Shai Feldman: So, welcome everybody. This is our, I think, I'm not sure it's the 14th kickoff event, but it kicks off the 14th year. The 14th full year of the Crown Center's operations. So first of all, it's a good occasion to welcome my colleague Abdel Monem Said and his wife Molly. When we started 14 years ago, I would have referred to Abdel Monem as the founding father, but now he is the founding grandfather. So this is also an important year for us, the 14th year, because we're welcoming Gary Samore who just joined the Crown Center as part of the leadership of the center, as the senior executive director of the center. Gary comes to us from the Belfer Center at Harvard where he was the executive director. He brings to our table a lot of experience with the people for whom the knowledge that we are trying to create at the center is relevant, which is to say, Washington DC in its broader terms.
Shai Feldman: He served two terms in the White House, a term at the Clinton White House and a term at Obama's White House as a senior official in both White Houses. If I'll make the only partisan comment of this evening, I will say, somewhat better White Houses than they were described last evening in Bob Woodward's book about the current one. So we're very lucky to have Gary with the experience, although somewhat different experience than those unfortunately that are in the current White Houses are experiencing.
Shai Feldman: The other development of this year is that we, actually this year we have the largest ever contingent of researchers that have joined us, four of whom comprise this panel. We have an even more and even more impressive number of people. This year we actually had I believe 165 applications for four positions. So, you can see how the competition is getting tough.
Shai Feldman: Finally, this year is a first year of us entering an agreement with Brookings Institution in Washington. So all of our efforts to inform the policy community, even if just merely metrically, will be now in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. The panel will be presented by my colleague Naghmeh Sohrabi, who is the associate director for research. 14 years ago when Abdel Monem was founding father, Naghmeh was a founding child, but she's now associate director. Youth as you can notice, as you notice, is a disease that passes with time. So she will introduce the panel and then we'll have a conversation with you about the untold stories of the Middle East.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Thank you Shai. 14 years ago I didn't need glasses. So, there's also that, and Shai is being generous. I think 14 years ago I was the rebellious teenager of the Crown Center, but I grew up. So just to give you a sense of what we're going to do today, we've used this format before and it was very exciting for us and for the panelists and of course for the audience, which is that I'm going to introduce our speakers today. They're not going to give you speeches, but we've asked each of them to speak for five minutes about stories that they think is not in the sources that most of us have access to, because of their deep access to the parts of the Middle East that they're working on, would they see parts of the region and developments in the region that is not necessarily visible to those of us who read newspapers or listen to the news.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: So we've asked each of them to speak about five minutes on these untold stories as we call them, and then afterwards, Shai and I have difficult questions that we are going to pose to each of our lovely panelists. But we have also encouraged them to interrupt each other and if the past two days that I've spent time with them is any indication, that's just not going to be a problem. Hopefully we will stop at some point and open the floor up to questions from you, which I'm sure there will be plenty of questions.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: So, I'm just going to introduce people starting to my right. This is such a sensitive microphone. Okay. So next to me is Daniel Neep. He's a sabbatical fellow at the Crown Center this year and this is the first year that we have had sabbatical fellows. He's also an assistant professor in Arab politics in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His first book was called Occupying Syria: Insurgency, Space and State Formation, and he's with us to finish his second book, which is called The Nation Belongs to All: the Making of Modern Syria. So in case you didn't guess it, Daniel is going to be speaking about Syria hopefully.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Next to Daniel is Hind Ahmed Zaki. She is the inaugural Harold Grinspoon junior research fellow at the Crown Center and she's going to be with us for two years. All of our postdoc will be staying with us for two years for the first time. So that was the other thing that the 14th year brought with it. Professor Zaki holds a PhD in political science from the University of Washington, and her doctoral dissertation investigates new forms of mobilization around women's rights that emerge within the broader framework of the Arab Spring, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: So next to Hind is Yazan Doughan, who is this year's Neubauer junior research fellow. He holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago and his dissertation focuses on anti-corruption social movements in Jordan, also during the wave of Arab uprisings from 2011 to 2013.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Then next to him is Hayal Akarsu. She's also a junior research fellow who received her PhD in anthropology also, from the University of Arizona. Hayal's dissertation analyzes the introduction of new conceptions and practices of security and policing in Turkey, particularly as we see a proliferation of police related crises that brings a spotlight on this as a global phenomenon. She's going to talk about that later on.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: If you're more interested in their bios, you guys have all a piece of paper that has a more complete bio of each of our speakers. I think two of them just recently also defended. So this can also be a celebration of recent defenses. On that note, I'll ask Daniel to start with what we're missing and the untold stories, and you guys just move on and hold your questions for each other until we get to the end.
Daniel Neep: Okay. Thank you very much and thank you for having me here at the Crown Center this year. It's great to be here. I think I want to approach this question about untold stories, it may be two different ways. When I was thinking about this question, it actually was difficult to think of any stories about the Middle East that aren't being told somewhere in the world at the moment. The proliferation of media and different media channels through the internet, it's so much wider, so much broader than the narrow traditional media. It means that basically if you're looking for stories, you will be able to find them. You get the stories about what's happening in Syria. It's just not necessarily filtering through to mainstream audiences.
Daniel Neep: I think one of the biggest tragedies, apart from the ongoing tragedy that is Syria at the moment, one of the biggest tragedies for someone like me who as you may tell, I'm not Syrian, I'm English, I've been going to Syria for just over 20 years. I first went in the 1990s. I lived in Damascus before I lived in London, which maybe tells you something about me. The biggest tragedy, certainly when I talk to my undergraduate students who have only ever known in their adult lives Syria as big unfolding catastrophe, unfolding civil war, for me it's tragic that these students don't know what Syria was like before that. They don't know what a beautiful place this part of the world was. They don't know what a beautiful, generous people the Syrians are. They don't know how sophisticated Syrian political culture is. This is not some back water province of the world that is just been tied up in conflicts and for time in Memorial. This happened very recently. It's happened very dramatically. It's taught me, watching Syria, that civilization is dead. We lose it very quickly.
Daniel Neep: I think the biggest shame is that the human side of the conflict is very much lost. It's reduced to geopolitics. It's reduced to the machinations and interventions of great powers in the region. It's reduced to dynamics of sectarianism, ancient religious groups who hate each other and that's why we have a conflict in Syria today, but anyone who knows Syria, even fleetingly, these explanations are not even superficial. They don't even get to take us anywhere. I think this unfortunately is the narrative that comes through in the media very much, or certainly the narrative that people are not experts in the field pick up upon.
Daniel Neep: I think what we need to do is think a little bit more broadly about what's happening in Syria in terms of the bigger trends going on within the region and within the world more broadly. To the extent that the mainstream media looks at history or looks at context to explain the Syria conflict, they usually do so in terms of what I call the Sykes–Picot narrative. As most of you will know, the regional borders that we have today in the Levant were created after World War I by the colonial powers. The argument that's often arises from that fact is that these states are somehow artificial. They're not naturally occurring. They were created to group together different ethnic and religious groups who were always in some way conflicting. That's basically why we have the civil war today. This is the kind of truncated historical narrative.
Daniel Neep: The argument is that if you have an artificial state, you need a strong man, an authoritarian regime to hold it together. Once that authoritarian regime starts to crumble or weaken, people revert back to their local ethnic identities and we have a civil war situation like the one we have today. I find this narrative to be very infuriating, partly because it's a ... well, not only because it's historically inaccurate. The borders we have today are not the Sykes–Picot borders. I can get very excited about that, but that's not really the point. But it also overlooks the fact these states are both more recent and older than the Sykes–Picot narrative points out. We have waves of state building in the region from the 19th century onwards. We have even more concentrated burst of state building after independence in the '50s and the '60s and in the 1970s.
Daniel Neep: In many ways, the Syrian state that exists today is a very recent creation in the sense that it has started to, but only in the sense that it's started to do over the last 60, 70 years, things that states all around the world have been starting to do, around the same time. Building a complete welfare state, regulating the labor markets. In some ways states around the region, and you can look at Egypt, Abdel Nasser, you can look at Syria as well at around the same time, the kind of building of an authoritarian state is done in a way that kind of, apart from the fact that it's not democratic, very much mimics social democracies in other types of states around the world. Now in some ways it's comparable to Europe.
Daniel Neep: So what I want to suggest is perhaps the conflict in Syria today is not the weakening of the Sykes-Picot state from World War I, it's the weakening of this post World War II state. The Syrian state remarkably, although states around the world have started liberalizing since the 1970s onwards basically, we have in Europe Margaret Thatcher who begins the process in the UK, begins at around the same time in the 1970s in the U.S. as well. In the region we have liberalization, the opening of the economies to the private sector. For example, in Egypt, it begins in the 1970s, even the Iraqis start to do this in late 1980s. It doesn't start in Syria till 2005. There are some small reforms going on in the 1990s, late '80s, early '90s, but it doesn't get very far.
Daniel Neep: So what you have in Syria is an acceleration of opening up to the private sector. You have the state removing its subsidies, removing its services from the public very quickly, and you have a very accelerated period of rising inequality within Syria. And it happens within a really short period of time. So what I'm suggesting perhaps is that one of the dynamics that is untold about the Syrian conflict is the fact that Syria has gone through this accelerated process of liberalizations. People were very aware of rising inequalities, and that formed the backdrop to what began in 2011. So I think bringing back, the story of Syria, back into a kind of global context, back into a global economic context, without losing the specificity of what's happening inside a country, gives us a much better grasp on really understanding the dynamics underneath the surface.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: I have questions for you, but later.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Okay. It's exciting to be here and thank you all for showing up on such a hot afternoon.
Shai Feldman: They knew this place is well air conditioned.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: At least you're getting some cool here. It's very exciting to be on this panel really. When we were talking about what we should be talking about in 10 minutes in terms of our research, for us academics it's actually very difficult to talk about our research or to talk about what's missing from the general world view or general media, or the mainstream media more like it on what we're doing in 10 minutes. Especially I think for me, because with a topic like gender, it seems like everybody is talking about women in the Middle East. Just check the Washington Post, the New York Times, you're going to find one article per week discussing the status of women in the Middle East, whether in the Middle East at large or in one particular Middle Eastern country.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: With very reductionist alarmist, often very specific ideas about what women in the Middle East are going through, what they are facing, or there are really two types of coverage on women in the Middle East in the mainstream media. It's either this basically, like women in the Middle East are facing so much. It's like the world's worst region when it comes to women, and the status of women, or you're finding all these very celebratory stories like, "Women are doing it. Empowerment. Look at all these women marching." This was definitely the story on Egypt for like 10 days during the 18 days uprising. I was at Seattle at the time when I was doing my PhD at the University of Washington, and I remember everybody asking me two questions, "Do you think Mubarak will step down or not?" And, "How are all these women in the street? We thought that Egyptian women were never going to be on the streets. What's going on? How do you explain that?"
Hind Ahmed Zaki: I was really kind of like in between the two questions. Those were the two most frequent questions being asked. It shows not just the bias in terms of what we think women are capable of or not, but also the very binary idea about Women, with a capital W, Women of the Middle East. Kind of like, of course negating so many differences, ethnic class differences, national differences among those countries, which is basically what my whole research is about, that women in the Middle East are not one unified category, and that definitely there are in this region that we often refer to as the Middle East and North Africa, there are very significant differences among the nation states that make up the region in terms of women's rights.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Perhaps the untold story from my own research, there are two untold stories that I would like to share, and I would be more than happy to discuss more in the Q&A and in our discussion here. The first is basically gender and politics. I'm a political scientist, so we study politics and we study political institutions, and often gender and women's rights are treated as something that happens outside politics, A, not really as part of the processes that constitute politics, that constitutes both institutional politics as in parliaments, political parties, political settlements, democratization. The formal processes that actually define politics, as well as in the everyday definition of politics, which is basically what happens on a day-to-day basis: people marching in the streets, people mobilizing.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Gender is often treated in political science terms as exogenous or as something that exists not just outside what we are trying to explain, but that happens as a result or what happens to gender or the status of women is the result of what happens in politics. In other words, we often treat gender as we like to say in political science jargon as the independent variable, that the status of women depends on a set of other things about the state, what the state looks like, the economic development, the process, the rise of Islamic movements, all these things.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: While this is not necessarily incorrect, it is correct, but we often do not explain, or I guess for me what the interesting part was trying to explain it the other way around. How do we actually understand those political processes through gender? Is the status of women, can we look at the status of women as something that actually affects those political processes? And how does that happen? That basically was my main research question, and I tried to look at this when I was looking at both Egypt and Tunisia, not just trying to explain gender outcomes by political, what we call formal political outcomes, but also the other way around.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: The second thing that I felt was missing, and that kind of goes back to the question that people kept asking me during those 18 days, which is basically, like, "Where did all these women come from? Why are all these women marching in the street? How come this is happening?" Which really shows how really understudied our knowledge of women's movements and women's groups in this region. These countries or this region had had a very active and vibrant, I would say, women's rights movements, and by movements I mean different types of movements who understand women's rights in different ways. Feminisms, with an S, if you would say, that had existed maybe since the late 19th century and early 20th century. The way those movements had interacted with the state, the way those movements had influenced the state, the way those movement had influenced state institutions, again, is severely understudied in my opinion. Specifically from a social science perspective. We have some great history books about those movement, but we don't have a lot of knowledge about how they could influence the current political setups, or what led to the current political setups that we saw.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: So basically, I guess the two untold stories are how gender influences politics, and not the other way around, and also how these women rights movement ... how can we study these women's rights movement and how can we see them. And more importantly, how can we understand them from a lens that does not ... where we're using methodologies or we're using understandings of these movements in a way that does not generalize them, in a way that does not equate them with what a woman's rights movement should be from a Western perspective. So I guess the challenge is to understand these processes and understand these movements on their own terms I would say.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Thanks.
Yazan Doughan: So I'm going to actually pick up on kind of two themes that have already been mentioned, the state, this notion of the artificiality of the state and the unraveling of the kind of post Second World War form of the state that we have been seeing, at least since the '70s throughout the world, but in the Middle East since the '90s and the 2000s. The second issue is the Arab Spring and the uprisings that have kind of unfolded throughout the Middle East. So I work on Jordan, a country that is often hardly mentioned in the media. Jordan is an untold story. That's just typical.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: You're done.
Yazan Doughan: I'm done. It's a country that you're not going to hear so much about except when say discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict, the issue of Palestine peace process, but in the context of the Arab Spring, it's a country that has not been looked at and there's a sense that nothing happens in Jordan. So, I was doing my fieldwork in Jordan during the Arab Spring and there was a lot happening.
Yazan Doughan: One of the things that, it's not actually specific to Jordan, I think it speaks for the rest of the protests and uprisings in the Middle East, the main issue that people have been protesting about was corruption. This was true for Jordan as well. I think Jordan is a very interesting place to look at the issue of corruption in the Middle East and in the context of the uprisings, precisely because it does not meet the kind of expectations that one has about corruption. There's a sense that corruption is widespread. Middle East countries say Syria, [inaudible 00:24:32], they rank really low on the kind of the perception of corruption index. But Jordan doesn't actually. Jordan is one of the better countries in the Middle East.
Yazan Doughan: It was really interesting to see how corruption was such a driving force for protest and kind of a way to explain much of what was felt to be wrong about the state, about the relation between state and society, social relations, and why one might expect that people would be ... so, corruption is usually kind of ... scholars of corruption look at, they kind of distinguish large scale corruption, big corruption, and the more kind of small corruption everyday corruption that is kind of taken to be ordinary so to speak. So big corruption usually gets a lot of media coverage, small corruptions, something that kind of passes under the radar, but it's generally felt.
Yazan Doughan: There was a lot of talk about big corruption, but there was also a lot of talk about small corruption, and a lot of confusion about what constitutes corruption. One might expect that when people talk about small corruption, we're talking about embezzlement, bribery within the state bureaucracy. This was not the case in Jordan. In fact, bribery is not that common. I think the latest study that was done about two years ago, only 2% of those surveyed said they had to bribe someone to get their work done. What people complain about often is something called wasta, which is a form of intercessory kind of practice by which people attain certain privileges or resources from the state through the intermediation of someone in the state bureaucracy or someone who knows someone in the bureaucracy.
Yazan Doughan: So, in a study conducted in 2000, 86% of those surveyed said wasta was a form of corruption. 87% said wasta should be eliminated. 90% expected to use wasta in the future, and 42% said that their need for wasta is likely to increase in the future. In 2015, so that's 15 years later, nothing has changed. 82.6% said wasta is a form of corruption, 64.9% said it's necessary for finding a job, and 42.8% said it's necessary to get their bureaucratic work done. If you consider, A, the size of the bureaucracy in Jordan, we're talking about 60% of the labor force, and if you consider the rate of unemployment, which is now officially at 19%, but most likely much higher than that, you can see how important, say, like finding a job is and how important these kinds of networks of wasta are.
Yazan Doughan: But what is interesting about wasta is that although it's considered a form of corruption, it's also, obviously it's a common practice, but it's also something that is considered normal and even virtuous. It's a good thing to provide wasta to your kin and relatives and friends. So this is I think a puzzle that although it might seem very small, it has much larger implications and kind of tells us a lot about what has been going on for a long time in states in the Middle East, and what is still going on. There has been many attempts to kind of criminalize wasta, to curb it in one way or another. They haven't been successful precisely because of this kind of ambivalent status, as something that is both good and yet at the same time, some kind of the worst kind of political evil that one can imagine.
Yazan Doughan: So, I don't want to get into all the details of this, but I want to say that this kind of ambivalence around wasta and it's connection to corruption says something about what is going on in the sense that it tells us that there's a certain uncertainty about what constitutes justice, social justice, under these kind of new economic and political regimes that have been evolving over the past say 20, 30 years. Also the kind of responses that are kind of put forward both by the state and by the activists in the sense that what is needed to overcome this sense of injustice is the rule of law.
Yazan Doughan: In my own analysis, I think the rule of law is not going to put any end to wasta nor to the sense of injustice precisely, because wasta is not usually the opposite of the rule of law. It is an informal practice that is part of the formality of law and the way the law works. But saying that does not mean that it's nothing. It has some serious effects. Some of the effects that I already see kind of unfolding are, for example, the breakdown of formal networks of political power and legitimation in Jordan that have long drawn on sort of traditional images of virtue, like a tribal virtue of hospitality, of kind of service to kin. These are kind of slowly kind of being eroded I think, and there's an ethos of suspicion that one can see emerging in public service.
Yazan Doughan: Bureaucrats kind of policing each other over the relations to kin and the ever present possibility of a conflict of interest that is inherent in their work. There may be sometimes conflicts of interest, but the suspicion of a conflict of interest kind of sets into motion certain forms of social relations and regulation as well. There are kind of larger sort of, or kind of more obvious effects in the ... if you've been following the news, there was a moment when Jordan was in the news a couple of months ago in early June. There were big protests that were kind of the largest since the Arab Spring, which resulted in the resignation of the then prime minister, Mulki, and the appointment of a new prime minister, Omar Razzaz, who is precisely his agenda or his program is about transforming what he calls the social contract, by instituting a kind of civic, what he calls a civic state built on relations of responsibility and kind of redefining the system of taxation, kind of drawing on ideas of rights of legitimacy through the granting of legal rights. So there are these big sort of transformations that are going on that one can see when we start kind of looking at these kind of everyday forms, or like everyday practices that come under the sign of corruption at this time.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Thanks.
Yazan Doughan: Yeah, thank you.
Hayal Akarsu: I'm so happy to be part of the first event of Crown Center. So, I will talk police and security in Turkey. I'm an anthropologist. I did an ethnography among the police. I sat in on the police academic classes, worked in the police stations, and I may only look at police reforms in Turkey. So you would probably ask, "What reform are you talking about? This all on fire." So that is the one and first on those there I will say about Turkey. So just to give a context about it, for those of you who could not know it, like Turkey has a long ... police in Turkey has a long history of rather spectacular violence and disproportional force, disproportionate use of force. But starting with 2000s, there has been extensive reforms to change how the police work in the country.
Hayal Akarsu: There are kind of more governmental reforms on the bureaucratic levels, but also reforms to change the everyday practice of police. So there has been trainings that have been training some like humanized democratic policing, or there are new initiators like community policing, all different kinds of social projects.
Hayal Akarsu: So when I did my research, it was a time between 2015, 2017 when these reforms were still in place. And most of them are still in place by the way, but they were merging with authoritarian forms of governance. So one thing I observed, like even if the aspirations to answer to EU, European Union, has been in Turkey, still there is no kind of switch button for the reform. You put some reforms in place, there are like already so many things have changed. So it's not just saying that, "We are becoming more authoritarian, so just cancel all the reforms," but they can be put into different uses.
Hayal Akarsu: The second thing, second untold story related to like first one, when we talk about the increasing authoritarianism, we usually try to have this opposition between state and citizens, state and society, and seeing state as this like kind of evil form of power, it is to a certain extent if you ask me, just suppressing people. But usually the way people engage with the state and help the states to concentrate this power is a kind of important thing that anthropologists usually focus in their research when they look at everyday practices of like state making and the working of the state.
Hayal Akarsu: So since I've worked on police and kind of activities police conducted in the neighborhoods, I saw for instance, like community meetings, like town hall meetings that we have here in the United States between police and citizens, where citizens demanded more police presence in their neighborhoods. So there are, in Turkey, there are an increasing complexity between police and certain elements of the society. So when we think about authoritarianism, we should like also there is an incredible amount of repression in Turkey against the dissidents especially, but also there are certain part of the population who are supporting the regime to suppress the people. So this kind of popular support is the thing that calls for the right, that help the government to concentrate its power. So these are the two untold stories which I can happily talk more about it. Thank you.
Shai Feldman: Followups?
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Sure, let's do it.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Yeah.
Shai Feldman: So Daniel, I'll start maybe. Maybe I'll add an untold story to your untold stories by telling you an untold story that the fact that Syrians are nice people is not a secret to me, because I was told the story, and not an untold story, I was told a story that the Syrians are nice people by my grandfather who, and you'll find this surprising because I'm an Israeli as you know. But my grandfather worked in road construction in Northern Palestine in the 1920s and '30s, and all of his workers were Damascene. He used to go to Damascus all the time, and so I grew up on the stories that Syrians are nice people.
Shai Feldman: Now, the big puzzle that I have here is particularly for you who saw the Syrians as nice people, so you must have been even more surprised than anybody to see these nice people get at each other's throat in the dimensions that we've seen in these six years. I can say I was completely surprised. Not that I didn't see it happening, it's that everything I knew or thought about Syria led me to believe that it's inconceivable that something like that would happen. The issue here is, can this question of the rapid liberalization during a certain period and the inequalities that it created, can that really fully explain what happened? Which is, again, to me at least, was a complete surprise.
Daniel Neep: I think one thing that's perhaps common amongst all these extreme situations in history is that nice people do extremely brutal and terrible things to each other. There are not evil people out there in the world. The people who are committing these atrocities are regular people. They're not exceptional, they're not amazing, they're not some kind of bad apple. I like to believe, I don't always believe intellectually, but morally I'm convinced people are generally good at hearts. It's a very difficult position to maintain in this world, but I don't think people are born evil. I think people end up committing extremely violent, brutal acts because they're in a context situation where that becomes possible, where the norms shifts so much that this is now the normal way to do it. I think that's what happened in Syria.
Daniel Neep: Of course, the Syrian state has not always been a nice state. It has been using torture for decades. There's a long entrenched history of extreme violence and brutality. What was interesting in that respect is that that for certain sections of the population lessened during the 2000s. It goes back to Hayal's comments about the reform projects. The reform projects of Bashar al-Assad in the 2000s now looks reasonable. Now it looks ridiculous. Now my students have extreme difficulty believing that anyone took Bashar al-Assad seriously, because they can see what the results were. But of course, as you were saying, a reform project does not contradict an authoritarian project. The two can march hand in hand.
Daniel Neep: So yes, I think that's the surprising thing. For a lot of individuals, unless you were, A, political, B, Kurdish, or C, I don't know what else, in the 2000s, overt state repression was much less than it had been previously. When I first went to Syria, Syrians were nervous about making friends with foreigners. It was quite hard to make friends with Syrians because they were worried that we were being followed constantly. That wasn't the same in the 2000s. Life if you were middle class, upper middle class Syrian, living in a city was actually pretty good, that you suddenly had cafes opening, you had restaurants opening, the internet came in, Facebook was banned but everyone used it, no problem.
Daniel Neep: So I think from that perspective, there's something about the authoritarian regime has a certain attraction to it, and maybe that explains the extent to which people were, and continue to be in some occasions, supportive of the regime as it exists. Of course, economic inequality can neither explain the depth of the brutality that has happened. I think you'd have to look at other processes. The conflict has become more sectarianized as time has gone on, but it didn't begin like that. I think you have to think about the way in which ethnic identities, religious identities mobilize in situations that are complex to really understand the depth of what has happened. And also look at, not just that, but also look at the regime strategy as well. There's been a very deliberate strategy of using violence against the population to provoke these extreme responses.
Shai Feldman: So, my second question is this. When the event started six years ago, there were so many people, and we have to remember, it happened after Tunisia and after Egypt, so so many people thought, "The days of Bashar al-Assad's regime is numbered, maybe in months, but mostly in days," and so on, and that was the second surprise, that in fact he, and now we see even more so, survived. So what is it about Syria's DNA that people completely missed that led them to this mistaken prediction?
Daniel Neep: That's a good question. I mean, people might have been predicting that the regime would crumble. I was in Damascus for the first year of the revolutionaries there when it began. We were in March, April, 2011, we were not ... people were saying, "It might be happening in the South, but it's not going to spread further. It's not going to go to this extent." So everyone was saying this, it was not just me and the foreigners. This was a kind of general consensus. People were extremely nervous, but they could not have predicted that the revolution would take in the speed and momentum that it did.
Daniel Neep: It's surprising if you think about it, I mean, this was a country with no history of domestic political opposition. There was no organized political parties. In Egypt, for example, you have this tradition, the historical tradition of contesting trade union elections. There is some kind of political opposition that was there throughout the '80s to varying extents. Syria had none of that. There was no experience of organizing politically, and to see ... It frustrates me a lot when some people blame the Syrians themselves for not being organized enough to overthrow the regime. It's like, "Well, they were starting from scratch." You have to build these networks, and the way in which these networks were being built, sort of between activists, very horizontal, very consciously, often trying to avoid the hierarchical relationships that they saw characterized the previous generation, very top down, very dominated by older men. They were trying to do something very different. So I think to me that's surprising.
Daniel Neep: Why has the regime survived for so long? Because it is intimately interwoven with large segments of the population I think. Sorry, I'm picking up [inaudible 00:45:37] again, but it's true that there's distinction between state and society. It's not a firm one, it's very blurred. It's very interconnected, as these wasta and corruption points out as well. The networks cross the state and society divide and people often rely on the state and the status quo in order to survive.
Shai Feldman: So do you think that because of that there is better than 50/50 chances that Syria as we knew it before will actually be pieced together?
Daniel Neep: The Syria we knew before has gone. I mean the country has been shattered, the country is traumatized. I can't even keep track of the refugee numbers, but six million people have left. Then this is a country that's broken deeply and people have undergone such terrible psychological trauma, and I think this is something we need to bear in mind. The regime doesn't care. We know about having refugees come back. They would rather have a smaller population that is politically loyal, has been purged of hostile elements, and then rule over what is remaining. The slogan at the time was, during the revolution from the regime was, or supporters of the regime, was [inaudible 00:46:49] we'd burned the country, and they did that very literally.
Daniel Neep: Well, if we're talking about the territorial integrity of Syria, I think that will be reestablished. It's already happening. The regime is taking control of the rebel held areas. There's going to be a push [inaudible 00:47:07] later on. The far Northeast dominated by Kurdish militia forces is not a priority right now, but will it be in the longer term. The analytically interesting question is what type of state will it look like in Syria afterwards? I don't think we're going to see a return to this very centralized system of governments, right? [inaudible 00:47:30] said he had a regime that's extremely concentrated in Damascus, that was very hierarchical, it was very organized. We're going to see some kind of evolution of power, not in any kind of nice way.
Daniel Neep: But think about it, we have these militias, which the regime has relied upon to enforce its will. What's going to happen to these regime approved warlords? Are they going to be just quietly disappear? No, they're going to want a piece of the spoils. These different semi-criminal economic networks have taken root in Syria, are these going to be replaced by the kind of traditional state structures? I don't think so. So I think we do think in the longer term we're going to see a very different type of state in Syria than the one we knew before.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: When you were saying this, I was reminded of when I was in Syria in 2009 and the parent of an Iranian friend of ours came. I remember distinctly, she said, "This reminds me of Iran in the '70s," and she was like, "All of this reminds me of Iran in the '70s," and weirdly, that's actually how I'm going to pivot to Hayal since you were sort of addressing that, she was saying. So when Daniel was talking, I was kind of thinking about what you were saying. So one of the things, and I'm not a ... there's Eva here and she's the authority on authoritarianism, and I'm not a political scientist, but I was thinking about how much we would talk about Iran and the changes in Iran, we'd talk about the army, right? The army did not come out in support of the state, it did not turn on the people, and therefore the Iranian revolution was not as bloody and it happens, right? The state did not survive the people's uprising.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: So I was thinking about how ... what's interesting about your work of course is that you'd look at the question of security, but you look at the question from the perspective of police, which I can't even think of a single thing when I'm thinking about the Iranian Revolution of anybody saying, "Where was the police in this story?" So I wanted to ask you to actually sort of pick up that aspect of when you're talking about security, when we're talking about the authoritarianism and the development of authoritarianism in Turkey, and ask you how does it look different when you are looking at police reform versus what normally people look at, and it's just, "Where's the army in this story?" And connected to it, did the police come out of the Gezi protests more sure that it wants to deeply weave itself into this emerging authoritarian system, or less sure of that? So the fact that it did have to turn on the population, make it think, "Well, these are riffraffs and they're going to destroy the system. So we're going to help with the longer domestic security of the state," or did it put a kink in these reform projects that Erdoğan has sort of planned?
Hayal Akarsu: These are great questions. I'll start with the first one. So, actually when I say security, I also mean everyday security, not just like military, the way people relate to each other, the kinds of emotions that they associate with security. When I first started to think about this project, during my preliminary research I observed kinds of projects that police and military together have done, all like kind of human security, environmental security. So, I start with the broader question of securitization. What does it mean to have security next to these different concepts, and to look at the process of securitization. But the question of free form in Turkey is quite related with the question of demilitarization, because like Turkish history has ... Turkey has a long history of military coup, coups beginning in 1960s, '70s, '80s. So the last failed one was not the first one. So there is this tradition of like demilitarization.
Hayal Akarsu: Also like when new reforms have started, the AKP government came into power and took it as an opportunity to kind of like challenge the military establishment in Turkey, because Turkish military was also associated with Turkey [inaudible 00:52:13]. Kind of this [inaudible 00:52:15] as we call it in Turkey, in a French model, military was kind of the face of this kind of like establishment in Turkey. And Erdoğan and AK Parti, Justice and Development Party, was actually used police and kind of empowered police to end use, like all these police reforms, confronted the military and to diminish their power. That's why you'll see like most of the reforms are focused on police.
Hayal Akarsu: First, of course, police has a very bad human rights record, but also police took it as an opportunity to kind of carve out a space, open a space for themselves in the greater bureaucracy. Because I should mention that like unlike the United States, police in Turkey has a central structure. So we have one general direct trait of security and then everything is coordinated through Ankara. So they are very much tied into the bureaucracy and they are appointed centrally. So that's why this is wanting, but I also observed some of the reforms are done with the military, but still military was a closed institution in Turkey. There's, for instance, gender seminars, programs conducted by police and military as a reform projects. So this sounds awful.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: That's very interesting.
Hayal Akarsu: Yeah, I know. The other thing, like in terms of the power of police in Turkey, especially after the failed coup attempt, police was seen as a kind of savior of the Turkish democracy against the military. So in Turkey, there was, as probably most of you know, there was a failed coup attempt in 2016 in Turkey. Then most of the police officers, along with some citizens, mostly government supporters, went onto the streets to fight against the pushes, like the military. I was in the field work during this period and there was one month after the failed coup attempt there was a democracy rally organized by the President Erdoğan and there were other representatives of other political parties. I interviewed lots of like police officers in the rally and one even told me that, "I am tired of taking selfies with people," because people could take selfies with the police.
Hayal Akarsu: So, this would bring me to the question of Gezi Park protests, because during the Gezi Park protests in 2013, there was huge protests as you may know in Turkey and police applied disproportionate amount of use of force, two people killed. They shot tear gas to the head of the people. So, in terms of the public perception, police lost credibility, but beginning with after the failed coup attempt, they again, like this shifted. It was an interesting shift. I [inaudible 00:55:52] lots of things has changed in the police since the Gezi Park protests, because there were also corruption scandals in Turkey in 2014 where the most of the Fethullah Gülen followers who are known as Gulenists work for the governments like they are terrorists, most of them during the years infiltrated into the government and beginning with the corruptions scandals, they were kind of expelled from the police. So before that there was this station between police and governments, but when I was in the police academy, most of the Gulenists that were expelled, not all of them, just even before the failed coup attempt. Most of my interlocutors were hardcore government supporters.
Hayal Akarsu: This is also interesting to kind of underline [inaudible 00:57:02] story I mentioned though about relationship between reform and authoritarianism, is because during the Gezi, many people were scared, but many people were shoot because of resisting police. So when you compare the statistical data, like abuse or ... there were some convictions because of the abuse of force for police, but like four times more, there are convictions to citizens for resisting the police. At the very same time Gezi Park protests were unfolding, there was a European Union project which was on place and which is called Implementation Capacity to Prevent Disproportionate Use of Force. So there's this [inaudible 00:58:02] this paradox actually got me into my project when I was doing my preliminary.
Shai Feldman: So actually, one aspect of the narrative is really not just an untold story. It just goes contrary to the accepted story because if I understand the accepted story was always that the military was the so-called guardian of Turkish secularism.
Hayal Akarsu: Mm-hmm (affirmative), regime.
Shai Feldman: Right? And when people talked about the infiltration of the Gülen movement, people talks about the police and the judiciary, and there the police was seen as standing against the military coup, even though it's ... again, the perception was that if the Gülen movement succeeded in penetrating any institution, it was the police.
Hayal Akarsu: Yes, yeah. Well, probably my police interlocutors would say, they actually said this to me, because during the coup I was in Ankara and Istanbul and they said, "You see, [inaudible 00:59:11]," which means like professor in Turkish, "How successful we were by expelling all these Gulenists from the police. Now we have the proper police to fight against the army." So for them because for the like state, expulsions has started beginning with the corruption scandals. So they see this as a success kind of preventive policing to being able to expel them before the coup attempt.
Shai Feldman: So actually, when was there a greater purge of the Gulens in the police? Before the coup or after the coup?
Hayal Akarsu: For the police I think before the coup, most of the higher ranking Gulenists were expelled. But this is a very murky term, you never know, because since there's also term for like crypto, which means that this guy infiltrating but hiding themselves, so you'll never know. Like there was one guy who was ... when I was in the police academy, I stayed nine months in the police academy, and he was kind of head of the secret organization to find the Gulens in the academy and expel. But as in other bureaucracies, those scripts are always open scripts, but then I learned that he was expelled because of being Gulenist. So it wasn't like turning wheel, and it was interesting kind of because for the bureaucracy, it was kind of a way to accuse one another. So it's always hard to resist.
Shai Feldman: At least some of it was closing personal accounts.
Hayal Akarsu: Yes, definitely. Definitely. And kind of more news kind of thing. Like in Turkey after the failed coup attempt there were kind of news, like some people kind of informing their mother-in-laws to police saying they're Gulenists. I don't know, it's a kind of rumor, but I know for sure that after the coup attempt there were kind of anonymous reporting stations both online and in the police stations. So you could report anyone and say that, "She is Gulenist. He Gulenist." So there were this kind of like joke [inaudible 01:01:56].
Naghmeh Sohrabi: And there's gender parody.
Hayal Akarsu: And gender parody. If you don't love your mother-in-law call her Gulenist and at least she'll spend a month or two in jail. It's funny and tragic.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Do you want to go? I have questions.
Shai Feldman: No, I was just thinking about the family therapy approach to Gulenism. So, yes, and I wanted to ask you two questions. Maybe it would lead to a third. The first question came, it's gotten directly from your comments with ... So, I think there were at least one or two Americans here, and I think you did your PhD in America. So, can you explain to the Americans and maybe to us also, what's the difference between what in the Middle East is called wasta, and what Americans call constituency service?
Yazan Doughan: Yeah, good question. So the interesting thing about studying corruption comparatively, let's say, is that at least that's what many scholars of corruption have realized, is that what counts as corruption in one place doesn't count as corruption in another. So there's always this kind of, for a lack of a better word, kind of cultural dimension. And what counts as corruption in one place doesn't in another, but also what counts as corruption at a certain point in time might not have counted in a previous time. So these things are kind of always an evolving thing.
Yazan Doughan: So, technically there's not a huge difference between the two. The difference has to do with the kind of ... the way political authority has been legitimized in a place like Jordan versus say the United States. And as Daniel was saying, state building is not something that just happened with the Sykes–Picot. It's something that has been going on at least since the 19th century. In the case of Jordan, it started with the Ottomans, with the Tanzimat. Part of what the Ottomans tried to do to extend their power into these kind of provinces, the Ottoman provinces in Jordan was kind of really on the outskirts of the Ottoman empire, kind of outside of Ottoman control. They created this office called the Mukhtar, which literally means the elected, the selected person, the chosen.
Yazan Doughan: Mukhtars kind of, they created some kind of, really kind of a democratic system. But what the Ottomans tried to do is to kind of incorporate local authorities or kind of politically authoritative persons in these provinces into the bureaucratic structure as a form of extension of the state. So, the Mukhtar was often a tribal leader of some sort or another, or like a village leader who's political ascendancy or authority was recognized independent of the recognition of the state. It had to do with certain kind of virtues such as in the case of tribal leaders like chivalry in warfare, but also hospitality. Hospitality was a key virtue.
Yazan Doughan: So, the Ottomans is kind of brought these people into the bureaucracy, but these were like really low level bureaucrats. And by doing that, they kind of inaugurated what we might call modern wasta in which you have a local leader in the local community who is also part of the state bureaucracy and kind of can exploit that position within the bureaucracy to extend hospitality within the local community. Also at the same time exploit that position that he has within the local community to have attained those kind of services and privileges from the state. That position of the Mukhtar still exists in many places, including Jordan. It doesn't have the same power that it used to in the past. It has been replaced by the member of parliament, who's also an elected person this time through voting as opposed to some kind of like a general sort of social recognition of the virtuousness of this figure. Members of parliament kind of do the same. They kind of present themselves as tribal leaders of sorts, and Jordan has a ... this is an overtold story about Jordan that is the Jordan is a tribal society.
Yazan Doughan: I don't know what that means exactly, but one of the things that it means at least is that forms of self-presentation and kind of political ascendancy draw on images of tribal authority that although the images exist in circulation, they don't exist in practice. Like the way people are organized, social organization has changed significantly with the advent of the modern state and with capitalism. But still, these members of parliament present themselves as tribal leaders. They extend hospitality through exploiting their position in the system, and they also kind of try and use the time they have in office to enrich themselves and to further their business. So in a sense, politics is a kind of business, but it's a business that draws on certain figures of authority that might be different from what might be available here in the U.S.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: I'm sorry. Is it gendered?
Yazan Doughan: To a great extent it is, at least the images of authority, the tribal leader is often a male leader, but also female members of parliament do the same, and they draw on the same kind of repertoire of the hospitable tribal leader, but they're females.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: People don't think that if I have like my wasta as a woman, I can get less or I can get more?
Yazan Doughan: Not particularly. No.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: It's equal, gender parity and corruption?
Yazan Doughan: Yeah. Totally.
Shai Feldman: So, the second question actually is easy because it has a yes or no answer. So, do I understand that basically what you're saying is that wasta is kind of generally seen as belonging to the list of everything that's wrong in the Arab world, and basically it's an element or a dimension of the inefficiencies of the systems in the Arab world. And you're basically saying, "No, that's not the whole story. There is a story there about how wasta is a form of overcoming and dealing with the inefficiencies."
Yazan Doughan: That's definitely the case. If we kind of extend our focus beyond that world, it's easy to see that this is something that exists in other places as well, by other names.
Shai Feldman: Like constituency service?
Yazan Doughan: Like constituency ... but no, this kind of negative valuation of it. So [inaudible 01:10:19] in Turkey.
Hayal Akarsu: Yes, Turkey.
Yazan Doughan: Guangxi in China, [inaudible 01:10:25] in Italy.
Hayal Akarsu: [inaudible 01:10:27].
Yazan Doughan: [inaudible 01:10:27] in ... [inaudible 01:10:32] in Russia. So there you can start seeing that this is actually a kind of a structural issue. It's not a, although there's a cultural dimension to it, it's a structural issue that has to do with the way the modern state kind of constructs itself.
Shai Feldman: In Eastern Europe there is kind of a cynical saying, the translation to English will be, "When you have connections, you don't need protection." Okay. Here's my last question. So, your research, which focuses on this issue, did you from this research gain some insights to I would say the biggest puzzle about Jordan, which is how the hell did this entity survive sandwiched between these large powers of Syria and Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Israel? And somehow this survived and survived and survived. Does your research give us at least a little bit a part of the answer?
Yazan Doughan: Well, there are different moments in which this was an acute issue. But you're right. I mean, this has been going on at least since the '50s. There was always the sense that Jordan is going to collapse, and every time it just doesn't. So, at least in this last episode, I think part of the reason ... the Arab Spring, because it's kind of framed as this kind of unfolding event, what happens in one country becomes a model for what may happen in another. I think part of what happened was that Libya and Syria were a major turning points that although on the one hand protesting on the streets could yield something like what happened in Tunisia or Egypt in at least at that moment in time, it could yield something else. This fear of this other thing that might happen I think kind of set a different way of dealing with protests. So that's part of the answer.
Yazan Doughan: The other part is, also when Daniel was talking about, is that this kind of distinction between state and society or kind of regime and society just doesn't really hold. I think this was very much felt during the protests. The term we often use, or we kind of translate into regime is nizam. There's this kind of common or kind of very famous slogan made famous by the Egyptian Uprising, Ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam. The people want the downfall.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Tunisians invented it. Egyptians-
Yazan Doughan: Oh really? Okay.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Just saying.
Yazan Doughan: So this idea of people toppling a regime is a little inaccurate because nizam as a word can mean different ... it means regime, it means system, it means order.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: [inaudible 01:13:44].
Yazan Doughan: Yeah, I think many people did not want disorder, and that was definitely part of what was going on.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Well, I think it's a good segue to ... So, I've been thinking a lot about what to ask you obviously, and I know we had a conversation, but I kind of want to take a devil's advocate position, it's not going to be Daniel today, and press you on something, and then ask you if you could walk us through specificity of process. And it is connected to the large point you made, which is that gender is not women's issue, not putting aside gender because that includes men, and we've been talking about gender all day. But women's issues is not the auxiliary. It's not the side story. It's inherent into the process. And I've been thinking about that because it's now common. It's one of these proverbs now which is that Tunisia is a success story of the Arab Spring. And then simultaneously there are all these things that are going on with women that are good. They have a mark high on the liberal index of things that should be happening to women. People often say Tunisia is the success story of the Arab Spring because the Islamists were reined in and then women were able to flourish.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: So, I want to ask you a question within that framework, which is to say, well, you stated that you think the question of women is the heart of the story of democratization in Tunisia. But I want you to kind of prove it to us by showing us if you can, or talking about specific ways in which if the question of gender had gone a different way, if the question of women had gone a different way, then we would see a different development of politics, and Tunisia perhaps would have been a different kind of story. I know I'm asking you to do a counter factual story, which historians often don't, but it's kind of a way of saying, "If I were somebody I would say, 'Listen, there is real politic.'" There is relations between states, and important in those relations is what armies do when they see each other, economic relations, whatever. Women's position comes out of those developments. And if you're going to make a counter argument, then you're going to have to prove that counter argument.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: So I was wondering if you could pick it up and show us through, and I know you talked once when we talked about the peace and reconciliation committees, and the kind of work that wasn't. So maybe if we can pick up certain specific aspects of what happened in Tunisia after the Arab Spring and show us how this argument that you made about women and democratization kind of in tandem developing in some ways in Tunisia becomes the main argument that you're making.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Yeah, I guess that's the counter argument that I was trying ... my argument is the counter argument to what you had just said, which is basically, first of all, the relation definitely goes both ways. This is a complicated matter. It's like it's not going one direction or it's a two way feedback process for sure. But, what I said is that I feel that people focus on one side of the feedback process more, which is how all of these things that you just stated, the state, how it's done, institutions, relations between states, the global factors, and then how this affects women, rather than looking at how inherently gendered are those political processes to begin with. And I'm going to be very specific here because I didn't get a chance in my first five minutes to be specific.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: First of all, if we want to take Tunisia, and that's not even an exercise in thinking that if you want to take what you had just stated. The statement that we hear all the time, Tunisia is, A, the success story of the Arab Springs. When I was doing my field work in Tunisia and I was in Tunisia for one year, Tunisians would be so mad when they hear this, because naturally they see everything that's wrong with their country and with their countries. And they often don't like to be seen or to be analyzed just through the lens of the other cases, because definitely if we look at Tunisia through the lens of Syria, "Oh my God." If we look at Tunisia through the lens of Egypt right now, in 2013, or starting from 2013 onwards, "Oh my God," of course Tunisia is a success story.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: What Tunisia and the story of women in Tunisia is telling us is actually a much more complex story. It's not just about a success, it's not just that Tunisia ... Okay. We can go ahead and say the success, walk you through the project. Like if we're looking through a checklist here, yes, Tunisia passed a very progressive constitution when it comes to women's rights. Tunisia is one of five countries in the world that has an article in the constitution that states that women should be 50% of all elected councils of all level. So that's what we call electoral parity. Only six countries in the world has this as part of their constitution, not as part of the electoral law. Definitely it's not universally applied yet, but with every election there is incredible strides made by women. There are more women in the parliament and there are more women in the elected councils everywhere.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Tunisia had had the most progressive personal status law, at least in the Arab Middle East, maybe not in Turkey, but in the Arab Middle East since 1956. The real question about Tunisia for me is like, "Why with the collapse of the regime that everybody thought, 'This is a top down reforms for women. This is the legacy of Bourguiba.'" Of course it is the legacy of Bourguiba and his laws in so many ways, and the kind of state that he built. But I guess the real question with Tunisia is like, "Why didn't all this disappear after 2011?" The easy answer is like, "Yeah, the Islamist had been reined in," as you just said, "And they could not turn back the clock and they could not just undo all of these things."
Hind Ahmed Zaki: I don't think this is written in stone. I don't think this is a must at all. Women's issues are definitely could be reversed. There are often incredible backlashes in history against women's rights. In political science, democratization had not always been a good thing for women. If we look at Eastern Europe, for example, if we look at Latin America, in so many of these countries, not all of them, we have very diverse results, but in many of these countries, we've seen women's rights turning back with democratization. The interesting question about Tunisia is why didn't this happen when the state that everybody just had kind of like given all the credit for all these reforms and all this status of women, so when this state collapsed or went away or was kind of in the process of being reinvented, why didn't these things wither away? And the answer is, which is more complex than just Tunisia is a successful story, is that first of all, there have been a very politically savvy women's rights movement that had really fought for these things or for these reforms not to go away. And it wasn't just a gift from the Islamist. It's not just that the Ennahda are these incredibly, how should I put it? Enlightened Islamists who were out there to prove to everyone that they are not going to go back on basic rights and freedoms, specifically women's rights.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: It is actually a fact that this is politically the result of a very savvy movement, very savvy women's rights movement that was very politically savvy, that was really part of the process, specifically of the constitutional drafting process as well as the political process that unfolded in Tunisia between 2011 and 2014. What is interesting about the legacy of the state in Tunisia is actually it's kind of a more complex story than it seems. The legacy of the state in Tunisia had created two very diametrically opposed results. The first result is that it had enabled this woman's rights movement to use this legacy as a tool in the way that they had mobilized. So, for example, and that had to do with the particular status of women's rights in the postcolonial state in Tunisia.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Let's be very specific here. It's not just that Bourguiba loved women. It's not just that he was like kind of seeing or like it wasn't just, what do you call it? Flip service. But it was actually the fact that these laws were very much an integral part of the state institutions themselves. So the 1956 Tunisia is very well known for the 1956 personal status code, for example, which is and remains the only personal status code in the Arab world to outlaw polygamy entirely to give women equal rights in divorce. Right now it's kind of like the legacy is continuing. Tunisia is passing a series of very progressive gender laws, including a very recent one on the inheritance that might pass, including very progressive laws on gender based violence. This is not just the result of people who thought that women's rights are important, but it is the result of the particular space that women's rights and these laws occupied in the political system.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: So, again, this personal status code of 1956 was often regarded as part of the constitution, as part of the political setup. One example of that is the political party. The law organizing political parties in Tunisia under Ben Ali stated, for example, that any political party that contests the personal status law are not allowed to be legal in Tunisia. The personal status law became this umbrella of very important, a very identify in like symbolic narrative in the identity of the state. A lot of people think that this was used, like this is a form of political usage. Definitely it is. I'm not saying it's not. But what I'm saying is that the story is more complex than that because what happens when you have something that becomes part of the state policies and narratives for 40 years, and occupies a very central space or central position in those narratives, then it becomes part of the narratives of the society as well, and it becomes an important signifier of the relationship between the state and society. And it becomes an important signifier of the identity of the state. So it becomes after 2011 a very important rallying point in the battle or in the conflict between Islamists and non-Islamists.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: So, these contestations did not come just from the fact that this is a top down reform. I guess the challenge about Tunisia is to understand, or for me to think about states and women's rights when I was doing this research, is to basically try to think of these issues not as a top down or bottom up process entirely, but to think about social change and legal change, and to think about gender as something that kind of like becomes a narrative of the process itself. I guess that's what I was trying to say in the beginning. An important political part of the political debate, a signifier, an important signifier for what the state stands for and for all these things.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: How and why does this affect democratization? It's not only that Tunisia still has ... what we think about in democratization and political science can sometimes be very binary. It's not a sense of like only holding elections regularly and holding these things in power and whatever. It's something more than that. It's something about, I think what is really special and unique about the Tunisian case, and this is where gender could help us understand, and the particular space where women is occupying in this process, is really about the compromise, is really about how both these sides had negotiated on issues, including women's rights, which became a very important part of the political debate, but also other issues as well. This is what's making Tunisia kind of I think unique in my perspective, is to understand how this particular compromise is enabled, and then how can this be copied elsewhere, or is it completely unique to this particular case? I can't help but suspect that part of the uniqueness if it exists, has to do with the special place that women's rights occupied within this polity, and within the debates within this polity, not just for the last six years, but for the last 60 or something like that.
Shai Feldman: I wanted to ask you one follow up. Regarding sort of the story that I think the West has or most of the West has about gender and democracy or democratization in the Middle East, so I think there is a common story that says that there was more gender equality under some of the most tyrannical regimes in the Middle East. For the West, I think the observation of gender equality had to do with the number of females in the cabinet, the number of female ambassadors, and so on. These are the observables for the West. So to what extent was this common wisdom wrong?
Hind Ahmed Zaki: I think the story is much more complex than that. The common wisdom I think is wrong because it's not just about the top down reforms. It's about the nature of the reforms. Maybe one thing that I needed to stress when I talked about the personal status code is that it is the personal status code. It is not political rights. It is change in gender relations in the intimate private sphere. I think Tunisia is, if we look at all these other like more authoritarian tyrannical regime, how did they enforce ... and their gender policies, we would see that they mostly focused on, and that's what's happened in most of the third word after colonialization, is basically, "Let's get all these women in the workforce." Women's gender empowerment is going to be achieved by actually getting women out of their houses and putting them in the workforce, and in the public space, where they can be citizens and contribute to their countries.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: I'm not saying that this is wrong, but we have seen very, very differing consequences of this. Sometimes, and there's a lot of feminist and gender studies, there's a lot of critique of this method of empowerment, which is basically, it's not just going to be enough to change. Changing the status of women or improving the status of women is not going to just happen by basically getting women in the public space, and with all the trappings that this include, which in the Middle East had often included the vale of course as the symbol of women being in the public space. So her getting women in the public space, getting them to look a certain way and act a certain way in the public space, is the road to having equal status of women and improving their status.The Tunisian approach to reform was actually very special.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Private.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Actually, is that it targeted the private space. And because it targeted the private space, and based on what I had seen doing my field work, like talking to all these women in Tunisia of different generations, whether ordinary women or women who are part of the women's rights movement that I, as I just said, were kind of like part of the political process or of the public processes in after 2011. It is very clear to me that there's something about the empowerment of women in the private space that enabled them not to take what the state was giving them, kind of, how can I put it? Without actually modeling it and molding it and mobilizing around it. So, I think what women after 2011 did, after the toppling of Ben Ali, is that they had claimed this feminism, they had claimed it for themselves, they have claimed the state feminism for themselves. By claiming it for themselves, what I'm saying is that they had used it to actually gain more rights for women during a period of political uncertainty, where they actually feared that the toppling of the old state means that these rights are going to be taken back.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: There's something about the space of the rights in the family sphere or in the intimate sphere that is really striking about this model, and that I would say goes against the grain of most of the other models of state feminism or other ways of doing state feminism, not just in the region but in the world. And if we are to learn interesting lessons from Tunisia, it is, to what extent does effecting women's rights in the private sphere of the family could actually have this major effect over a long period of time on their ability to actually participate in the public sphere and participate in politics.
Yazan Doughan: May I?
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Yeah, two minutes. Please go.
Yazan Doughan: Yeah. I'm just going to jump in with a small bit.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Of course.
Yazan Doughan: Maybe it's a good question. I'm just kind of struck by the way you're describing women's rights and kind of say feminist currents in Tunisia historically and currently. There's a closed kind of coupling between feminism and secularism. I wonder if there are other forms of feminism that might be going on but are being maybe suppressed by the more kind of liberal secular forms of feminism that seem to be kind of taking hold?
Hind Ahmed Zaki: You mean in Tunisia or in the rest of the region?
Yazan Doughan: In Tunisia specifically.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: Thank you for this question because it's very important to talk about everything in 10 minutes, but it's ... Yeah. I mean, when I say that women had claimed back women's rights or feminism, feminisms, with an S, I think one of the most impressive things that I had seen, not only in Tunisia but specifically in Tunisia in a more democratic settings where people are actually free to mobilize, is basically looking at how these other forms of feminism are flourishing and coming. This is where I'm saying that the effects of the state could be contradictory, because for example, the effects of the states, of this Tunisian state, as I said, it has all these like very positive effects that I mentioned about the private sphere and how this had enabled different forms of mobilization, including by the way mobilization around issues that has to do with the family and private life. That's not just done by secularists.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: But it also had like a darker side, which is basically as we know, like the Bourguiba and the Ben Ali regimes had been authoritarian regimes and they had often ... and of course the use of violence and the use of political ... of torture and of violence in these regimes was rife. I think one of the most interesting episodes of women's rights in post-revolutionary Tunisia had been actually the emergence of so many new voices, particularly of more conservative, and even Islamist women, who are women who belonged to Ennahda or to other Islamic currents, who are basically claiming ... not necessarily that they disagree with the state, and that's the most interesting part actually that I found in my interviews with them, because I interviewed Nahdawi women thinking, "Oh my God, they are going to be completely against this entire state feminist project."
Hind Ahmed Zaki: What they were telling me was basically, "We are not against this project. We are actually the products of this project." Being like in the Ennahda itself and being this ... like if you're comparing Ennahda to the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt or to other Islamic movements in the region, there's a stark difference of course on so many questions, because the way they dealt with a lot of issues in exile in thinking about the relationship between religion and the state, and thinking about women's rights and thinking about the right to believe, it's very striking. And they actually attributed this not just to them being more moderate Islamists, but to the particular legacy of the state in Tunisia, which actually, and this is something important about women's rights in Tunisia, it's good. This is an untold story. It's good that I remembered it, which is basically that the history of these reforms, including the 1956 personal status law, everybody thinks of this as a top down reform. It was not.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: It is also the result of a very vibrant religious, even done by people of Zaytuna, of religious leaders who were talking and thinking about issues that has to do with women's rights, including Tahar Haddad who wrote this amazing book in the 1920s, a pioneer book about women's rights. And he was one of the main inspirations for those who drafted the constitution. So a lot of Islamists in Tunisia do not really think of this legacy as completely removed from them, and that includes the women. What they want is a more inclusive form of feminism where there will be acceptance of women like them, where the image of the [inaudible 01:37:30], the women with a vail would not be vilified, where these women would be able to be part of the public's sphere. But their relationship to this state project actually surprised me because I thought they would be more completely, you know, "We don't want to have anything to do with this." They were not. They were actually not.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: One thing to remember is that throughout all the contestations around gender that had occurred since 2011, first during the constitution, there was all this constitution about parity, about the electoral parity, then about the personal status law, whether we should keep it or not. Then about current, more recently about the inheritance law. Also about a law that was proposed by the women's rights movement on violence against women. There was serious political contestations and conflicts between Ennahda and the Islamic current and the secular.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: One thing noticeable about the result of all these conflicts or contestations in all of these episodes, Ennahda actually were the ones who voted for these things, and they enabled them to happen. I think this happened because of the presence of very strong Nahdawi women rights activists within this party, and I would call them women's rights activists. Some of them would reject the liberal feminist. Some of them would reject liberal feminism and secular feminism, but they would still define themselves as feminists. Some would define themselves as Islamist feminists. So it's all these different things, but, they had been very vocal about the importance of parity for example, and that it is something that even if this is going to bring what they think is the wrong women or the women they don't want, and I'm talking about both women. Like I interviewed secular women and Islamist women, and both of these women believe that the men in their parties, the men in their subsequent parties, that's the funny story actually, were telling them, "You are going to press for parity. You want to have this 50/50 electoral lists. You're going to bring all these Nahdawi women ..." The secular women were being told by the men in their parties that they are going to bring all these Nahdawi women into the national assembly.
Hind Ahmed Zaki: On the other hand, on the other side, the other women were like, "Oh my God, you're bringing all these secular women," and both women on both fronts, actually on both sides, agreed that it is actually a good thing to have the parity for the Tunisian women, because this is a historical moment. This is, as some of them told me, the advance of the second republic in Tunisia, and for this second republic, we need to safeguard and ensure rights for women regardless of their political divides, religious and secular. I don't mean to say that this is an all rosy story. I don't mean to say that these women are completely in love with each other, but I think there's something about their ability to compromise across the board and across the political spectrum in Tunisia, and this is something that also women from different parts of the political spectrum have learned to do.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: I want us to just end on this happy note before we dig ourselves into a sad ... and leave it up to you if you want to take questions or not. We're seven minutes past time.
Shai Feldman: Well, probably not because everybody is hungry probably. So, I will just say, as you can see, and this is really the kickoff. We met for the first time 48 hours ago or 24?
Naghmeh Sohrabi: You did.
Shai Feldman: Huh?
Naghmeh Sohrabi: You did. Yes. I met them visually.
Shai Feldman: So, as you can see, this is going to be a fascinating year that we've just kicked off. We managed to fill two hours of untold stories, and now that they have been told, we will have to spend the next two years looking for more untold stories. I can already see three of the four people on this panel will be with us for two years, and as this discussion evolved, I could easily see the representatives of the sabbaticals, who's Daniel here, thinking, "Well, maybe I can stay for a second year too." Thank you so much for coming. Thank you.
Naghmeh Sohrabi: Thank you all. Thank you guys. That was fun.