Research Initiatives

Research Initiatives

Informal Politics in the Middle East

The multiple sites of public protest and resistance seen during the Arab Spring were a result of the coalescing of different social forces and the spontaneous display of citizens’ activism not seen for decades. The mobilization of those different sets of informal actors that has been rooted in previous activism within the informal sector of society revitalized the significance of looking beyond the state in order to understand social and political forces and dynamics. Since the Arab Spring there has been an increasing academic and policy interest in studying the role and influence of informal spaces where networks of activism and resistance might develop and grow. CIRS launched this new research project on "Informal Politics in the Middle East" to, among other things, expand our understanding of the historical roots of informal networks in the Middle East, their capacity to engage as an alternate setting for political engagement, and to study the continuities and discontinuities in the state-informal actors relationship in the region.

Political scientists in their attempts to understand ongoing political behavior and processes in the Middle East have traditionally focused on formal state institutions. Informal associations, systems, and practices that operate outside recognized political processes, and that are based on social, familial, or professional relations, have frequently been neglected in the Middle East politics literature. Partially this neglect has been a result of previous research that has highlighted the relative absence of and weakness of authentic, functioning civil society across much of the region. Although informal networks and participatory associations have existed for a long time in the Middle East, their relevance was reignited during the large-scale popular movements seen across the Arab world beginning in 2011. The Arab uprisings provided that moment of sudden rupture from the authoritarian status quo that revealed the potential robustness of informal actors and their networks. Since that moment there has been increasing interest in examining how in some ways and in certain moments informal actors can rise to the authoritarian challenge and amplify the concerns of the masses.

  • Click here to read about Informal Politics in the Middle East Working Group I
  • Click here to read about Informal Politics in the Middle East Working Group II

As part of its Research and Scholarship initiatives, CIRS organizes several ongoing Working Groups that convene in Doha to examine a variety of international issues. The primary purpose of CIRS research initiatives is to fill in existing research gaps, and to contribute towards furthering knowledge on the prevailing issues related to security, economic stability, and the political realm of the region. Each of these projects involves some of the most prominent scholars of the Middle East and the Gulf region. Each scholar participating will be working on a specific sub-topic, under the overarching subject.

Informal Politics in the Middle East Working Group Meeting 1