Modern Middle Eastern Studies Colloquia : DPhil lunchtime series Historical national constructions in the Middle East

Modern Middle Eastern Studies Colloquia : DPhil lunchtime series Historical national constructions in the Middle East

Monday, 24 February 2014 - 12:45pm
Middle East Centre Library reading room, 68 Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6JF
Ahmed Dailami (DPhil candidate in Oriental Studies, St Antony’s College)
Hussein Omar (DPhil candidate in History, Magdalen College)
MEC Seminar

Ahmed Dailami, DPhil candidate in Oriental Studies, St Antony’s College

The Last Kings Standing: Defeating Nationalism in the Arabian Peninsula Unlike most of the post-colonial world, the Arab States of the Gulf’s relationship with the West is not one mediated by ‘under’ or ‘uneven’ development, but by abundance. This has carved out a particular place for the Arabian Peninsula in the catalogue of postcolonial nation-states. This paper examines what this fact means for nationalism as a political force in a region where it was historically defeated, and where popular sovereignty was never adopted as the basis of government. Specifically, I ask how has nationalism in the Gulf continue threatened and shaped the ideological coherence of monarchy as a modern political form, and the forms of resistance that came against it during the early to mid twentieth century. The paper ends with a discussion why conservative political thought, and particularly loyalist monarchism continues to be labelled traditional, tribal, or simply religious as ways to dismiss or ignore it, even when their historical potency is not well captured by any such descriptions.

Hussein Omar, DPhil candidate in History, Magdalen College

More Islamic than the Khalif: Morality and Fanaticism in late Khedival Egypt

This paper covers the years between Abbas Hilmi II’s accession to the vice-regal throne in 1892, and Lord Cromer’s abrupt departure from Egypt in 1907. It examines the effect of a number of important reforms that would transform the nature of politics in Egypt. These colonial reforms were predicated on novel conceptual distinctions between ‘religion’ and ‘politics’. As articulated by Cromer, religion was not only to be irrational, and its adherents fanatical, but also private, domestic and therefore impossible to control. By contrast, politics needed to be surveilled, censored and proscribed, lest it prove obstructive to the British presence in Egypt. Thus, from 1892 onwards, Egyptians were increasingly able to do things under the guise of religion that they were unable to do in the name of politics. This chapter examines these transformations and attempts to demonstrate how a ‘fugitive’ politics began to take place under the cover of religion. More than anyone, the Khedive would become emblematic of this phenomenon. Not long after his accession, Lord Cromer began to implement a series of reforms restricting the Khedive’s political sovereignty. Refusing to be a straitjacketed puppet, the Khedive reinvented his role into that of a moral Islamic authority, in imitation of, and in competition with, the Caliph. As Cromer strove to hinder political activity among the Egyptian people and the press, the Khedive worked to imbue hitherto value-neutral mores—what people wore, ate, and drank, even how they died— with political significance, using an influential network of spies, students and shaykhs. By his deposal in 1914, he would be transformed into a Mahdi figure, invoked in the protests which shook Egypt in 1919. Through the activities of the Khedive in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, the anti-colonial movement became aligned with Islam, which became the chief vehicle for political opposition, and the main register in which it would find expression. This process would culminate in the violent, sectarian events of 1910-11, which confirmed the Britons’ worst suspicions of their subjects’ fanaticism, and thereby gave seeming credence to the former’s claim to being the only force capable of guaranteeing the ‘impartiality’ of the state.