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  • Special Issue Introduction
  • Zahra Babar

Over the course of the past year, citizens of Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Sudan have taken to the streets to demand political and economic reform from their governments. While, in several cases, these protest movements may have begun as initial public reactions to particular material deprivations and poor social conditions, they have quickly transformed into broader calls for deeper political and economic change. Longtime dictators were forced out of office in Algeria and Sudan in spring 2019, and there have been renewed demonstrations in Egypt, teachers' strikes in Jordan, general workers' strikes in Iran, ongoing violence in Iraq, and protests in Lebanon. The Middle East appears to be experiencing Arab Spring 2.0. The outcome of these public expressions of outrage remains, as yet, unknown. But what this second round of protests is reinforcing is that the Middle East continues to witness active and vibrant expressions of citizenship.

The 2010/11 uprisings were the result of a fundamental crisis in the relationship between citizens and the state. Much of the public grievance was born out of the fact that citizens felt they had almost no influence over their political leaders and on public decision-making. At the time, especially in the public sphere, language related to citizenship and the right to participation and inclusion was widely used by protesters. In the aftermath of the protests, however, noticeable advances in inclusive citizenship remain absent. The region has, instead, seen a revitalization of state practices of clientelism, exclusion, and repression.

Despite this reassertion of the authoritarian bargain, the current round of protests indicates that a potential shift in the region might be underway. Large segments of the population continue to feel and believe that their citizenship comes attached with political, economic, and social claims that states are obliged to meet. At this historical moment, with widespread public demands for participation and inclusion across the Middle East, a reexamination of the forms and features of citizenship in the region is both timely and relevant.

Citizenship affords us an analytical lens that moves beyond a discussion of the contractual relationship between a state and those who live on its territory. This special issue explores several key questions concerning the notion, evolution, and manifestations of citizenship in the Middle East. It is important to ask: what is the history of state-formation and what legacy has it left on the evolution of local ideas of citizenship and belonging? What does contestation over citizenship tell us about ongoing political and social change in the Middle Eastern context? Existing scholarship maintains that the economic and social rights of citizenship are scarce public resources that are distributed through institutional mechanisms, creating both vertical and horizontal inequalities. How these institutional mechanisms operate can have significant impacts on social and political conditions in different countries. Who gets included and who gets excluded via citizenship access, and what do the forms and features of marginalization look like? What bargaining power does citizenship bestow upon those who can access it, and what happens to those who are denied the right to make claims based upon it? What does the political community look like in different states, and what are the constraints and challenges facing both states and citizens in their negotiations with one another? [End Page 529]

In order to address these and other related questions, we at the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University Qatar assembled a group of scholars in 2018 to study citizenship in the Middle East. The series of five articles that comprise this Special Issue of the Middle East Journal are the outcome of a year-long research project exploring the challenges of citizenship across the region.

In "The Paradoxes of Dual Nationality," Amy Malek of Princeton University and the College of Charleston examines the increasingly common phenomenon of dual citizenship among Iranians. In addition to there being millions of Iranians in the diaspora who are largely unable to renounce their Iranian citizenship, many in Iran seek additional citizenship from a country outside the region in order to compensate for certain perceived weaknesses in the citizenship associated with their nationality. Malek suggests that, while many...


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pp. 529-530
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