Panel 6b Arab Spring in the Maghreb: Hidden Stories and Alternative Voices

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Chair: Dr John King, Deputy Secretary, Society for Algerian Studies

Paper 1: Silenced Revolts, Enduring Revolution: Western Sahara
Dr Alice Wilson, Junior Research Fellow, Homerton College, University of Cambridge

In October 2010 at Gdeim Izik, Western Sahara, thousands of Saharawi in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara demonstrated for weeks before meeting with severe reprisals. Whilst Saharawi in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara have engaged since 2005 in unarmed uprisings to protest against Morocco’s annexation of the territory, the scale of Gdeim Izik – and its repression – were unprecedented. This uprising received little international attention. This paper explores the contrast and relationship between the Saharawi revolts in the Moroccan-controlled areas and the Saharawi revolution in the refugee camps. The revolution, successful in self-perpetuation, and the revolts, silenced by repression and international indifference, may actually function in symbiosis, each needing the other to continue. Yet Western Sahara’s (hidden) place in the Arab spring suggests that a combination of revolts and revolution may not, without international interest and pressure, be enough to force a political opening.

Paper 2: Revolution’s Refugees: Displaced Libyans in Tunisia and the Formation of Transnational Amazigh (Berber) Community
Dr Katherine E. Hoffman, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Northwestern University

Little attention has been paid to minorities in the MENA revolts. This paper examines the role of Amazigh (Berber) ethnicity in the integration of Libyan populations displaced by revolutionary violence into neighbouring Tunisia.  In rural southern Tunisia, villagers prepared vacant homes in anticipation of a Libyan exodus.  Tunisian village organizations created for this purpose managed the needs of refugees for six months during which the Libyan men shuttled between their families in Tunisia and their comrades-in-arms in Libya.  Field research in southern Tunisia and in Western Libya suggests a tension: on the one hand, Tunisians displayed revolutionary zeal in aiding Libyans during their uprising, and pride in the long-oppressed Amazigh heritage that linked them.  On the other hand, local economic hardships in their arid lands made southern Tunisians impatient with refugees’ demands for comforts like air conditioning and appliances they themselves lacked.

Paper 3: Mohammed Hassan Wazzani and Malek Bennabi: On the fringes of Maghrebi nationalism
Olivia Luce, DPhil Candidate at the History Facultry, University of Oxford

The recent calls for political change sweeping across parts of the Arab world, triggered by events in Tunisia, have led to increasing speculation regarding the causation of popular dissatisfaction towards the heritage of post-colonial governance.  So it is worth looking back to the creation of state cultural hegemony in North Africa which pushed key alternative voices out of the public dialogue such as those of Malek Bennabi and Mohammad Hassan Wazzani.  Both of these figures were prominent intellectual participants in the Maghrebi nationalist movements.  Yet they both suffered more from government restrictions after independence than they did during the struggle against colonialism, ending up on the fringes of Maghrebi nationalism. The study will discuss the problem of defining nationalist movements, the significance of Islamic intellectual currents on Maghrebi nationalism and the degree to which governments are responsible for the inclusion or exclusion of particular intellectual currents upon a national dialogue.  Although it is necessary to ascertain Morocco and Algeria’s different political and intellectual environments, many of these issues are pertinent to the wider history of state formation and the role of Islamic thought in Arab nationalism.

Paper 4: Hidden Histories of Resistance in Morocco and Libya
James Roslington
, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

This paper will explore the historical imaginaire of revolutionary and radical politics in the Maghrib by focussing on the moral legacy of two heroes of anti-colonial resistance, ‘Umar al-Mukhtar (1862-1931) and Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi (c.1882-1963).  The ubiquity of ‘Umar al-Mukhtar in imagery and discourse during the 2011 Libyan Revolution has been widely reported in the international media.  Less publicised has been the adoption of ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi as a totemic figure by the February 20 Movement in Morocco.  The struggle for control of the image and narrative of resistance reveals much about history and memory in the contemporary Maghrib. The paper will argue that, from the 1950s onwards, the post-independence states of Libya and Morocco sought to control and historicise resistance.  The symbolic appropriation of history was enacted in ritual, architecture, art and historical production.  The central problematic of this paper is to uncover why heroes co-opted into official, historical narratives of resistance have nevertheless re-emerged into contemporary opposition.  The paper will demonstrate how, in fact, alternative, ‘hidden’ traditions of resistance around ‘Umar al-Mukhtar and ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi have circulated in Libya and Morocco for decades.  Historic tensions over ideology and regionalism have been crucial in this re-framing of the heroes of resistance.  Above all, however, ‘Umar al-Mukhtar and ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi have emerged to stand beyond history as transcendental symbols of resistance, embodying a pure, heroic ideal of politics, as imagined in contradistinction to the delegitimized, corrupt nature of contemporary political life in the Maghrib.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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