So far, we have seen other rentier states go through more drastic crises, “historical junctures” in a sense, events that forced their standing institutions to change dramatically. From the Iraq invasion, to the sanctions on Libya, and later revolution, and the sanctions on Iran. the international community unanimously isolated and punished those regimes, leaving little room for them to test their boundaries.

This paper looks at the rentier structures in Qatar, assesses their resilience, and refers to Gray’s “Theory of Late Rentierism in the Arab States of the Gulf” in an attempt to analyze which late rentier characteristics helped sustain rentier structures during the first 6 months of the Qatar crisis, and whether this indicates that the rentier state is not as volatile as expected in its late stages.

Visa to the world: Egyptian expatriate workers in Qatar and second passports

Mari Norbakk, University of Bergen

Expatriate workers live precariously in the GCC. Temporary residential permits tied up to employment status ensure that any expatriate must live with the knowledge of potentially leaving on short notice. During the beginning of the Qatar crisis, Egyptian expats explored potential strategies to secure their futures. They felt caught between states as Egypt cut all diplomatic ties to Qatar. Through engaging with their desires for second passports, the paper explores how middle class Egyptians view increased access to border-crossing mobility as securing their futures.

Focusing on middle class Egyptian expatriate workers in the Arab Gulf makes for an interesting lens into how privilege is constructed. Economically they are part of a global middle class but as holders of "weak passports" they are hindered from a type of easy mobility often associated with the term "expat". This paper maps out the complex structure of privilege constructed between economy, citizenship and borders in the Arab Gulf.

Automatons and boundaries of the transnational public sphere simulacra in the Qatar Crisis

Marc Owen Jones, Hamad bin Khalifa University

While public sphere theorists from Arendt to Lyotard have long discussed how boundaries of the public sphere serve to include some in the debate but exclude others, few have considered the role of automatons, let alone in the Middle East. Schaffer’s analysis of the intelligent automaton blurred boundaries between human and machine, and automation versus reason. In such an analysis it was the artisan labourer whose mechanistic actions risked him being branded as an intelligent automation. Yet the reverse is also true= robots representing reason. The Qatar Crisis saw the swarming of thousands of Twitter bots masquaring as real citizens in automated fashion.  Using anomaly detection and content analysis, this paper documents the existence of, and analyses the impact of, millions of online bots during the Qatar Crisis. It argues that rather than overt top down censorship, an emerging aspect of digital authoritarianism is the automated appropriation of the online public sphere, designed to give an illusion of civil society, but ultimately existing as a simulacra.

Conflicts on the field: The Gulf-crisis and football diplomacy

Charlotte Lysa, University of Oslo

In the months following the outbreak of the Qatar crisis, the conflict was played out on several fields - including that of football. Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the beIN Sports network has long used the sport as a diplomacy-tool and to gain political leverage.

Saudi Arabia has since the crisis erupted launched a campaign aimed at delegitimizing Qatar’s soft power efforts, in order to pressure the country to give in to the boycotting countries demands. One of the targets has been Qatar’s role in football and in particular, the beIN Sports network. Since 2017 then, football has been used not only to strengthen ties - but also to severe them. This paper argues that the attack on Qatar’s grand sports ambitions might serve as a way to hit where it hurts the most, and examines how the campaign differs from traditional sporting boycott.

Shifting boundaries in Iraqi Kurdistan

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Anu Leinonen

‘Kurdish Islam’?: The invention of Sunni orthodoxy in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Tine Gade, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI

‘National Islam’ is a term that not long ago was seen as self-contradictory, since Islam is based on the idea of a transnational Umma. However, in recent years, governments in Europe and the Middle East, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, have attempted to nationalize Islamic traditions, strengthening official religious institutions and showcasing national specificities in religious traditions. In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), preachers close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the dominant party in power, increasingly hail ‘Kurdish Islam’ for its moderate and tolerant inclinations, creating boundaries with what they consider ‘Arab Islam’ in Iraq. Through this discourse, the KDP reinvents and showcases Kurdish religious orthodoxy, while ignoring the many historical ties between Arab and Kurdish Islam in Iraq. However, representatives of religious orthodoxy object to the notion of ‘Kurdish Islam’. Moreover, the KRG has a laissez-faire policy towards quietist Salafism (Madkhalia). These groups often have a divisive role in their local societies and might therefore contravene the Kurdish national identity sought by the KRG.

Dependent and disunited. Power struggles after the independence referendum in Iraqi-Kurdistan

Silvia-Lucretia Nicola, Freie Universität Berlin

This paper deals with the internal change processes inside the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan following the failed unbinding referendum on independence held unilaterally in September 2017. The focus is laid on the identity boundary shifts inside the Iraqi-Kurdish society moving from a crumbling overarching collective identity to stronger clan and party-based loyalties. These developments might appear paradoxically at a first sight, given that the Autonomous Region seemed to earn more and more international support and recognition. While the relationship with central Iraq was continuously depreciating between 2005 and 2014 due to the regional government’s power grab with regard to oil exploration as well as physical boundaries alterations in their favour in disputed areas, internally, the Kurdish Regional Government left the impression that even internal “brotherly” wars had been put aside and social boundaries redesigned aiming at the consolidation of a Iraqi-Kurdish collective identity.

Kurdish nationalism and its results for the Middle Eastern boundaries

Seyed Ahmad Fatemi Nejad, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad

Kurdish nation is among the most historical peoples in the Middle East which partitioned in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria under the Treaty of Sevres. Within these countries, Kurds are notable ethnic groups making powerful nationalist movements. The movements have long been suppressed by Turkey, Iraq and Syria, but three incidents have changed the Kurdish situation in these states: a) establishing a no-fly zone in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq which enforced by NATO after 1991; b) US involvement in Syrian civil war in support of Kurdish militia; c) participation of Kurds in Turkish political system after the AK-party coming to power. The aim of this article is to study why, in spite of these changes, Kurdistan independence is inevitable. Answering the question, I will use Anthony D. smith theory of nationalism, and discuss perennialist and modernist bases of Kurdistan independence.

Mediatized diaspora contesting boundaries

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Ehab Galal, University of Copenhagen

Since the Arab uprisings of 2011, the possibility for political opposition in Arab countries has once again faced new boundaries, while people and media have crossed physical boundaries to live in and broadcast or communicate from for instance Europe. The focus of this panel is how Arab diasporic communities in Europe use transnational Arab media to mobilize, negotiate and contest political action post-Arab Spring. Drawing on findings from a collective research project on ‘Mediatized Diaspora’, the papers of this panel present four case studies of Syrian, Tunisian, Bahraini, and Egyptian diasporic communities in Europe. Across the four papers, the question is how the four diasporic communities’ uses of Arab media stimulate or confine particular boundary-crossing identification and action formation with a special attention to Arab media, which are critical towards current political regimes in the Arab region.

Mediatized political action formation among Syrians in Scandinavia

Zenia B. Henriksen Ab Yonus, University of Copenhagen

This paper investigates the structures of political action formation among Syrian communities in the Öresund region of Denmark and Sweden with focus on everyday media use. The ongoing civil war has resulted in a diverse political landscape with diaspora communities as mediator between Syria and the international community. Media was used to mobilize and ease coordination of demonstrations but their role has shifted, and this paper explores how the vast amount of graphic material demobilizes the Syrians abroad. The paper is based on 20 semi-structured interviews with Syrians in the two countries, and the exploration of the Syrian mediatized diasporas and their use of media makes it possible to describe the mediation of war shaping both understandings of the war and the sense of belonging within social spaces highly characterized by transnational exchange of information via media.

Contentious action formation among Tunisian diasporic communities in Europe

Mostafa Shehata, University of Copenhagen

The Tunisian revolution and its aftermath in the last eight years have produced a considerable shift in Tunisian power and media, providing a significant model of democratic transition in a long- standing autocratic region. In post-revolutionary Tunisia, along with other revolutionary cases, the convergence between media and politics has left fundamental transformations in the prevalence and structure of contentious action. These transformations, which have been facilitated by different media channels, have marked a significant interaction from Tunisian diasporic communities. Considering the political significance of media for Tunisian diaspora as a point of departure, this paper investigates––through the logic of connective action theory––the potential effects of Tunisian media users on the formation of transnational contentious actions. Based on a series of semi-structured interviews with Tunisians living in France, Denmark and Sweden this paper focuses on the strategies of communicative interaction with Tunisian transnational contentious actions.

Making an impact. Forms of media use among Bahrainis in exile in Europe

Thomas Fibiger, Aarhus University

This paper presents an analysis of transnational political action formation, in relation to different forms of media, among Bahrainis in Europe. Bahrainis, forced in exile or a voluntary diaspora, use different media to follow the situation in Bahrain, but they also contribute to different forms of media to affect that situation. The presentation is based on fieldwork in 2018 (and 2019) among Bahrainis in the UK and in Denmark. Bahrainis in exile and/or diaspora find the grievances of their compatriots poorly covered by both national, regional and international media. Based on social media reports and personal communication from Bahrain, Bahrainis in Europe evaluate the news, and some use this to form news of their own, using social media as well as NGOs, press conferences, seminars and events to highlight the situation in Bahrain, aimed at both Arabic and Western media and audience.

Media use across generations. Mediatized Egyptian diasporic communities in Europe

Ehab Galal, University of Copenhagen

The Egyptian regime changes in 2013 has left the country’s political opposition in a state of internal struggle, disillusion, despair and impotence. Egyptians inside and outside Egypt are still trying to come to terms with the situation, while regime-critical media inspired by liberal or Islamist positions have been forced to broadcast and work from outside Egypt. The focus of this paper is, how different generations of media users in Europe with Egypt as their ancestral home use Arab media and to which extend their current media uses have influenced and changed their political stance towards the Egyptian regime. Based on qualitative interviews with media users in Denmark, Sweden, and France, the question is how the reason for and length of stay in Europe, current relations to the ancestral home of Egypt, and the situation in the country of residence influence media uses and political mobilization.

Refugee experiences

Friday 16.8. 10.30 – 12.00, Sessions VII

Chair: Tiina Järvi, University of Tampere

'Ohterness' in the labour market: a closer look at economic inclusion within the refugees’ context

Tamara A Kool, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance/UNU-MERIT

Jordan has long experienced societal transformations, partly resulting from significant influxes of refugees at various points in time. Subsequently,  social boundaries have been constantly revisited along multiple dimensions - from cultural to economic. Thus, this paper delves into the topic of refugee labour market engagement from a social exclusion perspective, and argues that understanding how refugees shape their labour market experience comparative to the host community.

Based on 35 semi-structured interview moments with those of Palestinian origin and Syrian refugees - both in and outside refugee camps – this paper sets out first to explore how different protracted refugee groups effectively partake in and shape their labour market engagement. This is done against the backdrop of a thorough discussion onto  the extent to which existing policies and programmes hinder their engagement, and what are the obstacles that stand in the way of truly address their needs.

Communal Care, Local Aid and ‘Refugee-Refugee Humanitarianism’ in a Palestinian Refugee Camp

Salla-Maria Korhonen, University of Helsinki

In this paper, I will provide an ethnographic account of daily charity work of Al-Farouq, a community-led charity in a Palestinian refugee camp in Irbid, North of Jordan. By using local charity as a prism, I will discuss how aid reworks a given community: where are the boundaries of the camp drawn and what are the dis/connections between different sites of communal care? I will look at the various encounters that take place throughout everyday processes of receiving and providing aid. Although charity tends to reinforce hierarchical relationships and class boundaries, the assumed separation between the givers and receivers of charity is unsustainable in the context in which local aid workers are often simultaneously refugees, aid givers, recipients of aid, and hosts offering support to fellow refugees. Local charity interventions create a tapestry of care that challenges the mainstream humanitarian narrative of a singular suffering victim and sheds light on ‘refugee-refugee humanitarianism’.

Enta Gazzawi?!: An Auto-ethnography of Occupation, Statelessness, Siege, and Borders

Abdalhadi M. Alijla, Global Young Academy

Borders of nation-states have become the natural barriers that constrain and organize the movements of people. These borders have entry and exit points such as airports, seaports, and border crossings. Besides being an essential element in defining the national identity of the majority of people who lives inside their geography, these borders can be used as a political tool to control the movement of people as a punishment for their political orientations. In the age of mobility control, inequality in general as well as the refugee crisis and the Arab Uprisings in particular, the Palestinians of Gaza have been excluded from the external world and isolated in the Gaza Strip through different mechanism related to borders and visas. This paper is an auto-biography of occupation, travels, airports and border crossings. It describes life under occupation, visa and border violence in the Rafah borders and the Israel’s Erez checkpoint, Allenby, and then experiences at European and Middle Eastern airports and borders. The paper explores the state of the exception of living under the occupation as a Palestinian. I explore how the systematic profiling of the Palestinians is operating in Arab countries’ borders. Moreover, this paper focuses on the transformation of a person, who was a migrant and asylum seeker, to become a citizen, and how borders can operate as a quasi-citizen of a developed nation. This is a narrative of the 21st century through the eyes of a Palestinian transformed into an unconfirmed Swede. Keywords: Borders, Nation-state, Violence, Palestine, Gaza, Refugees.

Discovering the strategy of inversion – Overcoming boundaries in Palestinian oral transmission

Kawthar el-Qasem, Hochschule Düsseldorf

For more than seventy years, Palestinians have been exposed to massive loss and disconnection. Thus, the motif of overcoming borders, boundaries and limitations of all kinds is pivotal to Palestinian oral transmission. The presented study reveals inversion as a major strategy in doing so: represented by the invivo code “Others live in their homeland, our homeland lives inside us” inversion builds on the permutability of the normative order of ard (earth) and `ard (honour/performance) and enables protagonists to maintain the coherence of their identity and experience, produce and preserve knowledge, testify to their resistance and resilience and reinforce their hope and belief in justice against all odds. This paper presents the results of a Reflexive Grounded Theory Study (RGTM) conducted in 2011 in Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Data analysis according to the RGTM allowed the reconstruction of the practice of Palestinian Orality and the strategy of inversion.

Anti-clericalism in the Middle East Today

Friday 16.8. 13.30 – 15.00, Sessions VIII

Chair: Liina Mustonen

Anti-Clericalism tends to appear whenever clerics gain political and social influence. People of a different persuasion – religious or non-religious – may begin to criticize what they consider is the overly powerful position of the clergy. In the Middle East, roughly from the 1970s a religious resurgence, in Arabic al-sahwa al-diniyya, gradually placed the clergy – Muslim, Christian, Jewish – in a more prominent position. And by the 2000s, anti-Clericalism was also on the rise.

Although the religious resurgence has received massive attention, it has mainly been studied as a lay movement. The role of the clergy has been less studied, and the later anti-Clericalism has been neglected. Anti-Clericalism has almost solely been studied in a European context, especially in Catholic countries. In the Middle East, is has been discernible in several countries such as Iran and Saudi-Arabia. The panel proposes to direct the study towards the new wave of Anti-Clericalism in Israel and Egypt. What is interesting about the two countries is the political attention given to attacks on Jewish and Muslim clergy in mainstream media.

Mapping Jewish Anti-Clericalism in a Post-Secular World

Joshua Sabih, University of Copenhagen

The Hebrew term Rabbanut stand for more than the person of a rabbi. Actually, it comes to embody authority and power of the clergy as a divinely mandated religious institution through which Rabbanut expresses and defines not only the true belief, but also its self-identification as a custodian of the city of God (Israel) and man (the Jew).

In this paper, I shall examine two types of anti-rabbinical or anti-clerical discourse: Secular anti-clericalism of the Israeli Maimonideanism and the religious anti-clericalism of the Israeli Karaites philosophy of law. The epistemological reason for these two models is to debunk the binary opposition of the religious vs the secular.

In this regard, I shall focus on both Yehoshua Leibowitz´s understanding of Maimonides as the enlightened philosopher/jurist in his critic of Religious-Zionism´s political theology, and the Karaites´ critic of the Rabbis’ claim to derive their authority from the Oral Law, which the Karaites reject as Divine.

Anti-clericalism in contemporary Egyptian academia: The Cairene School of Islamic Studies

Andreas Nabil Younan, University of Copenhagen

Two dogmas have played a pivotal role in the dominating Sunni Islamic discourse: 1) the non-existence of clerics and therefore clericalism and 2) the dichotomy between religion and secularism. Three Egyptian scholars, Ḥasan Ḥanafī (b. 1935) along with his students Naṣr Ḥāmid Abū Zayd (1943-2010) and ʿAlī Mabrūk (1958-2016) – also known as The Cairene School of Islamic Studies – challenged these understandings through their scholarship and engagement in the public debate by, as Muslim intellectuals, criticizing the well-known mutual legitimation between the Islamic scholars (ʿulamāʾ) and the ruler (waliyy al-amr).

This paper will shed light on anti-clerical elements in the intellectual discourse in contemporary Egypt by examining the schools’ critique of turāth (intellectual Islamic tradition/heritage) and the self-assigned authority and monopoly of the ʿulamāʾ on the interpretation of “true” Islam – elements that have remained undiscussed until now in modern scholarship on secularism and modernity."

Anti-Clericalism in the Israeli Millet System

Judith Aagaard, University of Copenhagen

Israel is a multi-religious and highly hierarchized confessional society. It defines itself as a Jewish and secular state operating with a Millet system that it has inherited from the Ottomans. The uneven and conflictual relationship between the different confessions is often articulated through anti-clerical discourse in its various forms. Israel’s Anti-Clericalism represents an interesting phenomenon for social sciences as well as religious studies due to its local features that can improve our understanding of, inter alia, the relationship between religion/religiosity and secularism/modernity. Central to my paper is the question of how the authority and power of the clergy is understood, interpreted and contested; ‘Anti-Clericalism, after all, tends to appear whenever clerics gain political and social influence’.

This paper will show diverse examples of Anti-Clerical tendencies within and strategies used by different religious and ethnic groups. The common denominator of these examples is their use of Anti-Clericalism as a means to secure individual and/or communal rights in face of the millet system and the power of the clergy.

Anti-Clericalism on TV

Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, University of Copenhagen

This paper argues that, in Egypt, anti-Clericalism reflect the relationship between al-Azhar and the rulers of Egypt. When there is mutual respect and support, anti-Clericalism rises in Islamist quarters, whilst in time of tension, anti-Clericalism is mainly expressed in Secularist quarters. Since 2015 there has been tension between the Sisi regime and al-Azhar, and for the first time, Secularist anti-Clericalism has become a mainstay of pan-Arabi television.

Focusing on the seminal figures of Islam al-Buheiri and Ebrahim Eissa, this paper will analyse their programs – Islam hurr and Mukhtalif `Alaih – and the role of the channel al-Hurra. Moreover, it will compare their themes with the typology of classical European anti-Clericalism as laid out by Hugh Mcleod. 

Allegory and anti-clericalism in Medieval Islamic Philosophy: the Case of Ibn Rushd

Saer El-Jaichi, University of Copenhagen

The medieval Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, or Averroes, (1126-98), who lived in medieval Spain, famously argued in support of allegorical interpretation of Islamic scripture, as a tool for overcoming apparent inconsistencies within the Qur’an, and conflicts between its teaching and reason. To date, several fine expositions of Ibn Rushd’s stance on the nature and role of allegory in Qur’anic exegesis have appeared. However, the connection between his argument in favor of allegorical interpretation and his anticlerical sentiments has not adequately been traced in most of these studies. My interest in this paper is threefold: to show how Ibn Rushd’s innate preference for allegorical interpretation (ta’wil) stems from his anticlerical position; to address, in particular, the hermeneutical nuances in his attitude toward allegory, in the context of his defense of the divine truth; and to clarify how this defense was a function of his effort to dismantle the authority of the clerics and specialists in Islamic theology (ʿilm al-kalam). 

Diaspora experiences

Friday 16.8. 13.30 – 15.00, Sessions VIII

Chair: Mulki al-Sharmani, University of Helsinki

Refuge in Jesus Christ: Experiences of Arab Asylum Migrants in Finland Who Have Converted from Islam to Christianity

Iiris Nikanne, University of Helsinki

Following the so-called migrant crisis in Europe, a considerable number of Muslim asylum seekers have invoked conversion to Christianity. While it can be assumed that there are multiple motives behind the conversions, this master’s thesis aims at increasing understanding about the experiences of those who have undergone a religious transformation. The methods include data from semi-structured interviews with ten self-proclaimed converts and three pastors working with people of Muslim backgrounds, analyzed by using qualitative content analysis. Each participant had his own unique experience about the conversion process, but there were also common aspects shared by the interviewees. The participants had undergone a socially, psychologically and spiritually challenging process, the most prominent aspects of which will be discussed in the presentation.

‘The Church is our home’: Middle Eastern Christian Diaspora Narratives on the ‘exclusive’ temporal space of spiritual buildings

Fiona McCallum Guiney, University of St Andrews

This paper explores the boundary-making role played by places of worship in a diaspora context using the case study of Middle Eastern Christians in the UK. By attending a place of worship, its members ‘belong’ to a specific group with its own identity, rules and processes. In a diaspora context, a place of worship often acts as the hub of the community providing a space to (re-)create familiar sights, sounds and smells of the homeland as well as socializing with group members. The paper explores the extent to which the community church both acts as a boundary-maker between the group and wider society and also defines group identity in relation to religion, ethnicity and nationality. The data comes from participant observation and interviews conducted in London and Scotland between 2014 and 2015 as part of a collaborative EU-funded project entitled ‘Defining and Identifying Middle Eastern Christian Communities in Europe’.

 “Home” in a pocket for home-on-shoulders

Tomoko Yamagishi, Meiji University

This paper tries to maintain that networking remains a persistent mode of life among peoples in and from the Middle East, when various boundaries call for their redefinition. It is symbolic that anyone who carries mobile-phone or electronic terminal clicks the icon of “Home” daily, while more and more people wander far from their homes in the Middle East. The Farsi/Persian word “khāneh-be-dush/home-on-shoulder” often suites those refugees and immigrants. It is said that sense of “homeland” in nation-state system, which requires geographical boundaries, are apt to be undermined today, and Middle Eastern countries stay relatively in weak national integration due to their ethnic complexity and unreasonable borderlines. On the other hand, we observe Middle Eastern peoples, in and out of the region, utilizing ICT, engage vastly in networking along and beyond their kinship, ethnicity or nationality. Their preference for connectivity may be regarded both historical and contemporary.

Posting identity: Stamps, politics and the Process of State Building in the Palestinian Authority 1994-2018 

Ido Zelkovitz, Yezreel Valley College and the University of Haifa 

My paper focuses on the visual analysis of stamps that were printed, distributed and used in the Palestinian Authority during the period of 1994-2018. The stamp is an important source for historians and scholars of nationalism. The use of icons, images and ideas that were designed to shape public opinion in the Palestinian Authority, can shed light on political and social issues that were at the heart of the Palestinian society during this period. In this context, one should remember that Postage stamps intended for interior and international use play an important role in shaping collective memory. In the case of the Palestinians, where a national group, had to maintain and build a memory, without having self-determination and found itself fragmented between competing factions, stamps and the visual aspects of their graphic design, played an important role in shaping the national image. 

Re-drawing the political borders of the Gulf Cooperation Council: foreign and domestic politics

Rescheduled to 15th Thursday at 9.00-10.30

Tensions between urban and rural – cities as beacons of reform

Friday 16.8. 13.30 – 15.00, Sessions VIII


Hybrid media and struggles for political participation in the Arab world

Friday 16.8. 13.30 – 15.00, Sessions VIII

Chair: Brynjar Lia, University of Oslo

The combined effect of political upheavals and technology-driven media transformations has put social and political cohesion in the Arab world under pressure. Times of uncertainty like the current one in the Middle East upset people’s habitual interpretive frameworks and increase the media’s ability to shape public consciousness. At the same time, the media itself have been changed by political and technological development. Media are hybrid in two senses. Politically, media outlets in various Arab countries experience a considerable degree of editorial freedom, but they are not at liberty to cover every issue in whichever way they want. Technologically, the rise of social media has challenged the traditional media as a “marketplace for ideas” while simultaneously being a powerful tool for disinformation by authoritarian political elites. The papers in this panel explore how journalists, the public and powerholders navigate the possibilities and constraints produced by this double hybridity.

Debating terrorism in a political transition: journalism and democracy in Tunisia

Jacob Høigilt, University of Oslo

In March 2015, in the midst of a political transition, Tunisia was rocked by a terrorist attack at the Bardo museum in downtown Tunis in which 21 people were killed. How did Tunisian journalists manage the tension between a heightened sense of insecurity and the country’s uncertain democratic development? This paper analyses journalistic commentary on the causes and implications of terrorism four years into the transition sparked by the Arab uprisings. It provides an empirically nuanced perspective on the role of journalism in political transitions, focusing on journalists as arbitrators in public debate. We argue that influential Tunisian journalists fell back on interpretive schema from the Bin ᶜAli era when they tried to make sense of the Bardo attack, thus facilitating the authoritarian drift of the Tunisian government at the time. They actively contributed to the non-linearity of a political transition, despite enjoying real freedom of speech.

Online Activism in Egypt and Kuwait: Counter-Publicness and Democratization

Jon Nordenson, University of Oslo

This paper explores the use of online platforms among activists in the Middle East, and the importance of such platforms in effecting change. Based on a detailed, empirical analysis of the day-to-day use of online platforms by activists in Egypt and Kuwait, I illustrate how and why online platforms are used by activists, which benefits this usage provides, and identifies some crucial features for successful activism. I argue that the campaigns studied were able to effect change, but also show how activism - even online -quite effectively might be hindered. I further argue that the main benefit gained by activists is the counter-publicness online platforms provide, which enable excluded groups to organize, articulate their demands and mobilize for these in their national publics.

Draining the Swamp Journalism: Automated News in the Gulf Twittersphere

Marc Owen Jones, Hamad Bin Khalifa University

 While the role of social media in the Middle East is generally accepted to be ambiguous, moving beyond binaries of utopian or dystopian potentials, authoritarian innovation in the areas of news and journalism have resulted in particularistic new phenomenon. The confluence of long-practised state censorship in Saudi Arabia and the embrace of new technologies is leading to shifting practises in digital journalism, one of which is the non-overt automation of news accounts.  By using methods of automated account detection on Twitter pioneered by this author, this paper seeks to explore; a) the extent of automated journalism in the Arabic Gulf Twittersphere b) the potential impacts of such journalism c) the nature of the journalistic content. Preliminary analysis has already showed that automated Twitter accounts are highly active in ‘swamping’ both regional and local hashtags - drowning out legitimate debate. The paper contends that swamping is a a form of authoritarian innovation that attempts to rebound the unbounding force of new media technologies.

Journalism under instrumentalized political parallelism: media and politics in Lebanon

Kjetil Selvik, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

What is the role of journalism in hybrid political regimes where political competition and media pluralism coexist with authoritarian practices? How do journalists navigate to carve out a professional space? The paper investigates the media-politics nexus in Lebanon. Lebanon’s media system is characterized by political parallelism, understood as stable links between political actors and the media and reporting that reflects political divisions. Moreover, it is heavily marked by political clientelism. The paper examines the room for journalistic agency under instrumentalized political parallelism based on face-to-face interviews with 25 Lebanese journalists. It finds journalists being under multiple pressures and shows how they seek to overcome their constraints. We argue that journalists maneuver along two conflict axes, one horizontal, between political leaders, and one vertical, between the grassroots and the elites. Connecting to one or the other may increase their political weight, increasing the element of uncertainty for the regime.