TOWARD A MENA PRISON FORUM

Exploring Political Prison Culture & Practices in the MENA Region
Published by UMAM Documentation & Research
© MENA Prison Forum (MPF)
2018/2019 - English and Arabic
In 2018, UMAM Documentation & Research launched its latest project, the MENA Prison Forum. Mainly two factors influenced our decision to do so: firstly, the overwhelming presence of the prison in our day-to-day praxis; and secondly, the initiatives and programs UMAM D&R has already been involved in that address prison issues.

From whichever vantage point we examine the region, the prison looms large. From a human rights perspective, the violations are countless, and prison is a key tool in the suppression of freedom of expression. From the artistic and literary perspective, prisons have inspired an impressive body of work. Social violence and extremism lead to and are fed by prisons. However laughable it may seem, accusations and counter-accusations centring around human rights and especially prison-related concerns are gaining currency in exchanges between competing MENA tyrannies. Even in the case of MENA "success stories" and transitions from repression (Morocco and Tunisia), dealing with the past and helping victims heal from their trauma does not seem to be an easy or smooth task. 

Before embarking on the launch of the forum, UMAM D&R consulted with friends and colleagues to confirm we are not wasting time and energy by replicating any existing initiative, and to gauge the interest in and relevance of such a platform. Once reassured by their feedback, we began a quiet launch phase for the MENA Prison Forum, reaching out to individuals and organisations concerned with prison issues in the MENA region from various angels.

UMAM D&R's starting point in establishing a multidisciplinary forum dealing with prison-related problems was that "prison" in each country, as well as prison on a MENA regional scale, deserves to be addressed as a standalone issue that cannot be reduced to any single one of its various judicial, political, artistic, historical and social expressions and emanations. Nonetheless, taking note of the sheer variety of these expressions and emanations is a necessary precondition to meaningful engagement with the prison in individual country contexts and regionally. 

This publication, available in English and Arabic, was made possible by funding from the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa).