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Between the Hammer and the Anvil? Minorities in a Transitional Regional Context 

Chair: Professor Tim Niblock (Exeter University)

·         Ilaria Verratti (École des hautes études en sciences sociales and University of Trento)

Identity and marginality: the Berber experience in southeast Morocco

Scholars have been rethinking their approach to Berber culture in Morocco since the government created an academic institute charged with safeguarding the Amazigh culture. Recent anthropological studies have demonstrated a renewed interest in Berber activism and the Tamazight language and have focused on the connections between postcolonial states and the Berber struggles for recognition and rights.

Observing and reconsidering Berber identity and socio-political agency in different regions before and after the Spring, opens new research possibilities. One interesting question relates to the sensitivity of southeast Morocco with regards to their socio-political marginalization and the demonstration of their cultural identity. On the one hand, the Amazigh Cultural Mouvement (ACM) is very sceptical of any state decision concerning Tamazight language, culture, and local governance. On the other hand, more and more young adults are embracing the ACM and its national and transnational claim for cultural recognition. Thus, many families and communities are split along generational lines and have to redefine the meanings of their culture and deal with complex feelings. Some pretend to disregard the problem, whereas some explore possible ways to discuss this growing issue in the country.

·         Naomí Ramírez Díaz (Autónoma University Madrid)    

The Syrian revolution: Will the presumed social unity be challenged in the post-Assad period?

The not yet accomplished Syrian revolution has shown that social and confessional differences can be overcome if people from different backgrounds share a common end. Thus, it has undermined the widespread belief that the Syrian regime is the protector of the minorities and thus enjoys their support against the Sunni majority.

In reality, the Syrian regime is more complex and Syrian society far more complicated than the usual simplifications tend to acknowledge. It is this complexity that will need to be dealt with during the transition process, especially when an important component of the political opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood and when the Syrian National Council has been unable to acknowledge the national claims of Kurds and Assyrians.

It is our hypothesis that although social differences have lost ground during the mobilizations, despite the ongoing attempts to disrupt the movement carried out by the Syrian regime, they might reappear when the regime has been toppled and the difficult transition process begins in a country with almost no civic political culture and where the sense of belonging might shift to religious, ethnic or sectarian affiliations, in a Lebanese-style configuration.

·         Izzetin Sumer (University of Exeter)

Transformation of the Middle East: a new status quo for the Kurds?

Today, the Middle East region has been the scene of considerable changes, perhaps the most profound since the First World War. Undoubtedly, the political balances of the Middle East have been transformed considerably; power centres are changing and new actors are emerging. This paper argues that although these revolutionary changes have been seen as an ‘Arab Spring’ by many; the reshaping and transformation of the Middle East is not only limited to ‘Arab societies and political movements’, but also influences ethnically diverse nation states in the region such as Syria, Turkey and Iraq, thereby posing new opportunities and risks for groups such as the Kurds.  

The Kurdish people are the largest ethnic group in the world that does not have its own independent state. Kurds currently can be found in what historically has been their homeland; a region spread across what is modern day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. In each of these countries, ethnic Kurds have on some level sought independence and autonomy. Kurds have an autonomous region in Iraq with sufficient oil reserves to fuel an independent Kurdish state. Turkey has been discussing broader political and cultural rights for the Kurds and a majority of the Kurds in Turkey demand a ‘new status’ from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Last but not least, since the uprising started in Syria, ‘federalism and an autonomous government’ have become a common goal for the Kurds in Syria.

In its widest framework, this study attempts to analyse the results that may take place for the Kurds as a consequence of the transformation in the Middle East, and focusses on the regional geopolitical map of the Kurds and the power structures of the traditional regional powers. The paper will seek to answer questions such as ‘will the transformation in the Middle East lead to a new status quo with a united and independent Kurdish state?' In view of the recent changes in international relations in the Middle East, how will this new status quo affect the Kurds and how will the Kurds affect it in return? Will this transformation lead to a new regional order in the Middle East and how might regional powers such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey respond to this new regional order?

·         Alessia Melcangi (University of Catania )

Before and after the revolution: a ‘spring’ also for the Copts of Egypt?

The Egyptian revolution, which spontaneously broke out on January 25 2011 in the wake of what many call the ‘spring of the Arab peoples’, featured an unprecedented solidarity within Egyptian society between the two main religious groups, the Muslims and the Christian Copts, in the struggle against the ruling regime.

This image remains a symbol of those events, especially in light of a history often involving long term tensions. Repeated clashes between the Muslim and Christian communities put the issues of interfaith dialogue, human rights protection and individual freedoms as priorities in the political agenda of the state, particularly under the pressure of continuous appeals by Egyptian civil society (political parties, associations, NGOs) and external actors, like the United Nations and the European Union.

This paper will try to analyse, through a collection of constitutional and legislative texts, official speeches and articles in Egyptian newspapers, the ‘Coptic question’ in contemporary debate. The focus will be on the political relations between the Christian community and the political institutions of Egypt, its varied composition, the intra-communal cleavages or factionalism. The aim of the paper is to understand what place is reserved for non-Muslim communities within the social structure and the political organization of contemporary Egypt and if the revolution can call into question the juridical and political position of non-Muslims, encouraging a passage from the dhimma status to a status of equality.

·         Sami Everett (School of Oriental and African Studies)

Double diaspora and the complex mechanics of Moroccan minority community construction: a pilgrimage ethnography to the tomb of Sayyid Ben Diwan, Ouezzane

Each year in early summer, many Moroccan Jews undertake spiritual pilgrimages (Hiloulot) to different local Sayyid - saints - often corresponding to their place of origin. One such communal pilgrimage is held near Ouazzane in the douar where Sayyid Ben Diwan’s tomb is venerated by Muslims and Jews alike. Amid the protests of 2011 and in spite of the bombing in Marrakesh, last year’s Hiloula went ahead and was well attended by Moroccan diaspora Jews. The elections and appointment of a new government reveals one piecemeal change for which ongoing protests in Morocco have been appealing.  However, in a state of many differences, demands and diasporas, how are such age-old practices that combine religious tourism with pilgrimage likely to be politically managed and negotiated henceforth? 

On the basis of a pilgrimage-ethnography to the tomb of Sayyid Ben Diwan in 2011 and interviews with recently deceased political scholar Shimon Lévy, this paper takes a look at the tensions in discourses on minorities in contemporary Islamist Moroccan state building. Through the prism of an important symbolic date for Moroccan Jewry, I will discuss the relationship between this event, the imperatives of Moroccan historiography and diaspora identification with place, community and culture.


BRISMES Graduate Section,
12 Jun 2012 02:01