I am delighted to bring to you the first MENASP newsletter of the year. I am an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Bath, United Kingdom. I am also one of the researchers on the AHRC-funded research project run under the MENASP network entitled ‘Strengthening Security and Social Welfare in the Middle East and North Africa Region.’
In a world of connections and linkages, we are increasingly witnessing that poor governance and a lack of basic social services are leading the masses of many states to rise in order to demand a better standard of living. Lebanon is a case in point in the MENA region. The recent protests in Myanmar and Thailand also highlight how the citizens of these countries disagree with the establishments’ views in their states on how to best achieve adequate levels of governance and social welfare. The authorities in these states are finding it hard to suppress these protests because they have taken the forms of ‘leader-less’ civil society movements; they represent the voices of the vast majority of their fellow citizens. It is safe to say that these individuals have the force of legitimacy behind them, which has quickly exposed the shortcomings in the official state narratives.
It looks like those in power have no choice but to listen to the protestors in the streets of Beirut, Mandalay and Bangkok if they want stability in these societies. The protests also emphasise that true stability is built upon the foundations of equitable social justice and individual freedoms for all. In the absence of credible forces of nationalism that may have significant ‘pulling power,’ provision of social welfare and opportunities for economic fulfilment, along with decent levels of governance, become the very raison d’être of these ‘state nations’ as opposed to these being some of the regular functions that states ordinarily perform all over the world. Those protesting for the provision of basic civil services and decent standards of living believe that if their countries cannot provide even the bare minimum, the existence of the state itself is of no use to them. These contemporary upheavals once again highlight the relevance and significance of robust social policies everywhere in the world.
These are some of the issues we will cover in our research project ‘Strengthening Security and Social Welfare in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENASP-CP).’ The project was officially launched on 2 December 2020 and the recording of the launch event can be viewed here. We are very grateful to the attendees of the launch, and the consultation event following it, and look forward to your continued engagement with our project.
Looking to the future, some of the activities planned as part of the project include Early Career Researchers (ECRs) round-table events, preparations for our first commissioning call and laying the groundwork to build online communities. We would very much welcome your contributions in the form of blog posts which can be sent to menasp_network[a]bath.ac.uk. Please also consider joining our experts’ database here. Finally, please stay connected through our mailing list and social media platforms for a number of exciting updates in the future.
Dr Wali Aslam
Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies
University of Bath, United Kingdom