The Century Foundation (TCF), a progressive think tank, today launched a new project that explores the dual crises of rising violence and repression and the shrinking space for individual rights in the Middle East and around the globe. Led by TCF senior fellows Thanassis Cambanis and Michael W. Hanna, the project brings together more than 20 of the world’s leading academics and activists to discuss how to reverse the global assault on pluralism, advance universal rights in both policy and in practice, and begin setting the Middle East on a new path rooted in inclusive citizenship.

The launch of Citizenship and Its Discontents: The Struggle for Rights, Pluralism, and Inclusion in the Middle East follows two-plus years of research, interviews, and discussion among the members of the working group, supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. Over the next five weeks, TCF will be releasing various report-length policy papers, expert Q&As, videos, and podcasts in both English and Arabic, culminating in a series of public events in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East beginning in May 2019, and the publication of an edited volume this fall.

“Pluralism and rights are under threat across the globe, from increasing violence against minorities in the Middle East, to resurgent white supremacist movements and attacks on immigrants in the United States and Europe,” said TCF’s Cambanis. “While many of our current crises seem dire, they also present opportunities to reimagine and recommit to fostering inclusive citizenship. We hope this project contributes to those efforts underway, and helps put respect for universal rights and equal treatment back where they belong.”

The project kicked off today with the publication of four reports and one Q&A, which are summarized and linked below. TCF also released a 90-second video, which overviews the goals and origins of the project, as well as a new podcast, in which Cambanis and Hanna are joined by Lina Attalah, Karl Sharro, and Rabab El-Mahdi for a discussion on the basis of individual rights and how to create inclusive forms of citizenship.

First Batch of Reports — Published Wednesday, April 10

Report #1: “Reviving the Quest for Universal Rights,” authored by Thanassis Cambanis. This report examines the rise of violent repression and identity-based conflict in the Middle East in the decade after the Arab uprisings. Cambanis argues that this crisis, which is part of a global phenomenon, also presents an opportunity to reinvigorate concepts too long taken for granted—namely, citizenship, belonging, and the right to claim rights.

Report #2: “The Waning Relevance of the Sunni-Shia Divide,” authored by Fanar Haddad. This report looks at the political relevance of sectarianism in the Middle East today. Focusing on Iraq, Haddad argues that sectarian dynamics are no longer the chief driver of political instability, overtaken in part by recent developments including the rise of the Islamic State, the normalization of political Shiism, and changes in Iraq’s system for the apportionment of political office.  

Report #3: “The Retreat from Universalism in the Middle East and the World,” authored by Karl Sharro. This report examines the rise of identity politics in the Middle East, arguing that these impulses—which often find support in Western scholarship and cultural discourse—impede the search for pluralistic and democratic alternatives in the Middle East. In a region mired in sectarian violence, Sharro emphasizes the urgency to revive universalist ideals over identity-based movements.

Report #4: “Lebanon, the Sectarian Identity Test Lab,” authored by Melani Cammett. This report explores the rise of sectarian tensions in Lebanon, detailing the ways in which sectarianism is embedded in and structures everyday life in the country. Cammett draws on her own research into Lebanese voting behavior to suggest that there are ways to mitigate intergroup conflict in the Middle East, rather than ignite and intensify it.

Q&A #1: “Moving Feminism out of Its Silo,” Q&A with Ghiwa Sayegh. In this Q&A, Thanassis Cambanis interviews Ghiwa Sayegh, who represents a new generation of activists in the Middle East who view feminism as an ideology to fight for a wide array of rights that intersect and overlap with feminist principles, including sex and sexuality, migration, and global economics.

The full list of working group members include: Thanassis Cambanis, Michael W. Hanna, Rohan Advani, Elizabeth Thompson, Fanar Haddad, Melani Cammett, Mona Fawaz, Zaid al-Ali, Rabab El-Mahdi, Lina Attalah, Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, Karl Sharro, Mariz Tadros, Joseph Daher, Cale Salih, Maria Fantappie, Mustafa Akyol, Elizabeth Monier, and Mark Farha.

Included below is a tentative release schedule. For embargoed copies of any of the forthcoming reports, email edwards@tcf.org. And for more information on the project, including individual reports as they’re published, visit here.

Week 2: Tuesday, April 16

  • Report #5: Beirut Madinati and the Prospects of Urban Citizenship, authored by Mona Fawaz
  • Report #6: Noncitizen Workers and Exclusive Citizenship in the Gulf, authored by Rohan Advani

Week 2: Thursday, April 18

  • Report #7: The Dark Path of Minority Politics, authored by Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
  • Q&A #2: Christians and Other Religious Minorities in the Middle East, with Elizabeth Monier
  • Podcast [Arabic]: Universal and Minority Rights in the Middle East, with Michael W. Hanna, Lina Attalah, Karl Sharro, and Rabab El-Mahdi

Week 3: Tuesday, April 23

  • Report #8: The Arab World’s Liberal-Islamist Schism Turns 100, authored by Elizabeth Thompson
  • Q&A #3: Creating a Constituency for Secularism, with Lama Abu-Odeh

Week 3: Thursday, April 25

  • Report #9: Turkey’s Troubled Experiment with Secularism, authored by Mustafa Akyol
  • Report #10: Arab Secularism’s Assisted Suicide, authored by Mark Farha

Week 4: Tuesday, April 30

  • Report #11: The Social Justice Blind Spots in the New Arab Constitution, authored by Zaid al-Ali
  • Report #12: Kurdish Nationalism at an Impasse, authored by Cale Salih and Maria Fantappie
  • Podcast [English]: Kurdish Nationalism at an Impasse, with Cale Salih and Maria Fantappie

Week 4: Thursday, May 2

  • Report #13: An Iraqi Shia Militia Experiments with Nationalism in a Sunni City, authored by Thanassis Cambanis
  • Q&A #4:  The Crisis of LGBTQ Communities in Egypt, with Ahmed El Hady
  • Podcast [Arabic]: LGBTQ Rights in Egypt, with Ahmed El Hady and Michael M. Hanna

Week 5: Tuesday, May 7

  • Report #14: Innovative Arab Media and the New Outlines of Citizenship, authored by Lina Attalah
  • Report #15: Pluralism Lost in Syria’s Uprising, authored by Joseph Daher

Week 5: Thursday, May 9

  • Report #16: The Exclusion of Copts from the Egyptian Security State, authored by Michael W. Hanna
  • Q&A #5: Secular-Islamist Teamwork, with Rabab El-Mahdi
  • Podcast [English]: Contesting Sectarian Identity in Iraq, with Rohan Advani and Fanar Haddad