Research page

Timeline: 2021-2021

Funding organisation: ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen

project description

The Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva is excited to announce its partnership with UMAM Documentation and Research (UMAM D&R), based in Beirut, Lebanon on its MENA Prison Forum Initiative. The MENA Prison Forum (MPF) is an initiative of UMAM D&R that has been running for the past three years focusing on carceral dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa region. The initiative is generously funded under the Zivik program at ifa, the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, a German funding source that supports civil society actors worldwide in preventing crises, transforming conflicts, and creating, as well as stabilizing, peaceful social and political systems. The project is hosted at the CCDP, and two PhD candidates of the Graduate Institute have been hired as Research Assistants:

  • Basil Farraj, a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology and Sociology, with a focus on carcerality and torture in Palestine.

  • Stella Peisch, a PhD candidate in the department of International History and Politics, with a focus on necropolitics and massacres in the Levant.

Their work for the MPF will be supervised by Professor Riccardo Bocco at the Graduate Institute, and by Monika Borgmann-Slim, Director of UMAM D&R in Beirut.

Prisons are an institutional concept that assumes a central position within countries across the Middle East and North Africa, exhibiting an often deliberately obscured, yet nonetheless pervasive presence within societies and their respective collective consciousness. Carceral systems throughout the region—before, during, and after colonialism—have proven intrinsically linked to, and partially determinative of, nations' trajectories vis-à-vis state-building, rule of law, and political pluralism. Yet the legacy of imprisonment is one that is currently still being written. In the years since the 2010 – 2011 popular uprisings, state and non-state actors alike have quietly set about expanding their disparate networks of detention facilities, both official and otherwise. As one might expect, the accelerated rate at which places of detention have been—and continue to be—constructed in several MENA countries has coincided with an exponential rise in the region's prison population.

It is within this context and in response to these socio-political, and increasingly militarized, developments that the MENA Prison Forum advocates and facilitates multidisciplinary engagement with "the prison" and the experience of imprisonment in the region. The prison is a point of interest shared among otherwise divergent fields: military intelligence, human rights, and art and literature, to name only a few. To "unpack" the multi-faceted and far-reaching phenomenon of imprisonment, it is therefore necessary to avoid a narrow or fragmented perspective. The Forum thus seeks to address carceral issues in a holistic manner that not only acknowledges but also brings into conversation their countless layers and dimensions.

The MPF is dedicated to Tracking and Collation as it monitors and compiles prison-related content from a broad scope of perspectives and fields of expertise to function as an interdisciplinary resource available to the general public. It also conducts research and documentation to examine and engage prison-related topics in various formats, both independently and in collaboration with experts from a multitude of backgrounds, including but not limited to academia, art and literature, journalism, law, social work, and trauma therapy. Third, the MPF works on public outreach and advocacy, as it works to raise the profile of prison-related matters within dominant or "mainstream" discourse and serve as a conduit through which people can convene to alleviate and, ultimately, mitigate carceral abuses and their individual and collective effects. Please see the MPF website for more details.