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“Guests and Aliens”: Re-Configuring New Mobilities in the Eastern Mediterranean After 2011 - with a special focus on Syrian refugees

Session 6: Closing Remarks

Closing Remarks From a Political Science Perspective

Laura Ruiz de Elvira Carrascal

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1Beyond the cross-cutting issues regarding mobility, migration, and refugees, the conference “Guests and Aliens: Re-configuring new mobilities in the Eastern Mediterranean post-2011” also shed light on several interesting questions from a political science perspective. Among them, five will be highlighted in this short conclusion.

2The first of these questions relates to the paradoxes, contradictions and undesired effects arising from every social and political process. Several conference participants, starting with the organizer, Natalia Ribas Mateos, underlined how dynamics of continuity and rupture can simultaneously take place, thus reiterating the need to take into account the longue durée. Saskia Sassen laid stress on the paradox of mobilities increasing while borders are being rigidified. Jean-François Pérouse explained how in Turkey “the bad Arabs,” i.e. the Syrian migrants, are treated differently than “the good Arabs,” those who visit Turkey and bring with them a significant economic capital. Susanne Schmelter, Laura Ruiz de Elvira, and Hélène Michalak made the distinction between formal organizations and informal networks in the humanitarian realm. In the same vein, the combinations of “rule of law” versus “suspension of the law,” of “legal” versus “illegal,” and of “good refugees” versus “bad refugees” were emphasized.

3A second question was that of agency. As shown in most of the papers discussed during the two-day conference, among the myriad consequences of the so-called “Arab Spring”, the reinforcement of agency in the region should be highlighted. Several papers indeed revealed the increasing role played by civil society, by both NGOs and informal networks (built on local, transnational, and sectarian solidarities, as well as on, for instance, illegal trafficking activities). Similarly, Claire Beaugrand and Vincent Geisser clearly showed in their paper the increasing agency of the Arab diaspora, migrants and exiled. The outsourcing of social responsibilities to a wide range of social actors, which was already a strong phenomenon before 2011, has arguably been accentuated in the post-2011 national contexts – e.g. in Tunisia, where the state has been largely inactive since the ouster of Ben Ali, or in Syria, where the state apparatus has been gradually damaged and dismantled – and has, consequently, increased the agency of non-state actors. In other words, contrary to the ideas of “passivity” and “resignation” that prevailed before 2011, a deeper look into Arab societies reveals different forms of agency that the “Arab Spring” has surely brought to light, but certainly not created from scratch. Moreover, Mariam Salehi’s and Christoph Schwarz’s papers reminded us that similar dynamics – i.e. outsourcing of social responsibilities, agency, and new forms of resistance – can equally be observed in Europe.

4A third question that was central to some of the analyses conducted at the conference is that of the redefinition/abandonment of former social contracts, both in the MENA region and in Europe. Achim Rohde and Saskia Sassen explicitly mentioned it in their respective papers but other participants did so implicitly. From this perspective, the breakdown of social contracts (which, in the MENA region, date back to the nascent states of the 1950s and 1960s) generates growing social tensions and can be considered one of the main explanatory elements of the Arab uprisings of 2011.

5A fourth cross-cutting issue of the conference was that of the importance of the local context. The local context remains vital when shaping broader dynamics that can be observed at the regional level. However, as Kamel Doraï suggested, despite the differences that can be observed between different cases, several salient points remain common – e.g. when talking about refugee policies in Jordan and in Lebanon. Hence, the need for undertaking comparative studies that will enable us to understand what is exceptional or country-specific and what is not.

6A fifth question that needs to be underlined in this short conclusion concerns the political dimension that lies behind other realms of social dynamics (such as migration, mobility and humanitarian aid) that are initially not conceived as being strictly political. The papers presented at the conference were rich in examples in this regard: as previously mentioned, Claire Beaugrand’s and Vincent Geisser’s paper explored how the Arab diasporas have become key actors in the post-“Arab Spring” politics (e.g. in Tunisia); likewise, the papers of Susanne Schmelter, Laura Ruiz de Elvira, and Hélène Michalak highlighted the interplay between politics and humanitarian aid. Finally, Andrés Mourenza’s and Imanol Ortega’s paper showed that the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey can become a political tool within Turkish politics. These examples revealed the need to rethink the meaning of politics (and, consequently, that of the terms politicization, political and apolitical), not only from an analytical perspective but also from the local actors’ point of view.

7Finally, it is interesting to note that the religious question and that of sectarian dynamics, often portrayed as being pivotal to understanding Middle Eastern societies and politics, and especially referred to when talking about the Syrian crisis, were absent in most of the papers presented in the conference. Perhaps this missing perspective could be a good starting point for a new conference on mobilities, refugees and migration in the MENA region.

© Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 2016

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