The ACRPS 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.

The Arab Center’s Winter School builds on the success of its January 2020 inaugural session which effectively established a new academic tradition in the Arab world. The Winter School received 50 applications from researchers and academics from around the world. After a careful process of peer-review and evaluation, the committee selected 10 researchers to present their research during the Winter School and receive in-depth readings and expert commentary.