Visions of Dissent in Algeria, Jordan and Tunisia

By Laryssa Chomiak
Submitted to Session P4916 (New Boundaries of State/Resistance Constellations in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
All Middle East;
Comparative;
This paper examines three separate episodes of contention in Algeria, Jordan, and Tunisia in order to unpack the complex relationship between various sites of power and possibilities of resistance. It calls for a re-examination of the spatial and temporal dynamics of protest, along with attention to the uneven reach of state power (that is, how “stateness” varies across space and over time). Each of the three cases illustrates an instance of solidarity in a marginalized area that became visible through recent moments of political and economic rupture. Many scholarly analyses view the uprisings or contentious moments thereafter, as having been launched from unprecedented “sparks”—such as the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid or the violent death of a fish monger in Al-Hoceima, Morocco. This study takes as central a history of ideological commitments, political desires and fears, and instances of transgression as elements of a genealogy of dissent in addition to street-based protest or other observable forms of resistance. By broadening the lens of the contours of contention, this paper highlights the complexities and paradoxes of contentious politics oftentimes absent in linear approaches to the repression/resistance model. But rather than critiquing studies that count event data or reduce contentious politics to economic determinism, this paper builds on such approaches to theorize the modes and histories of resistance, their transformation and response to state asymmetry, expansion/amalgamation, ambiguity and paradoxes, as well as their meaning for the political present. Genealogies of dissent open the possibility to think beyond the state/society or repression/resistance binaries and explore the tensions, conflicts, solidarities, causes and effects that run counter to the standard story of uprising and revolt post-Arab Spring.

This paper will utilize original research conducted in Algeria, Jordan, and Tunisia from the late 2000s to the present. Field methods include elite interviews, public and spatial ethnography, participant observation, analysis of newspapers and other public records, and other documents. Sources are in English, Arabic, and French. None of this research has been previously published.