The Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago were rooted in demands for dignity and economic opportunity, complex notions tied to the relationship between citizens and the state

A new book titled the Routledge Handbook of Citizenship in the Middle East and North Africa (Routledge 2021) co-edited and co-written by Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) researcher Zahra Babar highlights how various conceptions of citizenship played critical roles in events such as the Arab Spring as well as other contemporary issues in the region. This knowledge makes an important contribution to an understudied field.

The newly published edited volume provides a comprehensive overview of the political, social, economic, and legal dimensions of citizenship in MENA from the 19th century to the present.

Babar, who works as Associate Director for Research at the GU-Q Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) said that for some time, the trend has been to study the inhabitants of countries in the Gulf and across the Middle East as subjects of monarchical and authoritarian regimes, with little attention given to their role as active participants.

Applying the lens of citizenship to study the social and political dynamics in the region re-centres the focus on the people who live here.

She explained that the region demonstrates nuanced and diverse expressions of belonging and identity that need to be examined and understood. Traditionally, citizenship studies had been wedded to the notion of political citizenship as it occurs in liberal democracies, thus overlooking the many diverse forms of citizenship that have evolved in other contexts.

So many issues we are dealing with, from migration to education, social change and economic development, to shifting geopolitics, are closely tied to evolving conceptions of citizenship.

Understanding this relationship and moving beyond oversimplifications (are) therefore critical to understanding the current trends and challenges faced by the region.

Crucial dimensions of citizenship in the region

The book’s five themes cover crucial dimensions of citizenship in the region, including the evolution of citizenship beginning with the Ottoman Empire, citizenship in the post-colonial era, social activism and citizenship, the mechanisms of exclusion, and the current politics of citizenship, nationality and migration.

Babar said she hopes the book will serve as a valuable resource for students and scholars interested in citizenship, politics, economics, history, migration and refugees in MENA. As well as serving as co-editor, Babar also contributed a chapter on Economic Migrants and Citizenship in the GCC.

The volume was also co-edited by Roel Meijer, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at Radboud University, Nijmegen; and James N Sater, Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations at the University of Malta.

Zahra Babar is the author of several published articles on citizenship, including Enduring ‘Contested’ Citizenship in the Gulf Cooperation Council in The Middle East in Transition: The Centrality of Citizenship (2018); The ‘Enemy Within’: Citizenship-Stripping in the Post-Arab Spring GCC in Middle East Journal (2017); and The Cost of Belonging: Citizenship Construction in the State of Qatar in Middle East Journal (2014). She also served as editor for a special issue of the Middle East Journal titled Citizenship in 2019.

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