In 2011 the protests in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were not only unprecedented in terms of scale and political consequences for the region, they also highlighted a number of long-standing analytical and theoretical misconceptions about Arab politics. In particular, the conventional thesis privileging the idea of a “durable authoritarianism” in the Arab world was partially undermined by a cross-regional civil society that confronted the formidable security and military apparatus of the state. Although in some countries democratic transitions have continued, since they first occurred in Tunisia, other Arab states continue to witness a resilient authoritarianism and strong state repression of civil society activism. These historic events have also set the stage for a new teaching agenda in important ways. Specifically, an agenda for teaching the “new Middle East” must incorporate two important general components: first, a critical review of the influential scholarship on persistent authoritarianism with the objective of addressing past theoretical and methodological misconceptions, and second, the introduction of new conceptual and analytical frameworks relevant to contemporary political developments in the Arab world and the MENA region more generally.
Khalid Mustafa Medani is associate professor of political science and Islamic studies at McGill University and in 2007 was named a Carnegie Scholar on Islam. He has published widely on the political economy of Islamist politics and civil conflict in Egypt, Sudan, and Somalia and is a member of the editorial committee of Middle East Report. His recent publications include “The Horn of Africa in the Shadow of the Cold War: Understanding the Partition of Sudan from a Regional Perspective,” Journal of North African Studies (October 2011); “Strife and Secession in Sudan,” Journal of Democracy (July 2011); and “Informal Networks, Economic Livelihoods and the Politics of Social Welfare in Somalia and Egypt: the Political Consequences of the War on Terrorist Finance,” Journal of Near East and Islamic Law (May 2011). He can be contacted at email@example.com.