Watchtower

Renewable Energies - Renewed Authoritarianisms?

The Political Economy of Solar Energy in the MENA

About the project

"Renewable Energies, Renewed Authoritarianisms? The Political Economy of Solar Energy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)" is an Emmy Noether Junior Research Group (2022-2028) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and led by Dr. Benjamin Schuetze at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute (ABI) in Freiburg, Germany. The research group looks at the relationship between solar energy and authoritarian practices in and beyond predominantly resource-poor countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Countries throughout the region are pursuing ambitious targets for a transition from fossil fuels to renewables. While this shift marks an important point of transition, the region’s political economy is still predominantly analysed through the prism of fossil fuels and state-centric approaches. This research group overcomes the methodological nationalism of previous studies by applying a (trans-)regional approach that focuses on different actors within and beyond the nation-state.

The main interest of the project lies in how politics is driving the expansion of solar energy, and how this (re-)shapes established authoritarian practices. While the distributed nature of solar energy offers a possibility for more democratic, inclusive and independent (energy) politics, transregionally connected authoritarian elites attempt to transform it into concentrated forms of political and economic power. This could replicate existing dependencies and authoritarian practices. The project explores the conditions under which the expansion of solar energy enables the renewal of authoritarian power, or its contestation and disintegration.

Team

Dr. Benjamin Schuetze

Emmy Noether Research Group leader

Ben obtained his PhD from SOAS, London in 2016, and has since worked as a postdoc at the University of Freiburg and as an anchor fellow for the Young Academy for Sustainability Research at FRIAS. In his research he focuses on authoritarian practices, 'democracy promotion' interventions and the political economy of renewables in the MENA. He is author of Promoting Democracy, Reinforcing Authoritarianism? US and European Policy in Jordan (CUP, 2019).

Charlotte Mueller

PhD student

Charlotte completed her MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development, funded by a DAAD scholarship, at SOAS in London in 2022. She has since worked for a London-based NGO. Her PhD project focuses on the commodification and marketisation of solar energy in Morocco, with a specific focus on the role of international donors.

Elia Wehaiba El Khazen

PhD student

Elia completed his MSc in Middle East Politics at SOAS in London in 2019. He has since worked as a Programme Manager at the Syria Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Beirut and for different Lebanese NGOs. In his PhD project he explores how the 'logistics revolution' that accompanies the promotion of solar energy in Jordan and Iraq reshapes mobilization from below.

Philipp Wagner

PhD student

Philipp received his MA in Applied Political Science from the University of Freiburg and Sciences Po Aix-en-Provence in 2022. He has since worked for a Berlin-based climate policy think tank. In his PhD project, he focuses on the governance of Tunisian-European solar and hydrogen energy relations and selective connectivities.

Photo of Tabea Knerner

Tabea Knerner

Student assistant

Tabea is currently finishing her BA in Sociology and Islamic Studies at the University of Freiburg and spent a DAAD-funded semester abroad at the German Jordanian University in Amman.

Publications

Globalizations (2023): The introduction to the special issue focuses on authoritarian practices and their spatial and temporal articulations in (1) transregional infrastructures, (2) global processes of capital accumulation and (3) nature-society relations.
Globalizations (2023): This article by Jenss & Schuetze explores what role transregional authoritarian practices in energy infrastructure expansion play for the limitation of opportunities for contestation and how they prefigure politics.
International Quarterly for Asian Studies (2022): Through the prism of logistics and infrastructure, Gurol & Schuetze explore Arab Gulf-Chinese authoritarian entanglements in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Events

Flyer advertising the online launch of SI on 'Authoritarian Power and contestation beyond the state'
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In this online event, Dr. Rafeef Ziadah, Prof. Natalie Koch and Prof. Marlies Glasius will provide feedback and comments on the recently published Globalizations Special Issue on 'Authoritarian power and contestation beyond the state', edited by Dr. Julia Gurol, Dr. Alke Jenss, Dr. Fabricio Rodríguez, Dr. Benjamin Schuetze & Cita Wetterich.
Poster advertising public lecture by Dr. Rafeef Ziadah
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This lecture examines how the Arabian Peninsula, with its strategic location at the intersection of global trade routes, has become a key site for the development of transport infrastructures and the consolidation of logistical hierarchies.
Protests in Tunis, March 2022. © Hasan Mrad/shutterstock
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Focusing on efforts at transregional electricity grid integration between the EU and the MENA, and on the rapid expansion, but then sudden halt of renewable energy projects in Jordan, this IASS-facilitated online presentation explores how efforts at energy transition reshape established authoritarian practices.
Image of protests against Siemens in Western Sahara
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During this international 2-day workshop, which included a public lecture by Dr. Hamza Hamouchene (TNI) and Prof. Dr. Natalie Koch (Syracuse), participants explored questions of sustainability, climate change, energy colonialism and extractivism.