“Untangling Popular Power” will consider various forms of popular power in the Middle East and North Africa by examining how populism is defined, the role of modern populist movements like anti-colonial struggles or popular anti-regime uprisings, how the use of religious identity has shaped these movements, and the relationship between populist ambitions and various media platforms, from print to broadcast to digital.
As “populism” itself becomes a significant force, both rhetorically and politically, across the world and in the region, the need for interdisciplinary scholarship across the MENA region is vital. This forum aims to explore the extent to which recently emerging populisms in the contemporary Middle East are illustrative of a new historical trend, and/or the extent to which they are a continuation of the diverse strategies for the mobilization of peoples that were deployed during international anti-colonial projects and civil rights movements. It will examine the intersection of populist and religious discourses and the relationship of secular and religious activists to political and social power, as well as the implications of the different strains of emerging populism on globalization, liberal institutions, human rights, and the media.
Although “populism” is a contested term, here we use it to characterize political trends in which leaders mobilize social groups for political action through rhetoric(s) that weave together emotionally charged themes into a message of economic uplift, nationalism, the wresting of power from entrenched elites, and the protection of an authentic way of life.
Keynote Address: "Populism and the Democratization of Injustice," by Jon Alterman (CSIS)
This conference is organized by the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University and the Columbia Global Center | Amman.
University of Oslo – Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages
University of Groningen – Centre for Religion, Conflict, and Globalization
Sciences Po – Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI)
Alliance Program – Columbia University