Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tawadros and Sisi

Johannes Makar takes a look at Coptic Pope Tawadros II's embrace of the Sisi regime in Egypt:
On Christmas Eve Mass on January 6, 2015—when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became the first Egyptian president to attend a church on the Coptic holy day—the congregation erupted in applause. The Egyptian Pope Tawadros II, who took office in November 2012, expressed his steadfast support for Sisi and called on his adherents to back the regime. Other prominent clerics, such as Father Makary Younan, even claimed Sisi had been “sent from heaven.” But despite the church leadership’s conservative leanings, not all Copts support the Pope’s partisan leanings. The Pope’s lack of neutrality and support for the regime may even be limiting the church’s ability to protect the rights of the Coptic community.
The Coptic papacy has dominated the community’s political activism since the 1950s—after Nasser’s de facto dissolution of the al-Maglis al-Milli, a powerful council of Coptic laymen—but papal hegemony has not bettered the community’s lot. Discrimination against Copts is deeply embedded in Egyptian society, not only among radical Islamists (as state media frequently mentions), but among governmental and military ranks as well. Successive governments have maintained, for instance, strict policies on the construction of new churches or maintenance of existing ones. Among other things, the president’s authorization is required in order to repair basic items such as a church’s toilet. Christians were promised after Morsi’s ouster in July 2013 that the government would remove “all barriers to building churches,” signaling a long-awaited breakthrough, but the issue remains unresolved.
Tawadros supported Sisi's coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, and there was definitely a cost to the Coptic community in the wave of anti-Christian Islamist violence which followed.  At the level of policy towards Christians, there is actually very little to differentiate Mubarak and Sisi from Morsi's government.  While there are Copts who oppose the pope's stance, however:
Many Christians back the Pope out of suspicion of secular institutions such as al-Maglis al-Milli and their fear that opposition would further marginalize the community, which is already heavily underrepresented in the national decision-making process. But if persistent discrimination against Copts is to be addressed, the papacy will sooner or later have to embrace an active Coptic civil society and their demands for reform. In such a scenario, the Pope would step back from his worldly powers and grant Copts an active and critical political role by encouraging Egyptian youth to vigorously participate in society and claim equal citizenship. Otherwise Copts as a whole risk being viewed as steadfast supporters of the Sisi government.

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Dating in Iran

The Economist reports:
At a loss to explain why most youngsters are delaying marriage or altogether shunning the idea of a happy union, Iran’s government is taking action. In Hamedan province, a senior ayatollah recently warned unmarried public workers to find a spouse within a year or risk losing their jobs. A gentler approach, announced in January, is the launch of a matchmaker website which, the government hopes, could lead to as many as 100,000 marriages...
In any case, under-30s, who make up 55% of Iran’s population of 77m, seem far more interested in brief flings than marriage. Hence some 300 “immoral” Western-style dating websites have sprung up of late. Unable to close them all down, the state’s moral guardians have decided to turn matchmaker instead...
Rather than let their parents or the government arrange their future, many adolescents find inventive ways of meeting. One of the most common is dor-dor (“turn, turn” in Farsi) where telephone numbers are exchanged out of the windows of cars in the street—about as public as flirting can get in Iran. Facebook, although blocked by government censors, is also popular among those who have the illegal software to get around internet controls. So too are house parties.
We should probably see this as Iran's moves to limit contraception and promote fertility treatments. Increasing women's education and economic autonomy leads to lower fertility rates, which sharply limits population growth and could lead to the population even shrinking unless made up for by immigration.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Now

Mostafa Hashem describes shifts in the Muslim  Brotherhood organization under Sisi:
After about a year of internal conflicts, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has finally begun a comprehensive restructuring process. For the first time, the group is empowering its youth to lead the organization. This shift in approach reflects the former leadership’s realization that it has failed to adapt to domestic politics and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The Muslim Brotherhood, in response to the crackdown, has conceded to the will of active youth members and others who support an escalation with the Sisi government. The shift came after Brotherhood youth finally refused to work with the group’s secretary-general, Mahmoud Hussein, who had sidelined them during Morsi’s administration...The Muslim Brotherhood’s old guard worried that a major loss of youth supporters would sink the Muslim Brotherhood as both an ideology and an organization.
In response to these difficult circumstances and increasing pressure from the youth, the group’s leadership has restructured the organization based on internal elections that lasted two months—as they took place not just in Egypt but also Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia, and Sudan—and ended at the beginning of January. The most important changes to date were a shift toward decentralization, a focus on preaching and charity work, and the election of a new “committee to manage crisis and mobilization." 
This is in contrast with the organization under Nasser, where the prison leadership under Hassan al-Hudaybi kept control of the organization and worked to limit the influence of its more confrontational elements, as represented by Sayyid Qutb.  Two things are different this time.  One is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood came to power democratically, but was overthrown.  This fulfulled the "Algeria paradigm," in which many Islamists believed other powers in society would not allow them to rule even if they came to power through a fair process.  The fact the Muslim Brotherhood in power acted in a high-handed majoritarian manner, taking their narrow election win as a mandate to implement a broadly Islamist agenda, does not factor into this.

This second factor, is the article mentions this, is the rise of Islamic State.  Although its ideology is much more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood has historically been, the fact it has succeeded in establishing a state through force of arms does make the military option more attractive to Islamists in general.  As the Muslim Brotherhood embraces confrontation in the wake of the 2013 coup, we can unfortunately expect consistent low-level MB violence in Egypt for the foreseeable future.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sudairis Ascendant

With the accession of King Salman in Saudi Arabia, former Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin has been confirmed as moving up to crown prince.  King Salman has also appointed a new deputy crown prince, Muhammad b. Nayef.  Middle East Eye sees this as part of a generalized enhancement of the power of the Sudairi Seven princely lines:
"King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court.

The newly-anointed monarch promoted Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to Crown Prince, now first in line to the throne, from being deputy, and appointed 55-year-old Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef as the second heir.

The new appointments herald a new era in Saudi monarchical politics, marked by the resurgence of the “Sudairi Seven,” a powerful alliance of sons of King Abdulaziz named after their mother Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi.

The late Abdullah – whose mother was from the Shammar Bedouin tribe – was not one of the seven Sudairi brothers, and the first indications suggest that his men are being pushed out of power.

Abdullah’s son Mutaib – who is minister of the National Guard – has been overlooked to become deputy Crown Prince in favour of Mohammed bin Nayef.

His former head of the Royal Court, Khalid al-Tuwijri, has been replaced by the young Mohammed bin Salman.

This has been reported as having immediately undermined Abdullah’s legacy and affirmed the renewed power of the Sudairi alliance."
Muqrin's position of deputy crown prince existed at least in part as a safety net due to the poor health of the crown prince candidates.  There was no guarantee that it would continue into the new reign. That it has suggests that Muhammad b. Nayef really is the preferred heir, and Salman and his allies want to make sure want to make sure he is in line and can start accumulating the tools of informal power.

At the same time, however, Muqrin is crown prince, and not one of the Sudairi Seven.  As Salman's reign unfolds, we could see him removed as crown prince in favor of Muhammad.  Alternately, he could reign, but leave Muhammad in place as his own heir.  Muqrin being able to replace Muhammad as heir with one of his own sons seems less likely.  The longer Salman reigns, the more probable the first option becomes.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mohammed-bin-nayef-kingpin-new-saudi-arabia-country-experts-1500997678#sthash.BY64I7yZ.C3DwDjXg.dpuf
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mohammed-bin-nayef-kingpin-new-saudi-arabia-country-experts-1500997678#sthash.BY64I7yZ.C3DwDjXg.dpuf
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mohammed-bin-nayef-kingpin-new-saudi-arabia-country-experts-1500997678#sthash.BY64I7yZ.C3DwDjXg.dpuf
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/mohammed-bin-nayef-kingpin-new-saudi-arabia-country-experts-1500997678#sthash.BY64I7yZ.C3DwDjXg.dpuf

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Saudi Succession

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah b. Abd al-Aziz has died, and his half-brother Salman is now the Crown Prince.  The Washington Post explains why the situation is touchy:
The monarch, believed to be 90, was succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Salman, according to state television. That put the region’s most important Sunni power and America’s closest Arab ally in the hands of a 79-year-old who is reportedly in poor health and suffering from dementia...
While observers in Riyadh widely predicted a smooth transition to Salman, his poor health means his rule could be relatively short. Should there be a power struggle to succeed him, it could leave a vacuum in the Middle East at a critical time. Saudi Arabia is a key member of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and a major ally of the government that just fell in neighboring Yemen...
In an apparent bid to preempt quarrels about succession — and also secure the line for his own favored branch of the family — Abdullah last year took the unprecedented step of anointing a deputy heir, Prince Muqrin, 71, his youngest brother...
(In choosing Muqrin's successor) the Saudi royal family would face a far more complicated puzzle about who would succeed Muqrin, but it would almost certainly be a prince from the next generation, the grandchildren of Abdulaziz. Hundreds of princes belong to that generation.
One possibility for Salman is simply passing over him due to ill health and having Muqrin assume the throne right away.  There is precedent for this in the Gulf, as in 2006 Kuwait's Emir Sa'ad was removed on similar grounds after a reign of only nine days. In Saudi Arabia, however, there is experience of a king who reigns while another rules, as Abdullah himself held the reigns of power for an incapacitated King Fahd for years.

As far as the succession issue, as I've said before, the interests of dynastic preservation would lead towards establish some sort of principle of succession to limit the number of candidates beyond simply Abd al-Aziz b. Saud's grandsons.  The most obvious such principle would be to, in practice if not in theory, ensure that succession passes to a son of one of the Sudairi Seven, the sons Abd al-Aziz b. Saud had with Hassa bt. Ahmad, chief of the Sudairi clan in the early 20th century.  However, neither Abdullah nor Muqrin belongs to that faction, and it may not be possible for them to push forward against the influence of those two.  Promoting Sudairi Seven interests, of course, could be a reason to keep the Sudairi Salman on the throne.

In the introduction to her textbook on Chinese history called The Open Empire, Valerie Hansen describes a dynasty as a convenient fiction that legitimizes the rule of behind-the-scenes factions.  The Saudi dynasty is no one's fig leaf, but there are factions within the family itself, especially among those with no realistic chance at the throne or an important ministry themselves.  These negotiations are going on behind the scenes more intensely right now than they have for some time, for only Salman's fragile health stands between the House of Saud and the need to decisively move on the generational succession decision they have avoided for years.

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American and Israeli Partisanship

American commentators have focused mostly on John Boehner's invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress as an attempt to counter the Obama administration's Iran policy, outsourcing the role of chief hawkish spokesperson to Israel's prime minister.  Israelis, however, see it in the context of Israel's election campaign:
From the Israeli point of view, there is no way to look at the extraordinary invitation House Speaker John Boehner extended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress and not see an act of crass intervention in Israel’s electoral process...
The situation is so weird that it still remains to be seen whether Israel’s elections overseer will permit local TV stations to broadcast the speech live, as it falls pretty clearly into the rubric of free and unaccounted for campaign publicity. And another question? What will Barack Obama do with this unwanted visitor in town? Ignore him? Find an event in LA?
It’ll be interesting to watch Yitzhak Herzog in the coming days. For now, he has maintained  a civil, polite attitude towards Netanayhu, and, it goes without saying, towards all American officialdom. But John Boehner’s act goes way beyond the normal purview of a party leader in a friendly country. Its an act of hostile defiance aimed very personally at the man who could– yes, he might– be Israel’s next prime minister and its an act of overt partisanship at what Boehner must have known is an incredibly delicate moment. It really is an outrage, and its a test of Herzog’s new leadership persona.
One can view this as a significant  step towards a U.S.-Israel relationship in which political parties in one country are closely allied with a counterpart in the other.  Netanyahu began this, making known his preference for Republicans in Washington and all but openly campaigning for Romney in 2012.  The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. whom he appointed, Ron Derner, is both his own chief political guru and a man who has worked for Republican campaigns.  Sheldon Adelson also stands out as a significant funding source for both the Likud Party in Israel and the GOP.

Does this mean that if Herzog become prime minister, he will openly side with Democrats in U.S. political disputes?  The United States, of course, has done this sort of thing before.  The first President Bush was quite open about hurting Yitzhak Shamir in the campaign in which he fell from power.  However, the relationship has generally been between two nation-states independent of each other's internal politics.  This move by Boehner, coming on the heels of Netanyahu's 2012 involvement, threatens to create a new paradigm of Republicans allying with Likud against the Democrats and Labor.

If that happens, of course, it could finally weaken the politically articulated idea that the U.S. has to support whatever an Israeli government does.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Saudi Arabia-Iraq Barrier

A number of years ago, Saudi Arabia built a border fence with Yemen in an attempt to keep out migrant workers from that country.  Now they are building one on their border with Iraq to defend against ISIS infiltration:
Saudi Arabia has been constructing a 600-mile East-West barrier on its Northern Border with Iraq since September.
The main function of the barrier will be keeping out ISIS militants, who have stated that among their goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which lie deep inside Saudi territory, according to United Press International.
This past week, a commander and two guards on the Saudi-Iraq border were killed during an attack by Islamic State militants, the first direct ground assault by the group on the border...
The Saudi "Great Wall" as it's being dubbed by some media outlets, will be a fence and ditch barrier that features soft sand embankments that is designed to slow down infiltrators on foot and are too step to drive a tired-vehicle up, according to the Telegraph of London. It will have 40 watchtowers and seven command and control centers complete with radar that can detect aircraft and vehicles as far away as 22 miles as well as day and night camera installations. 
The barrier system will have five layers of fencing, complete with razor wire and underground motion sensors that trigger a silent alarm. The 600-mile structure will be patrolled by border guards and 240 rapid response vehicles. The Saudis sent 30,000 soldiers to patrol the border in July 2014 after ISIS forces swept into western Iraq and Iraqi guards on the Saudi border fled.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Modern Middle Eastern History Syllabus

Here, sans bureaucratic sections, is my Spring 2015 syllabus for "History of the Modern Middle East."



HIS 344: The Modern Middle East
208 Dauphin Humanities Center, MWF 9:00 a.m.
Dr. Brian J. Ulrich

Office: 201 Dauphin Humanities Center, ex. 1736
Office Hours: 11 – 11:50 a.m. MWF, 2-4:00 p.m. W

Required Texts:

The Middle East in Modern World History, Ernest Tucker
The Modern Middle East and North Africa: A History in Documents, Julia Clancy-Smith and Charles Smith
The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories, Neil Caplan
For Better, For Worse: The Marriage Crisis that Made Modern Egypt, Hanan Kholoussy

Course Overview:

This course will cover the history of the Middle East from the 18th century to the present.  It is divided into two sections.  The first half will deal with the region during a long 19th century characterized by rapid transformations analogous to those found elsewhere in the world with the shift from an agrarian to an industrial social and economic order.  In particular, we will emphasize the rising significance of Europe for the Middle East, the forms of colonialism found in the Middle East and North Africa, developments within Middle Eastern society and culture, and the articulation of new political concepts and ideologies which have continuing importance in the region.  At the end of this section of the course, students will have an appreciation for events and developments which loom large in the Middle Eastern historical memory, an understanding of key concepts, an appreciation for the ways in which aspects of the region often described as “traditional” or even “medieval” are in fact part of the modern world, and a sound basis for comparing Middle Eastern developments in this period with those in other regions.

The second half of the course will focus on the important developments in the region during the 20th century, including but not limited to those conflicts which frequently make the headlines in American media.  Important subthemes include the role of foreign powers in the region’s politics and the continuing transformation of society and culture within the Middle East.  In furtherance of Shippensburg’s integrated history curriculum, we will also highlight the ways in which different constructed historical narratives figure into the region’s conflicts, with a special focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  At the end of this section of the course, students will be conversant with Arab, Iranian and Turkish nationalism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, political Islam, and the political economy of the region.

Grading:

Quizzes and Paragraphs: 10%
Participation: 10%
Photo Interpretation Essay: 10%
Hanan Kholoussy Essay: 12.5%
Research Paper: 15%
Midterm Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 22.5%

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

January 21 – Course Intro
January 23 – Tucker, 17-25 (Islam and Middle Eastern history)

January 26 – Tucker, 41-5; Sam White, The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp.137-9, 174-9, 222-5, 247-8, 275, 291-7. (For this books’ pages in EBL navigation bar at top, add 24) (Ottoman Decline)
January 28 – Dina Rizk Khoury, “The Ottoman centre versus provincial power-holders: an analysis of the historiography,” The Cambridge History of Turkey, Vol. III, ed. Suriya N. Faroqhi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 135-56. (18th century Ottoman Empire)
January 30 – Tucker, 54-67 (Selim III – Auspicious Incident)

February 2 – Clancy-Smith and Smith, 65-70; Judith Tucker, “Decline of the Family Economy in Mid-Nineteenth Century Egypt,” Arab Studies Quarterly 1 (1979): 245-71 (Mehmet Ali)
February 4 – Tucker, 71-86; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 70-4 (Tanzimat Era)
February 6 – Clancy-Smith and Clancy, pp. 44-8; Haim Gerber, “The Ottoman Land Law of 1858 and Its Consequences,” The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner: 1987), 67-90. (Tanzimat Era)

February 9 – Tucker, 104-7; Kemal Karpat, “The New Middle Classes and the Naksbandia,” The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 89-116 (Islamic reformism)
February 11 – Clancy-Smith and Smith, 57-9, 76-7; Laurence Louer, “The Formation of a Central Religious Authority,” Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), pp. 69-82. (Shi’ism)
February 13 – Tucker, 91-5; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 29-43 (colonialism)

February 16 – Ehud Toledano, “Social and economic change in the ‘long nineteenth century,’” Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol. II, ed. M.W. Daly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 252-84. (Late 19th century Egypt)
February 18 – Tucker, 99-104; Kemal Karpat, The Politicization of Islam, pp. 145-54, 185-8 AbdulHamid II)
February 20 – Tucker, 67-9, 87-9, 95-6 (19th-century Iran)

February 23 – Tucker, 107-9, 112-24; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 77-84 (Constitutions) (Photo Interpretation Essay Due)
February 25 – Tucker, 128-43; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 109-13; 60 Minutes on Armenian Genocide (World War I and Armenian Genocide)
February 27 – Exam ID Section

March 2 – Exam Essay Section
March 4 – Tucker, 162-6, 243-9, 364-5; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 157-61 (Modern Turkey)
March 6 - Ervand Abrahamian, “The Iron First of Reza Shah,” A History of Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 63-96. (Reza Shah)

SPRING BREAK

March 16 – Tucker, 144-59; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 113-8, 120-30, 134-5 (New Order)
March 18 – Caplan, 1-55 (Arab-Israeli Conflict intro)
March 20 – Tucker, 175-8; Kholoussy, 1-22; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 166-8, 170-3 (Arab world interwar period: Egypt)

March 23 – Tucker, 184-8; Kholoussy, 23-75 (Arab world interwar period: Syria and Lebanon)
March 25 – Tucker, 181-4; Kholoussy, 77-127 (Arab world interwar period: Iraq and Jordan) (Hanan Kholoussy Essay due)
March 27 – Caplan, 56-100 (Mandatory Palestine)

March 30 – Tucker, 190-200; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 194-7; Orit Bashkin, New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. 112-25 (World War II)
April 1 – Tucker, 202-11; Caplan, 101-30; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 207-9 (1948)
April 3 – Tucker, 213-29; Caplan, 131-43; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 211-2 (Pan-Arabism)

April 6 – Albert Hourani, “The Algerian War,” A History of the Arab Peoples, (Cambridge: Belknap, 1991), pp. 369-72; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 216-24 (Post-French North Africa)
April 8 – Tucker, 249-56; Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations (New York: New Press, 2013), pp. 205-26 (Mossadeq and Muhammad Reza Pahlavi)
April 10 – Tucker, 231-41; Caplan, 143-77 (1967 and after)

April 13 – Tucker, 258-70, 282-5; OPEC reading TBA (oil and 1973)
April 15 – James Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 290-9; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 233-5; Barbara Zollner, The Muslim Brotherhood: Hasan al-Hudaybi and Ideology (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 106-29  (Infitah and Islamism)
April 17 – Tucker, 272-82, 309-15; Caplan, 178-94 (Camp David and Lebanon)

April 20 – Tucker, 287-303, 323-7 (“Long” 1980’s)
April 22 – Tucker, 327-35, 350-5; Caplan, 195-210 (Intifada and Peace Process)
April 24 – Caplan, pp. 221-67 (Philosophical Discussion)

April 27 – Michael Axworthy, “Iran Since the Revolution: Islamic Revival, War and Confrontation,” A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind (New York: Basic Books, 2008), pp. 259-81. (Research Paper Due)
April 29 – Tucker, 337-41, 346-50; Nir Rosen, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World (New York: Nation Books, 2010), pp. TBA (Post-9/11 Wars)
May 1 – Clancy-Smith and Smith, 292-8; Reflections on the Arab Uprisings, essays by Vickie Langohr, Quinn Mecham, David Siddhartha Patel, Curtis Ryan, and Mark Tessler (Arab Spring and Aftermath)

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Refounding Madaba (Repost)

The Jordanian city of Madaba touts an old heritage, but the modern city only dates back to 1881 when it was settled by Christians from Karak. During this period, lots of new land was being brought under cultivation throughout the Middle East and settlement was increasing. The story of Madaba, however, is a bit wilder than most, as found in Eugene Rogan's Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850-1921.

In November 1879, a young Roman Catholic woman was kidnapped by a Muslim male of the Sarayra family, and her relatives demanded her return. The Majalis, the leading Muslim notable family in the region, sided with the Catholics, and the woman was released to the Majalis, who in turn handed her over to local Catholic clergy.

Unfortunately for the Catholic clergy, simply returning her to her family proved not to be an option, as the people of Karak insisted she be killed to redeem the family's honor, in what is now known as an "honor killing." The priests, therefore, Fr. Alexandro Macagno and Fr. Paolo Bandoli, smuggled her to Jerusalem and on to Nablus. Her brother, frustrated in his determination to murder her, turned instead on the Sarayra, and killed a number of them at Wadi Hasa near the city.

This, in turn, led to tribal tensions between the Sarayra and the Roman Catholic tribe of 'Uzayzat, and the Catholic clergy decided the best thing to do would be to simply have their flock leave the area. Accompanied by three 'Uzayzat shaykhs, Fr. Bandoli surveyed central Jordan, and together they decided Madaba was the best place to settle.

The determination to let the Christians have Madaba was made by none other than Midhat Pasha, a reformist statesman who turns up all over the mid-19th century Ottoman Empire, and at this time was governor of Damascus. The settlement was opposed by Sattam Fayiz of the Bani Sakhr tribe, which claimed Madaba as part of their domain and didn't want to lose it, while potentially forming an alliance with the Majalis of Karak. Midhat Pasha, however, ruled against the Bani Sakhr as part of his overarching program to get the tribal authorities to submit to the Ottoman administration, in this case by registering land and paying taxes on it. They hadn't done that, so in the eyes of the state the land was vacant and the 'Uzayzat could claim it.

One other side note is that Fr. Bandoli, who led the migration from Karak to resettle Madaba, was himself and interesting figure who tried to take on the role of Bedouin shaykh in Madaba and ultimately ended his life as a book peddler for the Protestant Bible Society in Alexandria, Egypt.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Fortress of the Raven (Repost)


(Photo from Flickr user frankenschulz under a Creative Commons license)

Despite having spent a lot of time in Jordan, I've never been to Karak, the name of a town near the Dead Sea and its imposing castle which may be the kingdom's most visited Crusader site. Begun around 1142 by Pagan the Butler under the aegis of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, it may be most famous in the West as a seat of Reynald of Chatillon, whose reputation for provocation was illustrated in the 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven. Reynald's actions wrecked the truce which existed between Saladin and Baldwin IV (the Leper King), leading not only Jerusalem, but Karak to fall to Saladin and the Ayyubid dynasty he founded.

Last year saw the publication of The Fortress of the Raven, a typically expensive Brill title by Marcus Milwright, who has also written a historical account for the Virtual Karak Resources Project. The book combines evidence from both material and written sources to reconstruct the political and economic history of the Karak area in ways that highlight the relationship between them. His concluding paragraph begins, "Karak may be regarded as a market town whose history was transformed by the construction of a major castle at its southern extremity." The area did produce an agricultural surplus and benefited from traffic along the Kingshighway, but the construction of the fortress led to its becoming an administrative center with rulers and bureaucrats importing luxuries, primarily from Palestine, making it a more important trading stop than it would otherwise have been.

The castle's strategic importance is best illustrated by an account Milwright describes on pp. 38-9 of his book, in which following the capture of the Egyptian port Damietta by the Fifth Crusade, the status of Karak and the outpost of Shawbak further south were the chief sticking point in negotiations, as the Crusaders felt they could not permit Ayyubid bases so close to a reconstituted Kingdom of Jerusalem, nor were the Ayyubids willing to risk a possible division of Syria and Egypt through an undefended Jordan. A later Ayyubid ruler would advise his son to hand over both Shawbak and the coast of Syria before relinquishing Karak.

The age of Egypt's Mamluk rulers, however, which began in 1250, would make evident another reason for Karak's strategic importance. Sultan Baybars stayed in the castle regularly in order to maintain a relationship with the Bedouin of the area, who provided intelligence, livestock, and military services. Later, after the 1293 assassination of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, who had driven the Crusaders from their last outpost in Acre, the leaders of rival factions installed the 9-year-old an-Nasir Muhammad as a puppet, though after a shift in their schemes several months later he was sent into exile in Karak, an area he came to know well. In 1299 he was recalled again to serve as puppet, but after ten years taken up mainly with wars against the Mongols, he sought to escape the powers behind the throne and went back to Karak, where he tried to win allies among the area's magnates and Bedouin. After about a year he returned to Cairo with their support and began a 32-year reign which is usually considered the apogee of Mamluk power.

For whatever reason, the later Mamluks paid less attention to the area, and shortly after the Ottomans conquered the region in the early 1500's, they began ruling through the local Bedouin leaders while developing a new transportation route and fortresses further east, probably close to the Desert Highway of today.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

"National Rights" in Israel

Israel is poised to take a huge step down the path of right-wing nationalism:
A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character...
The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language...
The bill, which still requires the Knesset’s approval to become a law, comes as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians rise sharply, and friction within Israel’s Arab minority grows...
According to many critics, the new wording would weaken the wording of Israel’s declaration of independence, which states that the new state would “be based on the principles of liberty, justice and freedom expressed by the prophets of Israel [and] affirm complete social and political equality for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender”.
Some of this is symbolic.  No one is going to pass Knesset bills implementing halakha outside of those areas of family law already governed by the rabbinate.  The "national rights" spelled out are also mostly items, such as the national anthem, that are already in place.  What concerns me is the value statement of this bill, which seems to state clearly that equality for all citizens is no longer something worth giving even lip service to.  That is a dangerous road.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Housekeeping Note

I have not posted in a while, and expect rare posting to be the norm through the end of this year.  I have a book manuscript due in about six weeks, and am simply locked in on that.  In addition, I am buying my first home and learning all the complexities of real estate transactions.

What I will probably do to keep a bit of action around here is dig into my archives for old history posts I can re-post.  In the meantime, I am still active on Twitter at @brianjulrich, so feel free to follow me there!

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Jerusalem Intifada?

Ahmad Melhem wonders if the current Palestinian protests in Jerusalem could become something more significant:
Jerusalem-based youth activist Mesbah Abu Sabih told Al-Monitor that the intensity and points of engagement of the clashes vary from time to time; they reached their peak following the death of Abu Khdeir and recur following each new martyr in the city.
He recognized that the confrontations are periodical as they depend on the developments in the city, but that there are places where confrontations occur often, such as in the neighborhoods of Issawiya and Silwan, and the Saadia, Bab Hutta, Ras al-Amud and Tur neighborhoods in the Old City.
Abu Diab said that this uprising is led by youths aged 14-to-20 who use all means to resist the occupation. They are aware of the threats facing both their city and their future, and they know full well the nature of the conflict with the Israelis...
Abu Sabih said that no one is supporting or leading the street protests. This is why they are ongoing in some areas and intermittent in others. “There is no leadership managing things on the ground. The lack of leadership is the cause behind the irregularity of the protests, which have become linked to events alone."
There is definitely a broad spirit of activism among Palestinians right now, one seen also in the civil disobedience campaign led by Abu Rahma and the West Bank protests in solidarity with Gaza during last summer's war.  This mood is not orchestrated by Fatah or Hamas, both of whom are judged failures by the Palestinian street.  In Jerusalem, the clashes and protests are in the hands of Palestinians who were toddlers during the al-Aqsa Intifada and have no memory of a functioning peace process.  I don't have the information to comment on whether matters will escalate or dissipate, but the lay of the Palestinian activist land bears watching.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Israel and Palestinian Unity

Shlomi Eldar notices that Israel appears to have accepted the Palestinian unity government:
Last week, on Oct. 9, the Palestinian unity government held its first meeting in the Gaza Strip since the 2007 overthrow. For the government to convene, Israel was required to allow the Palestinian ministers who reside in the West Bank to pass through its territory on their way from Ramallah to Gaza. Officials of the Israeli administration for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) prepared the Erez crossing for the passage of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and his Cabinet ministers, who were quick to pose for a photo op embracing Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, who came to greet and congratulate them.
It was not simply a procedural matter of granting permits; it was a clear Israeli diplomatic move: to allow the Palestinian unity government to convene in Gaza under the auspices of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip — the ones whom Israel viewed as legitimate assassination targets less than two months ago.
In fact, the whole process of Gaza’s reconstruction following Operation Protective Edge is taking shape by virtue of the unity government, which Israel pilloried as a partner in Hamas terrorism until very recently.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Urwa's Muhammad, Part III

This is the last post in my series on a current model of historical Muhammad research.  I putting links to all of them at the bottom of the first.

7.) Conquest of Mecca - Urwa b. al-Zubayr was clearly not a preferred authority for military campaigns.  All the authors are willing to say for sure about Urwa's transmission on this matter is that there was a connection between Hudaybiyya and the conquest of Mecca, that after the conquest of Mecca Muhammad spent two weeks in the city before attack the Hawazin, and that the Hawazin prisoners were freed when their people accepted Islam.

When it comes to his son Hisham b. Urwa, however, the authors believe that he reported the following:  Mecca violated the treaty, leading to the Muslim conquest of the city.  Abu Sufyan and two other Meccans went to Muhammad before the conquest and converted to Islam.  Muhammad then sent them back to the city to preach Islam.  He also said that anyone who took refuge in the homes of Abu Sufyan and another of the new Meccan converts would have their safety guaranteed when the Muslims attacked.  For the attack, Muhammad and his general Khalid b. al-Walid approached from different sides.  Only two people were killed in the fighting, then afterward we have the Hawazin matter as described above.

This account does not include the iconic scene for Muslims I have known, the "Cleansing of the Ka'aba" followed by the pardoning of the Meccans.  According to this story, when he enters the city, Muhammad goes to the Ka'aba and smashes its idols, leaving only an icon of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, presumably because Jesus is a prophet in Islam.  While he is doing this, the Meccans come out of where they had taken sanctuary (some sources claim all houses in Mecca were sanctuaries, and not just Abu Sufyan's).  Muhammad then comes out to address them, saying brief words that God is one and polytheism wrong, God has shown his faithfulness to his servants by helping them triumph over their enemies, Meccan pride in their heritage and tribal ancestry is wrong because all are descendants of Adam, and finishing with Quran 49:13.

In this story, Muhammad then asks the Meccans what he expects him to do to them.  (By Arabian tradition, prisoners of war could be enslaved, held for ransom, or on very rare occasions killed.)  The Meccans reply that they expect mercy, because they have seen nothing but that from him.  Muhammad then says that he will treat them as Joseph treated his brothers who sold him into slavery, and declares a general amnesty.  The Meccans then convert to Islam en masse, with the implication that they are moved by Muhammad's character and the powerlessness of their gods before his.

This is mentioned nowhere in the Urwa corpus, nor is it mentioned in Ibn Rashid.  Both the Tabari and Ibn Hisham recensions of Ibn Ishaq have it, but the chain of authorities goes back only two generations to the early 700's.  My own impression is that it comes from the story-telling tradition, a pious account designed to telescope developments to convey an essential truth.  In addition to its rather cinematic staging, we have a crowd speaking Greek chorus-style.  This is something we also often see in the Christian gospels.

The accounts presented above both leave open whether Muhammad forced conversions of Meccan polytheists.  A standard interpretation of sura 9, linked to this period of his life, says he did, but I think there are good reasons for doubting this.  First, short Muslim accounts do reference various people whom Muhammad allegedly ordered killed after the conquest.  These, however, are hard to work with, and contradictory both with each other and accounts which have allegedly killed people alive later.  More to the point, the "smoke" behind which a fire may lie is that Muhammad was most concerned with avoiding any violence that would violate Mecca's sacred status, including violence against polytheists.  (UPDATE:  In the account of the Hawazin, the prisoners were freed when others from their tribe accepted Islam.)  Looking more broadly, there is archaeological evidence suggesting that pagan practices survived in Arabia into the 700's.  For my book project, I've been looking into the early 700's conquest of the Indus Valley, and the followers of Indian religions there were treated no differently than Christians and Jews elsewhere.  There were still pagans in the Middle Eastern city of Harran in the 830's, when we know the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun wanted to force their conversion until he got talked out of it.

Pre-Islamic Western Arabia had several cities sacred to certain gods; within the precincts of these cities, violence was not permitted, and the peace was guaranteed by the military reputation of the lineage which dominated the city and oversaw the performance of the rituals of the god.  Muhammad seems to have established Medina as such a city for the "God of Abraham."  If he did, then conflict with Mecca was probably inevitable, regardless of who started it.  In Mecca, the policy can be read as control of the city's ritual space rather than a concern with individual beliefs.  A command to "establish prayer" in this cultural context is different from a command for everyone to pray.  (I think something like this is an argument of Aziz al-Azmeh's recent The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity, though I need to read and digest that book carefully sometime in 2015.)

Three Final Thoughts

First, a brief personal note.  Historical Muhammad research is its own distinct subspecialty within early Islamic history, and it is not my own subspecialty.  This is not just a case of academic hyper-specialization.  The potential source material is huge.  For example, Sunnis recognize about 10,000 authentic hadith.  For modern historical methods, we would need to look also at those deemed inauthentic, Shi'ite hadith, material found only in historians and Quran commentaries and other scattered references.  I have referred occasionally to the two 8th-century biographies if Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Rashid, but have made no pretense of looking at later bios which certainly preserve older material.  This is interesting and important research which I felt deserved a wider audience, and I come at it as someone who understands the issues involved, but not as someone who can pronounce on individual points in detail.

Second, it is a grave error to look at secular scholarly reconstructions of Muhammad, even those by scholars of Muslim heritage, and on that basis claim to understand Islam.  This is the same with any religion - in Western Christianity, reading Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan will not lead you to understand what Christians mean when they recite the Nicene Creed or declare they just accepted Jesus as their personal Saviour.  The only way to research what Muhammad means to Muslims is to look at Muslim religious sources.  In the United States, my sense is that Muslims generally learn about the life of Muhammad through abridged translations of Ibn Ishaq and, particularly for younger Muslims, the interpretation of his life by Tariq Ramadan.  And yes, for the Muhammad of, say, the Taliban, you would want to look at a completely different set of sources.

I am, at any rate, not even sure what the historical reconstruction described here would mean theologically.  How does a desire for Islam to occupy the sacred centers of Western Arabia's stateless society translate into today?  An understanding of the Islamization of Arabia and the first wave of Islamic conquests under Umar might have a bearing on this, but none has been undertaken since 1981.  The distinction which arose in the late 700's of a division between a "House of Islam" and a "House of War" does seem a logical reading of the situation, but even then, many would say that the "House of Islam" should be any land where Islam can be practiced, not necessarily a land ruled by Muslims.  This is not just a modern interpretation; it first caught on in the 12th century among Muslims living in the Qara Khitai Khanate.

Third, I am aware that for many Muslims, there is something offensive about non-Muslims, particularly of Western Christian background, studying the history of the Islamic world and especially Islamic sacred history.  The last 200-300 years have seen a pattern of military, economic, and cultural assaults on Muslim-majority societies all over the world, and some take the more general stand that each civilization should study and teach its own history.  However, I admit despite understanding where this critique comes from, I do not find it persuasive.

Civilizations are not sealed compartments that can convey authenticity.  For example, today Christians arguing against atheism often reference the "Kalam Cosmological Argument" for the existence of God, an argument which draws upon Muslim thought.  Study the history of this idea advanced by Christians, therefore, whether to support or refute it, therefore involves the study of the milieu of Muslim thought.  Beyond that, Muhammad and his community did not just impact what became Islam.  If we define "Western" as the culture that developed out of medieval Christendom, then its geographical scope would be different were it not for Islam.  Finally, comparative history matters, and by definition cannot be limited to a single cultural background.

Although the book I have blogged about was written by scholars in Switzerland, I do not see it as purely a product of "Western civilization."  Most obviously, they build upon the work of isnads from the medieval Muslims.  Beyond that, I understand their methods are similar to those advanced by some Muslim scholars in Muslim-majority societies during the 20th century.  I wish I knew more about that so I could credit those Muslim scholars, but I do not.  I do, however, perhaps naively, believe that we can have a global community of scholars who are all collectively dedicated to understanding the human past.

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