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Governing through counter-terrorism in the Arab World

Production, circulation and (mis)uses of counter-terrorism policies from the Maghreb to the Gulf

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Published on Monday, June 05, 2023


Since September 11, 2001, the fight against terrorism has been at the heart of global governance. The ambition of this conference is to bring historical and sociological dimensions back into the debate on counter-terrorism by critically assessing the circulation and reappropriation of counter-terrorism measures, discourses and practices. Panels will focus on the different narratives produced by governments, the media and experts, and their practices. The conference will facilitate the emergence of comparative perspectives by looking at similar practices in Western contexts and also in China.



Since September 11, 2001, the fight against terrorism has been at the heart of global governance. Attacks perpetrated in Europe during the 2010s reinforced this trend, pushing to the fore both an assortment of “deradicalization” initiatives as well as larger paradigms for “countering” or “preventing” a phenomenon rechristened as “violent extremism”. While showing strong intra-European disparities, the diversity of these terms and policy interventions reflects both a semantic imprecision around the notion of radicalization and the emergence of a de-radicalization market within the wider counter-terrorism industry. For researchers, these notions are not self-evident and their omnipresent use reflects forms of political instrumentalization (Jackson, R., Jarvis, L., Gunning, J., Breen-Smyth, 2011).

In France, the spillover of the state of emergency inaugurated in the aftermath of the November 2015 attacks (administrative searches, closure of places of worship, etc.) as well as the effects of the laws on intelligence and “Global Security” have been the subject of numerous analyses (Bigo et al., 2008; Bigo et al., 2021; Louis, 2021). It is in that context that the notion of illiberal practices of liberal political regimes was introduced, making direct reference to the notion of illiberal democracy forged two decades ago and updated more recently to describe the trajectories of the Hungarian and Polish regimes. As early as 2004, Didier Bigo had already analyzed Northern Ireland as an emblematic case, revealing how a democracy could derogate from the legal framework of the rule of law in the name of the need to combat exceptional violence. As time passed, his findings showed themselves to be generalizable, as the relation between exceptional discourse and repressive practices emerged further afield to the point that we could speak of the Northern Irelandization of the world (Bigo, Guittet, 2004). Just as importantly, it became apparent that counter-radicalization and counter-terrorism more generally could not be considered within the limits of methodological nationalism. As policies diffused across borders and partnerships between states grew deeper, the imperative of engaging the transnational dimension of the problematique grew increasingly pronounced.

Interestingly, counter-radicalization policies in Arab countries remain notably understudied, especially as compared to Asia and Africa. In authoritarian contexts such as China, Jérôme Doyon has shown how the Chinese government uses the discourse of counter-terrorism to justify measures of reeducation directed at the Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region (Doyon, 2019). In African countries, studies have shown how, in order to benefit from technical and financial aid from their American allies, local political elites have asserted their strategic position, even if it means exaggerating the links between armed opposition groups and al-Qaeda (Fisher, Anderson, 2015; Jones, Soares De Oliveira, Verhoeven, 2013). In Chad and Cameroon, anti-terrorist laws were enacted in a hurry, without prior parliamentary discussion (Vircoulon, 2012, 2016).

Galonnier, Lacroix and Marzouki attempted to integrate the MENA region into this discourse with their 2022 Politique de lutte contre la radicalisation. Using a comparative approach, the book discards binary categories of democratic and authoritarian regimes to analyze the misuse of counter-terrorism measures in both Western and non-Western contexts. While the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have led to an inflation of research essentially focused on a “hard approach” of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency practices, the authors emphasize how this body of research has often overlooked the underlying historical and sociological issues at stake.

The ambition of this conference is to bring those historical and sociological dimensions back into the debate by critically assessing the circulation and reappropriation of counter-terrorism measures, discourses and practices. This critical approach also includes a gender analysis of counterterrorism not necessarily by looking at the human rights impact (Margaret L. Satterthwaite, Jayne Huckerby, 2012) but rather by analyzing the instrumentalization of women for securitization imperatives (Abu-Lughod; Hammami; Kevorkian, 2023).

The first objective of the conference is to historicize the relation between the state of emergency and the increase of coercion and repression in the Arab context (Khalili, Schedler Ed. 2010). In Egypt, grasping counterterrorism needs to be understood in a continuity with 150 years of counter-insurgency discourses and practices (Abozaid, 2022). The Algerian example also allows us to understand how “terrorism” had, since the beginning of the 1990s, been mobilized by the agents of the Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS) to justify the repression of the Islamist opposition and the muzzling of all forms of political opposition.

The second objective is to approach the topic through a sociological lens, looking at how the norm of counter-terrorism is being transferred and reappropriated in host countries. Indeed, counter-terrorism is not only a response to “terrorism”; it is also understood as a tool to prevent “terror”. It is in this perspective that the discourses and measures implemented in the name of “counter-terrorism” have been diffused in all political and social spheres. In the legislative realm, the diversity of anti-terrorism laws in the Maghreb hardly hides a common coercive implementation and desire to control of dissidence (Tamburini, 2018; Santucci, 2003). The process of traveling norms, as shown by the role of the IMF in the enactment of the Money Laundering Law and in the implementation of the Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT), is also particularly interesting for documenting the inclusion of economic policies in security issues.

The security field has been particularly sensitive to the exchanges of counter-terrorism norms and practices. Inspired by the French model, the S17 form in Tunisia arbitrarily affected opponents of the Ennahda party as well as human rights activists. In parallel to the coercitive transfer of norms, we also witness the blurring of borders between hard counter-terrorism and its softer forms. Indeed, discourses on “prevention” and the promotion of “good governance” have progressively taken precedence over punitive measures, a normative renewal that also reflects the emergence of a new market. Thus, in addition to public agents, the implementation of these measures also implies paying attention to other actors such as foreign/Western powers, international donors and private companies.

In sum, this conference will focus on both the political uses and misuses of “radicalization” including deradicalization programs. Looking at the historical backgrounds, the panels will focus on the different narratives produced by governments, the media and experts, and their practices. The conference will facilitate the emergence of comparative perspectives by looking at similar practices in Western contexts and also in China. Finally, a roundtable discussion at the end of the conference will bring experts and practitioners into the debate and see how far it is possible to bridge the realm of critical theory with the one of practice.


June 19, 2023

8:30 I Registration

8:45 I Welcome address

9:00 – 10:00 I Opening discussion Under the moderation of Stéphane Lacroix, SciencesPo / CERI

  • Joseph BAHOUT, Issam Fares Institute, Americian University of Beirut
  • Olivier ROY, European University Institute / PREVEX

10:00 – 12:00 I Panel 1: Critical approaches and knowledge production on “terrorism” Under the moderation of Christian Olsson, Université Libre de Bruxelles

  • Jeroen GUNNING, King’s College London: Critical terrorism studies, an introduction
  • Omar ACHOUR, Doha Institute: Critical Terrorism Studies and Decolonisation
  • Jamil MOUAWAD, American University of Beirut: Researching Security from the Arab world

12:00 – 14:00 I Lunch break

14:00 – 16:00 I Panel 2: Counter-terrorism and governance in the Arab world :  Historical continuities and present evolutions Under the moderation of Colin Powers, NORIA Research

  • Ahmed M. ABOZAID, University of Southampton: Post-colonial security studies: Historical perspective on counter-terrorism in Egypt
  • Khansa BEN TARJEM, Université de Lausanne: Repressing through exceptional measures: the case of Tunisia’s police service
  • Steven HEYDEMANN, Smith College & The Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy: The misuse of counter-terrorism measures as a strategy for authoritarian upgrading

16:00 – 16:30 I Coffee Break

16:30 – 18:00 I Panel 3: Transplantations, Reappropriations and diffusion of counter-terrorism norms in the Arab world Under the moderation of Merouan Mekouar, York University

  • Francesco TAMBURINI, University of Pise: Anti-terrorism law in the Maghreb countries: the mirror of a democratic transition that never was
  • Amr MAGDI, Human Rights Watch: The misuse of anti-terrorism laws : the case of Egypt
  • Leila SEURAT, CAREP Paris: A tool of fight against « terrorism »: the transfer of community policing in Lebanon

20:00 I Conference dinner

June 20, 2023

9:00 I Welcome of participants with coffee

10:00 – 12:00 I Panel 4: EU counter-terrorism policies in the MENA : what went wrong? Under the moderation of Nadia MARZOUKI, CNRS/ SciencesPo

  • Wolfram LACHER, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin: Local and external drivers behind the decline of Libya’s jihadist movements
  • Djallil LOUNNAS, Université Al-Akhawayn / PREVEX: The impact of EU counter-extremism response on regional stability in the Sahel
  • Erik SKARE, University of Oslo / Sciences Po Paris: The possibilities and constraints of the EU in the MENA : Between democratic ideals and autocratic reality

12:00 – 14:00 I Lunch break

14:00 – 16:00 I Panel 5: Comparative approaches: thinking the coproduction of counter-terrorism measures and discourses beyond the MENA Under the moderation of Juliette Galonnier, SciencesPo / CERI

  • Jérôme DOYON, Sciences Po / CERI: ‘Community-focused’ counter-extremism and forced assimilation in China
  • Ibrahim BECHROURI, City University of New York: The City « Must be Defended » : Counter-insurgency and the War on Terror at Home
  • Sarah C. PERRET, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris: The effects of counter-terrorism policies on Muslims in France

16:00 – 16:30 I Coffee Break

16:30 – 18:30 I Roundtable discussion: “From knowledge to practice: preventing the misuse of counter-terrorist policies” Under the moderation of Isabel Ruck, CAREP Paris

  • Andreas HATZIDIAKOS, Counter-terrorism Unit, EEAS
  • Jean-Pierre FILIU, Sciences Po / CERI
  • Morten Bøås, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs & PREVEX project leader

18:30 – 19:00 I Conclusion


This conference is organized by SciencesPo – Center for International Studies, The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Paris (CAREP Paris) and Prevex project.

Conference Organizing Committee

Isabel RUCK, Leila SEURAT, and Stéphane LACROIX



  • Salons scientifiques de Sciences Po - 1, place Saint Thomas d'Aquin
    Paris, France (75007)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Monday, June 19, 2023
  • Tuesday, June 20, 2023


  • counterterrorism, arab world, extremism, human rights


  • Isabel Ruck
    courriel : isabel [dot] ruck [at] carep-paris [dot] org

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Isabel Ruck
    courriel : isabel [dot] ruck [at] carep-paris [dot] org


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Governing through counter-terrorism in the Arab World », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Monday, June 05, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1bbp

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