Islam, politics and academia

Sitting on a curb outside the college where she was recently expelled, Eman is defiant.

"I did it for the sake of God," the 21-year-old Tunisian history student—who asked to be identified only by her first name—said of her insistence on wearing the niqab, the full-face veil. Such a display of piety is banned in the classrooms of the University of Manouba's Faculty of Arts and Letters, and she has been forced to leave. "He will reward me in other ways."

Eman is covered head to toe in flowing brown-and-beige polyester. She wears gloves and shields her light-brown eyes from view with a second, transparent veil. Depending on whom you talk to in Tunisia, her attire, and the militant strain of Islamism it is associated with, represents either the future of the Arab Spring—or the greatest threat to it.

To her supporters, Eman is staking a righteous claim for a greater role for religion on campus. To her opponents, she embodies a threat to the university's liberal values and to academic freedom itself.

Fundamentalists like Eman, says Habib Kaz­daghli, a dean at the university, believe that the primary purpose of the university is "not to deliver knowledge but to serve as a place for spreading religion."

This is from a piece I wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education (it is behind a pay wall but this link gives temporary access) looking at the fights that have erupted, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, over the role of religionon campus. I visited Manouba University in Tunisia, where Dean Habib Kazdaghli has taken a hard line against allowing women in niqab to attend class (and is now facing what he says are trumped up charges of slapping a munaqaba student). I also visited the ancient Islamic university of Al Azhar here in Cairo, to look at how a historical model of Muslim learning has evolved into the 21st century. 

And now for a radical neo-Marxist economics break

☞ bnarchives - The Asymptotes of Power

I have dissected, step by step, the national income accounts of the United States, from the most general categories down to the net profits of the country’s largest corporations. I have shown that, from the viewpoint of the leading corporations, most of the redistributional processes – from the aggregate to the disaggregate – are close to being exhausted. By the end of the twentieth century, the largest U.S. corporations, approximated by the top 0.01%, have reached an unprecedented situation: their net profit share of national income hovers around record highs, and it seems that this share cannot be increased much further under the current political-economic regime.

This asymptotic situation, Bichler and I believe, explains why leading capitalists have been struck by systemic fear. Peering into the future, they realize that the only way to further increase their distributional power is to apply an even greater dose of violence. Yet, given the high level of force already being exerted, and given that the exertion of even greater force may bring about heightened resistance, capitalists are increasingly fearful of the backlash they are about to unleash. The closer they get to the asymptote, the bleaker the future they see.

It is of course true that no one knows exactly where the asymptote lies, at least not before it is reached. But the fact that, over the past decade, capitalists have been pricing down their assets while their profit share of income hovers around record highs suggests that, in their minds, the asymptote is nigh. 

From the Israel-Canadian economist Jonathan Nitzan, whose book (with Shimshon Bichler) The Global Political Economy of Israel is quite interesting, with a radical new ecomomic model that should be applied to elsewhere in the region. Most of it is above my head, but a key concept in their work is differential capital accumulation — i.e. that capitalist actors compete not on absolute terms but in terms of how well they do compared to each other and the average. Fascinating stuff — for radicals and liberal democrat centrists alike, because of how it speaks to the current malaise in advanced capitalist societies, which while in many respects thriving fear that they are losing social gains made in the last century and standing on the edge of a precipice — beyond which are societies with extremely skewed distribution of both economic wealth and political power, like most of those in the Middle East.

Syrian regime fakes supportive Roy interview

This is rather ludicrous. The acclaimed French Middle East specialist, Olivier Roy, famed for his "failure of political Islam" book, has issued a statement disowning an off-camera interview of him on France 2 that was rebroadcast on Syrian television. In the interview, Roy is heard saying "There is no doubt about this, Bashar al-Assad will be the first Arab leader who will win against the West," followed by a long praise of the Syrian president.

Except Roy never conducted any such interview on France 2 (or anywhere else). Syrian TV faked it.

See Roy's statement after the jump.

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Academic tourists?

This opinion piece by AUC sociology professor Mona Abaza raises some interesting and uncomfortable questions about the inequalities between local and foreign academics who study the Middle East -- especially now, as the Arab Spring has made the region the object of increased scholarly interest: 

Without sounding xenophobic, which is a growing concern that personally worries me more than ever, there is much to say about the ongoing international academic division of labour whereby the divide between the so called “theoreticians” of the North and the “informants” who are also “objects of study” in the South continues to grow.

I am indeed speaking of frustrations because “we” as “locals” have been experiencing a situation, time and again, of being reduced to becoming at best “service providers” for visiting scholars, a term I borrowed from my colleague, political scientist Emad Shahin, at worst like the French would put it, as the “indigène de service”, for ironically the right cause of the revolution. To rather cater for the service of our Western expert colleagues who typically make out of no more than a week's stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge.

I cover higher education in the Middle East and I know there are a lot of academics and students of the Arab world who read the blog, and I'd welcome your reactions. Have you experienced these kinds of frustrations -- or misgivings? In the rush to assert one's professional credentials on the Arab Spring leading to superficial work? Is this just sour grapes or is there a power imbalance between visiting foreign scholars and their local colleagues? How could it be addressed? 

Egypt's new finance minister and the rentier state

Egypt's new finance minister is the respected economist Hazem al-Biblawy. I am not sure why he was appointed (or why his equally respected predecessor, Samir Radwan, left) but it's interesting to note that one of his academic specializations is the rentier state. He even edited a book about the rentier state in the Arab world in the 1980s, with Giacomo Luciani. An excerpt:

Good theoretical grounding to have as Egypt tries to finance its fiscal deficit by leveraging its strategic rent-value in the Gulf and the West — a policy I like to call Mubarakonomics.

Scholarship on Egypt

I have a piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education about how Egypt specialists (mostly in the US) are re-evaluating old assumptions, posing new questions, and flocking to Egypt to research the revolution. Unfortunately there's a subscription wall, but here's the beginning:

Scholars who work on the Middle East have been furiously updating their syllabi and revising their book proposals in the past month and a half. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya have upended conventional academic wisdom about the region.

"In some ways it recalls the way Middle East studies was reoriented after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, in 1975, and the Iranian revolution, in 1979," says Joel Beinin, a professor of Middle East history at Stanford University. Egypt, as the most populous country in the Middle East, a regional leader, and a U.S. ally, has long been a focus of attention among Middle East specialists. The collapse of the Mubarak regime is leading scholars to re-examine several common assumptions—about the persistence of authoritarianism, the process of democratization, and the appeal of Islamism—and to pose a variety of new questions.

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Seif Qadhafi's PhD thesis from LSE

A kind reader sent in a copy of the PhD thesis Seif al-Qadhafi, filed in September 2007 at the London School of Economics (whose former chancellor, Tony Giddens, was an advisor to his father). It's called "The Role Of Civil Society In The Democratisation Of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?"
Here's a somewhat relevant if stultifying passage, page 41:
Locke saw people as being able to live together in the state of nature under natural law, irrespective of the policies of the state. This self-sufficiency of society, outside the control of the state, was given weight by the growing power of the economic sphere which was considered part of civil society, not the state. The state is therefore constructed out of, and given legitimacy by, society, which also retains the authority to dissolve the government if it acted unjustly. Other writers continued with this distinction of civil society and government. The state kept its function of maintaining law and order that Hobbes had stressed, but was considered to be separate from society, and the relationship between the two of them was seen to be subject to laws that gained their legitimacy from society, not from the state. For example, Montesquieu saw the state as the governor and society as the governed, with civil law acting as the regulator of the relationship. The importance of law in regulating the way the state and society interacted was obvious to many writers who considered that a government that did not recognise the limitations of law would extend to become an over-reaching tyranny similar to that described by Hobbes in Leviathan.
Update: Ethan sent in this link to BoingBoing, which in turn links to documentation of plagiarism in the thesis. 

SOAS conf. on settler colonialism

I am posting the following as a public service announcement — there will be a conference at my alma mater, SOAS, on Israel/Palestine. If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know I think it's important to cast the Zionist project as a settler colonial one to counter the narrative, particularly in US media, of a conflict that existed "since time immemorial." Otherwise, the conference is entirely its organizers' work. 

PAST IS PRESENT: SETTLER COLONIALISM MATTERS!

SOAS Palestine Society Conference Organizing Collective

On 5-6 March 2011, the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London will hold its seventh annual conference, "Past is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine." This year's conference aims to understand Zionism as a settler colonial project which has, for more than a century, subjected Palestine and Palestinians to a structural and violent form of destruction, dispossession, land appropriation and erasure in the pursuit of a new Jewish Israeli society. By organizing this conference, we hope to reclaim and revive the settler colonial paradigm and to outline its potential to inform and guide political strategy and mobilization.

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Egypt and Poli-Sci US academia

Andrew Exum touches on an academic issue here worth mentioning: that the events in Egypt have been poorly predicted by North American academia, perhaps because political science departments largely focus on quantitative analysis. Andrew, as ever (and I blame living in Washington as well as his southern roots for this), is very polite about not bashing the "quants", as he calls them.
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Academics' letter to President Obama

A number of prominent academics from the field of Middle East Studies and beyond have penned a letter to President Obama about the situation in Egypt. Get it in PDF here  or visit Accuracy.org or EgyptLetter. The text is also below.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

January 30, 2010 Dear President Obama:

As political scientists, historians, and researchers in related fields who have studied the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, we the undersigned believe you have a chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt. As citizens, we expect our president to uphold those values.

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An update on SIPA and Cablegate

Since the post I wrote a few days ago — about Columbia's SIPA warning students looking for government jobs not to publicly link to Wikileaks — got so much attention, it's only fair to give an update. Columbia has come out as pro-Wikileaks, saying it backed freedom of information. I don't think that was ever in doubt, since the email only gave advice to students considering a government career. Still, they have a good position:
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State Dept. warning prospective recruits to steer clear of Wikileaks

Update: Welcome readers from Slashdot and The Lede, and all the others who are driving traffic to this post! Follow Arabist on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed!

I was forwarded this email — it comes from a SIPA student at Columbia. Seems the ambitious young things studying IR and considering a foreign service careers are being warned not to touch Cablegate:

From: "Office of Career Services" <sipa_ocs@columbia.edu>

Date: November 30, 2010 15:26:53 ESTTo: 

Hi students,

We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department.  He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

Regards,
Office of Career Services

I wonder if the same thing is taking place at Georgetown, Harvard, Tufts and other major recruitment centers for government service. 

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Growth is good for dictators

Here's an interesting theory courtesy of The Monkey Cage:

Contractions in economic outputs due to drought increase the likelihood of democratic reform while short-term weather-related jumps in output decrease that likelihood. That is the core finding of a new article in the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics by Paul Burke and Andrew Leigh (ungated version here, h/t to Kevin Lewis). The effects are substantial. The authors estimate that a one-year recession in an autocratic nation that reduced GDP per capita growth by 6 percentage points increases that country's probability of undergoing significant democratic reform in the next year by 8 percentage points. The authors are careful to point out that these are short-term effects that do not necessarily tell us anything about long-term relationships between income and democracy. That is: shocks in economic outputs may determine the timing of regime change rather than whether a country eventually becomes (and stays) more democratic.

I wonder if you were to track agricultural output and (as much as they can be quantified) democratic openings and closings in the Arab world, you would find such a correlation. Could the current regression seen in Morocco be explained by good crops in the last year, contributing to decent GDP growth? Can you explain the opening of 2004-2006 by a poorly performing economy in 1999-2003 that demanded that a new management team be put in place (in the shape of the Nazif government)? Did Egypt's relatively strong performance (in terms of GDP growth) between 2005 and now make it easier for the regime to pull back from that opening?

Interesting questions all, but I would still look first to specific contingencies: electoral cycles, the policies of external actors, psychology of key regime actors, etc.

CEDEJ library threatened with closure

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I just found out from a friend that the library at the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ) in Cairo is scheduled to be closed due to budgetary constraints. A number of academics are appealing to the French government (the center's funder) and the CEDEJ itself to maintain the library, an invaluable resource on modern Egyptian history. Notably, the CEDEJ is thought to have one of the best archives of press clippings on Egypt, maintained since 1977 and one of the best managed and most accessible in the country. The academics' letter is after the jump, but on a personal note I'd like to also voice my concern for the CEDEJ librarian, the Tunisian intellectual Mustafa Khayati. Khayati was one of the original Arab members of the Situationist movement in France in the 1950s and 1960s (writing the great "On The Poverty of Student Life" and other radical texts), and is a great resource himself on a wide range of subjects. He would have his own interpretation of the bizarre steps that would lead to the closure of a library at a place supposed to be a research center, but I'll leave it at that. Update: Here is another petition in French.
December 11, 2009 His Excellency Jean-Félix Paganon Ambassador, Embassy of France to the Arab Republic of Egypt 29 Rue Charles de Gaulle Giza, Egypt B.P. 1777 Fax: 20-2-3-567-3201 Consul-General Marie Masdupuy Consulate General of France in Egypt 5 Sekket El Fadl Cairo, Egypt B.P. 1777 cgfcaire@link.net Dear Ambassador Paganon and Consul Masdupuy: The undersigned scholars and researchers are writing to express serious concern and dismay at the recent decision to close by the end of this month the valuable library of the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ). CEDEJ is one of the premier research institutions in Egypt, supporting a steady stream of significant social research on Egypt and the Arab world. Shuttering any kind of library in Egypt is a real loss. Social science research in the country is hamstrung by scant resources, political and bureaucratic constraints, and notorious difficulty in securing even the most basic information. In such a context, the resources offered by CEDEJ are nothing short of indispensable for both generalists and specialists working in dozens of disciplines. Closing the CEDEJ library in particular would be tragic. Since 1969, the library has been a unique and welcoming space for researchers hailing from all parts of the world. Its holdings have been raw materials for hundreds of theses, articles, and books. And its dedicated staff of seven is unfailingly helpful and professional; some have been serving library patrons for more than two decades. As you know, the library houses in one compact space a wealth of sources: social science periodicals published in Egypt, Europe, and elsewhere, including publications of the Egyptian women’s press of the 1920s and 1930s; books on Egyptian and Arab politics in several languages, some dating from the early 20th century; a rich archive of Egyptian press clippings from 1977 to the present on a wide range of topics, perhaps the best and only such archive in Egypt; and Egyptian government documents, including contemporary ministerial reports and censuses dating from 1848. In the spirit of knowledge-building that CEDEJ has embodied for so many years, we strongly urge you to reconsider the decision and keep the library doors open. Generations of past and future researchers will be grateful.
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Links for 10.24.09 to 10.25.09

Power play - The National Newspaper | M. Bazzi on Saudi-Syrian relations. Weirdly makes no mention of Lebanon. ✪ Bikya Masr (BikyaMasr) on Twitter | Report: Ayman Nour attacked by security and NDP thugs in Hurghada. ✪ Algérie-Maroc | Blog on Algerian-Moroccan relations. ✪ Un propagandiste intéressé du régime tunisien - Les blogs du Diplo | Alain Gresh takes down Antoine Sfeir over his apologia for the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. ✪ “The State is an ostrich”: Algerian riots in the shadow of Power « The Moor Next Door | On the recent turmoil, and more generally the absence of a well-managed state in Algeria. ✪ Arms Smugglers Into Gaza Face a New Foe: Egypt – Forward.com | To Egypt's eternal shame! ✪ «الإخوان المسلمون» ينتصبون ضدّ بيونسي | جريدة الأخبار | The Muslim Brothers take on Beyoncé. ✪ Daily News Egypt -No Egyptian Films At The Cairo International Film Festival, Says Ciff President | er.... what? ✪ Reporters Sans Frontières | Tunisia: Election campaign impossible for opposition media ✪ Daily News Egypt - ‘Spinsters’ By Choice: Egypt’s Single Ladies Speak Out | About the Facebook group "Spinsters for Change". ✪ Michael Gerson - Michael Gerson on Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa - washingtonpost.com | Rather lame column about the Mufti of Egypt makes no mention of his civil servant status. ✪ The Empire Lovers Strike Back « P U L S E | Fantastic text by Gore Vidal from the 1980s, about the Podhoretzes and the Israel lobby in the US. ✪ Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism « P U L S E | Excerpt from new book by M. Shahuid Alam.
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Links for 10.14.09 to 10.18.09

Is Obama giving up on democracy in Iran? | Because Haaretz really, really cares. ✪ 'Delegitimization of Israel must be delegitimized' | Great pic on this FLC post. ✪ Al Jazeera English - Focus - Leadership 'let down' Palestinians | As`ad AbuKhalil. ✪ ANALYSIS / U.S. using Goldstone report to punish Netanyahu - Haaretz - Israel News | Ridiculous argument. ✪ Egypt: 29 years between a president and his heir | Bikya Masr | Ayman Nour on Mubarak's Egypt. ✪ Nationalism in the Gulf State | A LSE paper on GCC nationalism by Neil Partrick. ✪ In Morocco, editor imprisoned, court shutters paper - Committee to Protect Journalists | al-Michaal newspaper closed over articles on king's health. Also rumors of closing down of Le Journal, TBC. ✪ ei: EI exclusive video: Protesters shout down Ehud Olmert in Chicago | "The demonstration was mobilized last week after organizers learned of the lecture, paid for by a grant provided by Jordan's King Abdullah II." ✪ FT.com / UK - Storm over Egypt's Israeli links | On the Hala Mustafa / normalization debate. ✪ Citing Work Of Right-Wing Intern Spy, GOP Accuses Muslim Group Of Infiltrating Hill With Intern 'Spies' | TPMMuckraker | "Four House Republicans are charging that the Council on American Islamic Relations is infiltrating Capitol Hill with undercover interns, and they're basing the charge on a WND-published book that itself is based on the work of a man who posed as a Muslim to infiltrate CAIR as ... an intern!" ✪ Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran | Helena Cobban profiles Israel operative Tom Dine. ✪ Brian Whitaker's blog | The son also rises | Seif Qadhafi gets put in charge of, well, almost everything. ✪ First Egyptian School Closes For Swine Flu - Daily News | Mere de Dieu girls' school -- a stone's throw from Arabist HQ -- closed. ✪ U.S. Iran plan is a bunker-busting bomb - thestar.com | That's not very nice.
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Links for 09.21.09 to 09.22.09

Ethnic Ashkenazim Against Zionist Israel: In Re: The persistence of the Massad question | The campaign against Joseph Massad starts anew. ✪ Why Algeria’s Jihadist defectors don’t matter « Maghreb Politics Review | On Maghteb jihadists' recantations, focusing on Algeria. ✪ Sirgo’s Labyrinth | New English-language Egypt-based blog. ✪ The Next Minister Of Culture Will Be… | Potential candidates to succeed Farouq Hosni as Egyptian Minister of Culture: enter Gamal Mubarak's electoral strategist, Muhammad Kamal. ✪ The NDP synagogue | On a Jewish temple in Heliopolis being used as ruling party office. ✪ feeling more hate in Jerusalem | More insane views on Obama from Israelis.
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Links for 09.03.09 to 09.04.09

US citizen deported from Egypt - Yahoo! News | AP's Paul Schemm covers Travis Randall's unexplained deportation. This almost certainly has to do with his pro-Gaza activism, IMHO. ✪ Affaire TelQuel (Suite) + Affaire Al Jarida Al Oula (New) - Comme une bouteille jetée à la mer! | Get the censored issue of Moroccan mag TelQuel via Larbi. ✪ Update: American deported from Egypt, computer, mobile taken « Bikya Masr | Another airport security list victim, this time American. ✪ Robert Irwin’s “Dangerous Knowledge” « The Moor Next Door | A very detailed review by Kal. ✪ Brian Whitaker's blog: Dutch pull the plug on website | Menassat.com is shutting down as Dutch government pulls funding, possibly linked to its negative reporting on Israel. In the meantime the staff put up a final message, but the site is now down. Too bad. ✪ US embassy staff accused over 'Lord of the Flies' parties | In Afghanistan: "The dossier, compiled by the independent investigative group Project on Government Insight, includes an email allegedly from a guard currently serving in Kabul describing scenes in which guards and supervisors are "peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity"."
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Links for 06.25.09 to 06.26.09

Note: Going back to the daily link dump, unless you prefer the individual posts. Most people I asked seem to prefer this method... Tamim death sentences upheld - The National Newspaper | On HTM, case will now go to appeal, perhaps ultimately to Cassation Court. Moving Out of Kuwait’s Political Impasse - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Nathan Brown on Kuwait's divisions between the ruling family and parliament. Al-Ahram Weekly | Focus | Loyalty to racism | Azmi Bishara on Israel's demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state. He makes several really good points. Obama to Send U.S. Ambassador to Syria After Four-Year Gap - washingtonpost.com | Move had been planned, but coming in the middle of Iran's crisis it signals an ambition to split the Syrian-Iranian alliance. Calif. professor's Gaza e-mail cleared by panel - Yahoo! News | Bloody thought police.
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