In November, the Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies (CMENAS) successfully concluded its annual Fall Colloquium, featuring an array of University of Michigan scholars who focused on the theme “The Arab Spring: Ten Years Later.” Despite the ever-present pandemic that has thwarted many of our plans, the Colloquium was carried out via Zoom.

The Colloquium featured a series of six speakers who focused their attention on the uprisings since 2011, known collectively as the Arab Spring. Syria, Egypt, Libya, and other countries have experienced the upheaval variously. In Syria, for instance, the conflict has lasted almost ten years. Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies Postdoctoral Fellow Matthew Cebul shared his research on the Syrian revolution; it contained interviews with Syrian activists and analysis of the revolution’s start and outside support. Elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, revolution took a different form. Amal Hassan Fadlalla reported how both national and transnational processes are connected and how these processes shape immigrants’ and trans-local actors’ fight for and debates over equal citizenship rights, inclusion, and belonging. Reflecting on her work on Sudanese refugees, diaspora, and the current revolution in Sudan, Fadlalla’s talk explored the influence of the quest for recognition and equal citizenship rights upon Sudanese activists’ representation and imagination of both national and transnational citizenship.

Colloquium audiences also heard from scholars who studied the uprisings through the lens of art and popular media. Christiane Gruber shared her research on the Libyan uprisings, examining their concomitant visual outputs. She showed several depictions of Muammar al-Gaddafi over time. The bombastic title, Afro-like hairdo, and eye-catching robes made the “King of Kings of Africa” an easy target for visual satire, which turned visibly more racist when al-Gaddafi began using mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to suppress street demonstrations in Libya. Yasmin Moll examined Egyptian media’s driving force for the development of a “New Egypt.” Sascha Crasnow examined the calls for revolution across the Arab world, which demanded equity for people of all genders and sexual orientations, and the use of art to demonstrate their experiences. Each of these presentations illustrates the importance of how media and artistic expression can affect and influence these uprisings, as well as their legacy. 

Mark Tessler’s lecture tied many of the elements of the Colloquium series. His presentation highlighted the impact of events before, during, and after the Arab Spring upon opinions in the Arab world. His project The Arab Barometer has collected data from various time periods, including a second wave of data from 2010-2011. Tessler shared selected findings about continuity and change in the views of the public, including attitudes toward governance and democracy, women’s status and gender equality, Islam and political Islam, and terrorism. The quantitative data aggregated by The Arab Barometer, broad in scope, indicate that people across the MENA region hold a multitude of topical opinions frequently changing over time. The project now also gathers data about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing resources to scholars, policymakers, and others to better understand the region. 

To view the CMENAS Colloquium lectures, visit our YouTube page