World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010


Mass Organisations in the Middle East (216) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Manchester (United Kingdom)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Esther Meininghaus

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Mass organisations in the Middle East, or organisations with a distinctively large membership, can play significant roles in Middle Eastern societies. Depending on their agendas, they can serve to provide education, social services or spiritual guidance, and even political representation. What are the origins of mass organisations we can find in the contemporary Middle East, how are they structured, how do they function, and what are their aims? How are they related to the state? How is their membership constituted, and what effects do they have on the society surrounding them? Are they acting within the borders of a nation state, or transgressing them?
This panel is comprised of four papers looking at the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in Jordan, the General Union of Syrian Women, and the Tudeh Party in Iran, using a variety of different approaches. Annette Buechs studies the interactions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state by blending a historical-institutionalist, or corporatist approach with a culturalist perspective. Esther Meininghaus will provide an overview of her PhD, which aims at giving a comparative study of different offices of the General Union of Syrian Women in Damascus and Aleppo. In his paper, László Csicsmann analyzes the role of Islamist organizations in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from 1989, the start of the liberalization process. He pays special attention to the lack of internal cohesion within the Muslim Brotherhood.. Finally, Edgar Klüsener investigates the role the Communist Tudeh party played in the later stages of the Iranian Islamic Revolution and in the initial period of the Islamic Republic. He also examines the underlying reasons for Tudeh's astonishing loyalty to Khomeini which remained intact even after Khomeini had begun to turn against many of his former allies, including other groups of the Iranian left.

Chair: Dr. Andreas Christmann (The University of Manchester)

Paper presenter: Annette Buechs (GIGA), "The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Transformation in the Process of Ideational Interaction with the State"
This paper looks at how the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s engagement with the Egyptian state has transformed the Brotherhood - from 1981 onwards - into a decidedly political actor that is integrating modern political concepts such as party pluralism into its thinking and actions. The interactions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state are studied by blending a historical-institutionalist, or corporatist approach with a culturalist perspective. Thus, interactions are – on a first level - analyzed through the principle of inclusion and exclusion, i.e. the integration of the Muslim Brotherhood into state and quasi-state institutions, their exclusion from these institutions, as well as the specific forms of repression that are applied towards them. On a second level, the ideational dimension of the relationship as articulated in the media will be analyzed: state perceptions of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Muslim Brotherhood's perceptions of the state will be studied. The significance of the paper lies in the fact that the transformation of the thinking and actions of Islamic movements has in the literature been explained by focussing on aspects of inclusion, exclusion and repression. The ideational dimension of the state-movement interactions have so far largely been ignored.

Paper presenter: László Csicsmann (Corvinus University of Budapest, Institute of International Studies), "Divergent Voices. The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan"
The paper analyzes the role of Islamist organizations in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from 1989, the start of the liberalization process. Special attention is given to the lack of internal cohesion within the Muslim Brotherhood. The research is partly based on personal interviews (April–June 2010, as ACOR fellow) with Jordanian politicians.
The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Action Front Party, was founded in 1992 and participated in the 1993’s elections. It has become the most popular political party in the monarchy. Hamas maintains close ties with the Islamic Action Front. Zaki Bin Irshaid, a politician close to Hamas, was elected in March 2006 as the secretary general of the party. In 2007 general elections were again held in Jordan. The outcome of the elections was a political disaster for the Islamic Action Front Party. In May 2009, Zaki bin Irshaid resigned from his post due to internal debates within the party. One of the members of the old guard, Ishaq Farhan, was elected as the new secretary general. It seems that the Islamic Action Front Party will adopt a more radical standpoint against the regime, in spite of the fact that there is disagreement between the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ about how to deal with Hamas.

Paper presenter: Esther Meininghaus ( University of Manchester), "The General Union of Syrian Women – Its History, Organisation, and Contributions to Syrian Society"
The General Union of Syrian Women was established in 1967. With its Executive Office based in Damascus, it spread throughout the country and is nowadays represented in all 14 Syrian provinces. It currently claims to have about 400.000 members and it offers a wide range of services to Syrian girls and women and their families, such as literacy classes, legal counseling, family planning initiatives, and the establishment of nurseries and kindergartens.
This paper will give an overview of my PhD, which aims at giving a comparative study of different offices of the Union in Damascus and Aleppo. Based on both written sources and oral accounts, I will start with a short overview of the Union’s establishment, history and activities. I will then outline the methods and theoretical framework of my PhD. Finally, I will provide a preliminary thesis about possible results of this case study of a Syrian mass organisation and about implications for empirical and theoretical studies of Syrian state-society relationships.

Paper presenter: Ahmed Tohami A. Mohamed (Durham University), "New forms of mobilizing and activism: youth movements in Egypt"
The rise of youth movements in Egypt is fascinating not only because it is empirically “surprising” but also because it raises some broader questions about the process through which a group mobilizes, especially in a transitional context. The political mobilization in the first decade of the 21 century has not only led to the emergence of new youth groups and movements, but also has supported the existing movements which became more active. Large segments of youth began to involve in political, civil and volunteer action. The youth groups in Egypt considered a kind of organisations with a relatively large membership. Although different structures and size, they are seeking to provide education, social services, spiritual guidance and even political representation. Youth movements could be analyzed through the lens of social movement theory to understand the origins of youth organisations, structures, membership, functions and aims. It helps us to answer the following question: The effects do they have on the society surrounding them? Are they acting within the borders of a nation state, or transgressing them? To what extent do mass organisations contribute to the formation of civil society in the Middle East? And, what is their relationship with the state? Social movement theory theoretical framework is valid to interpret not only the emerging of new groups like the youth of 6 April, youth for change and all new forms of protest, but also the development of the older social movement such as the Muslim brotherhood’s student wing. Although, the political opportunity still important to understand the development in the social movements, it is important to know that the development of youth movements is a result of interaction between political opportunity and social movement choices and decisions. The mobilizing structure and framing process play the significant role in the development of the movement. One could say that the structures factors play the decisive role in the emerging of the new forms of movements although the political regime still able to relatively control the threats coming from these movements at least in the short run. It seems that the capability of traditional institutions to conduct their functions of political socialization and recruiting is sharply decreasing, while new kinds of youth self socializing and organizing have come up. The youth organizations attempt to develop new kinds of mobilizing structures through establishing coalitions and fronts which consist of many groups to organize the common activities and protestation. As a result the cooperation and coordination across ideological divides among new groups gradually increased. Although the growing realization that the change are highly unlikely to happen depending on single organization, the political trust and shared meaning that support such cooperation still low.