Panel 1

“Violent experiences and bottom-up politics: remembering, feeling, and making sense of violence and repression”

(All informations below are from the website of the Scuola Normale Superiore)

Date and time: Wednesday 30th November | 12:00 – 13:30 PM

Room: Altana Hall

1.) Discussant: Chowra Makaremi – EHESS

Political violence has been a concomitant feature of social transformation processes in West Asia and North Africa. Albeit not an integral part of contentious politics, armed conflict and repression often emerged from initially peaceful collective action. Accounts of the 2011 revolutions and more recent uprisings in the region echo conflict scholars who have highlighted the link between repression and oppositional violence and their relation to affective interactions on the micro-level. At the same time, both during and after the Arab uprisings, violent experiences from physical abuses at the hands of police forces to the suffering from structural violence and state neglect, through the moral outrage they generated, functioned as drivers of resistance themselves.

Violence and repression have thus assumed a double role as both causes and consequences of contentious dynamics. Equally ambiguous is their socio-political, emotional and cultural impact. Embedded into resonant stories that traveled across borders and social strata, violent experiences have varyingly fed into fear and apathy or fueled resentment and anger, they have both informed and constrained new contestation processes. Up to date, narratives about violence and repression, and their affective shadows continue to shape the conditions of possibility for mobilization processes and political demands across the region.

This panel interrogates these different roles and functions of violence narratives for bottom-up politics in the WANA region today. By adopting a fine-grained perspective on violence and repression as multidimensional culturally and emotionally mediated phenomena, the panel transcends the binary view of violence as either a driver or an outcome and supports an orientation towards the narratives by which civic actors make sense of violent experiences – as motives for mobilization, markers of identity, or sources of civic empowerment. 

2.) “Revolutionary burnout: exit, paralysis, maturation and the demobilization of mass protest in Lebanon”

 Dr. Jannis Grimm, INTERACT – Freie Universität Berlin

A substantial share of studies assessing the outcome of the so-called Arab Spring has focused on the abilities and capacities of regimes to repress or coopt the various revolutionary movements and thus on structural conditions of and exogenous factors to social protest as the main explanatory variable for revolutionary failures in the Middle East and North Africa. Others have concentrated on movement internal factors on the meso-level, including ideological rifts and splits within the coalitions that toppled several assumed presidents-for-life in the region. They emphasize the centrality of inter and intraorganizational dynamics – often in response to restrictions of civic spaces or major repressive events – for revolutionary demobilization.

By contrast, the less repression-linked dynamics of protest demobilization have remained largely understudied. A growing body of literature suggests that narratives of defeat, loss, and failure, stemming from complex personal meaning making processes in response to specific key events are at the core of revolutionaries’ decisions to demobilize or to recenter their engagement away from street politics. But these micro level dynamics are often black-boxed and pathologized as revolutionary trauma or depression.

The present study aims to differentiate this picture based on evidence from the aftermath of the Lebanese Thawra of 2019. It contrasts with previous accounts of demobilization in the Arab world in two respects: first, by covering the remarkable case of a revolutionary fire that was not abruptly extinguished by state repression or a depletion of the grievances fueling it, but rather consumed itself slowly and steadily until effectively burning out; second, by exploring the relationship between shifts in the macrostructural environment of a revolutionary movement and the individualized feeling-thinking processes that mediated between the experiences of these shifts and strategic action choices on an organizational level.

Drawing on a combination of protest event data and in-depth narrative interviews, I argue that complex multilevel dynamics produced an ambivalent climate among those involved in revolutionary mobilization and effected a “revolutionary burnout” which was marked by a combination of exit, disengagement, and deradicalization. The coaction of these three trends deepened rifts within Lebanon’s revolutionary coalition, undermined efforts at street level activism, and channeled dissent into less disruptive forms of political activism. These findings problematize the narrow focus on repression as the primary explanation for why revolutions end and represent a step towards a more comprehensive theorization of demobilization.

3.) “Perpetually Teetering On the Brink of Non-Existence: Sisi’s Politics of

3.1 Prof. Vivienne Matthies-Boon – Radboud University

This contribution argues that the existential ground of Sisi’s counter-revolutionary project in Egypt entails nothing less than a fear for life and a celebration of death. The fear of life is above all grounded in Sisi’s perpetual fear of the return of the 18 days. This is a fear of life in that these 18 days were above all marked by a prefigurative manifestation of creative collective becoming, wherein the recognition of others as existential equals was precariously and temporarily established.

Thus, utilizing on the Philosophy of Erich Fromm, I argue that this existential intersubjective parity was centred around biophilia: the love of life. Yet fearful that this love of life would challenge the military’s – and particularly Sisi’s –new political and economic gains, Sisi set out on a particularly vengeful path of destruction, entailing nothing less than Fromm’s dystopic vision of necrophilia.
Drawing on activists lifestories, I argue that the point of Sisi’s accelerated politics of death was not only to kill – to reduce the number of critical agents on Egypt’s streets – but rather above all, to shift the existential structure of being away from potentiality towards impossibility. The point was to situate activists perpetually on the brink of non-existence, where if not dead, they would be unable to move forwards or backwards: they would be reduced to a deadly life.

3.2 Miriam Zenobio – Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies and University of

Protests erupted in southern Israel’s Negev/Naqab region in mid-January
2022 (Harel 2022). Bedouin residents revolted against the Jewish tree
planting tradition of Tu-Bishvat (Berdugo 2021; Braverman 2008; 2009).The
event was organized by KKL – the Jewish National Fund – within the
broader scope of the project led by the quasi-governmental organization to
afforestate the Negev desert (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National
Fund 2013). The Bedouin population contends that the area destined to tree
planting is not desert at all, but rather agricultural land belonging to the
Al-Atrash family and the homonymous non-recognized settlement (Hawari
2022). Right-wing politicians have been pushing the event ahead notwithstanding wide calls to call it off to avert the possible fall of the newly
elected government, made possible by the support of the Arab Party Ra’am,
whose constituency is mainly to be found among Negev/Naqab’s Bedouin
population (Yefet 2022).

My research is concerned with disentangling the last wave of protests from a posthuman perspective to security (Eroukhmanoff and Herker 2017; Braidotti 2018; Bignall and Rigney 2019). The is aim is to inquire about the more-than-human dimensions of the struggle in the Negev/Naqab and the ways technologies of surveillance are appropriated by the protesters to enhance their resistance alongside the environment itself whose sensorial experience is aestheticized through common investigative tools such as ground truth (Weizman 2020; Fuller and Weizman 2021). Besides, my paper will highlight how these dynamics differentiate the last generation of Negev/Naqab activists with traditional patterns of resistance in the region (Tatour 2019). What has changed since the Prawer Plan? What has not since the Unity Intifada? In order to tentatively answer these questions, I will adopt a transdisciplinary approach rawing from critical security studies, ecology and investigative aesthetics. My results will be corroborated by semi-structured interviews conducted on the field with activists, scholars and researchers from the Negev/Naqab.





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