SUMMARY:Surveillance and Social Control in the Middle East: From Cold War to the Digital Age
We have been witnessing an unprecedented and accelerated deployment of new technologies of surveillance in the Middle East within the last decade The COVID-19 has not only incentivized surveillance, but also paved the way for and legitimized the use of emerging and experimental digital surveillance and control tools, which by and large target the most vulnerable populations, including women, LGBTQI communities, immigrants, refugees, and minorities. This panel tackles emerging and experimental forms of surveillance and social control in the contemporary Middle East and traces their historical antecedents. Drawing on four case studies from contemporary Turkey and Cold-War era Iraq and Syria that address various surveillance technologies and practices —such as undercover policing and informant activities, spyware and malware, facial recognition systems, aerial drones, and big data technologies—, we would like to explore a) the ways in which technologies of surveillance travel across time and space, b) the continuities and ruptures in the technologies and infrastructures of surveillance, c) the legacies of colonial (and racialized) forms of governance and of the Cold War security technologies in the making of contemporary "surveillant assemblages" (Haggerty 2000) d) the role of the pandemic in the development and deployment of new surveillance technologies and e) spaces of and for dissent in authoritarian surveillance states.
The increased availability of digital technology to ordinary citizens has increasingly transformed non-state actors into significant components of the "authoritarian surveillant assemblage" (Topak 2019). Surveillance apps and devices that are deployed by domestic partners or other family members and employers, have recently become critical tools of social control, oppression, gendered and racist violence, and exploitation. In analyzing the relationship between new techniques of surveillance and their historical antecedents, we are also interested in exploring additional or new roles that non-state actors play in the making of authoritarian surveillant practices.