Whiter revolution?

Gendered perspectives from the modern history of the MENA region

Date: 1 September 2017, 01:30–03:30

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 395



In modern Arab history, revolution has been a powerful mobilizing concept for the transformation of proto-nationalism to nationalism, of elite nationalism to mass nationalism, and for the legitimization of post-independence regimes. The papers of this panel will address these issues from a gendered historical and comparative perspective. Revolution has been instrumental in the competition over the capacity to speak for the people or the nation and in staging competing programs of modernization as expressions of popular will – while actually defining and delimiting the nation in cultural, religious as well as gendered terms. Anchoring political action in the “masses,” discourses of revolution allowed national leaders as well as actors on the margins to perform a double break with both what was deemed as backward and with the colonial order. At the same time, the notion of revolution opened up different pathways for critiquing and / or de-legitimizing these projects – either from inside or from outside. The concept of revolution thus also involves competition over cultural and epistemic authority.

This panel looks at revolution as a discursive device of state and nation building in the modern MENA region as well as a key term in the analysis and interpretation of these same processes. On both levels, questions of ownership of (or capability to engage in) revolution, how to define and to represent revolution, and whether there has been a “true” revolution are raised. Likewise, on both levels, gender is crucial in negotiating political legitimacy. On the one hand, the status of women has been used as an important marker of revolutionary projects. On the other hand, these projects are structured by gendered and sexualized imaginaries. Among the questions to be asked are the following: In what ways the concept of revolution shapes the knowledge and interpretative frameworks used to account for upheavals in colonial and post-colonial societies? In which manners have gender issues been mobilized in debates about revolutionary projects, their legitimacy, their success and failure?


Nadia Al-Bagdadi (Central European University Budapest)

Bettina Dennerlein (University Zurich)


Randi Deguilhem (French National Center for Scientific Research Paris / TELEMME-MMSH, Aix-Marseille University)


Nadia Al-Bagdadi (Central European University Budapest)

Marnia Lazreg (Hunter College New York)

Bettina Dennerlein (University Zurich)

Aymon Kreil (University Zurich)



Nadia Al-Bagdadi: When is revolution? Gender and the social in late Ottoman-Arab thought

When is revolution? Triggered by the reception of the French Revolution and later political events of the anti-imperialist ‘Urabi revolution (thawrat ‘Urabi in 1879-1882) in Egypt and the Young Turk Revolution (1905-1908) in Turkey, the very concept of thawra (or inqilab) was under scrutiny, both as analytical tool and as political instrument. For modern Arab, or late Ottoman-Arab thought the demarcation line between revolution, be it as catalyst or as historical result, was embedded in related questions of development (tatawwur) and progress (taraqqi), reform (islah) and renaissance (tajdid or nahda) or, on the other hand, of decline and fitna. In this paper I seek to bring to the forefront to what extent political, cultural and religious discourses on revolution, before and after, are inscribed as well in questions of gender and women.

Material used: the new dictionaries, publications by Adib Ishaq, Faris Al-Shidyaq

Nawfal al-Tarabulsi, Zaynab al-Ghazali, Rashid Rida, Malak Hifni Nasif, Ayse Taymuriyya, Abdallah an-Nadim, Muhammad Abduh, al-Jabarti.

Marnia Lazreg: The Battle of Names: The Algerian War Between Insurgency and Revolution

Who decides that a country has experienced a rebellion, or an insurgency, not a “revolution?” Who owns the concept of revolution? What are the political and epistemic consequences of conceptual ownership? Why and how does a colonial situation inflect the language of social change?

To answer such questions, this paper examines the sources, evolution, as well as effects of the struggle over naming radical movements of decolonization in the second half of the XXth century. Focusing on the case study of Algeria, the paper traces the political and cultural frameworks as well as traditions within which the Algerian War (1954-1962) was named and conceptualized by its protagonists. Using historical monographs, pictorial representations and interviews, it further analyzes the persistence of the struggle over naming in current postcolonial historiography, as it explores revisionist accounts of the War among Algerian opposition groups, and describes their consequences on women who survived the War. Theoretical lessons will be drawn about the role played today by former colonial empires in the symbolic appropriation and redefinition of their fall through the political production of historical knowledge.

Bettina Dennerlein: Non-revolution and the re-negotiation of gender: “La revolution du roi et du peuple” in post-independence Morocco

Up to now, Moroccan politics of gender and reform have been explained most of the time as resulting from the institutional and religious dimensions of monarchic legitimacy. This paper intends to shed more light on the complexity of the issue by adding the dimension of the “revolution of the king and the people” as a further component of royal authority.

In contrast to the dynamics of decolonization that led to the installation of republican regimes in neighbouring countries, the polity of independent Morocco has been built around the figure of the king who was able to impose himself not only as the highest political and religious authority of the country. As a result of complex political struggles between the national movement and the French authorities as well as between different political forces inside Morocco, the monarchy imposed itself also as the sole legitimate representative of the “revolutionary” (i.e. independentist or national) will of the people. Every year, in remembrance of the return of Muhammad V on August 20 from the exile imposed on him by the French colonial administration in 1953, “la fête de la revolution du roi et du people” is celebrated in the country. Starting from an analysis of the royal speeches delivered on this occasion over time, the paper looks at the changing semantics of the monarchical interpretation of revolution as a component of its politics of gender and reform since the 1990es.

Aymon Kreil: Saviour or Traitor? Sissi, the “June 30 Revolution” of 2013, and Women’s Organisations in Egypt

This contribution explores narratives of the June 30 2013 demonstrations and the subsequent overthrow of the Muslim Brothers’ rule by the army in relation to women’s issues. In 2012-13, the increased polarisation around the Islamist party was fuelled by suspicions that it sought to progressively unravel women’s rights. This is one of the reasons why many celebrated its dismissal and the rise of Abd al-Fattah al-Sissi to the presidency. However, the subsequent crackdown on opposition movements comforted others in their defiance against State institutions.

These conflicting narratives reflect tensions around the legacy of the “January 25 Revolution” of 2011. In 2013, June 30 was officially presented as a “revolution (thawra)” fulfilling the goals of 2011. Conversely, its opponents described it as a counterrevolutionary “coup (inqilab)” putting an end to the hopes of 2011. The analysis of the public discourse of women’s organisations and their different narratives of June 30 reveals antithetical relations to state feminism. Thus, opponents’ positive reassessements of Nasser’s “July 23 Revolution” of 1952 shaped opinions (on) of Sissi as either a saviour or a traitor of women’s fight for emancipation. By describing these contradictory genealogies of Egyptian feminism, this contribution shows the ways conflations with past events determine positions toward present struggles.

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