Middle East & North Africa


Our mission is to produce actionable knowledge concerning the struggle for political freedoms and social justice in the Middle East and North Africa. We advance this cause in three ways: investigating state violence in all its forms, raising public awareness, and advocating for policy change.

More than a decade has passed since the Arab uprisings of 2011. The demands for democracy and economic justice which brought people to the streets are nevertheless no closer to fulfillment. To the contrary, millions of people today are silenced by their governments and excluded from participating in the political, economic and social affairs of their countries. Popular calls for change continue to be met with assassinations, mass arrests, forced displacements or constant surveillance. And all around, levels of poverty and inequality are getting worse.

As people throughout the region are being deprived of their basic rights, those responsible face few consequences. Their impunity derives in part from the priority that the international community assigns to stability. Such priorities allow abusive regimes to position themselves as partners while encouraging western policymakers to ignore how stability is often achieved: via repression, violence and the maintenance of fear.

The Noria MENA program is committed to challenging the policies and countering the narratives which prevent democracy from springing in the region. We provide a platform for the voiceless to be heard and a place where accountability for state violence can be demanded


The Middle East is likely the most studied and commented upon region in the world. Why, then, has the Noria MENA Program decided to enter the fray?

We launched our initiative because despite all the work done on the MENA, a lack of understanding still pervades the worlds of media and policymaking when it comes to the region’s affairs. With so many focusing on questions of strategy and international politics, we also see too little attention paid to the lives and struggles of everyday people. 

Importantly, the Noria MENA Program is not a think tank or a traditional research center. Rather, we are an action-oriented team committed to using knowledge to drive meaningful change. We do so through a three-step approach:

→ Unrivaled fieldwork

→ Wide dissemination to foster public debate

→ Advocacy directed at international decision-makers


Our mission is to track the evolution of  authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa after the Arab Spring. This place and historical moment has borne witness to the rise of a new and complex coalition of anti-democratic forces, which can be called the Arab counter-revolution. This reactionary axis has no founding event, its interventions are often subtle, and its end game rarely articulated. As a result, it is as undocumented as it is misunderstood.

If our primary subject matter has failed to attract the attention of scholars, journalists, and policymakers, this is not for want of impact. To the contrary, the phenomenon we speak of has unalterably changed the lives of millions of people. Depending on the place, it has, amongst other things, precipitated civil war, criminalized political expression, stripped citizenries of basic liberties, intensified inequality, and engendered profound social suffering. Metabolizing state-sponsored violence in a diversity of forms, irredentist authoritarianism has quietly laid siege to states, societies, and the values of an international order founded on human rights.

In view of this all, our program represents a critical intervention–one aimed at not only generating knowledge and contesting disinformation, but raising public awareness and affecting policy change as well.  In holding regional and international actors accountable for their complicity in the outcomes discussed above, assisting these same actors in developing alternative ways of acting in the Middle East and North Africa, and in granting a platform to those so often silenced in the public sphere, we know we can contribute to the realization of a better tomorrow.

Our efforts is structured around three axes: the actors, the capital and the ideas of the Arab counter-revolution.


The political, juridical, and administrative systems responsible for the repression of free expression (inclusive of the press), restraining oppositions politics, and incarcerating and/or assassinating political and social activists.

 The rise of thugs-for-hire and conservative religious movements; the entrepreneurs taking advantage of regional black market economies; the public intellectuals involved in driving the messaging of counter-revolution;

Election interference; the training and coordination of security forces; foreign military deployments; the lobbying of western capitals on behalf of proxies and allies; and the design of migration policies and regulation on movement for people coming from or through the Middle East and North Africa.


The domestic and international actors, social forces and organizations with the greatest influence over the design of fiscal, monetary, trade, investment, industrial, labor, and anti-corruption policy within national and regional contexts; the legislative and planning processes through which development strategies are crafted..

The destructive interventions of foreign parties (sanctions, embargo, asset seizure, divestment, capital flight, bond market actions, etc.) and their effects in destabilizing economies and polities; the ameliorative interventions of foreign parties (bilateral aid, foreign reserve exchange arrangements, concessionary loans, subsidized energy, assistance with creditors) and their effects in bolstering economies and polities; the efforts through which Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to consolidate regional hegemony and integrate local business communities into a single class formation (direct budget support, equity investment, foreign direct investment, the establishment of partnerships and subsidiaries, and mergers and acquisitions).

The causes of regional labor market crises (unemployment, informality, compensation); the forces behind the repression of unions and unionization efforts; the drivers and political consequence of rising personal indebtedness; the variables informing tax system choices (the weight of the income tax v. regressive sales and value-added taxes); the nature of market structures and market competition; the factors biasing investment towards real estate and other speculative non-tradables; the factors explaining the decline of productive sectors; the causes of current account imbalances.


The production and distribution of discourses across media, official statements, internal communications, and public education systems concerning the state and chaos; the protection of minorities; the prevention of religious extremism; and the dangers of democratic aspiration.

The lay intellectuals, state-associated religious actors, and non-national actors articulating and spreading the ideological tenets of the Arab authoritarianism.

The networking of Arab and western right-wing populist movements, and the exchange of ideational resources between these parties.


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Sudan, “Down with the Government of Thieves!”


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The Middle East and North Africa Program publishes original policy papers. Open-access and translated into English, French and Arabic, our products primarily focus upon the local, international and transnational dynamics of authoritarian renewal, though approach this common subject matter from a number of different vantage points. Noria MENA program analyses are crafted so as to be accessible for policymakers, civil society leaders, academics and concerned observers alike.