Happening Now

Middle East Studies

Elizabeth Perego

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Princeton University

Riotous Laughter Before Riots: Satire as Site of Informal Political Engagement in the Post-Independence Maghrib

Drawing upon theories of political cultural under authoritarianism, this paper seeks to correct visions of Maghribi populations prior to the widespread popular uprisings of the 2010s as politically disengaged. It will accomplish this task by exploring traditions of political satire in a case study- Algeria- as a critical site of political commentary as well as a central component to forming what Asef Bayat has coined "social non-movements." Elizabeth Perego's research shows that, since Algerian independence in 1962, humorous products have constituted important tools that Algerian populations have employed to decipher state actors’ moves in absurd tones to challenge what they perceived to be the equally absurd nature of power in the country. Joke tellers and cartoon artists in particular contributed to popular efforts to render notoriously opaque national politics legible, reinforcing and possibly heightening levels the population’s political literacy, a deeply political and active undertaking even if one falling outside of formal political structures. The work will conclude by elucidating similar processes over time of confronting states and maintaining political awareness through the medium of humor in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco. Above all, this paper aims to contribute to the historiography of the region by tracing legacies and instruments of political literacy in the region.

Elizabeth M. Perego is an historian of contemporary Algeria and its global and regional connections. She earned her Ph.D. in African, Middle Eastern and Islamic, and gender history from the Ohio State University and has authored articles that have appeared or are forthcoming in the Journal of North African Studies and the International Journal of Middle East Studies, among other publicationsHer scholarship examines the intersection of politics, culture, and gender in country as well as the modern Maghrib more broadly. She is completing a book project entitled, De-mock-ratiyya: Humor, History, Protest, and Conflict in Algeria, 1988 to 2005, which explores comedy as a site of identity formation and expression of political ideas at times of heightened crisis and censorship. Presently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Princeton University's Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia (Department of Near Eastern Studies), she will begin as an assistant professor of Middle Eastern and North African history at Appalachian State University in January 2021. She held a tenure-stream position at Shepherd University, West Virginia, from 2017 to 2020.