Panel 1a. Armies, Militias, and Discontent in the Middle East: New Approaches

Chair: Dr. Nefissa Naguib

Paper 1: Neo-Liberal Officers: Army, Business, and Revolution in Egypt
Zeinab Abul-Magd, Oberlin College, U.S

The Egyptian military intervened to take down existing regimes three times in the country’s post-colonial history: one old time sixty years ago in 1952, and two new incidents in 2011 and 2013. In old and new cases of intervention, the army deployed the same nationalist rhetoric about its duty as the “guardian” of the nation and the protector of national security and unity. However, the Egyptian army of the last four years is not the same institution that existed sixty years ago. This paper argues that a new military institution was born in the country in the 1980s, after the country fought its last war and signed a peace treaty. It is an army of “neo-liberal officers,” who run vast business enterprises, enjoy financial autonomy beyond public scrutiny, and intervene in politics with heavy leverage for reasons different than those of the old army—albeit by using the same nationalist rhetoric. A fundamental rupture took place in the Egyptian military institution in 1980s, and such rupture gave birth to the new army that hegemonizes the state today. Whereas the old army was composed of low- to middle-class soldiers who rose into an affluent ruling elite and militarized society through wars and socialism, the new army is controlled by a class of managers of military business enterprises, or rather “neo-liberal officers,” and militarizes society through economic dominance. The paper also inquires into Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s ambiguous economic policies, unfavorable to the very socioeconomic groups that voted for him and generating continuous restlessness.

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Paper 2: What is After Civilianization? The AKP’s new Neoliberal Security State in Turkey
İsmet Akça, Yıldız Technical University

For long decades, the military was at the center of the authoritarian state in Turkey and enjoyed a relatively autonomous power. Militarism has been a central mode of governing social and political discontent. It was still the military intervention of 1980 and the subsequent military regime that institutionalized neoliberal capitalism and the Neoliberal National Security State. The latter continued to be dominant throughout the 1990s in the context of the crisis of hegemony, the militarization of the Kurdish question, and the securitization of political Islam. Then, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) has manufactured and expanded hegemony on the basis of neoliberal and conservative populism. AKP’s populist hegemony has depicted democratization as a struggle against the bureaucratic power and the so-called tutelary regime. As a result, the AKP period (from 2002 onwards) witnessed important civilianization efforts. Yet, civilianization reforms did not bring about democratization. The AKP replaced the military-centered Neoliberal National Security State with another police-centered Neoliberal Security State form. This new state form has been functional first in the AKP’s struggle against the military and Kemalist bureaucratic elites, in order to establish its hegemony at the state level. Secondly, it has been functional in repressing all kinds of social and political opposition, including the Kurdish movement. The Gezi protests as popular mass mobilization was a reaction against the AKP’s neoliberal, conservative, and authoritarian populism. After the Gezi protests, the AKP enhanced this police-centered Neoliberal Security State form. This paper explores the construction, functioning and role of this new state form in repressing the social and political discontent in Turkey.

Paper 3: Post Transitional Settings and the Difficult Rebuilding of Polities in the Arab World
Philippe Droz-Vincent, Sciences-Po Grenoble (France)

This paper is based on a book manuscript on the trajectories of Arab armies and states after the Arab Spring. The rebuilding of polities in the Arab Word four years after the 2011 uprisings takes place under the looming power of the guns, either with the dominant presence of the military (such as in the case of Egypt) or with the absence of a military whose essential role would be necessary as a first step to secure the basis for some form of political consensus (such as in the cases of Yemen and Libya). In this context, this paper attempts to answer many problematic questions. Why is the military so important in transitional processes? What kind of military should exist? A solid military can become a strong stakeholder in the ensuing political system, but the destruction of the military— as was the case in Libya— does not seem to be an asset for rebuilding anew and from scratch of security forces according to role models of democratic control. Is the military the problem, or other factors or more instrumental—factors whose interaction with the military’s dynamics may explain, for instance, the existence of the Tunisian exception where a small army came to get all powers into its own hands in 2011, just to give them back to the civil and statist tradition, whereas the statist tradition has helped the coalescence around the military of numerous parts of the state apparatus to form Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s new military regime in Egypt.

Paper 4: Businessmen in Arms: How the Military and Other Armed Groups Profit in the MENA Region
Elke Grawert, Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), Bonn, Germany; the University of Bonn

This comparative paper is based on the introduction I am currently authoring for a co-edited volume that carries the title of “Businessmen in Arms: How the Military and Other Armed Groups Profit in the MENA Region” (Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming). The book has chapters on economic interests of arms and militias and how they heavily influence politics and society in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey—especially in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings and their aftermath. Generally, these are cases include states where the military is involved in the economy, and others where non-state armed groups are engaged in economic activities. Some cases include “advanced” and others include “less advanced” economic activities of the military. They are cases with and without popular uprisings and with small uprisings. This paper draws comparative analytical remarks on these important case studies and the theoretical insights that their authors offer—mostly informed by political economy and social theory approaches. Given the growing “militarization” of coercive forces in the Middle East during the last four years and the privileged status that many armies enjoyed in their respective countries in the decades before that, the paper compares the economic roles that military institutions and paramilitaries play in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran. Also in the era of the proliferation of militias across the region based, the paper offers comparative insights into regional webs of funding, markets of violence, and the economic roles that these militias play in local communities under their control, in addition to their destructive impact on post-colonial nation states in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

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Paper 5: The Liberation of Kobane: Or How a Marxist Feminist Militia Came to Cooperate with the United States
Amy Austin Holmes, Sociology Department, American University in Cairo (AUC)

This paper will analyze the liberated areas of northern Syria known as Rojava. Three largely Kurdish cantons have succeeded in ousting the military forces of both the Assad regime, as well as Islamic State militants. In their wake, a remarkable democratic experiment is being unrolled with the goal of establishing a “democratic, secular society of Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians.” Most recently, the town of Kobane was liberated in late January due to unprecedented cooperation between Syrian-Kurdish militias known as People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), smaller numbers of Iraqi Peshmerga, Free Syrian Army Brigades, as well as US-led airstrikes. The YPG/YPJ’s parent organization, the PKK, still espouses an ideology rooted in Marxist anti-imperialism. And yet they have a pragmatic approach to dealing with the United States. One week after the U.S.-led airstrikes began, Meysa Abdo, a YPJ commander, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which she thanked the coalition for its airstrikes, pleaded for airdrops of supplies to continue, and called on women around the world to join them because they were “fighting for the rights of women everywhere.” Women have famously played a prominent role in combat operations. But they are also equally active in the attempt to build a new society: both the executive and legislative councils of Kobane feature equal representation of men and women. This paper represents a first attempt to analyze the implications of the ongoing liberation struggles not just in Kobane, but within the context of the larger “Rojava Revolution” if their liberation relies on military cooperation with the United States.

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