Chair: Dr Toby Dodge (the London School of Economics and Political Science)
· Keith Kiely (Queen's University Belfast)
A ‘new beginning’ in Cairo 2009 and US responses to the Arab Spring
President Barack Obama delivered what many believed to be a monumental Middle East speech in Cairo in 2009, where the president acknowledged that tensions between the ‘Arab world’ and the ‘West’ have “been fed by colonialism which denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations” (The Guardian, Thursday 4 June, 2009).
This paper will examine the responses of the Obama administration to the populist democratic uprisings in the Arab world commonly referred to as ‘The Arab Spring’ and discuss these developments in relation to American ‘strategic interests’ in the region. The main questions this paper will discuss, through the utilisation of discourse analysis along with a primary but not limited focus on the Palestinian statehood bid is: Does the emergence of popular democratic movements in the region signal an inevitable shift in Washington’s Middle East foreign policy outlook as outlined by President Obama at Cairo? Is the approach which the US is actively pursuing consistent with what is outlined and described as a ‘new beginning’ in Obama’s Cairo speech of 2009? This paper will argue that fundamentally US foreign policy towards the Middle East and populist self-determination has remained unchanged and that the Arab Spring has pushed this reality sharply into focus.
· Idir Ouahes (University of Exeter)
The dynamics of US-Algerian relations: What does the Spring signify?
The trauma of the 90's Algerian civil war has become fixed in the official discourse. Almost all calculations of the Algerian state and its functionaries are concerned with moving away from this traumatic past toward a viable future. The flipside of the coin are the considerable drawbacks of this emphasis on security: civil society issues and economic disparities. The Bush administration’s dual focus on African and terrorism issues made Algeria a clear partner given its past both as a victim of terrorism and as a leader of African affairs. President Obama may have drawn back many of Bush’s ambitious Africa programmes but AFRICOM and the essential structure of American influence remain. My talk, drawing on a range of sources, will set out this historical context in order to examine changes in the contemporary Algerian situation from the US point of view. In particular, I will emphasise the scrupulously ambiguous relationship between the two countries in the context of an ever-changing situation: in terms of both security (AQIM, separatists) and societal issues (inequality, human rights, identity). Algeria remains the geopolitical lynchpin for not only the Maghreb but all of north-west Africa. Examining US relations aids wider regional analysis.
· Alex Hobson (Northwestern University)
One event in Middle East history remains overlooked for its connection to the Arab Spring: the armed challenge to King Hussein’s Jordanian throne in 1970/71 remembered as Black September. This paper argues that the 2011 Arab revolutions cannot be understood without a historical reassessment of Black September. It undertakes a comparative history of the 1970 Jordanian crisis and the 2011/12 uprising in Syria. Black September began with a spectacular mass hijacking that brought hundreds of Western hostages to the Jordanian desert. With the world media’s attention focused on his country, King Hussein faced a choice between annihilating the Palestinian resistance with a bloodbath in front of international media, or acquiescing to popular demands and losing his throne. With the support of American power, he chose the former. Resembling the 2011 protest movements, the Palestinian fighters of 1970 were politically non-aligned. As have the Syrian demonstrators, the Palestinian groups struggled in their fight for international support and recognition from dominant powers. This comparative history explores themes such as American involvement in Middle East crises, how uprisings attain political legitimacy in the international arena, and the long-term consequences of violent repression of Arab political movements.
· Zoe Holman (University of Melbourne)
The spectre of the 2003 Coalition intervention in Iraq has loomed large in the minds of both British policy-makers and Arab communities in the UK throughout the events now known as the 'Arab Spring'. Recent studies have documented lingering scepticism amongst some members of the Arab diaspora about the premises of Britain's joint campaign to remove Saddam Hussein, as well as specific discontent from Iraqis expatriates about the reconstruction programs implemented by the Coalition in its aftermath. As the British government contemplates the parameters of its involvement in rebuilding a post-Qaddafi Libya and responses to popular uprisings across the region, this paper will examine the contribution of Arab expatriates to democratisation and/or regime change efforts in their home countries, specifically via British foreign policy interventions. Through discussions with members of Iraqi, Libyan, Syrian and Bahraini communities in Britain, the study will document the actual and perceived shift in UK approaches to political change in the Arab Middle East, from the 2003 Iraq campaign to 2011 and beyond. In particular, the paper will examine the role of expatriates and exiles in developing British foreign policy relating to democratisation, humanitarian intervention and post-war reconstruction.