Panel 7g. Patriarchy and the Arab Spring: liberation or backlash? II

Chair: Bjørn Olav Utvik, University of Oslo

Kurdish women: Liberation through the barrel of a gun?
Pinar Tank, Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO)

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, women, who were active during the demonstrations that resulted in the downfall of despotic governments, did not see the fulfillment of their demand for liberation. To the contrary, the rise of religiously conservative parties, further narrowed their opportunities for participation in the public sphere. In Turkey, a country that was long regarded as a model for the new Middle East, post-Arab Spring, the gender policies of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) resulted in demonstrations by feminists at the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Regionally, the truism that women were “the losers of the Arab Spring” was clearly justified. This contrasts with the case of Kurdish peshmerga women fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Since 2014, international media has reported on Kurdish women engaged in the battle against Daesh. However, the portrayal of female peshmerga often ignores a deeper understanding of their ideology and their deep roots within the Kurdish movement. According to some analysts, there were 17 000 militants in the PKK (Partiya Karker Kurdistan) in the 1990s; 30% of its fighting force. Ideologically, the PKK´s pursuit of an anti-state, ‘liberatory’ form of nationalism allowed for greater participation by women. This paper traces the historical path of PKK´s female militants from their role in the struggle in Turkey to their present engagement in Iraq and Syria. How are their contributions likely to define their future positions within Kurdish society?

Reluctant feminists: Islamist MPs in Kuwait 2009-2011
Rania Maktabi, University of Oslo

This year marks a decade of Kuwaiti women’s enfranchisement (May 2015). In a study of parliamentary documents (2006 – 2014) I point out that women’s issues related to social alleviation, access to housing and working conditions were addressed and articulated in new ways. A sharp rise in attention occurred while the four first-ever female elected MPs served between 2009 and 2011: around half of all proposals pertaining to women were raised during these two years. Most importantly, Islamist MPs – most of whom voted against granting women the franchise in 2005 – were those most eager to address women’s social, legal and economic conditions. This paper argues that Islamist MPs can be seen as reluctant feminists and diligent opportunists. Between 2009 – 2011, they reformulated demands pertaining to poverty alleviation and social assistance by focusing on women as mothers, widowers and caretakers. In law proposals, Islamist MPs emphasized gender relations in ways where Kuwaiti women, particularly those married to non-Kuwaitis and stateless bidun, were seen as capacitated citizens. Kuwaiti women, some Islamist MPs argued, should be able to act as legal guardians (kafil) of their husbands and children; be brokers of material welfare services such as free education and health services;; and get access to financial commodities such as public housing schemes and jobs in the public sector. After the exit of female MPs from parliament in 2011, Islamist MPs stopped arguing along these lines, and their demands on behalf of women dropped sharply.

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The polarization of militant Islamists in Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilwe
Erling Lorentzen Sogge, University of Oslo

Based in Lebanon’s largest refugee camp, the Jihadi-Salafi militia Usbat al-Ansar might best be known for a wave of terrorism and assassinations launched against Palestinian leaders and the Lebanese state during the 90s. For researchers, the group’s presence has often served as proof of a general jihadization of youth in the camp. In 2008, however, a reconciliation was initiated between between Usbat al-Ansar and its most bitter rival, the Fatah movement. The process ended up changing the political dynamics in Ain al-Hilwe as it gave Usbat al-Ansar and its allies an opportunity to join the internal administration of the camp. As of 2014, the faction is a main contributor to the camp’s security force along with Fatah and Hamas. While Ain al-Hilwe’s leading Jihadi groups have chosen to work alongside the mainstream Palestinian factions under the auspices of a broader Palestinian Islamist coalition called The Islamic Forces, their authority is increasingly being challenged by a number of younger radicals who oppose the established order. The most prominent challenger is a clandestine group named The Muslim Youth, who reject the political pragmatism of the older sheikshs, as well as their passivity in the Syrian question – there appears to be a generation gap between the Islamists in the camp. Based on extensive field work in the camps of Lebanon, this paper argues that what we see in Ain al-Hilwe is not a general jihadization of society, but rather a polarization among the militants. The result is a struggle for legitimacy between the young radicals and older pragmatics.

The Jihadi Movement and Rebel Governance: Reassertion of a Patriarchal Order?
Brynjar Lia, University of Oslo

A lacuna in contemporary scholarship on militant Islamism is the study of governance practices by Jihadi rebel groups, a topic that precedes the rise of ISIS by more than two decades. This paper offers a comparative discussion of jihadi rebel experiences dating back to the 1980s, focusing on how Jihadis have sought to govern civilian populations and establish new authority structures. While the practicalities of governance are demanding for any rebel group, Jihadi insurgents face a dilemma of reconciling their extremist ideological imperatives with the need for adaptation to a diverse and complex reality in which local patriarchal power structures remain and local religious customs have deep roots. This paper argues that jihadi rebels have approached this dilemma in a variety of ways. Highly visible signs of commitment to ideological purity, such as the destruction of “un-Islamic” religious sites and the public implementation of hudud punishments, have often served as a message to the outside world, and have often obscured ongoing processes of local adaptation. Still, initial phases of pragmatism have often given way to more hardline policies. The reasons for this vary from one case to another. Influential foreign fighters have refocused attention on the ideological project. More often, however, local power contenders have refashioned themselves as Jihadis, as a means of sidelining traditional tribal and religious power structures and eliciting support from external sources. The study draws upon primary source material dealing with the jihadis’ own reflections on “Islamic Emirates/States” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Northern Mali.

Between a rock and a hard place: Challenges to the Sunni Establishment in Lebanon
Kai Kverme, University of Oslo

This paper examines the increasing political pressure exerted upon the Sunni Lebanese establishment, represented by the Future movement, by younger Salafi-inspired forces and disgruntled supporters and allies of the movement. Could this ongoing development lead to the establishment of new political expressions by these groups? The continued campaigns against Sunni militants conducted by the Lebanese Army with Saudi-provided weapons are drawing criticism from many Sunnis, including from within the Future movement. This is, among other factors, because of Hizballah’s direct involvement in several of these campaigns. The Lebanese army has been accused of becoming a tool in the hands of this party and their Iranian sponsors, seeking to crush all criticism against Hizballah involvement in the Syrian war on the side of the regime. This paper argues that despite the pressure for the Future movement to take a more decisive and activist stance in support of the Syrian uprising and in confronting Hizballah at home, the policies of the movement is unlikely to change. This is not least due to Saudi influence and it’s vehemently anti-Islamist policy, which it seeks to project on its regional allies. Another factor at play is the fear of alienating the many Christians members of the movement, which fear a greater influence of Islamist forces. However, as a consequence, criticism against the movement for not being able to protect “Sunni interests” is mounting among dissatisfied supporters and Salafi-inspired youth and could challenge Future’s near total domination of the Sunni political scene.

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