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Topics in Transnational Studies of the Middle East

Panel I-20, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • In line with a monograph I’m currently drafting, my presentation would examine the manner in which Zionism informed the formulation of Palestinian Arab national identity during the first decade of the British Mandate, in line with what I’ve argued elsewhere were by that point two different ideological conceptions of Arab national identity: the first corresponding to the European Romanticist model, wherein Arab national identity was understood largely as being rooted in a shared language, culture and history; the second, what I’ve referred to elsewhere as the salafi model, which stresses the relationship between the Arab people and Islam. During the early part of the twentieth century, Palestinian national identity (considered here as a subset of Arab national identity) was still in a formative stage and had the potential of finding correspondence with either model. My contention is that the centrality of Zionism to the Palestinian nationalist movement during the 1920s—at least up until the Wailing Wall disturbances of 1929—aligned more strongly with the secular model, mostly because Zionism defined Jews (i.e., Zionists) as a common enemy equally alien to both Muslims and Christians, significantly, in a manner that emphasized the latter’s commonalities—that is, what they shared (linguistically, culturally, historically, and even religiously, in the sense that both were equally not Jewish). Relevant here is that the British were perceived more as potential allies (i.e., who simply needed to be persuaded of the injustice of Zionism) than as enemies. This might be contrasted with the 1930s, by which time, Zionism came to be seen as a manifestation of British imperialism. Consequently, from that point forward, the Palestinian nationalist movement would be equally directed if not more so at the British. This development served to differentiate Muslims from Christians, including nationalistically, inasmuch as Christians were coreligionists of the “enemy.” In short, to the extent that the Palestinian nationalist movement defined itself as anti-British (that is, anti-European “Christian”), as opposed to simply anti-Zionist (that is, anti-Jewish), the more Palestinian Arab nationalist identity came to align with the salafi model. This shift was further augmented by the growing centrality to the nationalist struggle of the Haram al-Sharif and a perceived need to defend it, a perception, importantly, that was very actively promoted by the actions of certain political actors, most notably, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, in part, because doing so served to elevate his status among the nationalist leadership vis-à-vis his political rivals.
  • The history of Cold War era US-Middle East relations has fascinated many historians and other scholars ever since the time itself. Relations between the US and the region, however, have a deeper and more complex history beyond matters of military and financial aid driven by the US-Soviet standoff. This paper demonstrates how the roles played by American temperance and prohibition activists to “dry” Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria in the 1920s constituted a crucial albeit lesser-known prelude to subsequent relations. By 1919, having succeeded in passing legislation that would optimistically achieve Prohibition in the US, members of the Anti-Saloon League of America (ASLA) expanded their gaze to envision a “dry” world. ASLA leaders thus established the World League Against Alcoholism (WLAA) and justified their scheme as essential for protecting Prohibition at home by thwarting the arrival of overseas alcohol on American shores. Their initiative, however, also reflected America’s expanding hegemony after World War I and was routinely couched in the language of an American “moral empire.” To achieve their goal, WLAA leaders provided American “moral and financial support” to other countries and worked closely with local temperance groups and activists to bring about legal prohibitions abroad. In their view, the Middle East commonly seemed an easy first target and ideal early potential victory due to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol and drinking. Not yet having experienced American imperialism, after WWI, many Middle Eastern people looked up to the US as potential protectors of them and their interests. Disseminating news in the region of America’s Prohibition by way of missionaries and other temperance activists, WLAA leaders assumed that the temperance cause would yield a common ground between America and the region and influence America’s decision-making, especially during the post-WWI peace negotiations. My paper utilizes prohibitionist posters and newspapers, media images of American temperance activists abroad, and anti-alcohol literature that celebrated America’s prohibition activists. Through these sources I reveal American prohibitionists’ world view and their global aspirations, beginning with a quest to replicate the US example amid the Middle East’s “semi-arid/humid” drinking culture. Of wider relevance, my research also establishes one of the early expressions of American hegemony over the region through a self-serving discourse of Americans as “saviors” of the Middle East and its peoples through the WLAA’s initiative to “dry” the region and its societies from the global scourge of alcohol.
  • On 26 March Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty after years of bloody conflict – a major milestone in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The countries agreed to Normalize relations yet each interpreted and perceived normalization differently. The transition from conflict to peace poses a great challenge to scholars of conflict resolution, and yet the subject of normalization has received little attention in existing IR literature. Based on a broader research project dealing with Egypt-Israel relations, this paper examines the different meanings of normalization, their implementation in Egypt–Israel bilateral relations and their implications for the wider regional relations. To begin with, it will distinguish between three main settings of normalization, which indicate the status of pre-normalization relations: recognition and establishment of bilateral ties for the first time; restoration of previously severed bilateral ties; and formalization and expansion of pre-existing bilateral ties. Then it examines the historical context of the pre-normalization dispute and distinguishes between two types of contexts: with and without a history of direct violent / protracted militarized conflict. Applying these forms of normalization to Egyptian–Israeli relations, the paper seeks to enhance our understanding of issues and challenges in establishing full normalization after protracted conflict and war. Drawing on primary source material from archives, official publications, the Egyptian press, Arabic books and articles, interviews, and secondary sources in various languages, the paper proffers two new forms of normalization of relations: One is material/strategic normalization which may be defined as partial normalization; The other is people-to-people / cultural normalization which demonstrates complete reconciliation expressed in full normalization. The empirical discussion focuses on the Egyptian perspective on normalization with Israel and presents the considerations of the Egyptian leaders, from Sadat to ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, which led Egypt to limit normalization to the governmental level mostly. It also presents the ongoing debate among the Egyptian cultural elite and actors from within Egypt’s civil society regarding full normalization between the two peoples.
  • The political crises instigated by the rise of ISIS resulted in the mass emigration of Christians from the Middle East. This exodus, however, was not the first in the modern history of the region. A similar process was set in motion by the rise of Nasserism and Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s. This paper focuses on the exodus of Christian Armenians from Syria and Egypt under the leadership of Gamal Abdul Nasser during and immediately following the United Arab Republic (1958-1961). This study utilizes Armenian, Arabic, and French (in addition to English) sources. Particularly useful are the Armenian-language newspapers published in Syria, Egypt, Canada, the United States, and the former Soviet Armenia. The thesis of this study is that the rise of Nasserism and intensification of Arab nationalism in the 1950s had serious repercussions for the Armenian communities in both countries. The Armenian population in both countries was primarily comprised of the survivors of the genocide (1915-1923) under the Young Turk regime in the Ottoman Empire, and their traumatic experiences had profoundly shaped their views on what they considered precarious status and physical security in foreign—especially Muslim—lands. They considered Nasserism and Arab nationalism, not unlike the nationalist Young Turk regime, an existential threat and therefore decided to emigrate. The virulently intense Egyptian and Syrian Nasserists imposed dictatorial rule and launched a campaign of “search and seizure” throughout both countries, including the Armenian communities. Subsequently, they attributed their failures in leadership and dissolution of the UAR to foreign machinations and domestic treason and espionage, including alleged activities by some members of the Armenian community. Nasserist “Socialist Laws” and nationalization policies and chronic economic insecurity led to mass Armenian emigration (particularly upper and middle class Armenians) from Syria and Egypt to the West—e.g., Canada, the United States, Australia. By the 1970s, the Armenian population in Syria had dropped from an estimated 150,000 in the 1950s-1960s to 120,000. Armenians in Egypt had numbered between about 20,000 to 40,000 prior to the revolution of 1952, but that figure dropped to an estimated 4,000-6,000. This comparative study contributes to the literature on ethnicity, diasporan studies, and authoritarian regimes. To the best of my knowledge, there are no comparative studies of the emigration of Armenian communities from Syria and Egypt as a result of Nasserism.
  • The reign of Muhammad Morsi, the first elected Egyptian president after the 2011 uprising, lasted only one year (from June 2012 to June 2013), at the end of which he was overthrown in a soft coup. The academic research on the causes of Morsi’s ouster points to mismanagement, a lack of knowledge and experience, the absence of a qualified cadre to fill positions in the administration of the state, and an outdated platform, alongside the lack of legitimacy on the part of the old political elites, including the army, the non-Islamist opposition, and the judiciary. In my talk, I will argue that the state-run press, which used to serve as the mouthpiece of the regime since its nationalization in the 1960s, delegitimized Morsi and his policies, contrary to the pattern of the relationship between the official media and the regime in the past. Based on quantitative and qualitative analysis of about 4000 opinion columns of the Egyptian daily al-Ahram, which is known for its loyalty to the ruler, I will depict the unorthodox behavior of this journalistic institution and show that not only did it not support the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that it even played an adversarial role. While the prevailing scholarly assertion is that following the 2011 uprising, state-run media continued to adhere to the one-sidedly favorable attitude toward the regime, including under Morsi, I will argue that al-Ahram’s op-ed columnists substantially shifted to a critical commentary on Morsi’s policies and advanced an oppositional political agenda, while delegitimizing the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood and remaining loyal to the civil non-Islamist elite, which was privileged under Mubarak. Only a small group of columnists, including the editor-in-chief, consistently served as Morsi’s trustees and constantly backed his regime. These findings refute a common assumption in the literature concerning the "Brotherhoodization of the media" (akhwanat al-Iʿlām) during Morsi’s tenure, meaning the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of the media, either by replacing the veteran newspaper editors with Morsi’s loyalists or prosecuting hundreds of journalists who criticized him. Alternately, the results support the claim that the media served as a “deep state” element within the polarized atmosphere of post-revolutionary Egyptian politics, only partly controlled by the “visible state”.