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Who is Afraid of Democracy? : New Wave of Transformations in the Middle East and North Africa

March 25, 2022 - March 26, 2022

Co-Sponsored by the Center for European Studies, Middle East Studies Program, Anonymous Fund, IRIS NRC, and the International Division. Part of the European Studies 2021-2022 Lecture Series.

It is now more than 10 years beyond the Arab Uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East with very little democratic practices taking place. Nonetheless, the region is still characterized by political fluidity and incessant socio-economic and cultural protests. From the past anti-regime Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Libya to the present protests in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, etc. This new wave of transformations is preoccupied with the same issues of the past. However, the lack of trust in all political institutions has reached the point of no return; and so, the concerned subjects are seeking new strategies to fulfill their aspirations. Protesters, artists, and civic movements have learned from the failed protests and are seeking new goals and using new means to achieve real, lasting, regional advances. But what is different in the latest wave of changes?

To fathom and celebrate the ongoing soul of resistance, the conference departs from a major question that relates to influences and differences between present and past in form, discourse, strategies, demands and practices. This two-day conference brings together different theoretical and (inter-) disciplinary approaches on the new practices and developments that are occurring in the Arab post-uprisings.

This is an in person event. Please register here.


Friday, March 25

9 – 9:30 am: Opening Remarks by Prof. Guido Podestá, Vice Provost and Dean of the International Division at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Prof. Nevine El Nossery, MESP Faculty Director

9:30-10:30 am: Keynote address:
Asef Bayat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), keynote speaker: Springtime of Counter-revolution
Alumni Lounge

“Roots and Ruptures”: 11 am-1 pm (moderator: Aaron Rock-Singer, UW-Madison)
Room 325 

This panel explores the key institutional structures and animating concepts that have shaped the Arab world over the past century.  What are the historical dynamics of both uprising and authoritarianism in the modern Middle East; how have these dynamics been shaped by both colonial and post-colonial rule; and what can history teach us about the rise and fall of the Arab Spring?

  1. Nahid Siamdoust (University of Texas/Austin): The End of Iran’s “Neither East nor West” Ethos 
  2. Andrew Simon (Dartmouth College): Mass Media, the Middle East, and the Arab Spring
  3. Cole Bunzel (Stanford University): Jihadi Reflections on the Arab Spring
  4. Bruce Rutherford (Colgate University): The Rise of Hyperauthoritarianism under al-Sisi

“Gender and Socio-Political Transformations”: 3-4:30 pm (moderator: Marwa Shalaby, UW-Madison)
Room 325

The panel focuses on the new discursive practices of women under authoritarian regimes and the new ways of mobilization in terms of: the new forms of quotidian visibility through which women protest to the current power relations; how far the discourse has departed from ‘feminist’ to ‘gender’; the daring subversion of the linkage of culture and religion; and sexual violence as a practice that triggers binaries and confrontations.

  1. Nermin Allam (Rutgers University): The Politics of the Veil 
  2. Hind Zaki (University of Connecticut): Egypt’s #me too Movement and the Politicization of Women’s Rights amid Authoritarian Politics
  3. Fatima Sadiqi (Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University): New Post-Uprisings Feminist Voices in North Africa

Saturday, March 26
Room 325 

“Social Movements and Contestation beyond protest”: 9:30-11:00 am (moderator: Steven Brooke, UW-Madison)

The panel will examine repertoires, networks, and organizations that have undergirded social mobilization in the Middle East over the past century. This panel engages with the ways ordinary citizens interact with local, national, and international influences during moments of both upheavals, namely those longer-term trends in which varied social and political movements seek to change society without directly protesting the ruling regime.

  1. Neil Ketchley (Oxford University): Online Repression and Tactical Evasion: Evidence from the 2020 Day of Anger Protests in Egypt 
  2. Ali Kadivar (Boston College): State-led Mobilization in Iran: Organizational Infrastructure, War-time Origin, and Threats
  3. Shamiran Mako (Boston University): Exclusion, Repression, and Ethnic Mobilization in Divided Societies: Iraqi Dissident Elites and anti-Ba’athist Resistance (1991-2003)

“Aesthetic forms of resistance”: 11:30 am -1:00 pm (moderator: Nevine El Nossery, UW-Madison)

The panel looks at the role art plays in society today and how artists address and engage with political changes, or even negotiate the absence of such a role, in addition to producing knowledge under such circumstances.

  1. Shereen Abounaga (Cairo University): Back to Writing but Not the Same River 
  2. Siobhan Shilton (University of Bristol): Art and Revolution: Aesthetics of Resistance in and beyond Tunisia
  3. Nancy Demerdash (Albion College): Memory, Preservation and Post-Revolutionary Egyptian Digital Visual Cultures

“Politics at the periphery and urban space transformation”: 3:30-5:00pm (moderator: Samer Alatout, UW-Madison)

The panel examines the dialectic relation between socio-political changes and urbanization. New models of segregation, gentrification, fragmentation, and displacements articulate and transform urban subjectivities and belongings in the Arab world.

  1. Lana Salman (Harvard University): Contesting the post-revolution city: Popular urbanism, participation, and the local state in Tunisia
  2. Omnia Khalil (City University in New York): Shadow Urban Lives in Post-Revolutionary Cairo
  3. Jillian Schwedler (City University of New York): The Periphery Converges on the Center: The Spatial Dynamics of Political Protests in Amman’s Built Environment



March 25, 2022
March 26, 2022