Congrès Mondial des Études sur le Moyen-Orient et l'Afrique du Nord

Barcelone, du 19 au 24 Juillet 2010

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Strategic Nonviolent Action in the Middle East (427) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of San Francisco (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Stephen Zunes

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Nonviolent action campaigns have been a part of political life in the Middle East and elsewhere for millennia, challenging abuses by authorities, spearheading social reforms, and protesting discrimination. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in movements resisting dictatorships and military occupations, employing strategic nonviolent action as a more deliberate tool for social change, evolving from an ad hoc strategy into a reflective, even institutionalized, method of struggle. In contrast to armed struggles, these nonviolent insurrections are movements of organized popular resistance to government authority, and they either consciously or by necessity eschew the use of weapons of modern warfare. Unlike conventional political movements, nonviolent campaigns usually employ tactics outside the mainstream political processes of electioneering and lobbying. Tactics may include strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, the popular contestation of public space, tax refusal, destruction of symbols of government authority (such as official identification cards), refusal to obey official orders (such as curfew restrictions), and the creation of alternative institutions for political legitimacy and social organization. Recent decades have seen the use of nonviolent action by West Bank Palestinians and Golani Druze against Israeli occupation, Sahrawis against the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara and Lebanese fighting against Syrian domination of their country. It played a major role in the Egyptian struggle for independence in 1919-1922. Nonviolent action was central in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran as well as in more recent campaigns against the current Iranian regime. Nonviolent action was employed in the overthrow of the Numeiri regime in Sudan and the Traore regime in Mali. This panel will look at a series of case studies of nonviolent resistance campaigns in the Middle East, using examples from Iran, Egypt, Palestine and Western Sahara.

Chair: Jack DuVall (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict)

Discussant: Maciej Bartowski (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict)

Paper presenter: Nada Ghandour-Demiri (University of Bristol), “Challenging the Occupation: Palestinian & Israeli Nonviolent Resistance”
The first paper provides insight into current nonviolent resistance actions used by Palestinians and Israelis against the Israeli occupation. Rather than an effort to advocate a “right” or “wrong” way to resist, this research explores a particular form of resistance in itself, while situating it within the political context that it is emerging and in relation to what it opposes. By stepping away from a reductionist and simplistic approach and by focusing on the “entanglements of power” within and towards nonviolent resistance I aim to demonstrate the complexities and contradictions that exist within it. This paper will look at the differences between the, often idealist, discourse of “nonviolence” as a moral value (promoted and well-funded by Western donors) and the strategic nonviolent actions on the ground. Moreover, it will explore the various forms in which nonviolent actions are being disciplined, from within the resistance movement, but also from external actors (i.e. the Israeli security forces and foreign donors). A theoretical framework will help situate these processes, while the examination of two current nonviolent actions (the demonstrations against the Separation Wall and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign) will illustrate the research problem.

Paper presenter: Arwa Hassan (Transparency International), “We have eyes. We can see?: How a small group in Egypt succeeded in organizing a mass mobilization”
The second paper looks at a case study where a small group was able to counter the Egyptian regime’s repression of NGOs, civil society groups and the opposition. This paper traces the development of a small group of mostly young people outside of the traditional opposition who used tactical wit and targeted strategic nonviolent action to raise awareness about corruption and wrongdoing in the establishment. It serves as an important case study as to when confronted with such intransigent governmental interlocutors, strategic nonviolent action helped civil society break an impasse, build alliances between sectors, and move the struggle forward.

Paper presenter: Stephen Zunes (University of San Francisco), “Nonviolent Resistance for Independence in the Western Sahara”
The third paper examines how, after the failure of both the armed struggle and diplomatic efforts to win independence for Western Sahara, Sahrawis have increased their use of nonviolent resistance in major urban areas against Moroccan occupation forces. Focused initially on human rights issues, the movement has grown to include illegal nationalist displays through spontaneous protests, waving flags, graffiti, hunger strikes, and other tactics. The nonviolent resistance campaign within Western Sahara has linked up with ethnic Sahrawis within southern Morocco, Moroccan university students and international solidarity groups in Spain and elsewhere. The resistance has forced the Moroccan government to acknowledge that full Sahrawi assimilation into Morocco would be difficult; forcing the regime to propose a degree of autonomy for the territory, but the movement is continuing to demand a referendum that would include the option of independence.

Paper presenter: Sherif Mansour (Freedom House), “Bridging the Knowledge Divide between the Egyptian and Iranian Opposition Movements”
The fourth paper is a comparative study of the Egyptian and Iranian opposition movements. In the aftermath of the disputed June 2009 presidential elections, popular discontent against the Iranian regime transformed into a full blown grassroots social movement across the country while the Egyptian opposition is carefully organizing its political leadership in advance of Egypt’s two upcoming elections. Over the past year, both groups have managed to build up broad-based coalitions, which include a large youth representation, to utilize new media to support and expand their agendas, and to exert increased pressure on their regimes. However, neither movement has yet reached the scale or level of organization needed to affect deep structural change. Theoretically, these two opposition groups could lend each other tremendous tactical and moral support. However, relations between the two are currently nonexistent. The language barrier, absence of official relations combined with the historic animosity between Iran and Egypt make it virtually impossible for the two opposition groups to cooperate. However, sharing experiences and lessons learned between the opposition groups is critically needed if both want to succeed in their path for reform. One key difference is that, while Egyptian opposition elites are demonstrating daring leadership, challenging the system and articulating a coherent set of demands for the government, they struggle to build grassroots support. On the other hand, Iranian opposition is grassroots based, mobilizing hundreds of thousands to take to the streets, but they lack the strategic leadership that will transform this massive popular support into real political change.