Report of the Online Workshop
“State Force, Prison and Torture: The Afterlives of Political Imprisonment in the MENA”
11-13 November, 2020
The Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cologne, along with the MENA Prison Forum (MFP) and UMAM Documentation and Research (UMAM D&R), both located in Beirut, hosted a three-day workshop on November 11-13, 2020, on “State Force, Prison and Torture: The Afterlives of Political Imprisonment in the MENA.” The event originally intended to be held in-person at the University of Cologne, but was ultimately held via Zoom due to the current global pandemic. However, the online nature of the workshop, along with the simultaneous English and Arabic translation, allowed for a large number of participants from all over the world to be able to join and contribute to the workshop. Over 60 participants dialed into the workshop, including ones from North America who braved the significant time difference and woke in the middle of the night to be able to join the workshop.
Most lectures and discussions had a country focus on either Egypt, Syria, or Morocco, while others addressed themes such as the lasting effect of trauma and dynamics within non-state prisons. A significant reason for the success of the workshop was the engagement and contributions not only from the presenters but also from the participants. The topics of the presentations allowed for a deep-dive into individual works, while also touching upon a wide variety of issues and themes that were subsequently returned to and addressed in the discussion sessions after each presentation. The chat-box of the Zoom call was an additional resource, as it was active with comments, resources, and recommendations from the presenters and participants, and created a list of “recommended readings” of the workshop.
The workshop gathered academics, human rights advocates and activists, psychologists and psychiatrists, artists, writers, and students: the resulting atmosphere was dynamic and engaged across a variety of disciplines. The topics addressed were all sensitive in nature, and the atmosphere of collaboration was full of genuine respect and interest in the opinions and perspectives of others. An important aspect of the workshop was that the participants included individuals who have either an academic focus on prison-related issues in the MENA region, or a personal experience with the carceral system in specific countries, or both. This level of engagement from individuals meant that presentations and discussions naturally included both academic evidence and anecdotal accounts of experiences, insights, and testimonies in a truly unique way.
A priority of the workshop was to identify areas and topics for further research: issues such as the role and nature of the jailer; life after release from prison for the prisoner, family of the prisoner, and wider society; gender dynamics and relations in the carceral space; the impact of power and violence decentralization on the rise of non-state groups’ run prisons, all were addressed as areas needing further documentation and research work. These key issues will be kept in mind for further exploration and collaboration at the University of Cologne, the MPF, and UMAM D&R.