Co-organised by Dr Siavush Randjbar-Daemi and Dr Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi
Political parties have long been considered the staple of any modern political system. In the Western political tradition, parties have featured as the locus of organised activity by elites and politically conscious sectors of society, coalescing around the defining issues of the day, as well as shared socio-economic interests, demanding representation and a stake in the political order. Over time, political parties came to be seen as the sine qua non of assuming government and the exercise of power in any self-avowed parliamentary democracy.
In the aftermath of World War I the states comprising the MENA region began to increasingly witness the emergence political forms that resembled those found in the metropole, and the imperial powers which had overseen its incorporation into the world economy and subjugation to Europe’s competing global empires. Where people and social groups had previously pursued political activity by means of secret societies, or redress through traditional associations such as guilds, village elders, town notables, and the clergy, with the advent of the modern era, the political party came to be seen as an ever-more appropriate and efficacious means of organising and directing political action and expressing political demands. By the end of the British and French mandate a whole host of political parties had emerged, with some acting as the voice of traditional landed elites and urban notables, while others were born in response to the arrival of the new class of urban intellectuals, salaried professionals and civil servants under the sway of modern ideologies such as liberalism, fascism and communism.
Following WWII, with the onset of the Cold War this trend gathered pace and radical projects such as Nasserism and Baʿathism, whose chief concern was Arab unity and the overturning of the old sources of social power and elite rule, the region was transformed irrevocably in what became an epoch of decolonization and calls for non-alignment. Authoritarian presidencies forged off the back of military coups in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, had at their inception sought popular mandates and thereby attempted to build a single-party state order to mobilize a host of groups including recent urban migrants, the intelligentsia, members of the new professional classes and state bureaucracies and the peasantry. New genres of political literature were created and consumed, and novel ways of engaging an increasingly literate public, receptive to the ideas and discourses of the newly-minted anti-colonial elites, came into being.
In the aftermath of the defeat of the leading Arab nationalist states in June 1967 the Palestinian cause for national liberation assumed a more independent line as evident in the early politics of Fatah, while Israel’s party system found itself increasingly forced to come to terms with a rapidly shifting demography and a fragile PR system under the shadow of military occupation. One of the main features of Iranian politics, post-1941, has been the dichotomy between the Marxist, pro-Moscow Tudeh Party, widely considered to be Iran’s only mass political party of the 20th century, and its adversaries’ scorn and indirect emulation. In 1975, Iran would become what was possibly the only one-party monarchy in modern world history. Many of these political parties which endeavoured to fundamentally challenge the status quo in their societies were also often vehicles for social mobility, progressive gender norms and the promise of wealth redistributions, changing the nature of their societies in an unprecedented fashion.
Political parties also partook in the construction of new constitutional configurations, where until 2011 the prospect of dynastic presidencies in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Egypt backed by the one-party state held the promise of becoming a generalizable regional trend. By contrast, Iran following the Revolution of 1979 witnessed the birth of a factional order labouring under the imprimatur of theocratic rule, and has subsequently struggled to institute a stable party political system. Meanwhile, elsewhere in MENA Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their longevity, sought to persevere in debilitating authoritarian contexts through the cultivation of welfare regimes and networks so as to reach the wider population.
The wave of upheavals and euphoria which swept the Middle East following January 2011, has led to serious queries regarding the role and importance of political parties. A question remains as to whether the repression of organised political activity in several parts of the Middle East has led to their irrelevance, as social movements, both informal and highly integrated, take centre stage in this highly networked, information age. While the post-2011 Arab Uprisings may well have spoken to the bankruptcy of the traditional political party form, the counter-revolutions which almost invariably followed reaffirmed the importance of highly organized, hierarchical and more often than not, militarised, organizations to political outcomes in evolving social conflicts. The Green Movement of Iran and the Tahrir Square revolt were commonly seen as shunning structured political organisation, which made them all the more unpredictable, while sceptics pointed to their inherent limitations and ultimate unsustainability going forward. Moreover, the apparent sectarianization of several conflicts in the region has also been strongly linked to political groupings and mobilizations along sectarian lines, posing the question whether the “sectarian party” is with us to stay?
This international conference aims to make sense of past, present and future perspectives on political party organisation in the Middle East and North Africa. It will seek to understand whether political parties in MENA should still be considered an integral part to the creation of resilient democratic states or the enactment of radical social transformation, as well as chart the evolution of the single party system and the challenges it has faced over the past decade. It will aim to bring together a wide range of scholars studying topics ranging from the social bases of marginalized political organizations to mainstream parties which have held power for decades. It is the conference’s intention to contribute to extant international scholarship on political parties in the fields of history, political science, international relations, sociology and anthropology and the literature concerned with political parties in the post-colonial world.
Proposals might choose to focus on the following themes:
- Nationalism and Political Parties
- Ethnicity and Political Parties
- Imperialism and Political Parties in the Middle East
- State formation and Political Parties in the Middle East
- Political Parties and Democratization in the Middle East
- Political Parties and Class Politics
- Modernization Theory and the Legacy of Political Parties
- Political Parties in the Arab Spring
- Does Political Pluralism in the MENA Require a Multi-Party System?
- Political Parties in the Age of Social Media
- Political Parties and the Legacy of the Left in the Middle East
- Official Co-opted Political Parties in the Middle East
- Loyal Oppositions in the Middle East
- Political Parties and Welfare Networks
- Political Parties and Sectarianism
- Factionalism or Multi-Party System?
- Political Parties and Revolutionary Elites
- Political Parties and Arab Armies
- Political Parties in the Middle East: A Spent Force?
- The validity of the Western political party theory and conceptualisation in the modern Middle East.
Limited funding is available to cover select travel and accommodation expenses of accepted panelists.
Please complete the paper submission form on the conference website by no later than 5 October 2015. Selected participants will be contacted towards the publication of an edited volume.