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Is Egypt’s Revolution Part of a “Mediterranean Spring?”

October 24, 2011

Did what happened in Tunisia and Egypt spark the Arab Spring--or the Mediterranean spring?

Did what happened in Tunisia and Egypt spark the “Arab Spring”–or the “Mediterranean Spring”?

That’s a question that will be taken up at the British Academy (aka The National Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences) in December  a workshop on urban protests in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

City/State/Resistance. Spaces of protest in the Middle East and Mediterranean” will be held Thursday 1 December 2011 at the Royal Holiday University of London (RHUL).

Speakers will include Sara Fregonese (RHUL), Chris Doyle (Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding), Alan Ingram (University College London), Laleh Khalili (School of Oriental and African Studies), Adam Ramadan (Cambridge), Larbi Sadiki (Exeter), Nadim Shehadi (Chatham House), Lynn Staeheli (Durham), Andrea Teti (Aberdeen), Lorenzo Trombetta (Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata-Beirut), and Yair Wallach (SOAS).

Although taking as its starting place Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010, the beginning of what has become known as ath-thawra al-arabiyya (the Arab revolution), or ‘Arab Spring’. Protests against authoritarian regimes and calls for social justice and freedom have spread across the whole region, from Tunisia to Bahrain, and have been met with fierce state repression.

Yet this is not an exclusively Arab phenomenon. In the south Mediterranean, NATO has been using bases in Italy and southern Europe for air raids on Libya, and thousands of Tunisian, Libyan and other North African migrants reaching Lampedusa and the Italian mainland.

At the same time, several countries in Mediterranean Europe are also experiencing their largest protests in decades. In Greece protests against government austerity measures turned into street clashes between protesters and police. In Italy, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Berlusconi, and a landslide popular referendum blocked the Government’s resources privatisation and justice reforms. In Spain, protest camps occupied main squares in Madrid and Barcelona, with activists declaring them new Tahrir Squares; the Spanish resistance movement Los Indignados is now marching towards Brussels protesting against unemployment.

While media pundits and political analysts have compared the ‘Arab Spring’ to a ‘domino effect’ spreading through contiguous states, this workshop aims to see these events within a more complex frame. In particular, the workshop accounts for the spaces of trans-Mediterranean resistance and (in)security, beyond the Middle East and into Southern Europe. It explores whether and how the current events are impacting on the real and imagined boundaries dividing Mediterranean European and the Arab world.

The workshop explores the following questions:

  1. What, if anything, do protests against neoliberal financial restructuring and public sector cuts in Europe have in common with those protests in the Arab world? Are references to ‘Spain’s Tahrir Square’ and so on merely rhetorical or is a trans-Mediterranean space of resistance taking shape?
  2. Cities are important arenas for the shaping of identity, citizenship, rights and conflict, and cities have been the focus of protests on all sides of the Mediterranean. What are the geopolitical implications of the current protests for Mediterranean and Arab cities, and how are urban spaces shaping spaces of resistance and revolution?
  3. How are states cooperating to face down protests and learning lessons from the approaches of different regimes? European countries have sold crowd control weapons and other military equipment to repressive regimes in Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Algeria, while the French government considered sending police to Tunisia to help put down the uprising, and Saudi armed forces did enter Bahrain to repress protests. Especially in the light of the Summer 2011 ‘riots’ in London and other British cities, these dynamics raise important questions about the meaning of state sovereignty in front of urban ‘emergency’.
  4. With governments on all sides of the Mediterranean facing down protests with various degrees of intransigence, repression and in some cases violence, have old taken-for-granted boundaries between an ‘authoritarian’ Arab world and a ‘democratic’ Mediterranean Europe blurred in recent months?

The workshop brings together academic and non-academic delegates in order to discuss and identify future research agendas and collaboration.

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