Category Archives: Arab Spring

Chatting Lightly About Dark Matters

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Reflecting on the Future of the Arab World.

When my friend and I meet, we go straight to the point because we barely ever meet. So we asked ourselves the other day: Can any good come out of this darkness?

Those who did not yet succumb to cynicism in the West cling on to the idea that some day, out of the current Arab nightmare will rise new types of leaders, more popular, more liberal, some kind of Islamic Martin Luther that would help Muslims leap into modernity. They are In fact not so sure about the job description, and despite their flexibility, they haven’t found anyone yet.

As for us, we apprehended the matter in a different manner and looked into the potential blind spots of the reformist quest, asking ourselves what the least expected game-changers could be on the longer run. In other words, we examined potential signs and indications that something is changing deep within the social fabrics of the region.

The elements we are about to mention now have no academic value; we are mainly sharing impressions and intuitions that would require thorough research to be confirmed or invalidated.

New signs of an Arab Stream of Consciousness

Over the past couple of years, Arab media from all affiliations have been publishing a stream of editorials and essays critically reflecting on the meaning of Modernity for the Arab-Islamic world: What are the status and the role of the region in the post-Cold War world? Does modernization equal westernization? Does democratization impose secularization? What are the possible alternatives? And what is most remarkable is that, along the way, they are tearing down intellectual boundaries inherited mainly from Arabism.

Asad Azi's Napoleon, from the exhibition

Asad Azi’s Napoleon, from the exhibition “The wandering rider”, someone who looks for a Kingdom

One common feature of this intellectual anxiety is the critical questioning of modern history: many authors turn to the past to try to better fathom their present with one main question in mind: How did we get there?

Far from the hagiographic historiographies each nation crafted for itself after the Independences, these new readings really look for answers: Why did the first Nahda[1] fail? Why couldn’t the Arab revolutions prevent Colonialism? Why didn’t the independence bring freedom and prosperity? Israel, the usual suspect for more than four decades, is barely mentioned in this context.

These debates are also spreading on social media. We have witnessed Facebook discussions whereby Arab citizens discover with dismay that a national hero can be a neighbor’s villain[2]. The first reaction is of course for each one to reassert his idols. However, these clashing narratives cannot but sow doubt and suspicion about the official history Arabs were taught.

The second remarkable element of this intellectual effervescence is that, instead of resorting to isolationism, a normal reflex in times of crisis, Arab thinkers actually look around for answers beyond the West. Japan’s Meiji era (end of the 19th century) has always inspired the Arab intelligentsia as a successful synthesis between tradition and modernity.  What’s new is a wider outlook including contemporary Latin America and Asian Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia as potential models.

Arabs also display a new ownership of western references and controversies that are rephrased in accordance with local realities.For instance, mass media editorials discuss and criticize Fukuyama’s End of History and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are also some signs of a new critical understanding of Capitalism and the impacts of Globalization after the 2008 crisis – something which is different than the old Arab communist criticism of the market economy.

In one of the most striking display of this new intellectual autonomy, the great Syrian thinker, Yassin el Hajj Saleh, reflects in a crucial article on Adorno and the meaning of Poetry after Auschwitz applied to the Syrian case[3], undeterred by the traditional taboo surrounding the Jews and the Shoah in the Arab world.

Naturally, this new stream of Arab consciousness cannot but tackle the central issue of Islam. To read more in PDF format, click here.

[1] The Nahda (“Awakening”) refers to a moment of cultural effervescence that began in the late 19th century in Egypt and in the Levant. It is often regarded as a period of intellectual modernization and reform that was sparked by the shock caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and in general by the new awareness of the Arab elites regarding the gap between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in terms of technical and scientific development. [2] You’d be surprised how popular Saddam Hussein still is across the region. [3] Looking into the eyes of Horror, a contribution to the Syrian debate over pictures, May 30th, 2015 (Arabic only)

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The Syrian Armed Opposition – Balance of Power, Tactical Goals and Long Term Agenda

ISIS with child

ISIS Fighters

NGC is very pleased to announce that Romain Caillet, a French researcher specialized in Islamist movements, has joined our team. Romain brings along his precious expertise on Salafist and Jihadist movements, the Syrian civil war and more generally on the Sunni/Shia relation in the Arab world. Find out more about him on our website.

NGC sat with Romain to discuss the status of the armed opposition to the Syrian regime, and try to identify:

(1)     The current balance of power between the different groups,

(2)     Their tactical and long-term goals as well as potential future scenarios

Continue reading

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New Publication on the Syrian Conflict

Pas de printemps JPEGWe are very proud to anounce the publication by La Decouverte Editions  in French of “Pas de printemps pour la Syrie – Les clés  pour comprendre les acteurs et les défis de la crise, 2011-2013” (“Won’t there be a Syrian Spring? Keys to understand the players and the challenges of the crisis (2011-2013)”) under the supervision of the French Institute of the Near East (IFPO).

This collective work brings together the contributions of more than 20 experts among the best connoisseurs of the Middle East and Syria. NGC Director, Janaina Herrera contributed by bringing a unique expertise on the Syro-Lebanese diaspora in Latin America and its positioning vis a vis the Syrian crisis. For a detailed table of contents and list of authors (in French), click here.

Focusing on information collected as close to the source as possible, this important book highlights the historical roots of the crisis, analyzes the issues at stake and scrutinizes its political, economic and ideological implications.

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Encounter in Abu Dhabi with a Leading Figure of Chilean Political Life

Sergio Bitar

In the margins of the Arla Forum in Abu Dhabi, NGC Director had the chance to meet and exchange with Sergio Bitar, a prominent figure of Chilean political life.

We wanted to share with our readers the biography of a statesman who has been promoting Democracy and Development in Chile for the past 30 years, and is showing great interest in the political changes of  the Arab world. Continue reading

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Middle East & South America – The Way Ahead

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In many different ways, the symposium co-organized by the Center University Saint Esprit of Kaslik (USEK)  and the RIMAAL (29-30 November) on the relations between the Middle East and South America was an eye-opener. It confirmed the massive potential of the trans-regional relation, the dynamism and ambitions of key stakeholders but also the long way still ahead of us.

During the event, the elements of this new South-South relationship literally crystallized under our eyes: new research avenues were identified (O. Dabene); future events and academic initiatives were announced and people from both continents met and clicked. We truly felt like pioneers. Continue reading

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International Symposium on relations between the Middle East and South America (Lebanon, Kaslik, 29th-30th November 2012).

We are really excited to participate in the upcoming event co-organized by two of our key partners, the RIMAAL research network and the Kaslik University Center for the Study of South America (CECAL) on a topic dear to our hearts:  the rapprochement between the Middle East and South America (detailed program and participants here).

The symposium will bring together international experts and academics to discuss the critical assessment of 10 years of South-South convergence. A multidisciplinary panel of 20 speakers will gather for two days from 10 different countries representing recognized institutions, including the Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil), DePaul University (Chicago), Science Po (Paris), Universidad de Cordoba (Argentina), the IHEAL (Paris), the UDEM (Mexico) and the University of Jordan. Continue reading

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3rd Arab-Latino Summit in Lima – Out of the comfort zone

Since then, things have changed

In 2005, Brazilian President Lula initiated the first Summit of South America and Arab countries (ASPA) in Brasilia in an attempt to create a strategic South-South alliance for international development, justice and peace. This was followed by the Doha ASPA Summit in 2009. We are today on the eve of the 3rd session in Lima, Peru on October 1-2. 21 members from the Arab League and 11 from the Union of South American Nations, the Unasur (Syria and Paraguay are suspended from their organizations) will attend. Continue reading

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NGC’s Publication in Les Carnets de l’Ifpo

NGC and the French Institute for the Near East (IFPO), a unique research center based in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, have started an informal collaboration to debate and share knowledge and analysis on the Middle East.

The IFPO is a French public research institution gathering researchers in three different departments: Contemporary Studies, Arab Medieval and Modern Studies, Archeology and History of Antiquity.

In this context, the IFPO published in its latest electronic issue NGC’s article on the Syrian crisis seen from South America (Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina). Continue reading

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The Economics of Arab Politics

Revolution-Fructification

The Arab spring has unleashed a rich, healthy and long-time needed process of rethinking the very nature of politics in the Middle East. The same is not true for the socio-economic aspects of these uprisings.

Widespread economic hardship, pervasive corruption and the lack of opportunities played a decisive role in the outbreak of the Arab uprisings. These same factors could very well disrupt the democratic transition processes if not properly addressed from the onset. Continue reading

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Partnering up with Conectas in Sao Paolo


We are delighted to announce that NGC and Conectas have officially partnered up in an endeavor to build bridges between pro-democracy actors in the Arab world and South America.

Conectas is a key actor in the field of human rights and rule of law in Brazil and in the Global South.

Through its Justice Program, Conectas promotes strategic and public interest litigations. Since 2004, it has been filing amicus curiae briefs in legal cases involving fundamental rights being heard by the Supreme Federal Court (STF). It is now playing an active role in the context of the establishment of the Brazilian Truth Commission by President Rousseff to examine human-rights violations committed from 1946 to 1988, with a focus on the dictatorship.

At a global level, Conecats, which was granted consultative status with the ECOSOC-UN in 2006, and observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2009, aims at increasing the impact of human rights defenders and academics from the Global South (Africa, Asia and Latin America) through education, research, networking and advocacy activities. The NGO publishes Sur, a Human Rights Journal in English, Spanish and Portuguese to promote a critical debate on human rights issues from a Global South perspective.

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