Syria’s Experience with Post-Totalitarianism: The Need for Havelian Pre-Political Thinking

Marwan Safar Jalani

Syria’s experience with the Assad regime sets an unfortunate precedent in authoritarian regimes’ ability to survive through violence and repression. However, understanding the regime’s survival requires us to search for explanations grounded in the regime’s techniques to polarise Syrians and limit their ability to dissent civilly and peacefully. One way to explain the regime’s attitude towards dissent is through Havel’s theory on post-totalitarianism. The theory sets forth economic, political and philosophical tools through which post-totalitarian regimes control the functions of society. Havel necessitates the establishment of “pre-political thinking” in order for civil dissent to successfully free the country from post-totalitarianism, a type of thinking which, this paper argues, was doomed to fail in Syria. The regime embodies post-totalitarian elements of consumerism, automatism, ideology, and deference to legal facades to gain legitimacy. However, it differs from post-totalitarianism by defining regime elements around the leader’s personality cult, the crony capitalists, and a powerful security apparatus, elements that polarise and divide Syrians. This polarisation prevents Syrians from grounding their dissent in a shared experience of repression, which is the basis of pre-political thinking that Havel deems so necessary for confronting post-totalitarianism. This lacunae in pre-political thinking forces Syrians into violence, polarises some of them into extreme nihilist thinking, and prevents them from developing a civil and peaceful dissent, grounded in a shared human experience.

Marwan Safar Jalani is a Rhodes-Saïd scholar, pursuing an MPhil in Comparative Government at the University of Oxford. Marwan researches the effects of sequencing of peacebuilding reforms on peace outcomes in multiethnic settings. Marwan completed his BA in political science and human rights with distinction from Yale University, where he researched the effects of territorial divisions or lack thereof in two cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brčko and Mostar, on the operations of inter-ethnic youth initiatives.

From Protest, to Committee, to Consensus: Co-optation of the 2011 Revolutionary Movement in Yemen

Aylin Junga

The concept of co-optation within social movement theory tracks the ways in which elites manage to influence and alter social movements in a non-violent manner. As a concept, it analyses how institutional actors, and the institutions themselves, can adopt the language and tactics used by spontaneous movements to their own ends. During the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in 2011, many social movements went through a process of co-optation as revolutionary impulses were slowed or reversed. In the case of Yemen, traditional political actors co-opted protest movements on the street and through the institutional framework of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). This paper utilises Coy and Hedeen’s four- stage model of co-optation to analyse the development of the 2011 protest movement and the transitional period. First-hand interviews with Yemen experts and activists present during the events in question, combined with research of the scholarly literature, provide the foundation for this study. It will argue that Yemen’s failed transition period can in part be understood with reference to the co-optation of the revolutionary movement.

Aylin Junga has been researching the Middle East, and Yemen in particular, for over six years. Studying Islamic Studies and Political Science (BA) at Heidelberg University, she also worked at the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK), the German Federal Foreign Office, and the United Nations Department for Peace Operations (DPO). She recently concluded her MSc in Middle East Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Understanding the cause of Iraq’s ‘October Revolution’ during the Adil Abdul-Mahdi administration

Zainab Mehdi

This policy paper offers an overview of post-2003 Iraq and of the Muhasasa Ta’ifa, and explains how this ethno-sectarian quota system has hindered the democratisation process. Using two examples of the overlooked needs of protesters during the Adil Abdul-Mahdi administration in particular, this policy piece then demonstrates that state ineffectiveness, deriving from the Muhasasa, caused the 2019 protests, also known as the ‘October Revolution’. 

Zainab Mehdi is a Researcher and Freelance Journalist specialising in governance and development in the MENA region, especially in Iraq. Zainab has previously worked at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre, British Red Cross in London, and Center for Arab-West Understanding in Cairo. Zainab holds a BSc in Modern History and International Relations from the University of Essex and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).