Conference Concept Note
Between society and state: (r)Evolution of non-state actors in the MENA region
Since the beginning of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa that began in 2010, there has been a sustained focus on the role of non-state actors in the region, both armed groups as well as various civil society actors. As the uprisings unfolded, faltered, were undermined, or succeeded (in one case, at least), this focus remained constant. These developments also saw an interesting interplay between civil society and ‘political society’.
The theorisation of civil society is not uncontested. While the dominant discourse today regards civil society as a collection of voluntary organisations and NGOs (the ‘associational’ view) operating outside the state and providing a kind of protection for citizens against the state, Gramsci, for example, views civil society as part of the state or as a protective barrier for the state. But the current mainstream understanding is of civil society as mediating between the state and the individual, engendering democratic culture within the population, and, even, as a sector to which the state might abdicate its service provision responsibilities. The dominant romantic notion of what civil society organisations are also is tenuous, with some critics contending that they are often non-democratic, hierarchical structures that are sometimes vulnerable to state co-option, to use them to repress or marginalise radical ideas, and to weaken opposition to government policy. Shades of these different meanings present themselves in the MENA region.
In general, there is a hesitance to include armed non-state actors as part of civil society. This is partly due to the fact that the current dominant understanding of civil society is of societas civilis, a realm of voluntary and non-violent organisations. This notion is often used by governments to forestall efforts at transformation. In a broader sense, however, armed non-state actors might be regarded as part of civil society, depending on their objectives, methodologies, etc.
As a whole, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region hosts thousands of non-state actors, spanning various forms of civil society and including armed actors. Such groups have proliferated since the beginning of the MENA uprisings at the end of 2010, and include numerous foreign and international civil society groups, as well as foreign involvement in armed groups. In many states that are more tolerant to civil society actors, indigenous civil society actors exist alongside foreign actors and armed groups. Because of state repression, however, some states had no civil society groups to speak of before 2010. In some of these, such as Tunisia, civil society burgeoned after the uprisings. In others, such as Libya, the civil society vacuum that had existed was filled by a proliferation of armed militias.
In some states in the region, civil society groups exist alongside armed non-state actors such as Hamas and Hizbullah, in Palestine and Lebanon respectively. In many cases, such groups are led by political parties which play roles in governance.
Since the 2010-11 MENA uprisings, the focus on civil society organisations in the region has intensified, especially since many foreign powers believed that these alone inspired the uprisings and thus sought to co-opt them, and they were, simultaneously, romanticised and demonised. Most governments in the region, on the other hand, sought to suppress groups they perceived as opposing their dictatorial control. Often, organisations that sought to remain independent of foreign machinations as well as domestic cooption by authoritarian regimes, found themselves in precarious positions. In addition, the civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya forced the space available for civil society action to shrink, while increasing the desperate need for their existence.
The development of civil society in the MENA region occurred in four main phases. The first was before western colonisation, with the growth of religious organisations, guilds, and service organisations over centuries. Phase two, during the colonial era, saw the establishment of institutions such as trade unions and political movements, alongside popular demands for independence. The third and post-independence phase occurred between the 1960s and 1990s, when new regimes instrumentalised civil society organisations, especially those dealing with service provision, to temper citizens’ need for political participation. The last phase, from the mid-1990s, was enhanced by technological advances, and saw groups in different MENA countries inspired by international ideas of democracy and seeking to leverage international networks to advocate for such rights.
By the late 2000s, thousands of civil society organisations existed in the region, including local chapters of international NGOs, though in a few countries organisations not affiliated to the respective regimes were proscribed.
As the uprisings unfolded in 2011, certain foreign governments sought to use civil society organisations as a means of securing their interests in the affected countries and in the MENA region. Generous funding was made available, as was training in media and other skills. At the same time, civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya resulting in these states not able adequately to provide for their citizenry, thus increasing the need for CSOs to assist.
These themes will be interrogated in 2018 international conference of the Afro-Middle East Centre, which will bring together and roleplayers from the MENA region and outside it. The roles and future of civil society groups and other non-state actors will be debated with a view to understand the trajectory of societies in the region.
Tuesday, 28 August 2018
Welcome, Introduction – Na’eem Jeenah
Opening speeches – Lindiwe Zulu
Session One: Conceptualising civil society in the MENA region
Session Two: The architecture: Non-state actors in political, military and social spaces
Session Three: Manifestations of civil society in MENA
Wednesday, 29 August 2018
Session Four: State and civil society in the MENA region
Session Five: Negative side of civil society in the MENA region
Session Six: Future of non-state groups in the MENA region and links beyond
The Afro-Middle East Centre and Al Sharq Forum will host their third annual security conference in Istanbul from 4 to 6 May 2018, to discuss the theme ‘New security arrangements for the MENA Region’. This is the third conference in this series that the two organisations will co-host in Istanbul, and will follow on the theme of last year’s event ‘Towards a New Security Architecture in the MENA Region’.
The 2017 conference, which assembled politicians, academics and policymakers from across the MENA region and beyond, established the need for new security arrangements in the Middle East and North Africa region; this year’s conference will deliberate on the objectives and details of such arrangements.
Once again, the conference will bring together experts, policymakers, and current and former state officials, as well as representatives of international agencies, to share their perspectives, provide new insights on current security issues, and suggest frameworks for new security arrangements
in the region. About ten South Africans will be among those invited to participate.
The conference will be divided into two parts. The first two days, 4 and 5 May, will feature closed roundtable discussions for selected participants operating under Chatham House rules. They are expected to delve into details about security (and insecurity) in the region, and deliberate on ways in which these might be addressed. On 6 May the conference will feature panel discussions that will be open to the public. See the programme and list of speakers for the 6 May open sessions.
The conference will take place at the Istanbul Marriott Hotel Sisli, located at Abide-i Hurriyat Cad. Sisli, Istanbul.
Egypt's cabinet has approved a countrywide state of emergency for three months, a day after two church bombings left at least 44 people dead. It needs to be approved by parliament within seven days in order to remain in place.
Hosted by AMEC and Al Sharq Forum
Date: 18-19 March 2017
Place: Istanbul, Turkey.
Register: Register here.
The collapse of regional order has made the security failures of the Sharq region ever more apparent. State failures, violent extremism, the emergence of militia groups as central regional forces, chemical warfare, and the arms race are among the security problems of the region which call for the development of a new security architecture for the MENA. This conference will bring together experts, policymakers, and current and former officials, as well as representatives of international agencies, to share their perspectives and provide new insights on current security issues and suggest frameworks for a new security architecture in the region.
Plenary 1 – Session 1
The collapsing regional order and the need for a new security architecture for the MENA region
|Parallel Session 1
Determining the actors of the new security architecture
a) The problems associated with the legalization of non-state militia groups
b) The unlawful characteristics of militias as barriers for legitimization: terrorist acts committed by militia groups across the region
c) What should be the balance between the integration and elimination of militia groups vis a vis the new security architecture?
|Parallel Session 2
The role of regional and international multilateral organizations in the new security architecture
|Parallel Session 3
The changing nature of conflicts in the region
|Parallel Session 4
Human rights and the new security architecture
|Final Session – Plenary Session 2
Mapping the new security architecture: the road ahead
Turkey and South Africa are two regional powers with international roles, responsibilities and influence. This conference will bring together experts, policy-makers, current and former officials, as well as representatives of international agencies to share their perspectives and provide new insights on the current situation and future of Turkish and South African politics and relations. The conference will have three sessions: The first session will focus on the ways in which dominant party politics affect internal and international dynamics within these two regional powers. The second session will evaluate the roles and responsibilities of Turkey and South Africa towards the MENA region. The last session will concentrate on new initiatives and opportunities for partnerships between Turkey and South Africa in Africa.
|09:00 – 09:30||Registration|
|09:30 – 09:45||Welcome, Introduction:
|09.45 – 11:00||Keynote Address|
|11:15 – 12.45||Session I: Opportunities and challenges of dominant party politics in Turkey and South Africa
|12.45 – 14.00||Lunch|
|14.00 – 15.30||Session II: Turkish and South African roles in the face of a turbulent MENA region
|15.30 – 15.45||Coffee Break|
|15.45 – 17.15||Session III: South Africa and Turkey: The potential for cooperation in Africa
|17:15 – 17:45||Closing Remarks|
The conference will take place at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria, South Africa.
Sheraton Pretoria Hotel