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Research and Policy Studies Program

The focus of this program at Muwatin lies within the core theme of “Transitions to Democracy”.

This program has been developed with a view to building a knowledge base around the issues, processes, and institutional structures that are emerging within the Palestinian polity, and to determine the agents and policies needed for a successful transitional program towards democratization in Palestine as well as the region at large.

The program views that democratization is a long term process, which in the specific Palestinian situation is immensely complicated because of overlapping and often contradictory processes.  At the macro level the issue of democratization of the Palestinian political system has been caught between the imperatives of state building on the one hand and the need to complete the process of national emancipation from Israeli occupation and dominance, while at the same time being subject to that very domination.

The Arab revolutions that have swept the region have presented a new set of challenges to scholars and activists, academic institutions and think tanks alike.  In their wake new political actors are in the process of emerging and new political configurations are forming. The shifts in regional forces and the emergence everywhere of Political Islamist parties at the centre of power necessitate reformulating both the research framework as well as the research questions.  Clearly political developments are everywhere in the region becoming much more closely linked.  This means that the focus of our research work needs to expand to reflect that linkage and to try to probe the strategic changes that are taking place across the region and which definitely impact the Palestinian situation. 

A.   Strategic Studies: Palestinian Political developments

This is meant as a series of strategic studies on key elements within the Palestinian political system and the possible future scenarios that may unfold in the coming period. Given the near collapse of the peace process, vital issues such as the ability of the PA to govern, the possibilities of long term developmental strategies that can ensure the survival of Palestinian society, and the catastrophic economic and social situation that is emerging as well as its impact on future political developments need to be studied. 

The aim of this program is to identify the institutional and economic reform priorities for achieving development with equity in the West Bank-Gaza under emerging Israeli strategies of disengagement from the Palestinians. The research will look at how Palestinian institutional and policy responses are also being conditioned by changes in political organization within the Palestinian territories. In the post-Arafat transition there have been significant realignments of political forces, with a strengthening of the legislature vis-à-vis the executive and the entry of Islamist parties into the mainstream. These developments set new constraints and opportunities for the development strategies that can now be followed. These elements of the research will provide a richer and more realistic analysis of the institutional and policy challenges facing different parts of Palestinian society in contemporary Palestine.

The crisis of the Palestinian political process blocked by the non-materialization of a peace settlement necessitates an examination both of macro processes at work as well as political processes at the grassroots level.  Within Palestine itself how can we understand the political and economic transformations that have taken place since Oslo and its impact on the future of the Palestinian issue?  The Palestinian political order, in its combined functioning aspects of securitization and neo-liberal development may present a developing model of advanced neo-colonial domination.  The connection between these two may be more organic that we think. What are the ‘not quite visible’ links between Palestinian capital, Gulf capital and Israeli capital?  What do their imbrications together mean in terms of Palestinian aspirations for freedom and independence? Do they work to even more closely reintegrate the Palestinian entity into the Israeli polity? 

With the renewed struggle over political representation emerging among Palestinians specifically in relation to elections for the PNC how can we rethink the unity of the Palestinian people as a political concept (and not one of identity)?  The Palestinian national movement post 48 began as a movement of refugees who demanded the simple right to return home but they can be found nowhere in any of the political “solutions” talked about.  It is not too exaggerated to say that throughout the many vicissitudes of the Palestinian struggle, the Palestinian refugees have remained the intractable core of the problem. Hence their adamant refusal to in any way jeopardising their refugee status.  However their conditions of life differ from country to country.  A comparative study of different Palestinian refugee communities, their political and ideological formations, and their situatedness in their host communities would be very important.

B.  Political Islam and Democracy Program

The inter-action between religion and politics, and the possibilities of debate between these respective forces will be a prime focus of research in this period. The aims of this program is to examine and probe the potential as well as limits of democratization that Political Islamist movements can negotiate, to accumulate a body of expert knowledge around that the subject, and to shape the contestation between secular democratic forces and Islamists around their respective understanding of two key issues: that of the boundaries of citizenship and the issue of civil liberties.

The Palestinian political sphere has undergone massive changes, of which the most salient features were the fragmentation of Fatah and the emergence of Hamas with equal political weight. Instead of this development leading to greater representation and democratization within the Palestinian political system, it has led to greater fragmentation and sectarianism, leaving a sizable number of Palestinians disillusioned and outside the political system.

The trends within some political Islamist movements that asserted the compatibility of democracy and Islam, a move that necessitates an engagement with secular forces on ‘secular grounds’(a move lately done by Khaled Meshal in a conference in Qatar) presents an opportunity for the Islamists to make good their word. It also presents an opportunity for secular democratic forces to challenge them and to develop and articulate an alternative political program.

Building on the studies of Political Islamism that Muwatin has been engaged in since 2003 we need to move on to ask what does power do to the political project of the Islamists? After its takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 we have seen how, in the case of Hamas, the centre of its project shifts becoming more sectarian rather than inclusive in its bid to consolidate its power.  Will this be a feature of the political transitions in the new Arab regimes under Islamist rule?   What democratic deficits can this entail?  And what tools are available to counter that?  What kind of changes will the Islamists be able to bring? 

The emerging contestation between Islamists and secularists is very much taking the shape of culture wars, over the margins of the permissible.  Much of it unfortunately focuses on the issue of women’s bodies; we also see the strong emergence of a second feminist wave to confront these issues frontally.  The shape of these struggles will to a large extent be a measure of the forms and extent of the changes that the revolutions will bring.  Monitoring, studying and finding ways of linking these developments can be very important. 

C.  New Political Configurations in the Arab Region

As pointed out above we may need to change our analytic frames in order to understand the transformations that are taking place both in Palestine and the region.  How to understand the Arab revolutions has become a major point of debate.  Have there really been revolutionary changes and what are they?  The heads of the regimes have gone but the old ruling regimes are to a large extent still in place even in Tunis and Egypt where political Islamists have taken power largely through elections.  Will the changes be more or less a change of the guards, with new elites replacing the old but with the ruling structures remaining in place?  The concept of the ‘deep state’ that has emerged in Arab discourse points to this crucial conundrum in understanding the changes that have taken place in the Arab states.  Is what we are seeing the consolidation of the revolution or a regional political realignment that brings in the Islamists from the cold but within the folds of American hegemony?   What is the role of external forces, such as the US and Europe in reshaping the revolutionary dynamic that swept through the Arab countries and taking control of it?  How can one explain the strong emergence of the Salafists and the structures that empower them? 

The political realignments that are unfolding regionally have brought to the fore the GCC as the main Arab axis leading the counter-revolutionary charge.  Obviously it is a transmission belt for US power but does it also enjoy some policy independence from the West?  What is the role of the gulf countries in the global circulation of capital that allows it such leverage? 

Finally where is the question of Palestine in all these changes?  Will it retain its central mobilizing power in the Arab region or will it become increasingly marginalised as the internal social and political struggles over the nature of the transitions become more acute?

Obviously, many of the questions and issues raised above carry contradictory dynamics and will leave their impact both in the development of the struggles as well as in main stream Arab discourse.  In many ways there will also be a struggle over the signification of words in the language as we witness the deterioration and fracturing of political struggles for freedom and citizenship into sectarian strife, and as language is pushed to do work it cannot do.

Research grants awarded 2008-2013


1. Dalal Bajis writing on "The Role of political songs in the education of Hamas cadres” Political Islam program.

2. Nizar Ayyoub on:Ethnic Cleansing in Jerusalem: An examination of Israeli policies in Jerusalem and their impact on Palestinian residents.

3. Muhammad 'Arkoub on Palestinian Press attitudes to Freedom of Information in the Basic Law

4. Muhammad al-ham Muhammad on: Citizenship and Sharia Law

5. Habash et al: Revolution and the transition to democracy in the Arab World.

6.   Raja Bahlul: Between secular and Islamic: What is the Civil State?  The Arab revolutions of 2010-2011 have thrown wide open the issue of what kind of political formation should govern in the region.  With the old authoritarian regimes being swept away the Islamist parties long suppressed by them became serious contenders for political power.  While it does seem that these parties represent a sizeable bloc in society, as witnessed in the Tunisian, Egyptian and Moroccan elections, there remain a sizeable number of people, who though not organized in one party, nevertheless represent a secular orientation.  The contestation between the two has thrown up a what seems to be a new “bridging concept” between the two; a ‘civil state’ whose precise signification is yet to be determined.  Is a civil state a secular state in reality, if not how does religion play a role within it? What and where are the boundaries around it to be drawn.  What do different actors and intellectuals belonging to the secular and religious currents understand by the term?

7.   Sunaina Maira: Palestinian Youth and Hip Hop in Palestine.  This project focuses on Palestinian Hip Hop as an expression of new social and political identities of Palestinian youth.  In particular it investigates how this new genre reflects Palestinian youths’ engagement with important questions of national identity and nationhood, and in what ways it offers a medium for linking geographically dispersed groups of Palestinian youth in different areas of Palestine.

8.    Dalal Bajes:  The Islamic Students’ Movement in Palestine.  Students’ activism and politics is often a crucial entry point to national politics.  Middle rank elites of the various national factions in Palestine today have mostly emerged from the various branches of the students movements.  This study traces the beginning formations of the Islamist students movement that later became the Hamas students bloc, its development and the various struggles it underwent with other students blocs.  It analyzes the various formative stages that the movement passed through, its discourse and its practices.  It also throws light on the gender dimension of the movement while critically assessing its achievements.

9.   Jumana Quneis:  The impact of religious satellite stations on Palestinian women:

This research aims at examining the content of the most viewed Islamic satellite channels in Palestine and their impact on women. To accomplish this goal, analyses were made of the content of some episodes watched by the surveyed sample, in addition to 40 interviews conducted with women in the cities of Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah and some villages and camps in those cities. The research findings show a clear trend towards the reinforcement of deeply conservative behaviour among women watchers, such as wearing the veil, reinforcing notions of men’s superiority, and encouraging the withdrawal of women from participation in public spaces and discussion.

10. Omar Assaf: Palestinian democracy: Discourse and practice within the PLO 1964-1993. 

11.  Munther Mashaqi: The location of Political Islamic movements in the Arab popular revolutions: Case study of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. 

12.  Mazin Qumsiyyeh: A history of popular struggle in Palestine.

13.  Jalal Rumaneh: What forms of democracy are acceptable to the Islamists

14.   Asem Khalil:  Law of legislation and Law of liberty: Is democracy an alternative to the Rule of Law?

15.   Ferial Khalifeh:  Piety groups and networks among Palestinian Women.

16. Nizam al-Sayes:  The Mosque: A Constituent of Palestinian Civil Society

17.   Norma Hazboun:   Palestinian refugees in Gaza: Coping strategies and mechanisms under the Egyptian Administration.


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