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The Arab Spring - ten years after

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Several researchers at the Center for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies were doing field work during the Arab Spring. It has left deep traces in them - but also resulted in new research projects.

The Arab Spring is a term describing the uprisings that started in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. The first one took place in Tunisia and was then followed by unrest in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya and later in Syria. Demonstrations also took place in other Arab states.

In Egypt during the military coup

Maria Frederika Malmström is a social anthropologist and researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES). She wrote her dissertation on gender, sexuality, identity, global politics and female circumcision while on location in Cairo.

- Since then, the city has been both a love and a place for research for me, says Maria F Malmström.

She was in Jordan in 2011 and experienced the uprisings from there. Then she was in Egypt in 2013 during the military coup.

- Several times I ended up in dangerous situations and had to flee to avoid the military forces and the chaos in the streets, she says.

Two research projects that relate to The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring is strongly reflected in her research and Maria F Malmström now has two projects that relate to the events. The first is about masculinity and religious identities and street politics, and the second is about how suspicion take concrete form and the ambiguity in the familiar everyday life.

Book about the events

Her book The Streets Are Talking to Me, Affective Fragments in Sisi's Egypt, which came out in 2019, is also a result of what she experienced then. The book is about the official politics of Egypt and the one behind the scenes. It is about war and demonstrations, and about how state-funded violence and military oppression affect people physically and emotionally. The book also describes what they experience physically, through sound and other sensory experiences.

- I describe, for example, the unreal feeling of the lack of sound and dramatic change in sonic rhythm in the ten million city of Cairo after President Mohamed Morsi was ousted, when there was a curfew.

The president was ousted on July 3, 2013, and in mid-August, the al-Nahda and Rabaa al-Adawiya Square massacres, in which more than a thousand citizens were executed, took place, resulting in a curfew and a state of emergency.

Lectures via Zoom around the world

Her book has received a lot of attention and is used in university educations around the world and right now she gives lectures via Zoom in both USA and in Australia.

Around the time of the Arab Spring, Maria F Malmström gave many interviews for, among others, Swedish Radio, ETC and Svenska Dagbladet. She also participated in Almedalen 2013 on a link from Cairo, in an extra security policy seminar.

Today, the military establishment and security services are once again ruling Egypt through harsh and brutal methods. After all, the collaborations she had with colleagues there and then have continued.

- But it has become increasingly dangerous for them. Many researchers and journalists, are either threatened or imprisoned. Anyone who opposes the military dictatorship is a target.

What has changed for you as a researcher since the Arab Spring?

- Everything. I have both benefited from it in my research, but also become quite tired. I constantly think about mine and others' safety both in and out of the field. Many around me have been hurt - both mentally and physically. Today they often feel exhausted and at the same time stressed and frustrated.

Mark LeVine is a professor and researcher at CMES and the University of California. He is a close friend and research partner with Maria F Malmström and he also has strong ties to the region.

His research and teaching focuses, among other things, on political and cultural conditions in the Middle East, more specifically revolution and resistance. He is also researching Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco and was very much wanted by the media in relation to the events in the Arab Spring. He wrote articles for Al Jazeera after the 2011 uprising, appeared in Russia Today repeatedly and was interviewed in Le Monde and France 24.

How have your collaborations with researchers in the countries where the Arab Spring took place been affected?

- It has become more difficult because governments have partially cracked, or "bought" them with scholarships to keep track of them. For the past five or six years, I have been forced to plan and carry out my collaborations much more carefully, says Mark LeVine.

Tio år efter arabiska våren (LUM)