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Lessons Looking Back At One Year Of Protests (Podcasts Mostly By Geographers)

January 24, 2012

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

A couple of months ago I reported on a conference asking whether what happened in Tunisia and Egypt was part of an “Arab Spring”–or a wider “Mediterranean Spring”?

I’m pleased to report that some of the talks and discussions at that conference are now available as podcasts.  Among them are:

Organizer Sara Fregonese’s opening remarks

Geographer Lynn Staeheli’s Youth and citizenship: Struggles on and off the Street

Abstract: Young people may well represent the greatest potential and greatest challenges for democratic participation and change. In countries around the world, they are imagined as capable of effecting dramatic social and political change. As a result, a range of institutions and agents expends considerable effort to foster, but also to direct that potential. Citizenship education and civic engagement programmes, for instance, often promote pedagogies of active and responsible citizenship to be enacted in families, communities, and civil society.  Yet recent youth-led protests in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East make clear that youth often take the “lessons” of active citizenship into the streets, challenging and making demands on the state. The result is often an activist, insurgent pedagogy of citizenship, as compared to the active but depoliticised citizenship developed through education and civic engagement programmes.  The paper draws from examples of student activism in Lebanon and the UK to outline a framework for understanding efforts to shape young peoplesí citizenship on and off the street.

Geographer Sara Fregonese’s Beyond the domino. Transnational (in)security and the 2011 protests

Abstract: In 2011, several expert analyses of the the Arab Spring have employed the spatial metaphor of the falling domino pieces to

Domino theory is far too simplistic to explain the Arab Spring, explains Sara Fregonese

indicate its spread from country to country. The paper questions this type of representation and highlight its implications for understanding the political geographies of protest in the Mediterranean.  The paper first presents a number of critical and even subversive uses of the domino theory in popular culture, notably by political cartoonists. Secondly, it complicates the linear geographies of the domino with non linear networks of transnational uprising and solidarity, and ìgrammarsî of urban security. These non-linear threads reach beyond the Arab region, and highlight trans-Mediterranean spaces of protest where the relationship between State and resistance is coming increasingly under pressure. Ultimately, the transnational recontextualisation exposes the limited nature of those understanding of change which consider change in the Arab world as merely agency-less pieces of dominos, falling along a pre-determined path of democratisation.

Journalist Lorenzo Trombetta’s Anti-regime protesters and loyalist forces in Cairo. A dialectical confrontation.

Abstract: From the last days of January to early February this year, the urban landscape of Cairo became the battleground for anti-regime activists and government forces. Underpinning the bloody street skirmishes, which claimed hundreds of victims in just a few days, was the use of techniques by the young protestersí, new to the local context, by which they succeeded in taking by surprise the prevailing system of government control. The immediate reaction of the latter was to employ traditional methods of repression, followed quickly by an attempt to adapt its strategy to that of the activists. In this article, I intend to illustrate the dialectical confrontation which took place between January 25 and February 3 in some of the Cairo suburbs (in some of the peripheral/outlying areas of Cairo) and in the heart of the city, between the leaders of the revolt and the regime, represented in those ten days by the Ministry of the Interior. The first mass demonstration which threw the traditional system of repression into crisis took place on January 25. During the night of February 2/3, the army sided definitively with the protesters, ready to protect them from the armed loyalist gangs and plain-clothed security forces, who had replaced the regular uniformed police withdrawn from the streets from January 29. The objective of this paper is to analyse the modalities of confrontation and the dialogue implicit between the two opposing forces and to demonstrate how both sides studied the methods of the other, readjusting their approach accordingly in an attempt to outwit each other. At the heart of the confrontation was the Internet, defined by many as the Deus ex machina of the Arab uprisings: the use of the Internet was without doubt a determining factor, but its suppression by the regime brought to the fore the use of traditional means of communication (i.e. relying on family, friends and communiti networks) by the protesters which have their roots in microurban contexts. This reconstruction, which avails itself of detailed maps and video footage of four key episodes that happened in four different areas of the city between January 25 and February 2, will highlight the role of the army: both player and arbitrator during those days, emerging subsequently as victorious political actor.

Political Geographer Adam Ramadan’s Blogs, Bodies, and Camps

Abstract: One of the common features of protests from Tahrir Square to St Paul’s has been the camp. The occupation of urban space, and subversion of the normal political order within those spaces, has been key strategy for protest movements to articulate an alternative future. Much has been written in recent years about the return of the camp into contemporary geopolitical orderings and biopolitical strategies. But what if the camp can be a space of freedom rather than intensified biopolitics, a space beyond the control of the state in which a more progressive politics can be forged? This paper will reflect on these protest camps as assemblages of people, politics and technologies that embody and make possible alternative value systems and political orders.

Israeli Studies specialist Yair Wallach’s paper Space for change – Opening up? Closing down? The 2011 Israeli summer protests

Abstract: This paper will locate the 2011 summer social protests in Israel in spatial-political terms. Paying attention to the sites of protests in Tel Aviv and other places, I will highlight differences with the more monumental settings protests of previous years. The civic-social banner of the protests, as well as their urban locales, allowed an expansion of public debate beyond the strictly “social justice” framework. At the same time, the space for other protests against the occupation continued to narrow down both metaphorically and physically. How are we to explain the contradiction between these two trends?

Jeremy Anderson of the International Transport Workers Federation gave a paper entitled, “The Labour Movement in Egypt

Geographer Alan Ingram offered a talk entitled City/state/resistance, in the Mediterranean and beyond – new actors, new settings, new relationships?

International affairs expert Nadim Shehadi asks (and answers) “What would a historian in 50 years say about the year 2011?”

Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU ) director Chris Doyle states that “There is no such thing as an expert on the Arab Spring.

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