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The ‘Political Commodity’: Oil and US-Middle East Relations in the Historiography of ʿAbdulrahman Munif
While ʿAbdulrahman Munif’s novels have become the subject of a burgeoning English and Arabic literature, his non-fiction oil writings have largely been ignored. This is unfortunate, as these writings not only constitute a window into the thoughts of Munif, one of the Arabian Peninsula’s foremost anti-colonial and progressive intellectuals, but they also provide unique insights into a defining period of global oil relations whose reverberations are felt today. This article explores Abdulrahman Munif’s non-fiction Arabic writings on American oil relations in the Middle East. I analyze two bodies of work. One is The Principle of Participation and Nationalization of Arab Petroleum, a book published in 1973 while the author was in Beirut. The second are the issues of the Baghdad-based monthly al-Nift wa-l-Tanmiya (Oil and Development) from Munif’s time as the periodical’s founding chief editor between October 1975 and March 1981. The paper begins by outlining Munif’s historiography of the US oil presence in the Middle East and its periodization from the start of the twentieth century to the early 1970s. It then focuses on his analysis of contemporary developments during the 1970s, a period which he saw as historically defining in realigning global relations. Particularly, I outline the hopes he pinned on oil nationalization and cooperation between Third World countries to overcome the unequal relations in contemporary global capitalism, especially in the shape of the movement for the New International Economic Order (NIEO). The paper argues that Munif employed a unique historiographical approach that draws on Marxist, dependency theory, and Arab Nationalist influences. Particularly, it embodies a form of conjunctural analysis avant la lettre, which pivots around analyzing the condensation of social forces at periods of critical crises at the international, national, and subnational levels. In this manner, Munif aimed to historicize the 1970s conjuncture from within, anticipating and critiquing much of what later became the standard narratives of the international relations of oil. Munif’s writings are thus explored as a window into the intellectual history of progressive and anti-imperialist economic thought from the Arabian Peninsula during the 1970s.
International Relations/Affairs
Political Science
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Arab States
Arabian Peninsula
North America
Sub Area