“Reflections on the Study of Middle East Politics in an Age of Revolution: From Iran’s Greens to Egypt’s Tahrir”
Arang Keshavarzian is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. He earned his PhD from the Department of Politics at Princeton University in 2003. Keshavarzian is the author of Bazaar and State in Iran: the Politics of the Tehran Marketplace (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and several articles in edited volumes and journals, including Politics and Society, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Geopolitics, and Middle East Report. He is currently conducting research on a project examining imperialism and globalization from the vantage point of the Persian Gulf political economic system.
Not unlike journalists and policy-makers, political scientists specializing in the Middle East were surprised by the recent social movements against the political regimes in the Middle East. Much of the scholarship on the region in the last 10-15 years has focused on elite politics, authoritarian survival, and Islamist political organizations. Meanwhile, the mass rallies in the wake of the 2009 Presidential elections and the various public protests of 2011, which have overthrown or threatened regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and beyond, have exposed how the political status quo in the region is vulnerable and faces challenges from political sensibilities and organizations that go well beyond Islamist politics. Almost by definition social movements and revolutions are unpredictable and dynamic processes, but what explains the profound disconnect between mainstream political science research on the Middle East and the current political dynamics of the region? The presentation argued that the answer lies with the scholarship being framed not by socio-economic dynamics in the region, but by disciplinary concerns of political scientists and the policy concerns of funding agencies and US policy-makers. Thus, while the current body of research on the Middle East offers some important insights into the challenges democratic reform in the region, it also is limited by intellectual foreclosures erected by the current state of study of political science. The political ruptures not only present profound opportunities for people in the region to re-imagine politics, but also for researchers and teachers to reframe their analysis and build new forms of solidarity.