Teaching constitutional law under an authoritarian regime : the case of Palestine (2020)

Challenges of considerable scope confront the Arab World and, in recent years, authoritarian governance has expanded across several Arab states during a period when the law should have strengthened and contributed to the furtherance of human progress. In responding to popular unrest and instability, Arab regimes have sought to reassert control by developing and applying strategies that contain and manage demands for democratization. In Palestine, an initial movement had been made towards democratization by the 2006 legislative elections, which were supposed to herald a democratic transition that never happened. I remember this as it was the same year when I began working for Birzeit University. During a recent lecture on constitutional law, I recalled the course of events for my students and described how a split emerged between Hamas and Fatah that, one year later, became a geopolitical divide when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. It was only as I was speaking that I realized that most students had little or no knowledge of the 2006 events (they were at the time 6-7 years old maximum) and, as a consequence, they felt no real relation to those events. I realized we lacked a common political framework of reference. Since 2007, no democratic elections have taken place in Palestine, and the authoritarianism of the incumbent regime is the only political experience and reference that my students have. Since I began teaching, I have taught my students about democracy, the rule of law and the separation of powers in a country where ‘governance’ is synonymous with a president who rules through decree laws and there is no parliament. In attempting to grasp the challenges that legal academics encounter when teaching constitutional law in Palestine, it is necessary to first acknowledge that university life is grounded in political values. Observers should then proceed to the question of if legal academics transmit a regime that promotes quietism and political marginalization. Alternatively, they will perhaps seek to challenge the prevailing status quo by encouraging their students to ask if authoritarian practices are rooted within, and sustained by, cultural and social institutions. With the intention of engaging with this question in more detail, this paper introduces the authoritarian regime and individualizes its characteristics with the intention of setting out the challenges that confront legal academics when they teach constitutional law under an authoritarian regime.

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Khayyat, Mira & Asem Khalil. Teaching (Constitutional) Law under an Authoritarian Regime: The Case of Palestine. Presentation, MELSS 2020, 10-12 January 2020. Enduring Questions, New Challenges. The Republic of Letters in Dark Times.

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