The mission of this project 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 project 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 will be structured around three axes: the actors, money and ideas of the Arab counter-revolution.

Actors

The regulation of the public sphere: 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 activities of non-state counter-revolutionary forces: 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;

The making of the regional order: 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.

Capital

The design of social and economic policy: 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 nature of foreign intervention: 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 outcomes of policy choice: 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.

Ideas

Anti-democracy as narrative: 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 ideologues of the anti-democratic putsch: The lay intellectuals, state-associated religious actors, and non-national actors articulating and spreading the ideological tenets of the Arab authoritarianism.

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