Call for Papers: The Practice of Surveillance in the Arab World

Colonial versus Authoritarian Surveillance
Special Issue of Omran, Autumn 2013
Deadline: April 30

Omran, a quarterly refereed journal of the social sciences and humanities which is published in Arabic by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar, invites submissions of scholarly papers to a special issue whose focus is the practice of surveillance in the Arab world. The closest Arabic nuanced translation of surveillance is nizam al-muraqabah. By it we mean the gathering and recording of personal information, directly or indirectly, on individuals, groups and institutions for the purpose of influencing their conduct for positive or negative outcome. Surveillance is practiced by national and foreign governments and their agencies, international organizations, corporations, civic institutions, and individuals. Our main concern is the exercise of surveillance on individuals in their capacity as activists, citizens, consumers, travelers, and workers.

Surveillance of individuals, groups, and populations is accomplished through the utilisation of various soft and hard technologies which involve information gathering by means of informants and collaborators, direct observation, census-taking, territorial mapping, categorical sorting, cross-referencing of identities in databases for the sake of profiling individuals, wiretapping, and, more recently, the deployment of sophisticated electronic identification systems from internet filtering, closed circuit television, geo-positioning systems, biometric profiling, iris scanning, the use of radio frequency identification and behavioural profiling.

Surveillance as we know it today is the direct outcome of colonialism dating back to Ottoman rule and subsequent British, French and Dutch colonial domains, to name a few. A central feature of imperial dominance is surveillance or observation. It bestows on the colonial an elevated position of power and objectifies the colonized. What distinguishes colonial, and one would say postcolonial, surveillance is its racialization of the colonized. Two features distinguish colonial surveillance studies as essential instruments of ruling and state formation: the quotidian every-day context of people watching people, and the formal aspect of colonial policies that are embodied in bureaucratic, enumerative, technological and legal measures that are aimed at controlling the territory, and classifying and categorizing the population. The colony became a laboratory for experimenting with new tools of surveillance.

This remains the case in Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, and the use of drones and other forms of technology by western countries in their forays in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other regions, and the implementation of border control and profiling of individuals across Europe and North America in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the US in 9/11/2001. The latter forms of surveillance have resulted in loss of privacy and violation of human rights.

Surveillance was used by authoritarian Arab regimes, possibly with different mechanisms and methods, and had an overwhelming presence as the “security state” grew and the legitimacy of ruling authorities became weaker. It would be helpful here to compare surveillance in regard to the authoritarian rule with that of the colonial rule.

The planned journal issue will seek to explore the theoretical and empirical facets of surveillance practices and resistance to such practices, at the individual and group level.

The following themes will be explored:
1. The colonial context of surveillance in the Arab World
The Ottoman Empire
British Colonialism
French Colonialism

2. Arab Governments and the rise of nizam al-muraqabah and the Mukhabarat State
Citizens and the contemporary Arab State
Tools at the disposal of the surveillant state (bureaucracy, technology, and informers)
Surveillance and mobility across borders and within borders

3. Citizen awareness of and resistance to nizam al-muraqabah

Everyday resistance
Resistance of the weak

4. Israeli colonialism and its nizam al-muraqabah
Control of the Palestinian in Israel
Control of the Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank

5. Surveillance of the Arab consumer in the nexus of globalization
6. Arabs and Moslems as subjects of close surveillance following the events of 9/11/2001

The papers will appear in Arabic. However, the journal accepts English submissions which, if they are accepted, will be translated by the journal into Arabic. Interested authors are requested to send the editor a one-page abstract outlining their contribution. The length of the paper should be around 20 typed pages, including endnotes, or between 6000 to 8000 words. Please send your abstract by April 30, and the final paper by the end of August 2013 to:

Omran, the social science and humanities journal

and the electronic address of the guest editor: