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In events that have since become known as the Arab Uprisings or Arab Revolutions,
people across the Middle East took to the streets to express their anger and
frustration at political climates, demanding political and economic reform. In a
number of cases, protest movements were repressed, often violently, with
devastating repercussions for human security and peace across the
While a number of scholars have sought to understand how the protests occurred, this book looks at sovereignty and the relationship between rulers and ruled to identify and understand both the roots of this anger but also the mechanisms through which regimes were able to withstand seemingly existential pressures and maintain power.
With links between the Gulf states and the Horn of Africa dramatically developing; the areas of possible collaboration and conflict have also expanded; prompting the need for more detailed empirical and conceptual analysis. In pursuit of this; the concluding section of this collection seeks to draw empirical and theoretical/conceptual themes together. In particular; the conclusion highlights the importance of rich theoretical analysis of cross-regional engagement along the lines put forward by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever. Weaving theoretical and empirical approaches together; this conclusion seeks to shed light on the challenges and opportunities for Gulf states and the Horn of Africa.
Drawing on Agamben’s ideas of the state of exception, the third chapter
considers the development of political systems and the way in which they
regulate life. Central to the chapter is understanding particular forms of
sovereign power, the regulation of life and the ban that underpins such
regulatory efforts. A range of different mechanisms facilitate the
regulation of life, from claims to legitimacy to the coercive mechanisms of
the state, including the security services and military.
The chapter begins with an exploration of different typologies of political structures before turning to a discussion of constitutions and citizenship. It then turns to consideration of the security mechanisms that underpin regulatory efforts before considering examples from Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran.
Religion is fundamentally concerned with the regulation of life, yet contemporary ideas about the role of faith in political life are deeply contested. Across faiths, sects and ideologies, different visions of the role of religion have resulted in political contestation with regional repercussions. Understanding these issues requires consideration of competing claims to authority and legitimacy, along with an exploration of the role of Islam within the political realm. Amidst a region increasingly characterised by sectarian divisions, it is imperative to consider the spatial aspects of the relationship between religion and politics and to explore how sect-based identities can be mobilised for (geo)political purposes. The chapter also considers the way in which similar issues emerge in Judaism, exploring the relationship between the state of Israel and settler groups.
In recent years, cities have become key sites of political interactions. World Bank data suggests that 65% of the region’s population live in cities, although in the Gulf, this figure is much larger. As a consequence, regulating life in cities has become increasingly important. Legislation designed to regulate life finds most traction within urban areas, where jobs and welfare projects – not always under the auspices of the state – offer a degree of protection. Beyond this, the aesthetics of a city can be used to develop a national identity, which also brings about exclusion. Decisions over infrastructural and development projects are taken for political reasons, driven by domestic and regional concerns, but impacting on the lives of citizens and non-citizens within states and across space. Within the urban environment, identities, groups and networks interact and collide, simultaneously reinforcing and challenging communities, identities and the state itself. Amidst an array of tribal, ethnic, religious, political and ideological loyalties, regulating life within the city is of paramount importance for regime survival. As such, the city is the arena through which networks of patronage – family, tribal, religious or bureaucratic – can be mobilised to retain power.
This chapter focusses on the events of the Arab Uprisings, the emergence of protest movements across the region demonstrating the seemingly widespread rejection of political, social and economic conditions. It argues that to understand the protest movements, we must place them in the context of protests within and across states in the region. The conditions prior to the uprisings should not be viewed solely as a by-product of political life, an accident or the unavoidable consequence of the interaction between nationalist and globalising forces. Instead, as previous chapters have argued, political, social and economic situations were carefully designed as mechanisms of control, resulting in the cultivation of a form of bare life. For Agamben, once in this position, there is no escape and one should accept the position of ‘being thus’. Yet looking across the region in the early months of 2011, it was difficult to view events as the acceptance of the status quo. Instead, what quickly became known as the Arab Uprisings was seen as the rejection of being thus and the demonstration of agency – seen to be possible even within bare life – and improve political life.
The protest movements of early 2011 that eviscerated regime–society relations
across the Middle East were a widespread rejection of the political,
economic, social and legal status quo. Having had political meaning stripped
from their lives and the regulation of this limited form of existence
embedded within the fabric of the state, protests were an expression of
agency. Contestation was met with a fierce response from the governance
mechanisms of the state as regimes attempted to regain control, using a
range of draconian and strategies in the process.
In response, regimes sought to reframe the nature of political life and the ban. One such way that this was achieved was through the use of language to frame particular issues as existential threats. Following the work done by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever of the Copenhagen School, securitisation seeks to broaden understandings of security by suggesting that meaning is derived from linguistic framing of issues as threats. Perhaps the most obvious example of securitisation processes concerns the cultivation of divisions within society and the securitisation of sectarian difference in the post-Arab Uprisings context.
With the onset of the uprisings, new arenas of proxy competition emerged across the Middle East, simultaneously serving as zones of possibility and restriction as international players sought to manipulate domestic affairs often for their own ends. Yet the increasingly securitised and politicised role of religion, particularly within the context of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has left regimes open to criticism while state security is undermined by the ability of clerics in one state to speak to audiences in another. Evoking memories of Paul Noble’s regional echo chamber, this chapter draws together the first and second parts of the book to show how the fallout from the Arab Uprisings has consequences for the organisation of the contemporary Middle East.
Across a century of contestation, this chapter engages with processes of
transformation, often – although not necessarily – violent, driven by actors
both within and beyond territorial borders. In many cases, such
transformations were revolutionary, violent dislocations between past and
future that radically altered the cultural landscape of a particular area.
Yet such transformations also possess an economic dimension as foreign
powers sought to capitalise on opportunities provided by domestic upheaval,
while political elites began processes of modernisation as they sought to
forge contemporary states from the embers of uncertainty.
This chapter offers a genealogy of states in the region from the mandate period until the demise of Da’ish in the summer of 2018. It focuses upon five distinct eras, allowing for exploration of the interaction of regional trends with domestic factors in the creation of political projects.