Monica Ronchi

Department: Middle East Politics
Discipline: Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies

Project Summary

The research at the base of my project will be based largely on the analysis of discourse surrounding mental illness and political activism in the MENA region, with specific reference to Algeria, Egypt and Palestine. My aim is to understand what is the political function of the discourse on mental health in these contexts, and how this relates to the political elite’s relationship with Islamism and the local Islamist agenda.

My PhD will focus on how political elites use the discourse on mental illness to manipulate the political environment and, specifically, to discourage and isolate political opposition. As my case studies will deal predominantly with Islamist opposition movements, the research will also touch upon the relationship between political elites and Islamist groups, in particular looking at how the discourse of mental illness can be used to frame the relationship between religion and power, as well as an instrument of delegitimization of Islamist organisations.

My project will look into into the relationship between mental health and power in the Middle East and North Africa Region, as well as set the groundwork into a more detailed inquiry into the practical aspects of the political abuse of psychiatry in the MENA.

Supervisory Team


Wider Research Interests

Political oppression in the Middle East and North Africa

  • I have recently concluded an MA dissertation on the use of psychiatric institutions as a medium for political oppression in North Africa, using the life experience of Abdesslam Yassine - leader of the Moroccan Al-Adl wa Al-Ihsan - as a case study for my research. My interest revolves around how various establishments, particularly medical institutions, serve as tools for different regimes to exert their political power in order to silence or delegitimize the opposition.

French Colonialism in North Africa

  • In line with my academic involvement in political oppression in North Africa, I am interested in the instruments used by the French colonial administration to impose its domination over North Africa and more specifically in Algeria. In particular, I researched how medical and psychiatric institutions were used by the colonizers to control the local populations and how scientific disciplines evolved in order to understand or even justify the colonial experience (for example through the creation of ethnopsychiatry as a discipline parallel to traditional psychiatry).