28 episodes

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.

Middle East Centre Oxford University

    • Education

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.

    • video
    Failing Flows: The Politics of Water Management in Southern Iraq

    Failing Flows: The Politics of Water Management in Southern Iraq

    This is a recording of a live webinar held on Friday 19th November 2021 for the MEC. Dr Michael Mason, Director of the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science presents “Failing Flows: The Politics of Water Management in Southern Iraq”.

    Dr Michael Willis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) chairs this webinar.
    In July 2018 massive protests erupted in Basra city as residents demanded improvements in public services. Failings in water management were at the heart of local grievances: an outbreak of water-related illnesses was triggered by the increased use of polluted water from the Shatt al-Arab, Basra’s principal source of water. However, the deterioration of public water infrastructure has its roots in decades of armed conflict and international sanctions. Tap water has been undrinkable since the 1990s, forcing most households to rely on private water vendors. Water infrastructure upgrading was a priority for state-rebuilding after 2003 but receded under the sectarian civil war. Governmental and donor plans for mega-infrastructure water projects have stalled in the face of political stasis and systemic corruption. Compact water treatment units are the dominant purification technology, supplying 83% of treatment capacity across Basra governorate and 92% in Basra city. The effectiveness of this water treatment technology is reduced by irregular supplies of freshwater from the Bada’a Canal - flows negatively impacted by upstream dam construction, climatic variability and illegal water tapping. There is a pressing need to diversify water sources for Basra and improve the efficiencies of treatment technologies and distribution networks. The LSE report that Dr Michael Mason refers to in his presentation is available from the LSE website: Failing_Flows_003_.pdf (lse.ac.uk)

    Artworked credit: Azhar Al-Rubaie, 2021

    Dr Michael Mason is Director of the Middle East Centre and Associate Professor in Environmental Geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is interested in ecological politics and governance as applied to questions of accountability, security and sovereignty. His research addresses both global environmental politics and environmental change in Western Asia/the Middle East. He has a particular interest in environmental issues within conflict-affected areas and occupied territories, including Iraq, northern Cyprus, and the occupied Golan Heights. Alongside articles in a wide range of journals and chapter contributions, he is the author or editor of five books, of which the most recent is the forthcoming co-edited volume, The Untold Story of the Golan Heights (2022).

    Dr Michael J. Willis is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford and King Mohammed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies. His research interests focus on the politics, modern history and international relations of the central Maghreb states (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco). He is the author of Politics and Power in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History (Ithaca and New York University Press, 1997) and co-editor of Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2015).
    If you would like to join the live audience during this term’s webinar series, you can sign up to receive our MEC weekly newsletter or browse the MEC webpages. The newsletter includes registration details for each week's webinar. Please contact mec@sant.ox.ac.uk to register for the newsletter or follow us on Twitter @OxfordMEC.
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    • 1 hr
    • video
    Air Pollution, Toxicity, and Environmental Politics in the History of Iranian Oil Nationalisation

    Air Pollution, Toxicity, and Environmental Politics in the History of Iranian Oil Nationalisation

    This is a recording of a live webinar held on Friday 12th November 2021 for the MEC. Dr Mattin Biglari (SOAS, University of London) presents “Air Pollution, Toxicity, and Environmental Politics in the History of Iranian Oil Nationalisation”. Dr Stephanie Cronin (Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford) chairs this webinar.
    As we witness the increasingly visible effects of the global climate emergency, it is paramount that the study of the environment is better integrated into the social sciences and humanities. This is especially so in the case of Iran, where the recent drying up of rivers in the province of Khuzestan has caused water scarcity for the local population and led to subsequent political mobilisation. Yet it is also vital to consider less spectacular forms of environmental degradation that equally afflict the country today, particularly air pollution, which presents one of the world’s greatest health challenges and each year contributes to over 8 million deaths globally. This talk will turn attention to the toxicity of air pollution to illuminate its relationship to embodied subjectivity, (in)visibility, temporality and infrastructure, especially with reference to the politics of Iran’s oil nationalisation in 1951. By focusing on subaltern experiences in the oil refinery town of Abadan, it will offer an alternative account to challenge dominant nationalist narratives of this important episode in the country’s history. In doing so, it connects the modern history of Iran to a burgeoning body of work in the environmental and energy humanities that highlights the relationship between global pollution and imperialism in the Middle East and wider Global South.
    Dr Mattin Biglari is a Research Associate and Teaching Fellow at SOAS. His research focuses on the intersection of energy, environment, infrastructure and labour, especially in the history of Iran and the Middle East. His doctoral thesis, which was awarded the 2021 BRISMES Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize for best PhD dissertation, examines the technopolitics of Iranian oil nationalisation, especially focusing on expertise, labour and anti-colonialism in Abadan. His monograph based on this thesis entitled Refining Knowledge: Labour, Politics and Oil Nationalisation in Iran, 1933-51 will be published with Edinburgh University Press in 2023.

    Mattin has also published about banditry in Iran during the early twentieth century, examining its relationship to the country’s constitutional revolution and integration into the capitalist world economy. He has also written an article in Diplomatic History about how perceptions of Shi’a Islam shaped U.S. foreign policy during the 1978-79 Iranian revolution.

    Mattin completed his PhD in History at SOAS in 2020. Previously he attained an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS and a BA in History at the University of Cambridge.

    Stephanie Cronin is Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Research Fellow, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford. She is the author of Armies and State-building in the Modern Middle East: Politics, Nationalism and Military Reform (I. B. Tauris, 2014); Shahs, Soldiers and Subalterns in Iran: Opposition, Protest and Revolt, 1921-1941 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Tribal Politics in Iran: Rural Conflict and the New State, 1921-1941 (Routledge, 2006); and The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910-1926 (I. B. Tauris, 1997). She is the editor of Subalterns and Social Protest: History from Below in the Middle East and North Africa (Routledge, 2007); Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on the Iranian Left (Routledge, 2004); and The Making of Modern Iran; State and Society under Riza Shah, 1921-1941 (Routledge, 2003).
    Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/

    • 58 min
    • video
    The Tunisian Political Crisis; the end of Democracy?

    The Tunisian Political Crisis; the end of Democracy?

    On 25 July 2021 Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the government and suspended parliament, subsequently employing the army and security forces around government buildings to thwart any opposition to his power grab. How did Tunisia – long hailed as a democratic model in the region – reach such a stage? Who is President Saied and what does he plan on doing? What are his sources of power and support, both within Tunisia and internationally? And does his power grab mean the end of Tunisian democracy? This panel will tackle these questions and more.

    Youssef Cherif runs the Columbia Global Centers | Tunis, the North and West African research centre of Columbia University. He is a Tunis-based political analyst, member of Carnegie’s Civic Activism Network, and a regular contributor to number of think-tanks (Carnegie, ISPI, IAI, IEMed, etc.). He consulted previously for IWPR, IACE, the United Nations, The Carter Center, and the Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies (ITES). He comments on North African affairs for several media outlets, including Al Jazeera, BBC, DW, France 24, among others. He holds a Chevening Master of Arts in International Relations from the Dept. of War Studies of King's College London, and a Fulbright Master of Arts in Classical Studies from Columbia University. Youssef is the editor of the book The Modern Arab State: A Decade of Uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2021.

    Dr Anne Wolf is a Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford, where she teaches Authoritarian Politics. She holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford (St Antony’s College) and an MPhil in Politics and International Relations from the University of Cambridge (Clare College), where she was previously the Margaret Smith Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations (Girton College). Her 2017 book Political Islam in Tunisia: The History of Ennahda, published by Oxford University Press, won the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title. Her second book, Ben Ali’s Tunisia: Power and Contention in an Authoritarian Regime is forthcoming with OUP. Wolf has published numerous journal articles on Authoritarian Politics in the Arab world. She is an Associate Editor at the Journal of North African Studies and a Senior Research Fellow at the Project of Middle East Democracy.

    • 1 hr 10 min
    • video
    Environment Discounted: Energy and Economic Diversification Plans in the Gulf

    Environment Discounted: Energy and Economic Diversification Plans in the Gulf

    Oil price volatility and accelerated energy transitions away from hydrocarbons to meet climate change mitigation measures have presented existential threats to the economies of hydrocarbon-dependent welfare states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These state rely on oil and gas not only in their exports to fund welfare distributive measures, but also domestically for highly-subsidized energy and water consumption. In response, each GCC state announced economic development plans presented as avant-garde “Visions”—one tailored to each of the six GCC states— reflecting a future target of transformation away from oil and gas through energy and economic diversification and reform. In a fundamental policy shift, GCC states implemented energy subsidy reform following the 2014 oil price declines, with varying degrees of success. In another fundamental policy shift in October 2020, in preparation for COP26 in Glasgow, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060. Beyond the economic pressures, GCC states also face environmental challenges owing to their highly subsidized energy and water consumption and emissions in an already-constrained environment owing to climate change. This talk summarizes the state of the environment in the Gulf states and examines the role of the environment in the economic and energy diversification plans of their Visions. It argues that the environment has had a limited role in the Visions, despite the state of the environment in the region, offering a striking difference with other regions. The talk concludes with implications on the region’s long-term sustainability and success of proposed reforms.

    MEC Friday Webinar. This is a recording of a live webinar held on 5th November 2021 for the MEC Friday Seminar Michaelmas Term 2021 series on the overall theme of The Environment and The Middle East. Dr Manal Shehabi (Academic Visitor, St. Antony's College, University of Oxford; and Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies) presents “Environment Discounted: Energy and Economic Diversification Plans in the Gulf”.

    Professor Walter Armbrust (St Antony’s College, Oxford) chairs this webinar, and Dr Michael Willis is the Q&A Moderator.

    The combination of oil price volatility and the accelerated energy transitions away from hydrocarbons to meet climate change mitigation measures have presented existential threats to the economies of hydrocarbon-dependent welfare states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These state rely on oil and gas not only in their exports to fund welfare distributive measures, but also domestically for highly-subsidized energy and water consumption. In response, each GCC state announced economic development plans presented as avant-garde “Visions”—one tailored to each of the six GCC states— reflecting a future target of transformation away from oil and gas through energy and economic diversification and reform. In a fundamental policy shift, GCC states implemented energy subsidy reform following the 2014 oil price declines, with varying degrees of success. In another fundamental policy shift in October 2020, in preparation for COP26 in Glasgow, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060. Beyond the economic pressures, GCC states also face environmental challenges owing to their highly subsidized energy and water consumption and emissions in an already-constrained environment owing to climate change. This talk summarizes the state of the environment in the Gulf states and examines the role of the environment in the economic and energy diversification plans of their Visions. It argues that the environment has had a limited role in the Visions, despite the state of the environment in the region, offering a striking difference with other regions. The talk concludes with implications on the region’s long-term sustainability and success of prop

    • 1 hr 4 min
    • video
    The Blue-Clad Fennec: Authoritarian Environmentalism in Tunisia, and its afterlives

    The Blue-Clad Fennec: Authoritarian Environmentalism in Tunisia, and its afterlives

    This is a recording of a live webinar held on 29th October 2021 for the MEC Friday Seminar Michaelmas Term 2021 series on the overall theme of The Environment and The Middle East. Dr Jamie Furniss (Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain (Tunis) / Department of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh) presents: The blue-clad fennec: authoritarian environmentalism in Tunisia, and its afterlives.

    Professor Walter Armbrust (St Antony’s College, Oxford) chairs this webinar, including the Q&A session.

    There is hardly a city in the whole of Tunisia without a faded sign reading “Boulevard de l’environnement” (Shari‘ al-bi’a) on one of its most prominent thoroughfares. If it hasn’t fallen over from neglect or been removed—for example by angry protesters or as a sort of nostalgic and kitsch lawn ornament—one may find a statue of desert fox (Fennec) in a blue jumpsuit, minus a few limbs, standing at the end of the avenue. These are the traces of the authoritarian environmentalism of Ben Ali’s Tunisia, the forms and afterlives of which this paper seeks to sketch. I begin by arguing that environment emerged as a category of political action in 1990s Tunisia largely as a way of papering over the totalitarian state by appealing to strategic hot-button issues in the eyes of the “West” (like women’s rights), as well as an attempt at aesthetic and moral discipline. I then evoke some of the consequences this genealogy has on the ways “environment” is used and understood in Tunisia today. What exactly does “environment” refer to in Tunisia is both a necessary contextual backdrop to this paper and a question that emerges from the political and social history I aim to examine. From some examples such as analysis of the Arabic terms (bi’a vs. muhit), the discourse in public signage pertaining to waste, the creation in 2017 of Tunisia’s “environmental police” and participant observation I have conducted on civil society “environmental” projects, I attempt to demonstrate that environment is a concept characterized by visuality and proximity. This makes garbage and in particular its visual accumulation in public space a kind of archetypal “environmental problem”. The rapid political telescoping of waste into issues of corruption (e.g. during the “Italian waste scandal”) as well as the use of cleanup as a political idiom (e.g. during the halit wa‘I movement following Kais Said’s election as president) are indices of ongoing political overtones of the issues of waste, cleanliness, and environment more broadly, in contemporary Tunisia.

    Dr Jamie Furniss is currently a researcher at the Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain in Tunis, on leave from a position as a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. He has a DPhil from the University of Oxford in International Development and has conducted fieldwork in Egypt and Tunisia, primarily on topics pertaining to environment, waste, and urban development.

    Professor Walter Armbrust is a Hourani Fellow and Professor in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. He is a cultural anthropologist, and author of Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (1996); Martyrs and Tricksters: An Ethnography of the Egyptian Revolution (2019); and various other works focusing on popular culture, politics and mass media in Egypt. He is editor of Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond (2000).

    If you would like to join the live audience during this term’s webinar series, you can sign up to receive our MEC weekly newsletter or browse the MEC webpages. The newsletter includes registration details for each week's webinar. Please contact mec@sant.ox.ac.uk to register for the newsletter or follow us on Twitter @OxfordMEC.

    Accessibility features of this video playlist are available through the University of Oxford Middle East Centre podcast series: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/middle-east-ce

    • 57 min
    • video
    The Politics of Water Scarcity in the Case of Jordan

    The Politics of Water Scarcity in the Case of Jordan

    Dr Hussam Hussein investigates the construction of the discourse of water scarcity in Jordan, and the political economy of the water sector. This is a recording of a live webinar held on 22nd October 2021 for the MEC Friday Seminar Michaelmas Term 2021 series on the overall theme of The Environment and The Middle East. Dr Hussam Hussein (Lecturer in International Relations at DPIR, Oxford Martin School Fellow in Water Diplomacy, and Fulford Junior Research Fellow at Somerville College) presents the politics of water scarcity in the case of Jordan.

    Dr Neil Ketchley (St Antony’s College, Oxford) chairs this webinar and Dr Michael Willis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) moderates the Q&A.

    This talk investigates the construction of the discourse of water scarcity in Jordan, and the political economy of the water sector. It identifies the actors constructing the discourse and the elements comprising the discourse. The research finds that there is a single dominant discourse of water scarcity, which is composed of two narratives: water insufficiency and water mismanagement. The water insufficiency narrative is constructed to emphasise factors external to the responsibility of the Jordanian government as reasons for water scarcity, like nature, refugees, and neighbouring countries. It is mainly constructed by governmental aligned actors and deployed to open solutions on the supply and conservation sides and ultimately to maintain the status quo of the current water uses. The water mismanagement narrative is constructed to emphasise as reasons for water scarcity factors of mismanagement of water resources and deployed to increase economic efficiency in the water sector, challenging existing uses, allocations, and benefits.

    Dr Hussam Hussein’s research focuses on the role of discourses in shaping water policies in the Middle East, on transboundary water governance, and on issues related to the political economy of water resources in arid and semi-arid regions. Hussam has also worked on issues of sustainable development and environmental governance for the Italian Embassy in Jordan, the European Parliament, the World Bank and UNICEF. He obtained his PhD from the University of East Anglia with a thesis on hydropolitics and discourses of water scarcity in the case of Jordan.

    Dr Neil Ketchley is Associate Professor in Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR) and the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA). His research focuses on the dynamics of protest and activism in the Arabic-speaking Middle East and North Africa. His most recent book, Egypt in a Time of Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2017), won the Charles Tilly Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association. His work has appeared in journals such as the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, and Mobilization. Neil's current research interests include episodes of historic mass protest in the MENA, the rise of political Islam in Egypt, and the changing profiles of regional political elites.

    Dr Michael J. Willis is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford and King Mohammed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies. His research interests focus on the politics, modern history and international relations of the central Maghreb states (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco). He is the author of Politics and Power in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring (Hurst and Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History (Ithaca and New York University Press, 1997) and co-editor of Civil Resistance in the Arab Spring: Triumphs and Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2015).


    If you would like to join the live audience during this term’s webinar series, you can sign up to receive our MEC weekly newsletter or browse the MEC web

    • 54 min

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