The ACRPS Second Winter School launched on Sunday 3 January 2021, under the title “The State in Flux”. The Winter School is a research program running from 3-11 January 2021 via Zoom and streamed on social media platforms.

This round of the Winter School deals with the subject of the state in flux as seen in specific models from the Arab world and beyond. It raises key questions such as: What does it mean to be a “sovereign state” at a time of escalating direct foreign intervention? Does the definition of sovereignty relate solely to geographical boundaries or must it mean something in addition? Can weak states be truly sovereign? What are the most important variables explaining the trajectories of state formation in the Arab world and beyond? How do they explain political developments in these countries and their sovereignty or lack of sovereignty today?

The first day of the Winter School began with a welcoming address by Arab Center Researcher Dana El Kurd, who presented winter school mission and the topic for this year. She referenced the Arab Center’s role in bridging the knowledge gap between Arab researchers and their Western counterparts through initiatives such as the Winter School, the Conference of Arab Doctoral Students in Western Universities, and the English language journal, AlMuntaqa. The Center publishes the latter to familiarize English-speaking researchers with Arabic language research production in translation, towards greater interaction on topics of shared interest with their counterparts from the region.

Arab Center Researcher, Mohammad Almasri then chaired the opening session, welcoming the participants and stressing the importance of this initiative in providing in-depth critical readings of their research for by academic experts. Wajih Kawtharani gave the first lecture “When Sectarian Leadership Turns into a Mediator between the Citizen and the State: The Lebanese Experience,” deconstructing “impossible state intervention” by focusing on local factors related to the practices and political culture of political figures. He then presented a periodization of Lebanese history from the Ottoman era through critical junctures such as the 1926 adoption of the Constitution, the 1943 independence “national pact,” the 1989 Taif Accord and an analysis of the current changes in the structure of the sectarian system in Lebanon. Kawtharani concluded by noting that in Lebanese sectarianism is becoming increasingly entrenched.

This was followed by the first session of the Winter School, in which Arash Azizi presented his paper, “Iranian and Iraqi Communists: Cold War and Limits of Sovereignty.” He explored the history of the alliance between Iranian and Iraqi communists from the period of the Cold War, focusing on the July 1958 revolution and the 1963 anti-communist coup in Iraq. Following Aziz’s intervention, Amal Ghazal, as a discussant professor, and Arran Robert Walsh, as a discussant student, presented their observations, before the floor was opened for participant discussion and questions.

Rohini Sen presented the second paper, “Making and Unmaking the Post-colonial State - Kashmir as the Wild Zone of Sovereignty,” deconstructing perceptions of the relationship between the law, the land and the state by focusing on different forms and locales of sovereignty. Focusing on the Kashmir model, the researcher deconstructed colonial and post-colonial periods to interrogate the feasibility of establishing a modern state under the backdrop of violence practiced by the colonial and post-colonial state in the region. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, as a discussant professor, and student discussant Bushra Nur Özgüler Aktel then presented their observations before participant discussion and questions began.

El-Affendi Lectures on the Influence of Authority in the State

The closing day of the Winter School included a public lecture by Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Professor of Political Science and President of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. The lecture, “(Re)-Locating Power: Reflections on Statehood, Stateness, and Statelessness in a Machiavellian Era,” presented the marked global retreat of the liberal model, with a focus on the Middle East as the main origin of the decline of the liberal model of the state. He reflected on the state and its transformations as well as the evolution of his intellectual relationship with this concept. His analysis began from the relationship between European and Arab thought, exemplified by Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli, and its role in constructing a “science of politics" that deconstructs the various forces that govern politics through analysis of the actions of political actors. El-Affendi also examined the dilemma of the state regarding its relationship to God and the role of European political thought in producing an intervention compensating the state’s authority with a metaphysical authority, and the impact of this on effective governance. Touching on the marked decline of the liberal model internationally, as exemplified in the Middle East, he attributed this retreat to the emergence of a Neo-Machiavellian system wherein the rationality of the state becomes the method and basis of governance, rather than ethics – as in other, earlier models. El-Affendi argued that countries that follow this system often invoke the urgent need to face emergency situations, such as terrorism or epidemics. But the global trend towards the decline of the liberal model of governance threatens the state as an entity governed by law.

Exiting from Hegemony in the International System

The final four days of the Winter School (8-11 January) saw presentation of three research papers and four public lectures. Daniel Nexon and and Alexander Cooley presented their lecture “Exiting from Hegemony” on 8 January, the school’s sixth day. Their lecture drew from their eponymous book addressing the problem of the international system and the role of the United States during the Trump presidency, additionally exploring the likely changes to US foreign policy under Joe Biden and the end of US hegemony. Nexon and Cooley suggest that the United States must adapt to a new world order founded basically on competition.

During the second session, Samuel Mace presented “The Limitations of Sovereignty through the State of Exception in Syria and Bahrain". Analyzing the concept of the “state of exception” comparatively in these two countries, Mace’s paper posed the following questions: How does the “state of exception” claim to provide sovereignty? How does the state of exception undermine sovereignty?

Gender and the Sectarian State

Rola Al-Husseini opened the school’s seventh day on 9 January 2021 with her lecture “Theorizing Gender and the Sectarian State: Evidence from Iraq and Lebanon". Her research on legislation in support of women and women’s active presence in legislative, executive and judicial functions in Iraq and Lebanon led her to conclude that “state feminism” is less successful in sectarian Arab countries. The researcher attributes this to intersecting lines of gender, patriarchy, and sect within sectarian states.

María González-Úbeda Alférez then presented her paper “Naturalized Palestinians in Lebanon: Integration and Identity,” asking: How do we explain the difficulties faced by naturalized Palestinians in seeking full political and social integration within the local community in Lebanon? The researcher attributed maintenance of the marginal status of naturalized Palestinians to the role of sectarian conflict in the country. The state’s official explanation for the segregation and exclusion of Palestinian refugees is essentially that their integration will negatively impact the domestic balance of power.

An Institutional Analysis of the Resilience of Iran's Political System

On 10 January 2021 Mahran Kamrava, researcher and Director of the ACRPS Iranian Studies Unit, launched the schools eighth day with a lecture titled “State Resilience in Iran: An Institutional Analysis,” addressing the Iranian regime’s predicament of diminishing domestic legitimacy and explaining how the Iranian regime remains in power despite external pressures and its declining popularity at home.

Finally, Bushra Nur Özgüler Aktel presented “Can Pandemics Increase Institutionalization in Post-Conflict Countries?” where she suggested that the threat posed by epidemics has the capacity to accelerate institutionalization in aid-dependent precarious and post-conflict countries if it is accompanied by the investment of elites in institutionalizing distribution of aid necessary to meet basic needs instead of enriching their clients. Accordingly, epidemics may play a part in shoring up the relative stability and effectiveness of elites in fragile and divided countries.

The inaugural round of the Winter School was held in January 2020 at the Arab Center headquarters in Doha, where it was met with noteworthy success. Keen to continue with a new academic tradition in the Arab world despite covid-19 restrictions, the Arab Center opted to run the second round of the school via social media.