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The Gulf in a Changing Region

Chair: Dr Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen (the London School of Economics and Political Science)

·         May Darwich (University of Edinburgh) 

The Arab Spring: Saudi Arabia and the monarchical security complex: a neoclassical realist model of threat assessment

The assessment of the Arab uprisings as a threat to the GCC, and in particular to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, reflects a continuous trend elucidating their foreign policy determinants. If Gulf monarchies, and especially Saudi Arabia, have always resisted the winds of change in the region ˗ revolutions in the 1950s and 1960s, the Iranian revolution in 1979 ˗ changes over the past four decades in domestic political structures have made Saudi Arabia even more capable of resisting hostile ideological pressures. Herein lies the paradox: if Saudi Arabia is more consolidated than ever, less vulnerable to transnational ideological appeals, and above all has succeeded in resisting sweeping ideological challenges in the region, then why are the Arab uprisings perceived as a national threat?

It has been argued that due to state permeability and regime vulnerability and legitimacy deficit, Arab leaders perceive these kinds of transnational appeals as an immediate threat to their reign. This study argues, against this explanation, that there are other more significant factors behind the process of threat perception.

Through the lens of IR theories, this study aims to examine this empirical enigma in Saudi foreign policy. This task is undertaken by modelling a neoclassical realist framework and applying it on Saudi foreign policy toward the Arab Spring as a case study.

·         Mona Chalabi (Transparency International)        

Corruption in the Middle East: Causes, consequences and capacity for change

Arabs may have a season but how long will they keep it before the autumn of their aspirations sets in? This paper focuses on a cause of fatigue and despair, a factor which helps explain both the maintenance of the status quo and the momentum for change in the Middle East: corruption. All too often avoided as the terrain of investigative journalists or outspoken activists, corruption is simply listed as a fact, too enduring and too depressing for analysis. 

Contrasting the case of Iraq with that of Bahrain, this paper seeks to open the black box of corruption and find what processes are inside. Doing so reveals important relationships between corruption, protest and revolution. Analysing corruption, how it lives in perceptions and thrives in reality is I believe essential in understanding change and continuity in the Gulf and in the wider Middle East.

·         Nova Robinson (Rutgers University)

The progressive mystique: A short history of state feminism in the Kingdom of Bahrain

Since the 1950s, Shi'a and Sunni women, Leftist and Islamist alike, have engaged in concerted campaigns to secure democratic freedoms as women and mothers in Bahrain. I contend that multiple forces have impeded Bahraini women’s activists’ attainment of women’s rights. The government is one such force. This paper will analyse the ways in which the Kingdom of Bahrain promotes women’s rights and in so doing has turned women’s rights into a battleground between Sunni and Shi’a religious forces. The government created the Supreme Council on Women (SCW) in 2001, the same year women got the right to vote. The council has achieved little success; the government blames lack of progress in women’s rights on political dissent among the nation’s Shi’a majority. This historical case study begins in 1955 and ends with a rally in early 2006, in which thousands of Bahraini women and men came together to challenge a legislative attempt supported by the SCW to codify Bahrain’s Family Law. The conclusion of the paper will analyse Bahrain’s progressive mystique in light of the fourteen months of protests. Bahraini women were in Pearl Square with their grievances as mothers of the victims of torture and as women without legal protections.

·         Martyn Egan (European University Institute)

Halal ignorance: The case of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been described as a 'post-modern pastiche' (Al-Rasheed, 2007) - politically secular yet socially religious. In an attempt to explain this apparent paradox, the paper applies Olivier Roy's (2010) recent paradigm of 'holy ignorance' to two case studies in Saudi society: the current redevelopment of Mecca, and recent attempts to pass a mortgage law. The aim is two-fold: to increase our understanding of the underlying structures affecting Saudi society, and to deepen the theoretical underpinnings of the 'holy ignorance' paradigm.

The resulting analysis proposes that 'holy ignorance' functions in the Saudi context as an instituted mode of domination, penetrating through all layers of society, and structuring and constraining the actions even of the elite. By incorporating the theoretical approach of Pierre Bourdieu, the two case studies are used to demonstrate that Saudi 'holy ignorance' operates as a 'structuring structure' in Saudi society, and can be understood as a specific arrangement of fields. "Halal ignorance" is thus characterised as the domination of the cultural and social fields by a religious field which is itself politically dominated.

BRISMES Graduate Section,
29 May 2012 07:34