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Arab Spring  

Ahmed Abushouk

The phrase “Arab Spring,” “Arab Awakening,” or “Arab Uprisings” refers to the series of prodemocracy protests and demonstrations that erupted in the Arab world. It began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread to other countries, most notably Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, in 2011. The demonstrators expressed their political and economic grievances and called for regime change: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Under the increasing pressure of the mass protests, Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (r. 1978–2011) fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011; Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (r. 1981–2011) resigned on February 11, 2011; Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (r. 1969–2011) was deposed on August 23, 2011, and killed on October 20, 2011, in his hometown of Sirte after the National Transitional Council took control of the city; and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh (r. 1990–2012) resigned in favor of his vice president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Hadi became president for a two-year transitional period on February 25, 2012, but Yemen remained deeply divided between government supporters and the Houthi rebels who killed Saleh on December 4, 2017, in Sanaa. This change of leadership did not improve the political and economic situation in the Arab Spring countries but rather led to a contentious struggle between remnants of the old regimes and prodemocracy supporters, which finally turned into devastating civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The second wave of the Arab Spring took place in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, and Lebanon, confirming the persistent conditions that led to the outbreak of the first wave against tyranny and exploitation in the early 2010s. The two waves of the Arab Spring have drawn global attention. Tawakkol Karman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her role in organizing peaceful protests in Yemen. Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda won the 2011 World Press Photo Award for his photograph of a Yemeni woman carrying an injured family member, taken during the civil uprising in Yemen.

Article

Italian Colonial Architecture and City Planning in North and East Africa  

Mia Fuller

Italian colonial architecture began with styles directly transplanted from Italy to Eritrea—Italy’s first African colonial territory—in the 1890s. By the late 1920s, when Italy also held Libya and Italian Somalia, it had already created a substantial set of buildings (cathedrals and banks, for instance) in any number of unmodified Italian styles ranging from the classical to the neo-medieval and neo-Renaissance. Moorish (or “Oriental”) effects were also abundant, in another transplant from Europe, where they were extremely popular. Following the rise of design innovations after World War I, though, at the end of the 1920s, Italian Modernist architects—particularly the theoretically inclined Rationalists—began to protest. In conjunction with the fascist regime’s heavy investment in farming settlements, prestigious city centers, and new housing, architecture proliferated further, increasingly incorporating Rationalist design, which was the most thoughtfully syncretistic, aiming as it did to reflect particular sites while remaining Modernist. After Ethiopia was occupied in 1936, designers’ emphasis gravitated from the particulars of design theory to the wider canvas of city planning, which was driven by new ideas of racial segregation for colonial prestige and control.

Article

Middle Kingdom  

Wolfram Grajetzki

The Middle Kingdom covers roughly the first half of the second millennium bce. It is the Middle Bronze Age. In the Eleventh Dynasty, around 2000 bce, Egypt was again united after a period of disunity. In the following early Twelfth Dynasty, Egypt was a decentralized country with many local governors in charge of the provinces. At the royal court, seven kings with the names Amenemhat and Senusret as well as the ruling queen Sobeknofru ruled the country for about two hundred years, which attests to great political stability. The kings conquered Lower Nubia, raided South Palestine, and started to replace many local, mud-brick built temples with those built in stone. Kings were buried in pyramids. Itj-tawy was founded as the new capital. Within the dynasty, further towns were built as part of an inner colonization. Part of this colonization was also the cultivation of the Fayum, a river oasis that was before not suitable for agriculture on a larger scale. Within the dynasty, there is also a visible trend of centralization that reached its peak under king Senusret III, who reduced the power of the local governors. An institution called the great enclosure organized corvée work. In the Thirteenth Dynasty, over about 150 years there were many kings who each ruled for a short time, which attests to a politically unstable period, while the administration went on without a major break. However, at the end of the period, the unity of the country felt apart. People from the Levant took over part of the Eastern Delta, while in the south, Egypt lost control of the Nubian provinces and struggled with attacks from the powerful Nubian empire of Kerma. In terms of art and culture, the Middle Kingdom was seen by the Ancient Egyptians as their classical period. The language of the period became the classical Egyptian language. Works of literature were still read hundred years later, and the art production of this time was the model for many later periods.

Article

Slave Trades and Diaspora in the Middle East, 700 to 1900 CE  

George La Rue

In the Middle East, Africa was only one of multiple sources of enslaved and servile labor. Building on the legacy of earlier civilizations, the region drew on all of its immediate neighbors for slaves. Local kingdoms and empires arose, clashed, expanded, and adapted old and new slaving strategies from internal and external rivals. From the 7th century, the rapid expansion of Islam and the building of Muslim empires are salient features in this history, but many other historical developments played key roles. Ensuing encounters with other civilizations, empires, and trading networks frequently resulted in friction, mutual adaptation, or new cultural, political, or economic synergies. In the Middle East, Islamic practices toward slaves influenced all regional cultures, yet many variants emerged due to local customs; changing economic and political considerations; specific environmental conditions; and the experiences, cultures, and talents of the enslaved. Slaves were captured directly or purchased. In wars and raids, Middle Eastern armies captured enemy combatants and civilians to ransom or enslave. The mix of enslaved and servile persons brought into the region varied in its composition, reflecting the geographical areas of military actions, the development of powerful trading partners, and the extent of trading networks. Foreign merchants imported additional slaves from the Balkans, the Black Sea region, the islands and shores of the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and Africa—including the West African savanna, the Lake Chad region, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa, particularly via the Swahili coast. These practices brought new servile populations as workers, domestic staff, concubines, soldiers, or bureaucrats to serve in imperial outposts, trading towns, or centers of agricultural, handicraft, or industrial production. The constant demand for servile labor was driven not only by expanding empires and new economic enterprises but also by growing urban populations, the multiple options for manumission under Islamic law, high mortality rates and low rates of reproduction among enslaved populations for social and medical reasons, and the resultant scarcity of second-generation slaves. Broadly speaking, enslaved Africans were more common in the southern tier of the Middle East and demand for them generally increased over time, as northern and internal sources of slaves dwindled. Enslaved persons, including Africans, served in numerous capacities and were dispersed throughout the Middle East and its areas of slave supply.

Article

The Islamic State in the Maghreb  

Zacharias P. Pieri

On June 29, 2014, The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Islamic Levant (ISIL), and Daesh, proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate in areas straddling Iraq and Syria. IS is a Sunni Muslim extremist movement that was under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until his killing in 2019, and it is driven by a vision to unite all extremist Muslims under its caliphate, which was grounded in Syria. IS was, for a period, the most robust and adept insurgent force in Syria and Iraq, and by 2015, it controlled a landmass and population larger than that of many existing states. At the height of its power, it included a vast coastline in Libya, a portion of Nigeria’s northeast where affiliated Boko Haram declared an Islamic territory, and a city in the Philippines. Beyond this, IS was able to establish franchises in different parts of the world including North Africa and the Sahel. Leaders of IS called on extremist Muslims from across the world to leave their homes, and to travel to the so-called caliphate to take up residency there as jihadists and citizens of a proto-state. Those that could not physically join were encouraged to participate online, and others were instructed by Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the IS’s chief spokesman, to find an infidel and smash his head with a rock. IS, from its inception, has looked to the Maghreb and the Sahel as strategic geographic areas for the expansion of its ideology, incorporation of territory into its caliphate, and operational purposes. It is clear that the notion of an Islamic state was popular for a segment of the population in the Maghreb, with many leaving the countries of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and beyond to join, train, and fight with IS in Syria and Iraq. Tunisia had the highest number of IS foreign fighters, estimated at approximately 6,000; Morocco had 1,200; Libya and Egypt had 600; and Algeria had 170. Returning fighters are destabilizing North Africa. Libya was an early focus of IS due in part to the fall of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, and the ensuing political chaos, which caused a weak and fragile state. Libya served as the first addition to the territories of IS’s caliphate outside Syria and Iraq. Tunisia faced several large-scale attacks linked to IS activities in the country. In 2015 a number of terrorist attacks were carried out, including the massacre of 38 tourists at a beach resort in Sousse, the bombing of a bus containing presidential guards in Tunis, and an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis. Algeria has had to monitor the country’s borders to prevent the entry of jihadists affiliated with IS who operate in neighboring countries. At the time of writing, concerns were being raised about different franchises of IS that are seeking to better integrate and to take advantage of insecurity in the Sahel, especially around the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and into Niger and Nigeria.

Article

Youth Activism in 21st-Century North Africa  

Christoph Schwarz

In the 21st century, North African societies have been counting with the largest cohorts of young people worldwide. These demographics, in combination with the highest youth unemployment rates worldwide, have been a cause for concern since the turn of the millenium. But in the respective debates in social research and among policy makers, the political subjectivities of young people themselves were rather overlooked. Instead, the situation of young people was often discussed either as a question of deficit—they were regarded as lethargic and apolitical and in need of help—or security—they were discussed as potential adherents of radical interpretations of Islam, as prone to political violence and as a threat to “stability.” However, in 2010 and 2011, mass protests initiated mostly by young people, starting in Tunisia and soon spreading to Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and, to a lesser extent, Algeria and Sudan, very quickly and effectively mobilized large swaths of the population and thus illustrated young people’s social agency, political relevance, and capacity for inclusive solidarity. To many observers, the events that were soon dubbed the “Arab Spring” came out of the blue and appeared as a sudden “generational awakening.” But the region-wide protests, and in particular the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, not only mobilized people from all walks of life, they were also the result of at least a decade of persistent experimentation by young and not-so-young activists with different forms of collective action under extremely unfavorable conditions. Youth activism in 21st-century North Africa has been operating and strategizing under the constraints of authoritarianism, surveillance, and violent repression. Young people, particularly young women, have long been excluded from most institutional forms of politics. Against this backdrop, many political activists eschew the terms politics or the political, which they associate with corruption, manipulation, and illegitimate rule. Many other young people who appear at first sight “apolitical” have nevertheless engaged in different meaningful endeavors to improve everyday lives in their communities. Following a critical youth studies and youth cultures perspective, as well as a feminist perspective, young people’s activism can thus be analyzed along a spectrum that ranges from rather innocuous forms of everyday quiet encroachment, to public, but “apolitical” forms of mobilization, to highly committed and exposed social movement activism, as well as digitally networked forms of engagement and explicitly political demands for new forms of citizenship. A decade after the Arab Spring, and despite a “Second Wave of the Arab Spring” in Sudan and Algeria from 2018 to 2020, authoritarian rule has gained the upper hand in the region, even in Tunisia, the country that, for a long time, was considered “transitioning” to a representative democracy. Despite these setbacks, the experience that young people, as part of an organized citizenry, were able to oust long-ruling authoritarian presidents within a matter of a few weeks has arguably had an impact on political culture in the region. In the mid-2020s, their example continues to inspire youth activists in North Africa and elsewhere and will likely continue to pose a challenge to authoritarianism.