Panel 1b. Civil visions, civil selves: Madaniyya as an enduring revolutionary concept

Chair: Madawi Al-Rasheed, LSE

“The Good Islamist”, iconography and revolutionary conceptualization of the civil state
Thomas Vladimir Brønd, University of Roskilde

The initial waves of demonstrations in Syria were followed by devastating militarization of the peaceful revolution. With time, however, the demonstrator’s slogans, sensibilities and demands condensed in new spaces of experience and clustered into certain core concepts of what I term “revolutionary ideology”. Against repeated claims of the lack of a united and formal opposition, grassroots and informal networks heatedly debated their main vision of a civil state. Based on 7 months of ethnography among Syrian activists in Lebanon and France, this paper explores what it means to live such new spaces of experience in spite of external dynamics such as the marginalization of secular and moderate movements inside Syria. The paper takes as an example the contentious debate among Syrians surrounding the death of a commander of an Islamist katiba, including the iconography that circulated on mobile phones and on social websites used by non-Islamist Syrian activists. The Islamist commander’s adherence to the revolutionary vision of a civil state, the negotiation of his example and his iconziation by so-called “secular” Syrians, is used as a window into the complex conceptual make-up of this term. Drawing on recent advances in the theory of ideology and revolution, this exemplifies how the contentious definition of the civil state goes well beyond the obvious antonym meaning of the military state as well as how it traverses seeming Islamist and secular divides.

Revolutionary civility as a practice of freedom in Yemen’s Change Square
Ross Porter, University of Cambridge

This paper discusses how the central revolutionary virtue of ‘civility’ (madaniyya) in Change Square, Sana’a, was central to the pursuit of forging a liberated existence outside of the dictates of ‘the regime.’ On the dawn of the revolution in early 2011, men who had been engaged in a lifetime of cyclical violence with the regime in the tribal heartlands left their weapons at home, came into the Square and joined ‘the youth’ as they marched unarmed into gunfire during demonstrations. In refusing to take revenge any longer in the face of regime provocation and divide and rule politics (farq tasad), “bare chests”, “the blood of the martyrs” and even laptops were heralded as civil (medeni) and peaceful (selmi) ‘weapons’ for “overthrowing tyranny” and forging a new, liberated existence. I discuss how the value of revolutionary life as a ‘civil’ and ‘peaceful’ pursuit was not simply in the future to which it would lead but in the capacity it bred in the present- namely to exist outside of the dictates of the Regime and the constraints of the past way of life it engendered. I argue that this logic challenges a host of assumptions within both anthropology and sociology concerning time, event, ethical self-formation and the approaches to the concept of revolution itself.

“Madaniyya di tib’a bint khalit Silmiyya”: Non-violence in revolutionary movements and the promise of civil statehood
Hannah al-Hassan, Merton College, Oxford

In the wake of the momentous uprisings which took the Arab world by force beginning in 2010 and the mass protests which led up to Mubarak’s, and later Morsi’s, ousters in 2011 and 2013, Egyptians have witnessed the deepening and strengthening of the military’s foray into what many had hoped would be a post-revolutionary civil government. The title of this paper speaks to a much famed trope among disillusioned Egyptians who partook in the struggles and protests of 2011-2013, reflecting on the scale of repression, mass imprisonment and murder which prevails today. Many of whom, insist on the ‘naivete’ of their earlier insistence on non-violent confrontation with the state and lament the irony of their aspirations to civil governance and selfhood. There is a host of institutions (military, media, political parties of left and right) and social groups (students, women, LGBTQ persons) who have contested the meaning of madaniyya as a concept, practise or aspiration. This paper focuses on the myriad ways in which protester’s discourses of non-violence vis-à-vis civility or civil governance developed and changed over the course of three post-revolutionary governments: liberal, islamist and military. Specifically, the popular conception of ‘cousinhood’ between silmiyya (non-violence) and madaniyya (civil governance/civility) will be discussed, asking why and how this trope was deployed by activists. The paper seeks to show how views of non-violent protest developed over time and in response to changing state tactics of repression, and how madaniyya was coopted as a concept by protestors and state actors alike.

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