Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

Religion is fundamentally concerned with the regulation of life, yet contemporary ideas about the role of faith in political life are deeply contested. Across faiths, sects and ideologies, different visions of the role of religion have resulted in political contestation with regional repercussions. Understanding these issues requires consideration of competing claims to authority and legitimacy, along with an exploration of the role of Islam within the political realm. Amidst a region increasingly characterised by sectarian divisions, it is imperative to consider the spatial aspects of the relationship between religion and politics and to explore how sect-based identities can be mobilised for (geo)political purposes. The chapter also considers the way in which similar issues emerge in Judaism, exploring the relationship between the state of Israel and settler groups.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Sovereignty, violence and revolution in the Middle East
Author: Simon Mabon

In events that have since become known as the Arab Uprisings or Arab Revolutions, people across the Middle East took to the streets to express their anger and frustration at political climates, demanding political and economic reform. In a number of cases, protest movements were repressed, often violently, with devastating repercussions for human security and peace across the region.

While a number of scholars have sought to understand how the protests occurred, this book looks at sovereignty and the relationship between rulers and ruled to identify and understand both the roots of this anger but also the mechanisms through which regimes were able to withstand seemingly existential pressures and maintain power.

Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

With the onset of the uprisings, new arenas of proxy competition emerged across the Middle East, simultaneously serving as zones of possibility and restriction as international players sought to manipulate domestic affairs often for their own ends. Yet the increasingly securitised and politicised role of religion, particularly within the context of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has left regimes open to criticism while state security is undermined by the ability of clerics in one state to speak to audiences in another. Evoking memories of Paul Noble’s regional echo chamber, this chapter draws together the first and second parts of the book to show how the fallout from the Arab Uprisings has consequences for the organisation of the contemporary Middle East.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

Drawing on Agamben’s ideas of the state of exception, the third chapter considers the development of political systems and the way in which they regulate life. Central to the chapter is understanding particular forms of sovereign power, the regulation of life and the ban that underpins such regulatory efforts. A range of different mechanisms facilitate the regulation of life, from claims to legitimacy to the coercive mechanisms of the state, including the security services and military.

The chapter begins with an exploration of different typologies of political structures before turning to a discussion of constitutions and citizenship. It then turns to consideration of the security mechanisms that underpin regulatory efforts before considering examples from Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon
in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

Across a century of contestation, this chapter engages with processes of transformation, often – although not necessarily – violent, driven by actors both within and beyond territorial borders. In many cases, such transformations were revolutionary, violent dislocations between past and future that radically altered the cultural landscape of a particular area. Yet such transformations also possess an economic dimension as foreign powers sought to capitalise on opportunities provided by domestic upheaval, while political elites began processes of modernisation as they sought to forge contemporary states from the embers of uncertainty.

This chapter offers a genealogy of states in the region from the mandate period until the demise of Da’ish in the summer of 2018. It focuses upon five distinct eras, allowing for exploration of the interaction of regional trends with domestic factors in the creation of political projects.

in Houses built on sand
Simon Mabon

This chapter focusses on the events of the Arab Uprisings, the emergence of protest movements across the region demonstrating the seemingly widespread rejection of political, social and economic conditions. It argues that to understand the protest movements, we must place them in the context of protests within and across states in the region. The conditions prior to the uprisings should not be viewed solely as a by-product of political life, an accident or the unavoidable consequence of the interaction between nationalist and globalising forces. Instead, as previous chapters have argued, political, social and economic situations were carefully designed as mechanisms of control, resulting in the cultivation of a form of bare life. For Agamben, once in this position, there is no escape and one should accept the position of ‘being thus’. Yet looking across the region in the early months of 2011, it was difficult to view events as the acceptance of the status quo. Instead, what quickly became known as the Arab Uprisings was seen as the rejection of being thus and the demonstration of agency – seen to be possible even within bare life – and improve political life.

in Houses built on sand
Simon Mabon

Politics, for the Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun, concerns ‘the administration of home or city in accordance with ethical and philosophical requirements, for the purpose of directing the mass toward a behaviour that will result in the preservation and permanence of the (human) species’. This quest for survival, which remains central to contemporary political projects, raises a number of fundamental questions about space, law, security and ultimately survival, which remain pertinent today.

This chapter sets out the theoretical material underpinning the book, introducing concepts of sovereignty, space and nomos and demonstrating the way in which they can facilitate analysis of the Middle East. It does this by introducing the reader to the work of Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Peter Berger and Robert Cover to provide a theoretical framework. Drawing on concepts such as bare life and the state of exception, it argues that by looking at the relationship between rulers and ruled and the way in which this relationship plays out within – and across – space, we are better placed to understand political dynamics across the Middle East.

in Houses built on sand
Open Access (free)
Simon Mabon

The protest movements of early 2011 that eviscerated regime–society relations across the Middle East were a widespread rejection of the political, economic, social and legal status quo. Having had political meaning stripped from their lives and the regulation of this limited form of existence embedded within the fabric of the state, protests were an expression of agency. Contestation was met with a fierce response from the governance mechanisms of the state as regimes attempted to regain control, using a range of draconian and strategies in the process.

In response, regimes sought to reframe the nature of political life and the ban. One such way that this was achieved was through the use of language to frame particular issues as existential threats. Following the work done by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever of the Copenhagen School, securitisation seeks to broaden understandings of security by suggesting that meaning is derived from linguistic framing of issues as threats. Perhaps the most obvious example of securitisation processes concerns the cultivation of divisions within society and the securitisation of sectarian difference in the post-Arab Uprisings context.

in Houses built on sand
German Responses to the June 2019 Mission of the Sea-Watch 3
Klaus Neumann

The European responses to irregularised migrants in the second decade of the twenty-first century have been qualitatively new not so much because of the often-celebrated cultures of hospitality in countries such as Germany and Sweden, but because of acts of solidarity that have challenged the prerogative of nation-states to control access to their territory. I discuss elements of the public response in Germany to the criminalisation of one such act, the search and rescue (SAR) operation of the Sea-Watch 3 in the Central Mediterranean in June 2019, which led to the arrest of the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, by Italian authorities. I argue that while the response to Rackete’s arrest was unprecedented, it built upon a year-long campaign in support of private SAR missions in the Mediterranean, which drew on the discourse of rights and was therefore not reliant on a short-term outpouring of compassion. Rackete’s supporters have also been energised by alternative visions of Europe, and by the vitriol reserved for her by followers of the populist far right.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs