Vol 5, No. 1 (Trinity 2021)

Editors’ Foreword

Dear reader,
We are proud to present to you the fifth edition of the Oxford Middle East Review (OMER). OMER was founded in 2016 at St Antony’s College, Oxford, by two Middle Eastern Studies students, who sought to create an engaging forum for students and aspiring scholars to critically discuss issues pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. After five years, the journal now counts fifteen team members and received a record number of submissions for this volume. 

This year’s issue of OMER is unique as it has been developed almost entirely through a long series of lockdowns. It is a testament to both our team of editors and copy editors and all the wonderful submissions we have received that we can deliver yet another thoughtful and stimulating issue, even in such testing times. 

This volume’s theme is revolution, with a capital ‘R’ or without. We invited scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to interpret this theme creatively. The result is three fascinating research articles and three thought-provoking policy pieces, analysing contemporary and historical revolutionary movements and politics in Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. 

In anthropology, revolutions have been framed as moments of transition, which involve a loosening of social normativity and the entrance into a stage of liminality. In this new realm, social normativity dissolves and agency is foregrounded, creating new and exciting potentialities. In many ways, the pandemic has propelled the world, including OMER, into this liminal space. Whilst this has, at times, been incredibly difficult, it has also been an incredibly productive stage in OMER’s journey. With submissions from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, we have expanded our base whilst also cementing other newer aspects of the journal, such as the policy section. Whilst liminality offers little certainty and requires considerable flexibility and resilience, it seems clear that OMER, despite the challenges we faced, is growing thanks to the committed support of the fabulous and committed group of students that wants to work for the journal, as well as the inspiring community of academics from around the world who constantly push Middle Eastern Studies to new and exciting frontiers.

The Managing Editors
Frederike Brockhoven
Tom Coyne

Contributing Editors

Juliet O’Brien, Ryan Musto, Sawsene Nejjar, Lina Volin, Felix Walker, Sara Elbanna, Alexandra Boothroyd, Francesca Vawdrey, Easa Saad, Nilsu Celikel, Piotr Schulkes, Mathew Madain


Non-Hierarchical Revolution: Grassroots Politics in the First Palestinian Intifada
Jack McGinn

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

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


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

The contentious life of Basij revolutionary politics in poor neighbourhoods of Iran
Ahmad Moradi

Gendering the Revolution: Analysing Women’s Role in Sudan’s Revolutionary Transition
Miriam Aitken

Non-Hierarchical Revolution: Grassroots Politics in the First Palestinian Intifada

Jack McGinn

This article seeks to outline the non-hierarchical characteristics of the first intifada, using as examples the decentralised healthcare networks, labour unions, and women’s movements which were formed in the years preceding the uprising and provided a structure and backbone to the resistance. Such a focus on three distinct, but interdependent, forces behind the intifada is informed by a belief that each operated primarily on a deliberately horizontal basis of organising, thus highlighting the common motivation that activists felt towards a model of democratised resistance. The article concludes with a discussion of the town of Beit Sahour, where pre-existing networks of solidarity helped to produce a resilient campaign of tax resistance, coordinated by popular committees.

Jack McGinn is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics Department of Sociology and the Communications Coordinator at the LSE Middle East Centre. He received his MSc in Arab World Studies from the University of Edinburgh, and subsequently worked in Jordan and Palestine as a translator and editor. His doctoral research at LSE focuses on decentralised anti-hierarchical organising in the Syrian revolution.

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.