Panel 4f. Interrogating the State: The State, the non-State, and contested spatialities in the Arab world

Chair: Fouad G. Marei, Freie Universitat Berlin

Discussant: Dr. Mona Atia, George Washington University

Imperial sectarianism: an anthropology of the state in (pre-war) Syria
Maria Kastrinou, Brunel University London

With sectarian clashes having a profound impact on both Syria’s society and sovereignty, this paper takes claims of ‘sectarianism’ seriously, combining historical and political economy approaches with anthropology of the state in order to ethnographically situate the seeming ‘impossibility’ of democracy in Europe’s historical and geographic neighbour, Syria. Specifically, by looking at how nationalist and sectarian identities are formed, transformed and mobilised in Syria and Lebanon, this paper seeks to demonstrate how representations, practices and geographies of the nation and the sect may challenge, reinforce or bypass state sovereignty and form political subjectivities and social boundaries. Through a historical re-examination of ‘sectarianism’, this paper compares how ‘sect’ and ‘nation’ have been employed as strategies of state formation in Greater Syria from the late Ottoman Empire to today, and ethnographically captures the ways in which these become tropes of sympathy, recognition but also violence in the current war in Syria.

Governing in the meanwhile: producing the weak state in Akkar, North Lebanon
Jamil Mouawad, SOAS, University of London

Throughout the modern history of Lebanon, Akkar (North Lebanon) has been presented as the archetype of marginalization and abandonment by the state. Most recently, it has also been depicted as a locus of emerging and expanding Islamist networks. The dominant approach and analytical framework to understanding the socioeconomic realities of the area, and thus the political ones, are influenced by an almost tautological conviction that the state is completely absent in Akkar, rendering it a remote area neatly separated from the center. The following paper criticizes the dominant explanation of “marginality” for its limited Weberian understanding of state power, according to which the state lacks authority over a marginal territory. As a unitary actor, the state is therefore either completely absent or fully present. Taking cue from studies of governmentality, the paper moves beyond the dichotomy of “weak” and “strong” states, and highlights instead unfolding negotiations between an “absent state” and the people of Akkar. Thus, the paper brings the people of Akkar back into the state, by acknowledging and studying the complex interactions and negotiations between the center and the margins enacted by local elites as well as national and international institutions. Consequently, the paper unmasks the constructive imagination of an “absent” state and unravels the processes, practices and performances that produce the “effect” of a weak state. In the name of the absent state, the aforementioned actors make deals, negotiate, and manipulate the “technologies of rules” in pursuit of their own separate objectives. This leads to a reality in which these actors are (or become) complicit in perpetuating an idea of a “weak state”. Accordingly, the paper is divided into four sections. The fist section explores the distinct relationship that the Akkaris enjoy with the Lebanese army, and how this interaction brings the army down to earth as part of the society instead of a coercive institution situated above society. The second section closely examines an EU-funded project and highlights the process through which this project creates alternative neo-liberal sovereignties. The third section explores how local conflicts attempt and often succeed in blocking state projects. The fourth and final section shows how these interactions produce the effect of a weak state while simultaneously generating a strong desire for a state that is yet to be achieved.

Resistance, Piety and Development: Hezbollah’s Capital of Resistance as Global City
Fouad G. Marei, Freie Universitat Berlin

Situating itself at the intersection between literature on social movements, ‘actually existing neoliberalism(s)’, and critical-discursive approaches to the study of Islamism, this paper examines the redeployment and realignments of religious movements in light of neoliberal governance reforms as well as the role attributed to ‘religion’ in the articulation of neoliberal discourses of ‘the global city’. In doing so, this paper investigates the mechanisms through which politico-economic reforms, hybridised forms of urban governance, and the liberal-peace logics of postwar reconstruction empower sub- and supra-national actors in the production of political order, social change, and communal aggrandisement. Focussing on Dahiyya, Beirut’s southern suburb/s, the research examines intersections between spatial reordering and reconstruction, and inter- and intra-communal perceptions of political and social (in)equality and (mal)recognition. Understanding the ‘Islamic milieu’ not merely as a religio-political ideology but as a politic of aesthetic shaped by and shaping the sensibilities, choices and imaginaries of the community, it is the contention of this article that the liberal-peace logics of reconstruction in the aftermath of the 2006 war with Israel provided Hezbollah and a coterie of clerics and civil society associations affiliated with the party with an opportunity to exploit politico-economic reforms and hybridised forms of urban and governance in the (re)production of Dahiya. The paper argues that, in an attempt to transform Dahiya from a stigmatised periphery of the city into an integral part of the aspiring ‘global city’, practices and discourses are articulated which: (1) challenge actual and perceived sociopolitical (in)equalities; and (2) champion spatial-cognitive projections of the perceived progress, empowerment and civility of Lebanon’s Shi’a community through the display of a middle-class, urban ‘piety’. This piety is understood as a moral rubric whereby law and order are substituted with moral-religious obligation, and ‘responsibility’ shifts from the state to the ‘pious individuals’. The pious are thus made responsible for their own welfare and are expected to demonstrate ‘creativity’, ‘competitiveness’, and ‘entrepreneurship’. In the process, Dahiye is (re)constructed: from a defiant and ‘lawless’ periphery to an integral part of ‘the global city’; not in spite of the State but, rather, precisely because of the re-articulation of the State and modalities of governance.

Drawing borders of meaning in the Arab-South-American space
Silvia Ferabolli, UniRitter Laureate International Universities

The ASPA (South American–Arab Countries) Summit is a mechanism for inter-regional cooperation and a forum for policy coordination, which originally aimed to bring together the leaders of South America and the Arab world. After ten years of existence, however, the role the Syrian-Lebanese diaspora in Brazil has been playing in the development and maintenance of this summit system and the projects associated to it and the ways in which “Arab” non-state actors (based in both regions) are becoming one the main engines of this inter-regional experience has to be assessed. This is the main aim of this paper, which will also analyse the conditions of possibility for an Arab – South American space to be discursively constructed as such and what kind of potential is there for this inter-regional project to impact local and global politics beyond the institutional limits imposed by inter-state relations.

State-Building and Entrenched Social Insecurity: Why Power Sharing Failed in Lebanon and Iraq
Andrew Delatolla, London School of Economics and Political Science

State-building projects are based on the analysis of state capacity; a measurement of strength that can determine a state’s ability to function in domestic and international environments. State-building projects focus on measures of instability which allude to states being labelled weak or failed. This occurs for a number of reasons based on a variety of indicators, often associated with monopolies of coercion and the concentration of capital, but are typically directed towards geographic, economic, and political issues, while ignoring the nuance of socio-political identities and cultures that can provoke destabilisation. Using qualitative analysis from primary and secondary sources, the article examines the state-building projects in post-war Iraq and Lebanon and the subsequent impact it has had on the socio-political identity. It asks why state building projects, albeit focused on power sharing in these two cases, has failed to mediate conflict among socio-political identities. By examining the state-building projects and their impact on domestic socio-political mechanisms, the study finds that entrenched social issues are magnified through their institutionalisation.

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