Saturday, May 21, 2016

Afrin University

It has been clear for some time that one outcome of Syria's civil war will be an autonomous Kurdish region, much the way the Persian Gulf War led to an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.  This is not only about the establishment of governing institutions, but cultural institutions which are unlikely to go away, such as this new university:
Afrin University, the first university based in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), began registering students in August. Though it is not yet accredited, the school's officials already plan to expand its offerings and facilities...
“One of the objectives of the university is to bridge the large gap in the educational field as a result of the Syrian war," Abdul Majeed Sheikho, dean of the arts faculty, told Al-Monitor. "The university gives the students an opportunity to complete their studies and to achieve their educational goals. This is a better solution than the decision to migrate.”
The school's teachers hail from the Afrin area and are required to have doctorates or master's degrees in their specialties. Youssuf said 222 students are enrolled: 121 in the literature program, which includes a Kurdish-language section, 50 in engineering and 51 in economics. The school includes institutes for studying medicine, topographic engineering, music and theater, business administration and the Kurdish language.
“Work is in progress for the opening of the faculty of agriculture and the faculty of human medicine in 2016, and probably the media faculty,” Youssuf said. According to him, the university also has plans for a significant science program as the school expands.
Significantly, the university will also offer courses in Kurdish cultural studies.

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Kafala Reform Impact

The Economist has a useful summary of how reforms to the system of employer sponsorship of migrant laborers has improved wages and job mobility in the United Arab Emirates:
In late 2010, however, Saqr Ghobash, the UAE’s reform-minded minister of labour, issued a decree allowing workers with contracts expiring after January 2011 to look for work elsewhere after they had served out their contracts. Some employers grumbled, aware that this would raise the cost of labour...
They found that the impact of the new rule was big and fast. Workers’ real wages jumped by more than 10% in the three months after their contract expired, whereas before the change they barely moved at all.
Even though the reform made it easier for workers to change jobs, the fraction of workers renewing their contracts increased. More than twice as many workers did go to a new employer, but this was because far fewer of them left the country altogether after their contract expired. Over the first three months of the reform, the rate at which people returned home dropped by about four percentage points, from a baseline of around 12%. Workers’ original employers, Mr Naidu explains, were offering higher wages to persuade them to stay on, while higher overall earning power was keeping more workers in the country.
Unfortunately, these changes still do not affect domestic workers.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Iran's New Assembly of Experts

Among the best analyses of Iran's recent elections are those by Farideh Farhi and Shervin Malekzadeh.  The conduct of the elections themselves is as potentially significant as the results.  Both Farhi and Malekzadeh highlight the role of alliances and political pragmatism.  As Malekzadeh reports:
Everywhere I went in Tehran last week, I heard the same theme: moderation and standing firm before the forces of radicalism. My interlocutors expressed a sense of resignation if not outright cynicism toward the elections and what they might bring in terms of needed change to Iran. Participants in Iranian elections realize that this is not liberal democracy. At the same time, just as they had in 2013, many Iranians expressed to me their overwhelming conviction that voting was the only way forward if Iran wanted to avoid the fate of its neighbors in the region, above all that of Syria. Participating in a system, no matter how flawed, was better than having no system at all.
And as Farhi says:
More than anything else, the two recent elections suggested that the time is over when one side thought it could get rid of the other side for good or even temporarily through force or a highly manipulated electoral process. Not that some sort of force majeure was not tried. The Guardian Council, dominated by clerics who themselves were candidates, unabashedly disqualified most opponents who could have won through their name recognition.
But their opponents, instead of withdrawing or sulking, made the strategic decision to participate in an alliance that had proven successful in receiving 51 percent of the vote in the 2013 presidential election. And then they made the tactical decision to connect together, particularly in the city of Tehran, by repeatedly asking voters to support everyone on the so-called 30+16 lists (the first for the parliament and the second for the Assembly of Experts). This was tactically necessary because, in the case of RSG’s Tehran parliament list, only a few top names were known. The rest were unknown in terms of their names or points of view and had to be voted in blind based on who was on top of the list or who supported the list. The Assembly’s list also had unknown names, but problematically a few names were connected with dark parts of the Islamic Republic’s history (i.e. early post-revolutionary executions and the murder of intellectuals and dissidents). So voters had to be convinced that voting for the whole list, while unsavory, was worth the elimination of others deemed even nastier.
The defeat of hardliners for the Assembly of Experts was especially striking:
Rohani and centrist ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani easily won seats in the Assembly of Experts, the chamber of clerics that chooses and supervises Iran's most powerful official, the supreme leader. 
In all, reformist-backed candidates claimed 52 of the assembly's 88 seats, according to the Interior Ministry, including 15 of 16 races in Tehran. In doing so, they managed to unseat several prominent hard-liners, including the current chief of the assembly, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, and Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.
My sense is that over the past couple of decades, Iran's conservatives have been most reluctant to allow Reformists a shot at the Assembly of Experts and the Council of Guardians, the latter being the body which vets candidates and legislation.  Two points about this past election stand out, though.  One is that "reformist" has in some ways been defined sharply rightward since Khatami's presidency.  Hassan Rouhani may offer verbal support to parts of Khatami's cultural agenda, but he has never acted on it and his real roots are close to Supreme Leader Khamene'i.  The second is that Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi was a rival to Khamene'i.  It may be that Khamene'i has decided that a tactical Rouhani-style alliance with reformists is the best way to eliminate rivals to his right and maintain his allies in power.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Nationalizing the Keffiyeh

Ted Swedenburg's Memories of Revolt is primarily about the ways the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine was remembered in later decades, but within that framework it has a lot of interesting snippets of information about both Palestinian and Israeli identity.  One example of this is his discussion of how the keffiyeh, the usually black-and-white checkered square scarf/headdress, became a Palestinian national symbol.

In early 20th century Palestinian society, the keffiyeh was worn by peasants and Bedouin, and thus went with low-class and rural society seen as traditional as opposed to the modern, urban middle- and upper-classes sporting fezzes.  At the time of the Arab Revolt, the rural fighters not only wore them as what they generally wore, but wrapped them around their faces to preserve anonymity.  The problem, however, is that when they entered towns and cities, that rural dress made them conspicuous.  Swedenburg explains what happened:
On August 16, 1938, when the revolt was reaching its apogee and beginning to take control of urban areas, the rebel leadership commanded all Palestinian Arab townsmen to discard the tarbush (fez) and don the kufiya.  Rebel headquarters in Damascus announced that this was to "demonstrate the complete solidarity of the residents of the country with the struggle and as a sign that everyone in the country is a rebel."  British officials were amazed that the new fashion spread across the country with "lightning rapidity."  While the order was issued in part to help (rebel fighters) blend into the urban environment, it was equally a move in the wider social struggle within the national movement.  One rebel commander, harking back to the Arab Revolt and Damascus battles over headgear, asserted that whereas the fez was associated with Ottoman Turks, the kufiya was the headgear of the Arab nation.
The last reference is to the fact that during the Arab Revolt associated with World War I, many supporters of Faysal's armies wore keffiyehs in place of the fezzes associated with the Ottoman Empire.  In the case of the Palestinian national movement, though, the opposition between keffiyeh and fez was primarily one of social class, in which many of the urban notables were forced to declare symbolic loyalty to the rural peasantry.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Algeria's Murky Presidency

The Economist calls attention to the fact that with Algeria's President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika not seen in public for two years, many say that recent shake-ups mask a palace coup:
Mr Bouteflika can hardly speak and is said to communicate by letter with his ministers, who nevertheless insist that the old man is compos mentis and in charge. But several close associates of the president aren’t buying it. Having not seen Mr Bouteflika for over a year, they have demanded a meeting with him—so far to no avail. Missing person is right, they say.
Algerian politics is nothing if not murky. For decades a cabal of unelected power brokers has run the show. Known as le pouvoir (the power), the shadowy clique is composed of members of the economic, political and military elite. But with Mr Bouteflika’s health in decline, there appears to be a struggle within the group over who will succeed him...
Algerians have grown accustomed to mystery. Few knew that Houari Boumédiène, Algeria’s second president, was even ill until he died in 1978. At the time, Mr Bouteflika was seen as a potential successor, only to be passed over by the army. Two decades later the generals finally tapped him for the job.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Conversion and Personal Status Law

Al-Monitor reports on Jordanian Christian men who convert to Islam so as get better divorce settlements:
While a man who converts to Islam and divorces his wife is easily able to remarry, a Christian divorcee seldom has the same freedom. The Jordanian Catholic courts rarely recognize divorces conducted by Shariah court judges, in essence keeping Christian women chained in a marriage that no longer exists. Only when Mary switched from Catholicism to Greek Orthodoxy did a church judge finally grant her a divorce in 2015, two years after her husband divorced her in a Shariah court.
Christian women whose husbands convert to Islam face additional discrimination beyond child custody Since only Muslims can receive financial inheritance from other Muslims, according to Article 281 of Jordan’s Personal Status Law, a Christian wife and children face challenging economic conditions after the death of a husband or father. All Christian family members are forbidden to inherit from Muslim relatives...
The sheikh also said that a Muslim father has the right to overrule a Christian mother’s objection to changing the religion of their child from Christianity to Islam if the child is under age seven. When Al-Monitor asked why the Muslim father’s wishes held more weight than the Christian parent, Omari defended the policy, stating, “Islam believes in all of the previous prophets, including Jesus and Moses, but Christians don’t believe in the Muslim Prophet Muhammad."
Similar to Mary's situation, Sarah’s husband announced his conversion from Christianity to Islam in April 2015, when he filed for divorce. Sarah is most worried about the fate of her 3-year-old son. Her lawyer told her that her ex-husband will automatically gain custody of the boy when he turns 7 because Sarah is Christian. In an interview at Sarah’s home, she expressed her frustration to Al-Monitor: “I just want my child to stay with me [like they do with] Muslim women. They are mothers, and we Christians are not mothers? We are the same,” she said.
The important framing for this article, of course, is that medieval religious codes frame Jordan's personal status law.  It is worth mentioning, however, that personal status matters have actually been an important factor in conversion throughout history.  There is evidence that some Christian men have always converted to Islam hoping to practice polygamy.  Christian women have also converted to Islam to escape marriages to Christian men, since Christianity has historically opposed divorce but classical Islamic jurisprudence forbids a Muslim woman to be married to a Christian.  Similarly, a prohibition of non-Muslims owning Muslims as slaves has meant that converting to Islam could be a path out of slavery for those slaves owned by a Christian or Jew.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Israel's Jordanian Workers

Israel is beginning to recruit Jordanian guest workers to replace Palestinians:
On Dec. 2, Hebrew radio Kol Israel announced that the number of Jordanian workers in Israel had recently increased from 150 to 500, in a step by the Israeli Ministry of Labor to prepare for the upcoming recruitment of 4,000 Jordanian workers.
The beginning of the influx of Jordanian workers to Israel coincides with a report issued Oct. 24 by the Jordanian Department of Statistics. The report pointed to the high unemployment rate of 13.8% among Jordanians, while 50% of jobs in the Jordanian labor market are occupied by foreign workers...
Why didn't Jordan consult the Palestinian Authority (PA) before agreeing to send workers, so Palestinians would not interpret the act as Jordanian acceptance of Israeli's policies toward them?
The Israeli step to recruit Jordanian workers coincides with the dismissal of dozens of Palestinian workers from their jobs in Israel...
Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, told Al-Monitor, “There is an Israeli policy to dismiss Palestinian workers to blackmail the Palestinian people and put pressure on the PA to make political concessions related to halting the intifada.

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

Joseph and the Pyramids

Ben Carson is hardly the first person to claim the the pyramids were Joseph's granaries.  It was exceptionally common during the Middle Ages, before modern archaeology.  Jason Colavito runs down the history of the idea.  Here is what he says about the Islamic world:
The oldest Islamic attestation of the granaries myth that I know of is Al-Idrisi’s History of the Pyramids (c. 1150 CE), which was likely reporting it from a Christian source; however, I have read that earlier Islamic authors dismissed the granaries claim as unfounded. Prior to that, Islamic lore generally considered the pyramids to be antediluvian structures, or at least vastly ancient, and the storehouses to be much more recent.
The most common Islamic theory about the pyramids is actually that they were built by the prophet Idris (Enoch) as storehouses to preserve knowledge and treasure from the coming Great Flood.  The medieval Egyptians knew their contents, for we read in travel accounts that digging for treasures there was a common occupation in Cairo and its antecedents.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuw'am

Last week, The National ran an article on archaeological work at Buraimi in Oman, which is believed to be the site of medieval Islamic Tuw'am:
For Power the site is important not just because it is at risk, but also because he believes it sheds light on a period when a local, and now largely overlooked, Wajihid dynasty held sway over a vast territory that extended from the Arabian Gulf to Yemen and all the way to Multan, in modern day Pakistan...
"It’s when the Abbasids established Baghdad as a crucible of Islamic civilisation and created new forms of material culture that were exported across the Indian Ocean and beyond – and that’s what we have here in Buraimi."
One of the main questions for Power and his collaborators on the project, such as Nasser Al Jahwari of Sultan Qaboos University, is to establish the age and size of the site.
“A mosque and a falaj and a cluster of quite large and well-built houses, a reasonable ninth or 10th century village, was found on the site of the new Sheikh Khalifa Mosque in Al Ain by Dr Walid Al Tikriti, and our site lies directly to the east of that.
“There is the possibility that they are a part of the same settlement. The question is whether this is a low-density settlement spread out over a large area with lots of little discrete villages and hamlets or a single settlement that’s quite densely built up all the way through.”
Power also notes the significance of Tuw'am (or Tawam) going back to pre-Islamic times, and says that the identification of Tuw'am with the al-Ain/Buraimi oasis cluster is conjecture.  I admit I am guilty of assuming it was more than that.  Power's study of the primary sources has led him to believe that it was actually a regional term extending all the way to the sea, with a specific settlement by that name within it.  This is a well-known pattern in Gulf history, seen in the components of the UAE in modern times and also in Kazima, the medieval Persian of Kuwait which I have been involved in researching.

The article, though, is unusually well-done for media reporting on historical scholarship.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Iraq Reform Protests

Perhaps because so many journalists are based in Beirut, I'm seeing a lot of coverage of protests in Lebanon.  Iraq, however, is also witnessing a sustained, nationwide popular movement against corruption:
The capital and many southern cities have witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks calling for provision of basic services, the trial of corrupt politicians, and the shakeup of a system riddled with graft and incompetence.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Baghdad's Tahrir Square on Friday in what a senior security official called the biggest protest of the summer. Thousands more rallied in Najaf, Basra and other cities across the Shi'ite southern heartland following a call from powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Protesters' demands, which initially aimed at improving power supply amid a sweltering heatwave, have focused more on encouraging Abadi to accelerate reforms, put corrupt officials on trial and loosen the grip of powerful parties over the state...
(Prime Minister) Abadi ordered on Friday the formation of a legal committee to review the ownership of state properties and return illegally gained assets to the state. Critics say some officials have abused their authority to appropriate state-owned properties for personal use.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Medieval Islamic History Syllabus

Here, bereft of bureaucratic language, is the syllabus for the current incarnation of my medieval Islamic world survey:


HIS 339: The Central Islamic Lands, 500-1700
202 Dauphin Humanities Center, MWF 10:00 a.m.
Dr. Brian J. Ulrich

Required Texts:
Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century: A Global History, Ira Lapidus
The Formation of Islam, Jonathan Berkey
Islam and the Muslim Community, Frederick Denny
Book of Travels, Nasir-i Khusraw
Electronic reserves found on D2L
Course Overview

This course will cover the regions where Islam was a significant presence either culturally or politically from its origins until the period of the “Gunpowder Empires” in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The first half of the course will deal with the elaboration of Islamic doctrines and practices in the Middle Eastern imperial context, with close attention to the debates and issues surrounding the primary sources for the period.  The second will focus on the way such doctrines and practices shaped and were shaped by the society, politics, and economy of later centuries, as well as the spread of Islam to new geographic regions.  This course’s contribution to an integrated history curriculum includes an awareness of issues in approaching premodern primary sources, the nature of premodern polities, and the way time periods and regions are often bounded in ways contingent on particular themes and questions.

This course will feature two exams combining IDs and essays.  On November 2, students will submit an essay on Nasir-i Khusraw’s Book of Travels.  Students will also complete a study of an academic monograph as a project from conception to reception (“Book Project”).  Pop quizzes will occasionally check reading, and paragraph writing assignments will occasionally ask you to engage with readings.  Quizzes and some paragraph writing assignments cannot be made up, but the lowest grade in that section will be dropped from the final calculation.  A student may receive credit for handing an assignment in on time by sending an e-mailed copy before the time the assignment was due, but must still hand in a hard copy for grading.  Attendance in class is mandatory, and 5% will be deducted from students’ participation grades for each class missed over three.  Participation, however, is more than just attendance.




Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments


August 24 – Course Intro
August 26 – Denny, 12-5; Lapidus, pp. 1-25; Berkey, 3-9 (Late Antiquity I)
August 28 – Berkey, pp. 10-39, 50-3; Chronicle of Zuqnin, Part III, pp. 94-99. (Late Antiquity II)

August 31 – Lapidus, pp. 31-8; Berkey, pp. 39-49; Aziz al-Azmeh, The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 126-33; James Lindsay, “Traditional Arabic  Naming System,” Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2005), pp. 173-178. (Pre-Islamic Arabia)
September 2 – Denny, pp. 23-37; Berkey, pp. 50-60; Chase Robinson, “Origins,” Islamic Historiography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 2003), pp. 1-17   (Historiographical issues)
September 4 – Lapidus, pp. 39-54, 183-5; Ma’mar b. Rashid, “The Incident Concerning the Clan of al-Nadir,” The Expeditions, trans. Sean Anthony (New York: New York University Press, 2014), pp.  66-75; “Reconstructing the Historical Muhammad” and three posts linked to at bottom of that page (Muhammad)

September 7 – LABOR DAY
September 9 – Denny, pp. 40-64 (Islam I)
September 11 – Denny, pp. 77-88, 98-106; Asma Afsaruddin, “The Concept of Jihad,” The First Muslims: History and Memory (Oxford: Oneworld, 2008), pp. 108-120; Ethar El-Katatney, “To Mecca and Back Again” (web link) (Islam II)

September 14 – Lapidus, pp. 58-65; Robert Hoyland, In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 56-65; Fred Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing  (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1998), pp. 174-82. (Early Conquests)
September 16 – Lapidus, pp. 66-83; Berkey, pp. 61-75 (End of “Rightly Guided Caliphate”)
September 18 – Lapidus, pp. 83-6, 114-22; Berkey, pp. 76-82; Fred Donner, “Umayyad Efforts at Legitimation: The Umayyads Silent Heritage,” Umayyad Legacies: Medieval Memories from Syria to Spain, ed. Antoine Borrut and Paul Cobb (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 187-212 (Second Civil War and Islam)

September 21 – Berkey, pp. 83-90; Tabari, Vol. 19, pp. 65-74 (Shi’ism)
September 23 – Lapidus, pp. 122-25, 149-53; Berkey, pp. 91-101; Gregor Schoeler, “The  Relationship of Literacy and Memory in the Second/Eighth Century,” The Development of Arabic as a Written Language, ed. M.C.A. Macdonald (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2010), pp. 121-126.  (Marwanid Period)
September 25 – Lapidus, pp. 87-90; Berkey, pp. 102-110; Tabari, Vol. 27, pp. 61-70; Steven C. Judd, "Medieval Explanations for the Fall of the Umayyads," Umayyad Legacies: Medieval Memories from Syria to Spain, ed. Antoine Borrut and Paul Cobb (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 89-104 (Abbasid Revolution)

September 28 –Lapidus, pp. 91-104; Berkey, pp. 113-123 (Abbasid Empire)
September 30 – Lapidus, 105-13, 126-34; Berkey, pp. 124-9 (Ninth Century)
October 2 – Denny, pp. 64-70; Lapidus, pp. 153-67; Berkey, pp. 141-151 (Sunnism and shari’a)

October 5 – Lapidus, pp.174-80; Berkey, pp. 130-40; Antoine Borrut, “Remembering Karbala: The Construction of an Early Islamic Site of Memory,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 42 (2015), pp. 249-82. (Shi’ite Sects)
October 7 – Denny, pp. 71-76; Lapidus, pp. 167-73; Berkey, pp. 152-158 (Origins of Sufism)
October 9 – Berkey, pp. 159-175; Michael Morony, “The Age of Conversions: A Reassessment,” Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Michael Gervers and Ramzi Jibran Bikhazi, (Toronto: PIMS, 1990), pp. 135-150 (Non-Muslims and Conversion)

October 12 – FALL BREAK
October 14 – Exam I ID Section
October 16 – Exam II Essay Section

October 19 – Ronnie Ellenblum, The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 3-11, 76-87, 240-8. (“Big Chill”)
October 21 – Berkey, pp. 179-88; Lapidus, pp. 225-33; Michael Chamberlain, “Military Patronage States and the Political Economy of the Frontier, 1000-1250,” A Companion to the History of the Middle East, ed. Youssef M. Choueiri, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 235-53 (Seljuqs)
October 23 – Lapidus, pp. 134-6, 254-63, 315-9; Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 1-12 (Persian culture)

October 26 – Lapidus, pp. 271-3; Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 13-48 (Random)
October 28 – Lapidus, pp. 238-43; Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 48-81 (Fatimids)
October 30 – Nasir-i Khusraw, pp. 81-133 (Hajj, Arabia, Basra, Iran)

November 2 – Lapidus, pp. 243-54; Berkey, pp. 189-216 (Military patronage states and Islam) (Nasir-i Khusraw Essay due)
November 4 – Lapidus, pp. 306-13; Berkey, pp. 216-230, Leonor Fernandes, “The Foundation of Baybars al-Jashankir: Its Waqf, History, and Architecture,” Muqarnas 4 (1987): 21-42.  (ulama)
November 6 – Lapidus, pp. 302-15; Berkey, pp. 231-247 (Sufism institutionalized) 

November 9 – Lapidus, pp. 321-4; Berkey, pp. 248-257; Patricia Crone, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 472-88. (Popular religion)
November 11 – Lapidus, pp. 264-71; Ibn Abdun, “The Market Inspector at Seville”; Women in  Islam and the Middle East: A Reader, ed. Ruth Roded (London: I.B. Tauris, 1999): TBA (Society in the High Middle Period)
November 13 – Lapidus, pp. 369-406 (North Africa and Spain)

November 16 – Lapidus, pp. 588-606 (West Africa)
November 18 – Lapidus, pp. 507-21; Richard M. Eaton, “Sufi Folk Literature and the Expansion of Indian Islam,” History of Religions 14 (1974): 117-27 (South Asia)
November 20 – Lapidus, pp. 561-6; Geoff Wade, “Early Muslim Expansion in South-East Asia, Eighth to Fifteenth Centuries,” The New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 379-403. (Southeast Asia)

November 23 – MIDDLE EAST STUDIES ASSOCIATION (No Class)
November 25 - THANKSGIVING
November 27 - THANKSGIVING

November 30 – Lapidus, pp. 233-8; 490-506 (Ilkhans and Safavids) (Book Project due)
December 2 – Lapidus, pp. 427-62 (Ottoman Empire)
December 4 – Lapidus, pp.  521-35, 538-42 (Mughal Empire)

Final Exam: Monday, December 7, 10:30 a.m.

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Algerian Army

In a carefully reasoned post, Riccardo Fabiani argues that contrary to some analysis, recent years' political shuffling in Algeria have not displaced the army from a privileged position in that country's regime:
Does the evolving balance of power between regime clans mean that a civilian regime is finally in the making for Algeria, as Bouteflika's mouthpieces have been claiming? After decades of military interference in politics, the presidential clan has been quick to assert that the recent reshuffle within the DRS marks the end of this and the birth of a civilian regime – a narrative that many inside and outside Algeria have repeated. Stripped of many of its powers, the DRS has lost influence, leading the government to claim that the decline of this institution is the end of military meddling into politics.
However, the picture is more complex than the one the presidential clan has painted. The much-rumored decline of the janvieristes and General Mediene, coupled with the rise of a new business class, is only half of the story. While it is undeniable that "civilian" actors play a much more influential role than twenty years ago and that the generals have lost their stranglehold over the decision-making process, the truth is that the army continues to be a key stakeholder of the current political system. It is thanks to General Gaid Salah's consent that Bouteflika has managed to sideline General Mediene – specifically through the Special Commission on Security. Without the army's support for this decision, Bouteflika would have probably never attempted to marginalize General Mediene.
In this context, while the army has lost the dominance over politics that it had in the 1990s, the military still remains a pillar of regime stability. The continuity between the Ben Bella and Boumedienne years and the latest evolution of the Algerian regime under Bouteflika cannot be mistaken: the army is still the backbone of the system and, despite the rise of new factions and competitors for power, these challenges are a weak match to the military. The difference lies in the Bouteflika clan's ability to maneuver around the army to strengthen its own power and in the heavy legacy of the 1990s, which makes the army's direct intervention into politics very difficult given the adverse domestic and international environment (unless exceptional political or security circumstances were to justify such an extreme move again).

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