Monday, April 21, 2014

Fascinating new piece on Ali Anouzla affair by the great journalist Ilhem Rachidi

Read piece here:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Must Read: Marc Lynch’s definitive book on the Arab Spring

The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East.  By Marc Lynch. 

Happy that my piece on Morocco's Islamists -- work that he edited in Foreign Policy -- was cited to  support his arguments.   (See Avi Spiegel, The Unknown Moroccan Islamists

Buy here

Get up to date on the case of Ali Anouzla in Morocco

First, check out "Fear and Loathing in Morocco" —

Follow two journalists on Twitter -- the renowned Moroccan journalist Aboubakr Jamai
the Spanish journalist Ignacio Cembrero at El Pais (the newspaper involved in the affair)

And follow updates at Reporters Without Borders,45207.html

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"The Fate of Morocco's Islamists" By Avi Spiegel for Foreign Policy

After Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's ouster from power, Islamists in Egypt face an uncertain fate. But they aren't the only ones. Developments in Egypt now pose a particularly thorny problem for groups across the Middle East and North Africa that trace their lineage back to the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement.

Is the Islamist experiment in political participation now doomed? If my discussions with Islamists in Morocco these past two weeks are any indication, the answer, at least in Morocco, seems clear. It is not, according to them, that democratic governance is flawed, but rather it is how Morsi himself practiced politics that is problematic. Instead of tying their fate to Morsi -- in the hopes of boosting the former Egyptian president's image and thus their own -- I instead heard Moroccan Islamists go to great lengths to try to differentiate themselves from the Brotherhood's experience. 

"What do you think," I asked in Arabic, "about the situation with your brothers in Egypt?" But before I could finish my question, a leader of Morocco's governing Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) interrupted me. "In Egypt," he said firmly, "they are not our brothers."

"Yes, we took inspiration from some of their ideas," he admitted, and "we don't deny that we are part of the Islamist movement." But he took umbrage at any suggestion that the two groups were comparable, choosing instead to paint the PJD as the Brotherhood's more learned, established, and experienced relative. "We've grown up into a mature political party; we have learned a great deal," he said.

Some faulted Islamists in Egypt for not taking time to learn more about their political system before entering it. I heard often, for example, PJD members brag about the 14 years they spent in politics, in the opposition -- before they ultimately began governing in 2011. Unlike Morsi, they said, "We didn't go directly to being president." One member noted how Morsi would have done well for himself if he had studied "Samuel Huntington's writing on democratic transitions."

Others took issue with the way Morsi sought to consolidate power, noting that in Morocco the PJD does not "govern alone." After sweeping Morocco's 2011 legislative elections, the PJD opted to form a broad coalition with three parties (of different ideological backgrounds). "You have to invite others to participate with you," one noted, subtly chastising Morsi. He also pointed out the obvious: in Morocco, he said, "we also share power with a king."

Finally, I heard discussions about how the political systems in Morocco and Egypt are themselves unique. "We can't compare ourselves to Egypt," one member said, almost taking offense at the suggestion. "Yes, we've had human rights violations in the past, but we've made considerable strides in human rights here." Some pointed to Morocco's "long history of multi-party political contestation" or its "tradition of diversity," bringing together people of different ethnic, religious, and ideological backgrounds.

To be fair, I have heard some (but not all of) these distinctions before, but rarely with this force or unanimity. Every member of the PJD I spoke to -- leaders and rank and file alike -- seemed to share these general sentiments.

But the PJD's efforts to claim, as one member said to me, that they have "no relationship with the Brotherhood in Egypt" face certain complications. While not formally an offshoot of the Brotherhood (like, say Islamist parties in Jordan or Kuwait), they nonetheless exhibit what Brotherhood expert Carrie Wickham has called a "family resemblance." This applies to their histories, organization, and even ideology.

The PJD routinely, for example, invites Islamists from Egypt to its events, often looking to them for inspiration. I watched, for example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood's spiritual and intellectual influence, address an enthusiastic audience of young PJD activists at an official party event a few years ago. And most importantly, whether they like it or not, most citizens and governments -- in the Middle East and the West alike -- routinely conflate the two groups. A newspaper in Morocco over the weekend plastered a photo of Morocco's prime minister (and the PJD's head), Abdullah Benkirane, warmly shaking Morsi's hand. The caption read, in part, "Game over." PJD's non-Islamist foe in Morocco, the Istiqlal (Independence) party, predicted that Benkirane would ultimately meet Morsi's fate.

For their part, members of Morocco's other major Islamist movement, Al Adl Wal Ihsan, or the Justice and Spirituality Organization (JSO), also seem to be using the Morsi case to solidify their own arguments about local politics -- and to take digs against their competitor, the PJD. One member told me that Morsi's travails proved once again how their late founder and spiritual guide, Abdesslam Yassine, was right. "He wrote decades ago," he told me, "that the military would pose the biggest challenge to groups like us." Another Al Adl member used the Morsi experience to criticize how the PJD works closely with and supports the king. "Morsi's problem," he told me, "was that he kept too much power for himself." The implication was that too much power in one person is never constructive.

Moving forward, the greatest challenge to the PJD will likely come not from the perception that it is similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, but from realities on the ground: whether, that is, it will be more effective in overcoming the challenges that plagued Morsi. I asked PJD activists, for example, if they at least felt that their party faced some of the same obstacles as Morsi, who tried (ultimately unsuccessfully) to stamp out officials from the regime of Hosni Mubarak that sought to undermine him -- those that Egyptians dubbed the "folool."

In Morocco, Benkirane admits similar problems, but has opted for different terminology -- and approaches. Using his trademark folksy and populist manner, he has come to label those most resistant to change -- corrupt politicians and entrenched business and financial forces -- as "ghosts" or "crocodiles." They are ghosts or "evil spirits" because they are seemingly everywhere, difficult to pinpoint, and even more difficult to eradicate. The "crocodile" metaphor is somewhat more nuanced: crocodiles, as popular interpretation suggests, are easy to handle when they are little, but once they grow big, they are almost impossible to control. This, the metaphor portends, is what corruption has now become in Morocco -- having reached a point where controlling it poses a serious challenge.

One PJD leader I interviewed admitted that there are people in the country who have, what he termed, "interests." But, he claimed, that one could not root them out immediately or even shun them. Once again, he preferred a gradual and conciliatory approach: you have to do deal with them "slowly," he said. "We never said we would deprive people of their interests." Plus, he said, "We can't judge corrupt people," and he used a Moroccan saying to underline his point: "God" he says, "forgives what happened in the past."

His party is looking to the future, he said, not ready to abandon democracy in the wake of Morsi's demise, but instead committed to improving it -- to bringing about "good governance, rule of law, honesty, and ethics in politics."

But the question remains: will the Moroccan people -- or even those with interests opposed to the Islamists -- be willing to give the PJD the time in politics that it desires?

There are few Moroccans protesting on the streets, and Benkirane remains personally popular. But, in the long term, one Moroccan university professor was not sanguine. "We elected them -- the Islamists -- to root out corruption," he told me. "If they know where the ghosts and crocodiles are, then they must tell us and they must get rid of them. It is not enough just to say they are there."

Plus, he said, even more ominously, "If you don't stop them, ghosts will always haunt you." 
Avi M. Spiegel, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the University of San Diego, is completing a book on the next generation of political Islam.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Teaching the Arab Spring: Avi Spiegel Part of Effort at UCLA to Conceptualize Uprisings

How do you teach the Arab Spring?Michele Dunne, Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council, lectures from UC Washington, DC. (Photo: Cody Saleh, CMED.)

How do you teach the Arab Spring?


A recent course on the Arab Spring taught invited specialists from around the country and UCLA to lecture on individual countries—some in person and some via a videoconferencing link. 

By Cody Saleh, Center for Middle East Development

“How do you teach the Arab Spring?” That was the question we asked ourselves six months ago when Professor of Political Science and Center for Middle East Development (CMED) Director Steven Spiegel finally agreed to take on a new class, after much haranguing from his graduate students. The subject needed—begged—to have its own class, but scarcely could a book be ordered, articles assigned, and slides prepared before some new event would change the course of Middle East politics (again).

How can you keep up with, much less teach, a class about an unfolding series of events whose consequences and significance are still unknown? The very name “Arab Spring” continues to be debated in some circles (a pet peeve of one of our speakers, it turns out).

Spiegel explains, “The problem I faced in designing [the] course was the freshness of the subject, which changed daily. And I believed strongly that individual country problems required specific answers and discussions with analysts dealing with these issues on an ongoing basis.”

The answer turned out to be elegant and simple: bring in the experts.

“In a standard class on U.S.-Middle East relations, students are exposed to the views of people who analyze U.S foreign policy. In this class, you heard directly from people whose analysis informs U.S. foreign policy. Everybody in this class—students and teachers alike—learned a tremendous amount. It was a privilege to be involved in this undertaking.”

Joshua Saidoff, teaching assistant and Ph.D. candidate, UCLA Department of Political Science

To pull it off, CMED had to get tech savvy. As far back as August 2012, the idea of videoconferencing was floating around CMED as something we should “look into.” None of the group who worked on the course quite understood what this would entail; hardly any professors outside of the School of Engineering at UCLA had taken advantage of this technology. By November of last year, we were testing the connection between the videoconferencing facility at UCLA and the UC Washington Center, our counterpart 2,600 miles away in Washington, DC. It looked incredible and enabled a speaker to see and interact with a class and professor at UCLA. Spiegel adds, “I tried it once from Washington and it felt just like I was in Perloff 1102 [UCLA].”

While gaining experience with the technology, Spiegel and his teaching assistants Benjamin Radparvar and Joshua Saidoff cobbled together a syllabus. The 18 classes of an hour and 15 minutes each would cover the countries of the Arab Spring and the themes that they presented (see below).
Next came the selection of the experts. Their backgrounds spanned the breadth of political, academic and governmental institutions, from the State Department to think tanks like the Atlantic Council, from professors at the University of San Diego and George Washington University to our own UCLA graduate students, professors and CMED scholars.

“The sense of being together added to our ability to actually have a discussion, and not just a lecture,” remarks Spiegel. “First I engaged the speaker, and then members of the class asked questions and made comments. Remarkably, no guest bombed; all added to our collective knowledge and many students told me it was their most intriguing classroom experience at UCLA.”

Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, and Professor Spiegel lecture from Washington, DC. (Photo: Cody Saleh, CMED.)
Lessons learned
Videoconference lecturing is not for everyone. While the speaker and the class can see and hear one another, it takes a bit of learning to speak into a camera. The time limitation of an hour and 15 minutes also left little time to introduce a speaker and allow him or her to get comfortable with the technology, making two hours a more reasonable time frame. Despite these challenges, and the fact that some of the speakers weren’t necessarily used to lecturing in an academic setting, they adapted quite well.

However, technical difficulties come with the territory. Don Roby of the UCLA A/V Department gave the course excellent support, but a few unforeseeable problems gave us anxiety down to the last second. For professors considering the videoconferencing format for a course, be prepared to improvise. You may need to stand up and do some lecturing to fill the time until a connection is fixed.
Using a roster of invited speakers also means classes are unpredictable. We left it to the speakers to determine how much background information was needed to contextualize current events in their country or topic of expertise. Necessarily, there was a lot of variation among classes because each country addressed by the course has a unique history that influences how the Arab Spring is playing out within its borders. These variations can be problematic for students, who are responsible for deciphering what information is essential and, of course, what will end up on the all-important exam.

In addition, because the team that prepared the course did not know exactly what the speakers would cover, it was difficult to choose assigned readings.

“Being exposed to the top researchers and officials in the country is what UCLA should be about. Not only were the lectures entertaining (most of the time), all of the information was so relevant and applicable that I am able to use it outside of the classroom. . . which is not necessarily something you get from other classes.”

Miri Gold, 3rd-year UCLA undergraduate,
political science major

Finally, the readings occasionally contradicted the speakers or approached an event from a different angle. Yet this kind of inconsistency is useful because it teaches students that considerable disagreement exists over how to interpret an event, especially something as complex as the Arab Spring.

As a result, students learn to be critical of what they read and hear, even from experts. After all, isn’t that the point of an education?

Looking back at the course experience, Spiegel concludes, “Obviously, there are improvements to be made, but in sum, having guests ‘come to lecture’ in class from anywhere in the world enhances the experience. I certainly intend to use the method again where appropriate and useful.”

“International Relations of the Middle East”—Winter 2013 Lecture Schedule
Topic Lecturer
Ottoman Empire to the Arab Spring Professor Steven Spiegel, UCLA
Public Opinion Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland, and Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
(Social) Media & Identity Yael Warshel, Visiting Scholar, UCLA Center for Middle East Development
The Arab Spring: An Introduction Avi Spiegel, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of California San Diego, and Fellow, Strauss Center for International Security and Law, University of Texas, Austin
Tunisia, Libya, and the Consulate Attacks Karim Mezran, Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council 
Egypt Karim Haggag, career Egyptian diplomat, and Visiting Professor, Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University
Syria Murhaf Jouejati, Professor of Middle East Studies, NESA Center, National Defense University, and Lecturer in Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University
Lebanon Frederic C. Hof, former Special Advisor on the Transition in Syria,
U.S. Department of State
Islamist Movements & the Arab Uprisings Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University, and Nonresident Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Terrorism & the Middle East David Rapoport, UCLA Professor Emeritus of Political Science, and Editor, "Terrorism and Political Violence" (journal)
Iran: From Constitutional Revolution to the Pahlavi Dynasty Benjamin Radparvar, Ph. D. candidate, UCLA Department of Political Science
Iran: Origins of the Revolution to the Rise of the Islamic Republic Benjamin Radparvar
Iran: War with Iraq, Khatami, The Nuclear Issue, the Green Movement and Ahmadinejad Professor Steven Spiegel, UCLA
The GCC: The Arab Spring and the Politics of Survival in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait Judith Yaphe, Distinguished Research Fellow for the Middle East, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, and Lecturer, Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University
Yemen Abdu Alkebsi, Regional Director for Africa and MENA, Center for International Private Enterprise 
Iraq: Was it the First Arab Spring? Judith Yaphe
Obama and the Arab Spring Michele Dunne, Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
Turkey & Course Review Asli Bali, Assistant Professor, UCLA School of Law; and Steven Spiegel
An earlier version of this article was originally published on the CMED blog,“The Middle Easterner,” on March 26, 2013.

Center for Middle East Development

Friday, June 21, 2013

Teaching the Arab Spring: Avi Spiegel's Course on Middle East Politics Examined

Studying Middle East during Arab Spring: a professor’s course comes alive


Avi Spiegel, a sharp student of the Middle East, found himself in a new position in January: teaching a class on its history and politics as uprisings utterly changed both in one country after another.
Spiegel, 35, is an assistant professor of political science and international relations at the University of San Diego.

He welcomed his first-ever class one week after Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled that nation, ending 23 years of authoritarian rule and giving protesters in nearby countries something new: hope.

I arrived in San Diego the month the Arab Spring arrived.

Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia lit himself on fire in December, and I wasn’t here, but then when President Ben Ali stepped down on Jan. 14, I was here, and it was at that point that the Arab Spring really began.

It became clear that these young people were more than just protesters. They were literally marching themselves free of authoritarianism. So it was at that point when Ben Ali fell that I threw the syllabus up in the air and said we’ve got to remake this thing.

It would be as if you’re teaching a Politics in Germany class in the fall of 1989. And I would say this to my students over and over and over again — that we’re watching history unfold before our eyes.
I wanted to try to guide the students, help them understand why authoritarianism was so durable in the Middle East and why democracy was so elusive, what was happening and how could they better understand what was happening.

What was amazing is that the events in the Middle East tended to follow the syllabus and the syllabus tended to follow events in the Middle East, so that became a joke in the class.

For example, the week that Lara Logan, the CBS News reporter, was assaulted in Cairo, we were scheduled to read about women’s rights in the class and looking at research in political science linking political stagnation in the Middle East to lapses in women’s rights.
So that was, you know, unbelievable.

And then the week that instability really started to come to Libya and oil prices were rising — this was March — we were scheduled to read about the resource curse and the theory of the rentier state, the idea that oil revenue hinders democratization.

Two months later, on the night before I was scheduled to lecture about al-Qaeda in class, the president called a news conference. I emailed my students at 6 p.m. May 1 and said turn on your TVs.
Bin Laden was dead. This was literally the week we were talking about al-Qaeda.

Students were engaged. They were able to see the news in a way that I hope other people weren’t, and really understand it not just as current events but really critically engage it the way academics are supposed to.

It was serendipitous. I mean, really. Not only that but the students were the same age as the people making the news.

History sometimes seems distant, and sometimes political science can seem distant also as you’re studying about governments and institutions and elites. But in this case we weren’t.

We were studying about young people just like them using the same technologies that
they were using. So a lot of my students would get on Facebook and check out the same sites that the protesters were using to mobilize, follow the protesters and the protest movements on Twitter.
So that was the goal: to try to bring that world home to them.

And I remember these two students leaving class and they were talking about (how) they were at a party and they met these friends and they were talking about the Middle East with them and trying to predict with them: Which leader do you think is going to fall next?

And these guys had no idea what the students were talking about. I remember they were just so dismayed that people weren’t following it as closely as they were. So for me, the idea that they were at a party thinking about this stuff, nothing better for a professor.

Initially, I had planned a textbook introduction to Middle East politics, looking at the variety of political systems and institutions and influences. Still a fascinating class, I think, because the region is fascinating. But certainly not as geared around that single overarching question that became so crucial.

This is the question that historians will be grappling with for many years to come. The question is why, at that moment, with this one man?

In my time in the Middle East, I’ve known hundreds of Mohamed Bouazizi’s, hundreds of young people, unemployed, overeducated, aggravated, feeling as if they have no future, just disgusted by the corruption, by the overarching power of the internal security forces.

I mean, this is in every country I’ve visited. I’ve known so many of these people. So why is it that this single, unlikely fruit seller in this tiny town in tiny Tunisia, why is it that he was able at that moment to spark a revolution?

In 2011, the first two months we were averaging one deposed authoritarian leader a month. We had Ben Ali in January and (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak in February.
And then who knew what was going to happen?

The whole semester was a teachable moment.

At the end of the class, I was saying to my students that building a democracy is a lot like marriage. Starting a new marriage is difficult. Repairing a broken one is sometimes even more difficult, but it’s worth it.

It didn’t end when the semester ended and it won’t end on Dec. 31, 2011. It will continue for many years. (619) 293-1335 Twitter @SDuncovered Facebook matthewthall


For more on Avi Spiegel's syllabi, see his teaching site.  Homepage here