On September 27, 2022, Iranian musician Shervin Hajipour posted a song to his instagram compiled of tweets from Iranians detailing the reasons they are protesting. The song quickly went viral across social media. Within days of the video’s release, Shervin Hajipour had been arrested, and the original post was taken down. But like the Persian protest songs of the past, albeit in digital form, the video continues to circulate and resonate in digital and physical space. Zuzanna Olzsewska translates the song from Persian into English and discusses its significance amidst ongoing demonstrations in Iran. [Photo: Iranians protesting the death of Mahsa Amini on a street in Tehran, October 1, 2022. Getty Images.]
Özlem Kayhan Pusane argues that the Kurdish question in general, and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in particular, will occupy a critical place on the Turkish political agenda in the run up to the summer 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. After the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party publicly validated the beleaguered and oppressed HDP as a legitimate political actor, other opposition parties signaled their willingness to grant the HDP a more central role in Turkish politics. While the broader political atmosphere in the country is conducive to such a change, considering that all sides need Kurdish votes for victory in 2023, there are major challenges ahead.
The Egyptian military’s massacre of nearly 1,000 supporters of deposed president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mursi at Rabaa al-Adawiyya square in August 2013 continues to reverberate. Abdullah Al-Arian explains the massacre’s long-term impact on the Muslim Brotherhood movement and Egyptian society. He shows how President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi’s regime continues to use the memory of Rabaa along with the extreme violence initiated by the massacre to extinguish Egyptians’ revolutionary ambitions, discredit opposition to its iron grip on state and society and silence dissent to its decimation of social welfare.
Many movies, television shows and advertisements film on location in the busy and crowded streets of Cairo. Mariz Kelada explains with ethnographic detail the complex and multilayered work of production assistants, fixers and sub-fixers to create the right conditions and relationships for filming in diverse neighborhoods and navigating inevitable tensions. Despite their precarious status as informal workers, she makes the case that their labor is integral to the formal system of media production in Egypt.
Could the use of Bitcoin allow Palestinians to escape Israeli control over the economy and money in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Hadas Thier examines the arguments of the crypto enthusiasts and finds serious problems with their vision of liberation via Bitcoin. Thier talks to political economist Sara Roy, whose scholarship on de-development in Gaza is being used by some Bitcoin boosters, about the real roots of Palestinian oppression and why cryptocurrencies are not the solution.
State-sponsored credit campaigns are not a new strategy for Turkish governments but the low-interest consumer loans that were extended to almost 7 million people in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic surpassed all earlier financial inclusion programs. Inviting masses into the financial sector amid stagnating or declining real wages and expecting people to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs or small-scale investors were the main pillars of the project. It did not, however, solve the problems faced by low-income groups, women and minorities. Ali Rıza Güngen examines the state’s shifting approach to debt and the consequences for borrowers.
With Lebanon’s crumbling power sector in crisis and unable to meet even a fraction of demand, the government and reformers offer competing visions for how to fix it. Zachary Davis Cuyler delves into the country’s currently dire financial and energy situation, the proposed solutions and their implications for the ruling elite and the increasingly impoverished Lebanese people.
The Club (Kulüp), produced by Netflix, is set in the mid-1950s among the cast, crew and management of a trendy nightclub in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. In addition to the use of Ladino, the language of Turkey’s Jewish population, the show uniquely represents Istanbul’s minority populations, their contributions to cultural life and their experiences of persecution. James Ryan elucidates these unusual characteristics that distinguish the show from a typical Turkish soap opera and provides fascinating context to its real-life historical elements.
Genocide, Historical Amnesia and Italian Settler Colonialism in Libya—An Interview with Ali Abdullatif Ahmida
In the late 1920s, the Italian fascist regime implemented a campaign of ethnic cleansing in eastern Libya to create more land for Italian settlers and quell armed resistance to colonization. Ali Abdullatif Ahmida’s new book, Genocide in Libya: Shar, a Hidden Colonial History, examines this forgotten case of settler-colonial violence. Jacob Mundy talks to Ahmida about the genocide, the kind of research methods he had to develop to uncover this history and its present-day relevance.
Although settler colonies are often depicted as unique and distinctive, Muriam Haleh Davis argues that analyzing settler colonialism in a global framework reveals their multiple commonalities. Here she examines the large-scale production of citrus in Algeria, Israel and California as one fascinating example of the myriad links—both economic and ideological—that bound different settler-colonial projects. Davis also explores the serious ramifications for historical memory and contemporary politics of viewing these projects as exceptional.
With the French presidential election currently underway, Olivia C. Harrison’s timely intervention explains the central role that the history and memory of French Algeria continue to play in the country’s politics, culture and society. She shows how the perverse calls by nativist and right-wing groups for the “decolonization of France” and the repatriation of immigrants have been shaped by the experience of settler colonialism and the Algerian War of Independence, with repercussions that go beyond France.
Curtis Ryan interviews the award-winning Jordanian writer Hisham Bustani about his innovative literary works in multiple genres, the art of translation, government censorship and his political activism. This wide-ranging discussion provides an illuminating view into Bustani’s creative processes as well as insights into activism and identity in Jordan.
In the summer of 2021, street artists in Amman risked crossing the Jordanian government’s red lines when they painted murals and graffiti expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Kyle Craig spoke with the artists about this unexpected shift in their public art practices and the sometimes contradictory responses of state officials. He examines the entanglements and power dynamics between artists, the government and institutional art patrons revealed by this unusual moment.
Like all governments, Iran’s response to the coronavirus pandemic combines public health measures with ideological messaging. Schwartz and Gölz analyze Iran’s visual iconography and the politics of the state’s early narratives of self-reliance and resistance and why these shifted when vaccines became the dominant tool to fight the virus.
Although wildfires in Turkey’s Mediterranean forests are not unusual, the ferocity of last summer’s fires sparked new political debates around the issues of government forest management and post-fire restoration. Turkish forestry experts and the public are now questioning conventional solutions promoted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), such as planting trees, that promise a quick and convenient recovery—and green the state’s image.
The recent upsurge in analysis of Israel as an apartheid state has peaked again with Amnesty International’s February 2022 report. The willingness of mainstream non-governmental organizations to use the language of apartheid marks a shift in the terms of the debate—one that builds on a long history of analysis and activism, including by MERIP. Revisit MERIP articles that examine the parallels—and distinctions—between Israel’s system of control and that of apartheid South Africa.
The AKP’s decades-long electoral success in Turkey has been made possible by their strategic alliance with the country’s small industrialists. Utku Balaban analyzes the connection between Islamism and industrialization since the rise of these urban manufacturers in the 1980s and explains the nuances of the Islamists’ reliance on their support in working-class communities.
Providing a vital historical perspective, Benjamin Hopkins explains how the failure of the American project in Afghanistan had little to do with Afghan corruption or lack of national unity as understood in Washington. While today the problems of the Afghan state—its dependence on foreign aid, lack of legitimacy among the population and inability to deliver the public good—are viewed as elements of its failure, Hopkins shows how they are in fact consciously constructed features of its original blueprint, embedded by outside imperial powers at the modern state’s inception.
Dignity was a principle demand of the 2011 revolution that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. Nadia Marzouki examines how that demand has informed the practices of youth and other marginalized groups as they mobilize for quotidian causes like clean streets. President Kais Saied’s recent power grab is a different kind of response to the demand for dignity, one that tries to erase corruption rather than confront it through transitional justice. Marzouki explains how the fluid politics of dignity make it an enduring resource for democratic revival. Forthcoming in the Winter 2021 issue of Middle East Report, “Revolutionary Afterlives.”
Soon after Libyans rose up in protest against the brutal authoritarian regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi in February 2011, the Libyan American poet Khaled Mattawa wrote “Now That We Have Tasted Hope.” His poem powerfully captured the mix of relief and anguish, despair and hope felt by many who participated in, or were inspired by, the Arab uprisings and was widely shared. In addition to presenting the poem here, Atef Said interviewed Mattawa about the poem, poetry’s relationship to revolution and his work supporting artists in Libya. Forthcoming in the Winter 2021 issue of Middle East Report, “Revolutionary Afterlives.”