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.

Programme

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Opening Session: 09:00- 10:00 

       Na’eem Jeenah

Opening speeches: Zane Dangor

                                    Shenilla Mohamed 

            

10:00 -10:30   Tea break

Session One: 10:30 – 12:00   

Conceptualising civil society in the MENA region

  • Defining civil society in the MENA region – Ran Greenstein
  • (When) Is Civil Society Good and for Whom? Historicizing “Post-conflict” Public Space & Contextualizing Prospects for Justice and Peace–Rabab Abdulhadi
  • Islamism and civil society – Abdulkader Tayob

Lunch: 12:00- 13:00

Session Two: 13:00- 14:30

The architecture: Non-state actors in political, military and social spaces

  • The intersection of civil society and armed non-state actors in conflict contexts – Lina Khatib
  • Responding to a social need –Sarah Marusek
  • When politics is not enough? The role and future of armed non-state actors – 

14:30 – 15:00 Tea break

Session Three: 15:00- 17:00 

Manifestations of civil society in MENA

  • Worker movements impacting political change – Zachary Lockman
  • Youth in the MENA region: New hopes for the future?– Tamer Badawi
  • Political and social roles of religious organisations – Shahid Mathee
  • Women’s struggles versus national struggles – Lucia Sorbera

 

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Session Four: 09:00-11:00 

State and civil society in the MENA region

  • The state and civil society in Morocco – Mohamed Daadaoiu
  • Nature of the MENA state and its impact on civil society – Garth le Pere
  • Between co-option and control; civil society in MENA – Adnan Tabatabai

11:00 – 11:30 Tea break

 

Session Five: 11:30-13:30 

Negative side of civil society in the MENA region

  • Imposing foreign political agendas through civil society – Phyllis Bennis
  • Undermining national agendas through NGO-isation: The case of Palestine – Tariq Dana 
  • Boon or bane: International NGOs – Fatima Shabodien

 

Lunch: 13:30 -14:30

 

Session Six: 14:30 -16:30:

Future of non-state groups in the MENA region and links beyond

  • Are armed groups permanent fixtures in the MENA region? – Marwan Kabalan 
  • Prospects for ‘independent’ civil society – Galip Dalay 
  • Linking struggles: MENA and the world – Lina Khatib 

 

Closing Session 16:30-17:00 

 

turkey conference poster

 

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.

For further information or to register, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Programme and speakers.

conf poster

Details

Date: 17 - 18 October 2017

Venue: Sheraton Hotel, Pretoria, 643 cnr Stanza Bopape

Concept Note

A century ago, the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed, carving up parts of the Middle East between French, British and Russian spheres of influence in the event that the Ottoman Empire collapsed. That agreement led to the formation of a number of states – as preferred by the British and French, and had a profound influence in shaping what the region looks like today. The sponsors of Sykes-Picot imposed a nation state system that has not served the interests of the people of the region. Also a century ago, penned in November 1917, the Balfour Declaration promised the Zionist movement that the British supported the creation of a Jewish state on land whose residents were not consulted. A hundred years later, the state in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is in crisis, and substantial credit for that is due to these two documents.

Recently, the MENA uprisings that began in December 2010 have had a massive impact on the social contracts that previously governed state-society relations. While the gains of the uprisings (except in Tunisia) have largely been reversed, or have led to civil wars, some elites in the region sought to protect their states by quelling dissent through financial incentives; others intensified the repression that had already existed. While the region remains fragmented, most states find themselves floundering, and governance has effectively collapsed in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, there are also attempts to create new states, with varying degrees of recognition by the international community. Sections of the Kurdish population; the Palestinians; the Saharawi; and the Islamic State group have all either attempted to create states, or to get recognition to formalise states which do not exist in reality.

The concept of the state is a contested one in political theory and international relations, with various understandings of what criteria are sufficient for a state to exist, the role of recognition in the existence of states, what defines a state as a person in international law, the role of the economy (and capitalism) in defining a state, and so forth. Some of the contestation is ideological, and related to the limits on the roles and functions of a state. The role of the United Nations in defining and recognising states became crucial in the second half of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, criteria are not always applied uniformly or universally, and, often, dominant states bend definitions and offer or withhold support on the basis of their interests rather than any theories or agreed-upon definitions.

Although still contested, perhaps two understandings of the state that have become most accepted are those of Max Weber and the 1933 Montevideo Convention. Weber argued that the state was a political organisation with a centralised government ruling over a given territory, and where that organisation holds a ‘monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force’ in the enforcement of its order. The Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States defines a state as a space possessing a permanent population; a defined territory; and a government capable of maintaining effective control over the territory, and of conducting inter-state relations. The questions of whether and how these approaches apply to states in the Middle East before 2010 – and since – will form part of the deliberations at this conference.

Studies of state formation in the MENA region have, in the main, focused on two key elements: political economy and social factors. The former includes the provision of rents (especially through oil resources), and ‘strategic rents’ (financial and military aid by international powers), and the influence of these on state formation. Social factors refer, inter alia, to cultural aspects and the importance of tribal affiliations in inhibiting the formation of a national identity and in enabling the provision of services on a local basis. Both these elements have allowed most MENA regimes to shun accountability to their citizens; and the provision of services by the state has often been diverted toward wealth accumulation for elites.

By 2010, in many MENA states, national identity and domestic state formation was circumscribed. Rampant corruption and increased securitisation, coupled with the 2008 global economic crisis and implementation of structural adjustment programmes saw the collapse of the autocratic bargain that resulted in populations tolerating repression and lack of political freedoms in return for (real or imagined) economic growth.

The Afro-Middle East Centre’s conference on the future of the state in the MENA region will consider these debates regarding the concept and formation of a state, and academics, policymakers and activists will deliberate on the current and future position of the state in the region.


 

Conference Programme

 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

09:00     Opening session:

                Welcome, introduction

                Keynote addresses

10:00     Coffee Break

10:30     Session 1: Understanding ‘the state’

The state: Concept and historical development

State and state recognition in international law

Contesting ideologies shaping (and opposing) state formation in MENA

12:30     Lunch

13:30     Session 2: History and development of the MENA state

Post-Cold War foreign interventions in the MENA region

Monarchies as spoils of the Ottoman Empire

Colonialism giving way to military dictatorships

Whither statehood? 100 years of Palestinian anti-colonial resistance

15:30     Coffee Break

16:00     Session 3: Crisis of the contemporary MENA state

Capitalism and the MENA economic plight

Crisis of development and society

The MENA democracy and development challenge

 

 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

09:00     Session 4: Impact of globalisation and foreign intervention on the MENA state

How healthy is the nation state project globally?

Displaced persons and statelessness: From and on the state

How foreign powers continue to shape the MENA state

Rise and impact of armed non-state actors

11:00     Coffee Break

11:30     Session 5: ‘Aspirational’ states in the MENA region

Kurdish nationalism and Kurdistan ‘ideal’

The question of Palestine

Al-dawla al-Islamiyah

The case of Western Sahara

 

13:30     Lunch

14:30     Session 6: The future of the MENA state

Nationalist appeals in the service of authoritarianism

The resort to parochialism [Return to local roots: ethnic, religious, tribal]

Developing reconfiguration of the MENA region, states and alliances

16:30     Closing session

               

 
Afro-Middle East Centre & Al Sharq Forum
ـــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــــ
Towards a New Security Architecture
for the MENA Region


18-19 March , Istanbul - Turkey
■ Simultaneous translation will be available in Turkish, Arabic and English
■ Konferansımızda Türkçe, İngilizce ve Arapça simültane çeviri olacaktır
■ الترجمة الفورية ستكون متاحة باللغات: الانجليزيه، التركية، والعربية

 

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Conference Description

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 prevalent regional forces, chemical warfare, and the arms race are among the security problems, which call for the development of a new security architecture for the MENA region.

The phenomenon of the failed state as witnessed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya triggered the rise of violent extremism and militia forces as new security apparatuses in the region. The legitimacy concerns surrounding non-state actors, given their prevalent terrorist actions across the region, make determining legitimate actors of the new security architecture even harder.  The long-standing crises the region has been suffering seem to have created support for autocratic regimes and whether the foreign powers favored these regimes is an issue that should be discussed.  In efforts to map the road ahead for establishing the new security architecture, the role of international powers is of paramount importance especially in the issue of implementing economic and political cooperation. Additionally, the regional leadership is needed in consolidating counter-terrorism efforts without resorting to proxies to end sectarian divisions in framing this new structure.

The region witnessed change in the nature of security apparatuses and the nature of conflicts. Energy resources, nuclear efforts, technological developments, and even social media became sources of conflict, let alone the emergence of new characteristics in warfare and type of militarization. In order to determine a well-functioning new security architecture, understanding the nature of conflicts is a must. Yet, amid this surge of conflict, the issue of human rights and its importance in the new security architecture should not be overlooked. Peoples of the region have deeply suffered from the use of chemical weapons, asymmetrical force and continue to be exposed to surveillance that overrides the right to privacy. To find solutions to breach of rights, the integration of human rights into this structure through international and regional conventions should be debated. The new security architecture also needs to lay grounds for law enforcement in complying with human rights and citizenship rights in the region. The role of regional and international multilateral organizations is another point of debate. The new structure need to assess the role that global institutions such as the UN, UN related bodies, NATO, OSCE and regional institutions including the Arab League, the OIC and the GCC should play in the region.

This conference organized by the Al Shaq Forum and Afro Middle East Center (AMEC) partnership will bring together experts, policymakers, and current and former officials, as well as representatives of international agencies, to share new perspectives and provide new insights on the aforementioned security issues in order to suggest frameworks for a new security architecture in the MENA region.

 

Hosted by AMEC and Al Sharq Forum

Date: 18-19 March 2017

Place:  Istanbul, Turkey.

Register: Register here.

Concept:

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.

Programme:

Plenary 1 – Session 1
The collapsing regional order and the need for a new security architecture for the MENA region

 
 
  • The failed state phenomenon, terrorism and the emergence of militia forces as the new security and military apparatus in the region
  • Dictatorship vs. democracy: Are the long-standing crises in the region creating the backing for autocratic regimes?
  • The role of foreign interventions and foreign involvement in the collapsing security order in the region: direct military operations and indirect involvement (e.g. political, financial and military aid)
  • What is the role of military alliances and aid in fueling current military conflicts and security dilemmas in the region?
  • What should be the pillars of the new security architecture?: Economic, military and/or political cooperation?
Parallel Session 1
Determining the actors of the new security architecture
 
  • Who are the legitimate state actors?: Questions of the legitimate use of force and state terrorism in defining actors within the new security architecture
  • Defining legitimate non-state actors:

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?

  • Defining stateless actors: long-term stateless actors as governing bodies
Parallel Session 2
The role of regional and international multilateral organizations in the  new security architecture
 
  • What can the Arab League, the OIC, the Maghreb Union, the GCC and the African Union offerthe new security architecture in the region?
  • What can the UN and other related bodies offer the new security architecture?
  • Can NATO, OSCE or the EU provide frameworks for the new architecture?
  • Can multilateral organizations help prevent the use of armed groups as proxy war and foreign policy tools in the region?
Parallel Session 3
The changing nature of conflicts in the region
 
  • What are the changing characteristics of war and militarization in the region:
  • The impact of the demand for a particular type of military equipment and training due to the increasing threat of civil wars, coups and internal conflicts
  • Porous borders and cross-border military entities
  • Energy resources as war targets and sources of war funding
  • Nuclear military capacity in the region: how to ensure nuclear non-proliferation within the new security architecture
  • How illicit arms trade interests in the region affect current crises and how to bring rules and standards to the arms trade in the region
  • The role of social media in recruitment for terrorism and disseminating the fear of terrorism
  • The impact of the use of unmanned devices (drones, UAVs, etc.) in the region
Parallel Session 4
Human rights and the new security architecture
 
  •  The tragedy of chemical warfare: preventing the use of chemical weapons in regional conflicts
  • How can we integrate human rights into the new security structure?: The role of international conventions and the need for drafting regional conventions
  • What can be the mechanisms to enforce human rights in the new security architecture?
  • How to determine the moral and ethical pillars of the new security architecture in the region?
  • Where is the line between lawful surveillance and the invasion of the right to privacy?
Final Session – Plenary Session 2
Mapping the new security architecture: the road ahead
 
  • Which states, actors and organizations should/could be at the nucleus of the new architecture?
  • How essential are economic and political cooperation as complementary efforts towards the new security architecture?
  • What role can international powers take in the new architecture?
  • What are the ways to end the sectarian divide under this new security framework?
  • How can we prevent the use of non-state actors as proxy war and foreign policy tools?
  • How can we create effective counter-terrorism efforts within the new security architecture?: Consolidating counter-terrorism efforts under regional leadership
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What is AMEC?

What is AMEC?

Established in 1998, the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) aims to foster, produce and disseminate the highest quality of research on the Middle East, to maintain public discussion and to help shape the public discourse on issues related to the Middle East. Amec's research includes relations between Africa and the Middle East.

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