Institution dump

This post’s content is going to be very similar to the developmental one preceding it, so I won’t belabor it with unnecessary details. I appreciate that this is uncharacteristic of the approach to sharing which you’ve come to know and love over the few short minutes you’ve been reading a fake newspaper. I could go on at length, but I’m more eager to get back to reading current events rather than expounding on months-old articles. Mind you, I’m still sharing them because they are relevant. But, writing an expansive blog post isn’t going to grow my knowledge on the subjects at hand, and I am perfectly willing to pursue this project as selfishly as possible. You may benefit from my scholarly interests tangentially, if such is your desire.

Plus, if you read the articles themselves there’s a chance you’ll be able to absorb the key takeaways independent of anything which I could otherwise contribute.

From Political Islam to Muslim Democracy

Foreign Affairs

“In the end, the extent to which the Ennahda congress changes Tunisian politics may depend on the extent to which Ennahda itself changes. Analogies have been drawn to Turkey’s experience in the early 2000s, when the Islamist AKP recast itself as a socially conservative party and highlighted its economic platform in an effort to broaden its support base. Ennahda may have the AKP in mind, but the more relevant model today is arguably Morocco, where an Islamist party with Brotherhood roots legislates in parliament and even occupies the prime ministry but leaves overtly religious activities to its sister organization in civil society. Whether Ennahda changes its internal structures; where the party comes down on divisive legislation, such as the regulation of problematic imams or the recent proposal to remove the religious imprint on the country’s inheritance laws; and the degree to which the party campaigns on religiously oriented themes in the upcoming election cycles will give observers a clearer picture of Ennahda’s longer-term plans and more ammunition for the debate about the continued evolution of political Islam in Tunisia and in the wider Middle East.”

Waves of Democratization, Waves of Disillusionment: The Arab Spring in Historical Perspective

Project on Middle East Political Science

“Whiggish social science makes democratic reversals all the more unexpected and disappointing for us academic observers. If democracy is the fruit of long-standing social processes — the spread of education, global communication, rising incomes and networks of trade — then we expect political institutions to evolve with the same slow pace of change, or perhaps to catch up to the “predicted” level of democracy in a burst of surface tension. This form of causal analysis trips over the fundamental mismatch between generally slow-moving socioeconomic factors and the rapid ricochets of democratic trajectories. The lesson I propose is that our roller-coaster emotions at the coming of the Arab Spring were not just the product of an ideological commitment — the belief that Arabs could have democracy too — but also the product of a theoretical commitment — the belief that political outcomes have long-term or at least medium-term causes. That theoretical commitment led many observers to identify the causes of the uprisings immediately after they occurred, and to consider it a failure that they had not foreseen them . In the years since, they have had to walk back some of those explanations, as the dependent variable has shifted. An older, alternative approach to democratization is to take the pessimistic view that experiments in popular governance generally fail.”

The Interventionist Turn in Gulf States’ Foreign Policies

“The Arab Gulf states are engaging a regional political landscape without a clear ideological or security center of Arab politics. The post-Arab Spring disorder has diminished Egypt’s traditional claim to that role, while the civil war in Syria has permeated Turkish domestic politics and security, weakening President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to project an alternative model of (participatory) political Islam to the wider region. The environment is providing a sense of legitimization of the particular Arab Gulf model of political economy: authoritarian governance with liberal economies, often dominated by state-related entities that invest in infrastructure and real estate, subsidized with imported labor and cheap energy costs. This is the logic behind a rising, or emerging, Gulf model of political economy, or at least one that Gulf leaders are keen to project. However, this model is being challenged by the prolonged decline in the price of oil, driven by higher supply from non-OPEC producers and a slowdown by Asian consumers, mainly a decrease in Chinese demand for oil. As much as 70 percent of Gulf countries’ fiscal revenue derives from oil exports, as prices are down from $52 per barrel in 2015 (a low from the boom times of over $100 per barrel in 2013) with forecasts by Moody’s and other energy analysts to remain below $40 per barrel through 2017. This drastic decline in revenue, after a decade of hyper economic and population growth, is creating major structural challenges to government outlays in public services, subsidies, and employment. Some analysts describe this period in Gulf domestic politics as a renegotiation of the existing social contract. At the least, it is a reconsideration of the appropriate role of the state in the economy, including the provision of social welfare to citizens combined with a forward vision of the appropriate economic and social integration of noncitizens.”

The Arab City

Places Journal

So, if the global practices are creating exemplary architecture for the emerging cities of the Gulf, what then is the problem? One problem is that the mélange of symbols and metaphors — the medina, the oasis, the souk — all too often produces reductive meanings and experiences; it can encourage, albeit unintentionally, the sort of essentialism which, as Edward Said so eloquently argued, is not only offensive in its representations but also instrumental in perpetuating forms of colonialism. An even deeper problem is that the new architecture is too often rooted in pan-Islamic tendencies that blur the distinctions and complexities of situated art and architectural practices. Is it really appropriate, or ‘contextual,’ to use architectural innovations developed in 16th-century Istanbul, during the era when Sinan was chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, and adapt them to the desert cities of Doha or Abu Dhabi, as if these innovations belong to some singular tradition of Islamic architecture, no matter the differences of place and time, politics and economics, technological sophistication and material advancement? All too often an idea of ‘Islamic architecture’ is promoted in an effort to unify a region that extends from Turkey to Syria to Iraq to the Emirates — to advance the strange concept of a cohesive Islamic people, nation, empire. The predictable result is cultural displacement; and arguably even the dystopia of ISIS, which deploys a crudely generalized concept of a mythic Islamic empire — a worldwide caliphate — in an effort to legitimize its brutal tactics. Unsurprisingly, these tactics include the destruction of ancient monuments seen as ‘hybrid’ or impure.”

How Tunisia’s Ennahda party turned from its Islamist roots

Washington Post – Monkey Cage

“A better way to think of Ennahda’s shift in strategy is to ask what lessons the movement drew from its own history. Most important is the way the movement has learned from its experience in the elections of April 1989, during a brief moment of political opening at the start of the Ben Ali regime. Despite running only as independents in a rigged election, Ennahda candidates won about 15 percent of the vote nationwide, and up to 30 percent in some cities, including Tunis, Sousse, Monastir and Bizerte. But they won no seats in parliament, and instead, an intense confrontation developed between the movement and the regime, with mass street demonstrations and a widespread campaign of arrests. This led to a severe repression and the dismantling of the movement. In jail and in exile, the movement went through a process of evaluation. It admitted that its political ambition had overwhelmed its original cultural and social Islamising project. It accepted that it had failed to build alliances with other opposition parties and that occasional acts of violence had undermined its position. Different trends learned different lessons.”


“The fight against AQAP will continue to be dynamic: AQAP’s tribal coalitions against Yemen’s equivalents, AQAP’s civil-military operations against the government’s version. On May 17, AQAP signaled its chagrin at the U.A.E. role in southern Yemen by issuing a video directly threatening the Emiratis to cease involvement in the area. This is probably as good a signal as any that the Gulf coalition is doing something right against AQAP. In this fight the coalition, especially the United Arab Emirates, has shown itself to have certain characteristics, ideas, and experiences that have allowed it to be effective at fighting AQAP, at least so far. The Gulf States share language, culture, and religion with the Yemenis — they have a similar mindset, and this matters a lot when undertaking tribal engagement and building coalitions. The United Arab Emirates has a particularly tight societal connection to the southern Yemenis and carries less historical baggage than the strained Saudi-Yemeni relationship. The coalition builds rough-and-ready proxy forces that are “good enough” to do the simple military tasks set for them. These forces are not over-engineered; they are built to be ready roughly on time and to do roughly what they’re told. After the fighting, they are put in charge of liberated areas. It remains to be seen how sustainable such solutions are, but they have proven effective at clearance and could be good enough for holding terrain.”

Not Just Tech: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East

Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy

There is likely a case to be made that entrepreneurship will be incredibly difficult if there are not sufficient intellectual property rights, clear investment laws, and the rule of law in general

“The conventional wisdom in the Middle East policy and media communities is that the promotion of entrepreneurship in the region is both wise and strategic. After all, the creation of new jobs and additional economic stakeholders creates better prospects for healthy democracy in the Arab world over the long run. Rags-to-riches stories of young Tunisians and Egyptians undermine the Islamic State and other extremist groups whose appeal is based on the idea that young people cannot achieve purpose and meaning by adhering to social conventions. However, the widespread focus on tech startups as the sole manifestation of entrepreneurship in the region is producing lackluster results. Nearly every conference held in Washington since 2011 has been dominated by tech veterans or promoters of ‘innovation’ and ‘changing the world.’ While noble, this is not producing tangible gains in terms of new jobs and status for those in the Middle East who do not already have it. For greater impact from a U.S. policy perspective, the primary focus of entrepreneurship policies should be in promoting traditional small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), not necessarily high-tech ones. While these firms will not change the world or be ‘the next big thing,’ they are more likely to generate new opportunities for those in the region who need it the most.”

Beirut’s election was surprisingly competitive. Could it shake up Lebanese politics?

Washington Post – Monkey Cage

“Amid serious allegations of electoral fraud and delays in the reporting of results by the Ministry of the Interior, the results of Sunday’s election are finally in. Although Beirut Madinati lost to the “Beirutis” list led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the nascent social movement won roughly 40 percent of the vote, much more than was anticipated. However, in Lebanon’s first-past-the-post system, all seats went to the establishment list. Still, Beirut Madinati got more than 60 percent of the vote in the mostly Christian district of Achrafieh, and by some rough estimates, 30 percent of the Sunni vote in the city — a surprisingly high figure in light of widespread support for Hariri among the community. In addition to the well-oiled political machines of establishment politicians, Beirut Madinati also had to battle low turnout — partly due to Beirut’s many registered voters living abroad and partly due to the widespread voter skepticism about political change. A significant risk-averse segment of the electorate, still prefers voting for the devil it knows. And many Beirut Madinati supporters could only volunteer for the group but not vote because of the electoral law requiring voting in hometown of origin. And yet despite Beirut Madinati’s loss, social media and the Lebanese blogosphere have exploded in response to the results, citing the list’s relative success as an important symbolic victory and step forward for those seeking reform in Lebanese politics.”


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