The Middle East Studies Program (MESP) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has hosted more than 200 people in its International Conference last weekend to discuss post-Arab uprising changes in the Middle East.

Entitled “Who’s Afraid of Democracy? New Wave of Transformations in the Middle East and North Africa”, the conference brought together 17 speakers from universities across the country and the Middle East.

The conference began with opening remarks from UW Vice Rector and Dean of the International Division, Professor Guido Podestá and MESP Faculty Director, Nevine El Nossery, followed by the keynote address from Asef Bayat, “The Spring of the Counter-Revolution”.

Nahid Siamdoust, a panelist from the University of Texas-Austin, noted the panelists’ overlapping topics on the MENA region, which included presentations on Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and South Africa. North. Friday’s Siamdoust talk, ‘The End of Iran’s ‘Neither East Nor West’, was part of the ‘Roots and Ruptures’ panel, which discussed the historical dynamics of uprising and authoritarianism in the Middle East. in relation to the colonial and post-colonial era. reign and the rise and fall of the Arab Spring.

“Most of the panel, what they’re wrestling with is the question ‘where are we now over 10 years after the Arab Spring, over 10 years after Iran’s green uprising, the Gezi protests in Turkey ? “, said Siamdoust. in an interview with the Daily Cardinal. “All the panelists are grappling in one form or another with the despair that has followed these incredibly promising social uprisings and the authoritarianism that has been reinforced.

Scholars at the conference raised concerns about lack of trust in political institutions and the rise of authoritarianism and discussed how protesters, artists and civic movements have sought new goals in the years which followed the Arab Spring uprisings that spread across the MENA region in the early 2010s. website discussed these goals, explaining that the theme “starts from a major question which concerns the influences and the differences between the present and the past, in the form, the discourse, the means, the demands, the practices and the aspirations to long term”.

MESP director Nevine El Nossery spoke of the importance of the conference in her opening remarks, saying that the Arab revolutions should be considered within a broader scope of controversial movements around the world, “from Tunisia to Hong Kong, from Egypt, Yemen” to “Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Sudan to Greece, Spain and the Americas. She also spoke about the murder of George Floyd which has sparked protests against police brutality and racism in the United States and elsewhere.

“The timing of the conference is very relevant as the whole world faces unprecedented attacks on individual freedoms through various forms of injustice, whether in the Middle East, the United States or elsewhere in the world. world,” Nossery said.

Saturday’s panels included “Social Movements and Contestation Beyond Protest” on citizens’ interactions with local, national and international influences, “Aesthetic Forms of Resistance” covering the role of art in political change and “The politics of the periphery and the transformation of urban space”, which discussed the relationship between socio-political changes and urbanization.

The conference was originally scheduled to be held last year, but was postponed to 2022 due to pandemic concerns. Offering participants the option of attending panels in person or online, the department used a hybrid structure to bring in speakers from international schools, such as Cairo University and the University of Bristol, via Zoom . The Madison speakers expressed excitement about meeting in person after two years of mostly online talks and conferences.

“It’s the first time I think most of us have been in person and it’s so different to be physically together and discuss ideas. It’s just a different dimension of being on Zoom all the time,” Siamdoust said.

UW-Madison sophomore Perrin King’s interests as an international studies scholar with a certificate in Middle Eastern studies brought him to the conference. He echoed Siamdoust’s sentiments about attending the conference in person and said he appreciated the opportunity to learn first-hand from top scholars.

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“It’s really interesting to listen to a group of academics respond and interact with each other’s work, because they’re all clearly fans of what each other does and understand what everyone else is doing here,” King said. “You get a variety of different perspectives and you learn a lot in the span of two days, whereas some things that would take people to learn a whole class.”

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