The Middle East and North Africa Space (MENAS)

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Faculty-students based research group

About the MENAS

The Middle East and North Africa Space (MENAS) is a research group dedicated to the study of issues related to the Middle East and North Africa. It is housed at the Central European University in Budapest, within the department of political science. The aim of MENAS is to bring together scholars working on these regions. It organizes events such as seminars, paper discussions, and workshops, and social events such as movie nights and Arabic language practice.

 Among the themes examined within the MENAS:

-          Political and economic systems

-          Political regime changes and transitions

-          Revolutions

-          Dictatorship and democracy

-          Constitutions and legal systems

-          Political Islam

-          Islamist parties/ movements

-          Migration studies

-          Conflict, energy, and security issues

-          Identity and ethnic groups

What is the MENAS?

The “Middle East” (ME), was coined by a British foreign office in the late 19th. The term became the common label to designate those countries in South West Asia. Due to the historical and cultural aspects that some North African countries share with the Middle East, many experts started to use the label “the Middle East and North Africa” or “MENA.” Other countries have also been included in this region. Countries such as Sudan to the South, and Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to the far East are also considered part of the Middle East. We decided to call this research group “the Middle East and North Africa Space” because of this transcontinental nature of the region.

Our Activities

The MENAS activities can be divided into two main categories: formal and informal sessions, both of them are open to the public. Formal sessions include bi weekly public seminars on topics related to the MENA region by CEU faculty or students and by international guests. Trainings and workshops on topics related to MENA region are offered as part of this group. The aim of the series of seminars is to widen the research interests of CEU faculty and students and to promote collaborative work among them. Informal sessions consist of a series of cultural and social events. Such events could be language practice sessions and movie nights. The purpose of these informal events is to keep widening our cultural and linguistic knowledge in a friendly environment while socializing and meeting new people.

Rethinking the MENA Region Before and After the Arab Spring

There are a lot of questions and debate surrounding the Arab Spring. The MENAS’s first theme - “Rethinking the MENA region before and after the Arab Spring”- is an attempt to study those issues from a variety of disciplines. Since 2011, the world has been witnessing a series of demonstrations and protests occurring throughout Middle Eastern and North African countries. One of the main slogans of these protests is: “freedom, justice, and dignity”. What scholars and media called “Arab Awakening” was a result of long decades of oppression, dictatorship, and restrictions on individual liberties.

However, the results of these protests varied across the region. In Tunisia, the revolution is considered a relatively successful and peaceful whereas in Egypt for example the transition to democracy failed after a military coup which drifted back the country towards autocracy. In other cases, demands for change were blocked by governments such as in Saudi Arabia, and GCC countries and in some others, they turned into armed conflicts and civil wars (for instance in Yemen, Libya, Syria). These series of varied outcomes led scholars and journalists to shift their label from ‘Arab Spring’ into ‘Arab Winter’. In the case of Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco for example, mass protests were considered as a threat to the rulers and soon after they were followed by a series of financial, economic, and human rights reforms.

The aim of the MENAS is to understand what happened in the MENA region and what explain these different outcomes. Why some countries had very peaceful transitions while others turned into civil wars? What can/cannot the current transitology literature tell us about these various trajectories? What role(s) did the local, national, and regional actors play in these events?

Our goal is to examine key factors of this ‘Arab Revolt’, and their impact on the region and the world as a whole. Most importantly, in order to understand the nature of this mass mobilization, this research group looks not only at contemporary issues but also historical events that might have influenced those trajectories (colonialism /state formation).