The Middle East Centre, founded in 1957 at St Antony’s College is the centre for the interdisciplinary study of the modern Middle East in the University of Oxford. Centre Fellows teach and conduct research in the humanities and social sciences with direct reference to the Arab world, Iran, Israel and Turkey, with particular emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, during our regular Friday seminar series, attracting a wide audience, our distinguished speakers bring topics to light that touch on contemporary issues.
The Dictatorship Syndrome
Alaa Al Aswany, author of The Dictatorship Syndrome (2019), gives a talk for the Middle East Centre seminar series. Chaired by Professor Eugene Rogan (St Antony's College, Oxford) Alaa Al Aswany is Egypt’s most celebrated novelist and essayist whose books are runaway bestsellers in Arabic and have been translated into more than 30 languages. His second novel, The Yacoubian Building (2002) established Al Aswany as a global literary figure. This was followed by Chicago (2007), The Automobile Club (2013), and most recently, The So-called Republic (2018).
A newspaper columnist until he was banned from publishing by the Egyptian government, Al Aswany has published a number of works of non-fiction treating on current affairs, including On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable (2011), and Democracy is the Answer: Egypt’s Years of Revolution (2015). His most recent book is The Dictatorship Syndrome (2020), where he considers the conditions, signs, symptoms, and cures for what he terms the malady of dictatorship.
The study of dictatorship in the West has acquired an almost exotic dimension. But authoritarian regimes remain a painful reality for billions of people worldwide who still live under them, their freedoms violated and their rights abused. They are subject to arbitrary arrest, torture, corruption, ignorance, and injustice. What is the nature of dictatorship? How does it take hold? In what conditions and circumstances is it permitted to thrive? And how do dictators retain power, even when reviled and mocked by those they govern? In this deeply considered and at times provocative short work, Alaa Al Aswany tells us that, as with any disease, to understand the syndrome of dictatorship we must first consider the circumstances of its emergence, along with the symptoms and complications it causes in both the people and the dictator.
Refugee Studies Centre: Book launch - Palestinian Refugees in International Law
Book launch for the new book Palestinian Refugees in International Law by Lex Takkenberg and Francesca Albanese. Lex Takkenberg (Former chief of the Ethics Office at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees)
Francesca Albanese (The Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), Georgetown University)
The Palestinian refugee question, resulting from the events surrounding the creation of the state of Israel over seventy years ago, remains one of the largest, most protracted, and most politically fraught refugee questions of the post-WWII era. Numbering over seven million in the Middle East alone, Palestinian refugees’ status varies considerably according to the state or territory ‘hosting’ them, the UN agency assisting them and political circumstances surrounding the Question of Palestine. International law, while being crucial to the protection of these refugees, remains marginal in political discussions concerning their fate.
This new book, building on the seminal contribution of the first edition (1998), aims to bring order and logic into a matter which is politically fraught, discussing the legal status of Palestinian refugees in a historical and factual fashion, building on extensive research of international and national legal norms and systems, doctrine and jurisprudence alike. It offers a comprehensive and compelling analysis of various areas of international law (refugee law, human rights law, humanitarian law, the law relating to stateless persons, principles related to internally displaced persons, as well as notions of international criminal law), and probes their relevance to Palestinian refugees.
It so manages to be innovative in a field of study where much has been written in either general terms (discussing Palestinian refugees as part of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict) or specific terms (discussing specific issues pertaining to Palestinian refugees e.g. which UN agency is responsible for them, their right of return and compensation, Palestinian in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Egypt), without any other manuscripts being able to offer the broad picture of Palestinian (refugees’) continuous dispersal and protection issues.
The new edition includes: a wealth of information concerning origins, crucial facts and legal tenets of the Palestinian refugee question; an updated analysis of the distinctive regime set up for them, made of a plurality of UN agencies (UNCCP, UNRWA and UNHCR); a rigorous analysis of current interpretations of Article 1D of the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the various definitions of Palestinian refugees; a detailed examination of specific rights of these refugees and a the protection regime they are afforded; an innovative framework for solutions, building on important development in the field of refugee law and practice and on a holistic rights-based approach.
This book makes for an indispensable reading to anyone willing to get a better understanding of the Palestinian refugee question and its resolution. Being so painstakingly researched, this book is meant to be, for many years to come, the ultimate reference about Palestinian refugees.
Book Launch - Utopia and Civilisation in the Arab Nahda
Peter Hill (Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne), gives a talk on his new book, Utopia and Civilisation in the Arab Nahda. Chaired by Professor Eugene Rogan (St. Antony's College, Oxford). Peter is a historian of the modern Middle East, specialising in the intellectual and cultural history of the nineteenth-century Arab world. He is currently Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow in History at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was previously a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford. His research focusses on political thought and practice, the politics of religion, and translation and intercultural exchanges. He also has a strong interest in comparative and global history.
Utopia and Civilisation in the Arab Nahda, Peter's first book, is published by Cambridge University Press in 2020. He has also published a number of articles on translation and political thought in the Middle East, in journals such as Past and Present, Journal of Arabic Literature, and Intellectual History Review.
Exploring the 'Nahda', a cultural renaissance in the Arab world responding to massive social change, this study presents a crucial and often overlooked part of the Arab world's encounter with global capitalist modernity, an interaction which reshaped the Middle East over the course of the long nineteenth century. Seeing themselves as part of an expanding capitalist civilization, Arab intellectuals approached the changing world of the mid-nineteenth century with confidence and optimism, imagining utopian futures for their own civilizing projects. By analyzing the works of crucial writers of the period, including Butrus al-Bustani and Rifa'a al-Tahtawi, alongside lesser-known figures such as the prolific journalist Khalil al-Khuri and the utopian visionary Fransis Marrash of Aleppo, Peter Hill places these visions within the context of their local class- and state-building projects in Ottoman Syria and Egypt, which themselves formed part of a global age of capital. By illuminating this little-studied early period of the Arab Nahda movement, Hill places the transformation of the Arab region within the context of world history, inviting us to look beyond the well-worn categories of 'traditional' versus 'modern'.
The struggle for Iraq's political field after the assassination of Qasim Sulimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis; the protest movement, Iraq's militias and the ruling elite
Professor Toby Dodge, LSE, gives a talk for the Middle East Studies Centre seminar series. Chaired by Dr Toby Matthiesen (St. Antony's College, Oxford). The assassination, on 2 January 2020, of Qasim Sulimani, the Commander of the Quds Force of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the senior commander of Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi and the founder of Kata'ib Hezbollah militia, has thrown Iraqi and wider regional politics into turmoil. However, Iraqi politics were already in a state of tumult with its the major cities in the south and central of the country racked by a large and sustained protest movement. These avowedly secular and nationalist demonstrations called for the overthrow of Iraq's post-2003 system, the Muhasasa Ta'ifiya, and the politically sanctioned corruption at is core. Iraq’s ruling elite first responded by issuing unrealistic promises of further spending and jobs. When this failed, they used overt and covert violence, spearheaded by the militias Muhandis controlled, in an attempt to suppress the movement.
In the wake of both the assassinations and the protest movement, the future of Iraqi politics is in the balance. Those who run the militias at the core of Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi and those that have been demonstrating on the stress of Iraqi cities have radically different visions for Iraq’s future. This talk will investigate the ideological organisation and actions of the major actors in Iraqi politics and where the country maybe heading.
Justice and Islamic Law: Mazalim Courts and Legal Reform
Professor Jonathan Brown, Georgetown University, gives a talk for the Middle East seminar series. Chaired by Dr Usaama al-Azami (St Antony's College). What do we do when our legal system produces results that seem unjust? If we believe that our legal system is itself just, how do we even understand our perception of its unjust outcomes? These are global questions, but ones that have been particularly vexing for Muslims and their tradition of Shariah law. This talk will discuss how Muslims have tackled this issue, in particular when confronted with the challenges of adapting or reforming God's law.
Iran, Iraq and the US after the Qasim Sulemani assassination
Panel discussion looking at US, Iranian and Iraqi politics after the Qasim Sulemani assassination. Held in Oxford on Monday, 20th January 2020 Speakers:, Maj Gen Felix Gedney (Academic Visitor at St Antony's College), Emma Sky OBE (Yale Jackson Institution), Lt. Gen. Sir Simon Mayall KBE, CB (Middle East Advisor at the Ministry of Defence), Dr Toby Matthiesen (St Antony's College)