RS : AUB forum tackles change in Arab world

The presence of strong security agencies in Algeria is the main reason the North African nation was so resistant to the political changes that swept the Arab world over the past five years, a university professor told a conference at the American University of Beirut Thursday. To a packed crowd of students, Dr. Abdel-Nasser Jabi expounded on the history of Algeria.

“It is because in Algeria there are two states,” he said. “The obvious state and the deep state, by which I mean to indicate the myriad security branches and their powers.”

Since independence, Algeria’s security services have only had three different heads, Jabi explained. The identity of the first was not revealed until he retired, having spent 25 years in the position.

Jabi presented the paper, “Algeria: The Fear of Political Change,” at the three-day conference entitled “The Arab Revolutions Five Years On.”

Students crammed into Auditorium B in West Hall for the talks, pulling out notepads, powering on laptops and adjusting their earpieces as the conference began.

“We purposefully made the conference in Arabic,” Issam Fares Institute Director of Research Dr. Nasser Yassin told The Daily Star. “We wanted to reach out to as many people across the Arab world as possible.” Through the earpieces, non-Arabic speakers were able to hear instantaneous translations of the speeches.

The event is organized by The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in cooperation with the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

Presented are the works of over 70 scholars, practitioners, and policymakers, who they touched upon a range of issues pertaining to the Arab uprisings, including state structures and democratic progression, as well as regional and international schisms.

The presenters were selected from a pool of some 200 intellectuals who responded to the center’s call for papers. “We started working on the project a year ago, we wrote a concept paper in collaboration with the Arab Center for Research and Policy,” Yassin said. “We then chose about 25 percent of the papers that were submitted to us,” he added.

The papers were selected on the basis of their originality, methodology and relevance.

After the papers were submitted they underwent a blind review process. Two academics would review a paper and then return it to the author to perform the required edits. Thursday’s conference represented the fruits of over a year’s worth of labor.

“The timing was chosen to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the uprisings,” IFI Outreach and Publications Manager Michael Huijer told The Daily Star. “The conference was hosted at American University of Beirut because in Lebanon there is a respect for free speech and the presenters would feel comfortable.”

And comfortable they were. Within Auditorium B, speakers presented their research under the heading “Protest Movements as Part of Arab Revolutions.”

Haider Saeed presented a paper entitled “Protest Movements in Post-Tyranny Iraq: The Challenge to Statism.” He argued that a number of protests in Iraq were rights-based, rather than being grounded in sectarian or ethical considerations as is commonly believed. Saeed presented some interesting statistics: 70 percent of the Iraqi state budget is spent paying public workers’ wages.

Workers who benefit from state wages number some 6 million. Saeed considered this facet of “statism” to be the primary hurdle to the advent of democracy.

Abdulhadi al-Ajmi presented “The Kuwaiti Mobilization and the Arab Spring: The Dynamic of Mass Mobilization and the Abandonment of Pragmatism.” He contended that Kuwaitis, through their use of novel technology such as social media and the internet, were able to take control of spaces that were previously limited to the government.

Finally, Carmen Geha presented “The Sectarian Octopus: Mobilization and Demobilization Dynamics in Lebanon’s Power-Sharing System.” Geha investigated how a sectarian system based on power sharing can respond to challenges of mobilization and demobilization.

For subjects the organizers felt were not covered by the papers that had been submitted, they invited keynote speakers to discuss them. The organizers hope that six months to a year from now they will be able to publish a book series containing selected articles from the conference.

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