Sociology

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Young people in search of ‘normality’
Zahra Ali
and
Laurent Bonnefoy

The breakdown of social bonds and the militarisation of Baghdad are compounded by the destruction caused by aerial bombardment during the war and local bomb attacks, as well as the collapse of street cleaning and waste disposal. The Iraqi capital looks both chaotic and neglected. Despite this, young people in Baghdad, just like those in neighbouring Arab countries, enjoy squares and green spaces, as well as an extremely rich historical and architectural heritage. The city’s youth make the most of the few existing places, like the main streets in the Al Mansour and Karada districts – where cafés are still open to all denominations but are only accessible to the very wealthy – to cope as best they can with the situation and enjoy a few moments of respite. Since 2011, echoing the upsurge of resistance elsewhere in the Arab world, a number of initiatives led by young Baghdadis have sought to escape political and community divisions by taking to the streets to fight for a unified city. Through campaigns organised in public spaces, students, artists and activists have expressed their desire for unity and their resistance to the violence that marks everyday life in a city they often equate to a ‘paradise lost’.

in Arab youths
Young Sunnis in Bahrain react in ‘defence of their country’ (2011–2012)
Claire Beaugrand

Stereotypes in the West and in the Arab world often depict the younger generations of the six Gulf monarchies as gilded and idle. The high standards of living in the Gulf, deriving from the rentier economy, have shaped cultural practices dominated by unbridled consumerism. The general impression remains nevertheless that Gulf youth does not care much about politics. The events that shook Bahrain in 2011 call for a more nuanced picture. The smallest of the Gulf countries is torn by socio-economic and communal tensions which, in the context of the Arab Spring crisis, generated new forms of political engagement among young people. The radical and violent turn taken by the events both terrified and awakened part of the youth, those stemming from pro-government Sunni backgrounds, encouraging it to overcome its political lethargy.

in Arab youths
Politico-religious trajectories in pre-revolutionary Syria
Thomas Pierret

Young people’s participation in religious activities in a Muslim context is often seen as a potential antechamber to political engagement. Such a view is not necessarily mistaken, but the relationship can in fact sometimes be the exact opposite: the desire for social and political engagement ultimately leads to a new form of religious practice. Following the trajectory of young Syrian Muslims seeking a religious discourse with a political purchase, or one at least capable of coming to grips with contemporary realities, I will show how this quest led them to join a religious congregation whose real nature as a Sufi brotherhood they only gradually came to discover. Without disregarding the religious nature of this experience, I will also consider its more worldly incidental benefits, that is, the access to relatively elite social networks. The case study discussed in this chapter concerns a group of some hundred young men and women who were followers of Dr Mahmud Abu al-Huda al-Husseini. A general practitioner, born in 1960, Dr al-Husseini was also the preacher at the ‘Adiliyya mosque, an Ottoman edifice in Aleppo’s old souk. Rather than gradually narrowing the focus by beginning with the context, that is the group, and then concentrating on each member’s trajectory, I have chosen the opposite approach, taking the paths followed by individuals as a starting point before examining the features of the group as they become clearer to followers over time.

in Arab youths
A new platform for young Arabs
Yves Gonzalez-Quijano

Around the year 2005, the quiet revolution of Web 2.0 exponentially accelerated the growth of the Arab Internet, so that social networks – which originally were anything but political tools – are now bringing about another turning point in the cultural habits of the region. Gone is the era of watching TV soaps and series, a quasi-religious ritual, which had become closely linked to the social rhythm of the month of Ramadan: after breaking the daily fast, families and neighbours spent the long evenings together, watching and discussing TV series that had been written and filmed long in advance for this peak-time audience. But now is the age of the online series.

in Arab youths
Deconstructing stereotypes – interwoven trajectories of young Arabs
Laurent Bonnefoy
and
Myriam Catusse

During the 2011 overthrow of four aged autocrats, ‘young Arabs’ became the modern heroes of ‘malcontents’ the world over. To a large extent, a decade later, their figure has also come to symbolise the failed promises of political uprisings and also, to some extent, of the path to democracy. Occupying the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Sanaa or Manama, they were then to be seen demonstrating under colourful banners, becoming Internet activists and, in some instances, taking up arms. Their mobilisation became a structuring generational moment, highlighting social trends and fault lines that still bear meaning now. These young men and women embodied the revolt of ‘peoples’ on the move behind the ideals of freedom and justice. Faced with this waltz of images, mixing the metaphor of ‘awakening’ with reference to a radical and violent habitus, the idea for this book germinated out of a desire to speak of young Arabs differently from conventional discourses. Ten years after the project was first imagined, this ambition remains more relevant than ever. This publication produced a series of snapshots, well ordered and meaningful, that continue to help us understand contemporary societies in the Middle East and North Africa. They could be completed with portraits of the new generation.

in Arab youths
The lust for life of Saudi joyriders
Pascal Menoret

This chapter focuses on the dynamics behind the practice of tafhit. It examines Riyadh’s politically disenfranchised, urban, male youth and the ‘lust for life’ of some of these apparent ‘rebels without a cause’. But unlike the heroes of Nicholas Ray’s 1955 film, these young Saudis who competed in their cars did have a cause. What struck me during fieldwork was that most of the young people were less concerned with Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood than with a good session of joyriding, with its roar, its risks and its forbidden pleasures.

in Arab youths
Five-star family favourites
Claire Beaugrand

For most young people from wealthy families or the upper middle classes in the Gulf monarchies, Europe is not, contrary to the stereotype, a peculiar summer destination for individual eccentricities. While clichés portray young Gulf women on designer shopping binges or young men drinking to excess, chasing ‘girls’ and stocking up on luxury goods, most holidays prosaically reproduce the leisure practices and the behaviour practised in the Gulf countries during the rest of the year. For these young people, holidays abroad are first and foremost a family affair (with certain variations depending on the family): they are spent in the company of parents, brothers and sisters (whether married or not), as well as grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts – and families often bring domestic staff with them, such as the Filipina nanny or Egyptian driver. Moreover, going on holiday is seen as a necessity to escape the sweltering heat of the Gulf during the summer months.

in Arab youths
The ambiguous social mix of the Palestinians of Israel in Haifa
Mariangela Gasparotto

Haifa has the reputation of being the most important ‘mixed town’ in Israel. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as the madina mukhtalata, in Arabic, or as ir me’urevet, in everyday Hebrew. Some sociologists and anthropologists even describe the city as a model for the tolerance shown between its Jewish, Muslim, Christian Druze and Bahai inhabitants, since Haifa is also the site of the main mausoleum of the Bahai faith, whose prophet, who died in 1892, was Iranian. This vision is contested by most of the Palestinians living in Haifa, however, who see it as expressing a double violence exerted by the dominant Jewish population. First, this image divides Palestinians themselves along religious lines, while most of them consider themselves members of a Palestinian community. Secondly, it fails to recognise the pressures, discriminations and acts of bullying which they feel are parts of their daily lives. In this chapter, I consider the idea of the ‘mixed’ town through the lens of some coffee shops located on Massada Street, in the Hadar HaCarmel zone. This neighbourhood is the principal point at which ‘downtown’ and ‘uptown’ meet and mingle. As a result, it might seem at first sight to confirm the reality of the city’s cultural, religious and ethnic social mix. Here, Palestinians make up 22 per cent of the population according to official statistics. In some cases, Palestinians live in the same buildings as Mizrahim (Oriental Jews) or Russian immigrants, most of whom arrived in the late 1980s.

in Arab youths
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Rappers and rockers between integration and transgression
Layla Baamara

SOS Bab-el-Oued is a community organisation located in the working-class district of Algiers from which it takes its name. Located between two clothing stores across from a public garden, the association’s premises are unmissable. Young people of all ages – for whom artistic and cultural activities are not easily accessible in the Algerian capital – can take advantage of a fully equipped rehearsal room in the basement, a darkroom and film club equipment on the first floor, musical instruments, books and computers everywhere. The association’s origins are linked to the story of some of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants in the context of the civil war in the 1990s. Their personal histories, marked by the loss of loved ones and a politicised relationship with society, are not unrelated to what they describe as their mobilisation ‘against the imposition of fundamentalist laws, to defend the republic’, at the risk of appearing to certain detractors as defenders of the military authorities. Their ‘secular’ activism, in a context where they were largely in the minority, took a more concrete legal form with the creation in 1997 of an association which they initially named ‘SOS-Culture Bab-el-Oued’. They then received subsidies from the authorities, who saw it as a way to counter the Islamist currents that were particularly well established in Bab-el-Oued. Although ephemeral, this state support illustrates the complexity and ambivalence of the power struggle in which associations like SOS Bab-el-Oued were involved at the time. Since then, the association has operated with the help of foreign backers, through foreign aid programmes and international partnerships. The association’s path is particularly clear in light of the post–civil war and post-9/11 context, which favoured the development of private and interstate initiatives aimed at promoting ‘civil society’ and, in so doing, at containing political Islamism.

in Arab youths
Cultural and political resistance of the young Sahrawis at Dakhla
Victoria Veguilla Del Moral

Dakhla in Western Sahara is on the Atlantic Ocean, at the heart of a narrow, more than twenty-five-kilometre-long peninsula forming a bay where the browns of the desert clash on the horizon with the blues of the sea. A few kilometres past the Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie checkpoint, white shapes are visible. They are khayyam (singular: khayma), traditional tents used by the Arab nomads. Some tens of these khayyam, a hundred perhaps, are strung out along both sides of the road that runs beside the sea. But what are these improvised houses? They are relics of the history of the indigenous population of this Sahrawi region that is currently disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front. This once nomadic society, structured in tribes of both Arab and Berber origin, has now become settled under the combined effect of armed conflict, repression, droughts and urbanisation. But in the summer, tens of families and a large number of young Sahrawis put up their khayyam a few kilometres from Dakhla – a strange juxtaposition that sees an expanding city studded with satellite dishes sitting alongside these villages of apparently age-old tents.

in Arab youths