Public Online Lecture at ZiF

The Agency of Youth in North Africa: New forms of Citizenship

Date: 09. June 2021, 6 p.m.
Moha Ennaji (Fez, MAR)

Scholars and observers agree that while the institutional gains brought about by the Arab Spring are limited, and state-society relations entered a new phase of repression, the events of 2011 did bring about a fundamental change in the relations between the youth and the state in North Africa. In search for agency, citizens are no longer afraid of the state, at the discursive and physical levels: both in terms of what they dare to say in public, as well as in terms of occupying public space for sit-ins and protests. In addition, the underlying grievances that fueled the 2011 protests are still in place: corruption, unemployment, and popular dissatisfaction with public services. All of these can be subsumed under the term hogra, a colloquial Arabic term for deprivation of dignity because of official abuses, nepotism, and marginalization. This point is vividly illustrated by the protests both in social media and on the streets against the establishment, which brought down the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia in 2 010 and of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria in March 2019. In Morocco, the street protests were peaceful, and the state made some reforms like amending the Constitution in July 2011. Similarly, the 2017 protests in the historically neglected and marginalized northern Rif region were the largest since the February 20 movement protests in 2011. A new generation of young activists has entered the political scene in North Africa to demand democratic change. Following the findings of critical studies on citizenship, I adopt Engin Isin's (2008) approach by focusing on the acts through which subjects constitute themselves as citizens, as those to whom the right to have rights is due. I argue that the acts of young activists constitute such 'acts of citizenship'. Additionally, I will present how youth's agency performs and transforms society when contesting the prevalent citizen regimes and when developing new citizenship forms.


Moha Ennaji is Senior Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Studies. He was head of the English Department at the University of Fez, Morocco, and the director of Arab Studies at Rutgers University. He is one of the leading researchers and writers in North Africa and the president of the International Institute for Languages and Cultures at Fez. He has published extensively on linguistics, gender issues and migration in North Africa. His most recent books include Muslim Moroccan Migrants in Europe (Palgrave) and Multiculturalism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco (Springer). He has also edited several books the most recent of which are Multiculturalism and Democracy in North Africa: Aftermath of the Arab Spring (Routledge); Minorities, Women, and the State in North Africa (Red Sea Press); Moroccan Feminisms (Africa World Press); The Maghreb-Europe Paradigm: Migration, Gender and Cultural Dialogue (Cambridge Scholars). He published two novels in French: L'olivier de la sagesse (Karthla) and Douce lumière (Marsam). He writes in English, French, and Arabic.

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