Sport Politics and Society

Reiche, Danyel, and Tamir Sorek, eds. Sport, Politics and Society in the Middle East. Hurst, 2019.

Sport in the Middle East has become a major issue in global affairs. The contributors to this timely volume discuss the intersection of political and cultural processes related to sport in the region. Eleven chapters trace the historical institutionalisation of sport and the role it has played in negotiating ‘Western’ culture. Sport is found to be a contested terrain where struggles are being fought over the inclusion of women, over competing definitions of national identity, over preserving social memory, and over press freedom. Also discussed are the implications of mega-sporting events for host countries, and how both elite sport policies and sports industries in the region are being shaped.

sites of pluralism

Oruc, Firat, ed. Sites of Pluralism: Community Politics in the Middle East. Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2019.

Scholars and policymakers, struggling to make sense of the ongoing chaos in the Middle East, have focused on the possible causes of the escalation in both inter-state and intra-state conflict. But the Arab Spring has shown the urgent need for new ways to frame difference, both practically and theoretically. For some, a fundamental incompatibility between different ethno-linguistic and religious communities lies at the root of these conflicts; these divisions are thought to impede any form of political resolution or social cohesion. But little work has been done to explore how these tensions manifest themselves in the communities of the Middle East. 

Sites of Pluralism fills this significant gap, going beyond a narrow focus on ‘minorities’ to examine the larger canvas of community politics in the Middle East. This multi-disciplinary volume offers a critical view of the Middle East’s diverse, pluralistic fabric: how it has evolved throughout history; how it influences current political, economic and social dynamics; and what possibilities it offers for the future.


CIRS Occasional Paper no. 21
"The ‘Alawī Shaykhs of Religion: A Brief Introduction"
Leon T. Goldsmith, ​​​​​​Sultan Qaboos University
Translated by: Naser Dumairieh, McGill University

يعدّ الاطلاع الدقيق على الماضي والحاضر والأدوار المستقبلية المحتملة للقيادة الدينية للطائفة العلوية ومهامها مسألة إشكالية وسط الصراع السوري المستمر. ويتمثّل الهدف من هذه المقدمة القصيرة في إلقاء بعض الضوء على موضوع القيادة الدينية العلوية، وإبراز الأهمية التاريخية لشيوخ الدين العلويين في الحفاظ على مجتمعهم. طبقت الدراسة منهجاً استقرائياً واستكشافياً ونوعياً يعتمد على الأدبيات الثانوية الموثوقة، والملاحظات الميدانية، والمقابلات مع بعض الشخصيات الرئيسة من داخل الطائفة. الاكتشاف الأبرز لهذه المقالة هو أن النفوذ التقليدية وقدرة القادة الدينيين العلويين على توجيه المجتمع والحفاظ عليه قد ضعفت كثيراً منذ ثمانينات القرن الماضي، الأمر الذي أصبح عاملاً حاسماً في المعضلة التي واجهت العلويين في بداية الأزمة السورية في العام 2011. تأمل هذه الدراسة في المساهمة في مسألة الهوية الدينية والمجتمعية للعلوية في القرن الحادي والعشرين، وذلك لأهمية الموضوع في الجهود المبذولة لحل الأزمة السورية.


CIRS Arabic Summary Report no. 18


In an effort to explore the evolution of the art and cultural scene in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, and to understand the complexities of these fields, the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University in Qatar undertook a two-year research initiative titled “Art and Cultural Production in the GCC.” Artists, cultural administrators, curators, critics, and academics were invited to Doha to attend two separate meetings in which they debated topics of relevance to the GCC’s cultural field. The research culminated in the publication of original studies in a special issue of the Journal of Arabian Studies (August 2017). This project builds on the available literature by contributing towards furthering knowledge on the prevailing issues around art and cultural production in the Gulf.

why alliances fail

Buehler, MattWhy Alliances Fail: Islamist and Leftist Coalitions in North Africa. Syracuse University Press, 2018.

Since 2011, the Arab world has seen a number of autocrats, including leaders from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, fall from power. Yet, in the wake of these political upheavals, only one state, Tunisia, transitioned successfully from authoritarianism to democracy. Opposition parties forged a durable and long-term alliance there, which supported democratization. Similar pacts failed in Morocco and Mauritania, however. In Why Alliances Fail, Buehler explores the circumstances under which stable, enduring alliances are built to contest authoritarian regimes, marshaling evidence from coalitions between North Africa’s Islamists and leftists. Buehler draws on nearly two years of Arabic fieldwork interviews, original statistics, and archival research, including interviews with the first Islamist prime minister in Moroccan history, Abdelilah Benkirane. Introducing a theory of alliance durability, Buehler explains how the nature of an opposition party’s social base shapes the robustness of alliances it builds with other parties. He also examines the social origins of authoritarian regimes, concluding that those regimes that successfully harnessed the social forces of rural isolation and clientelism were most effective at resisting the pressure for democracy that opposition parties exerted. With fresh insight and compelling arguments, Why Alliances Fail carries vital implications for understanding the mechanisms driving authoritarian persistence in the Arab world and beyond. Read more at Syracuse University Press.

environmental politics

CIRS Summary Report no. 24

This report provides a summary of the "Environmental Politics in the Middle East" research initiative, which explores the geopolitics of natural resources in the Middle East in an attempt to expand the focus to include the region’s many natural resources other than natural gas, such as land, air, water, and food. Some of the issues under investigation include a focus on water scarcity, which is a global issue but one that is particularly acute in the Middle East; its impacts are examined through a case study on Yemen. Food security is studied in the case of Syria, which before the civil war began, in 2011, was one of the region’s notable food exporters. Aside from acute food shortages within Syria, the conflict has had ripple effects on the region and has led to rising food prices in neighboring states, such as Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.


CIRS Arabic Summary Report no. 17


The Great Game in West Asia examines the strategic competition between Iran and Turkey for power and influence in the South Caucasus. These neighboring Middle East powers have vied for supremacy and influence throughout the region and especially in their immediate vicinity, while contending with ethnic heterogeneity both within their own territories and across their borders. Turkey has long conceived of itself as not just a bridge between Asia and Europe but in more substantive terms as a central player in regional and global affairs. If somewhat more modest in its public statements, Iran’s parallel ambitions for strategic centrality and influence have only been masked by its own inarticulate foreign policy agendas and the repeated missteps of its revolutionary leaders. But both have sought to deepen their regional influence and power, and in the South Caucasus each has achieved a modicum of success. In fact, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate, as much of the world’s attention has been diverted to conflicts and flashpoints near and far, a new great game has been unravelling between Iran and Turkey in the South Caucasus. The chapters are combined into an edited volume titled, The Great Game in West Asia: Iran, Turkey and the South Caucasus (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2017).


CIRS Arabic Summary Report no. 16


Following the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, many had high hopes not only for democratization but also for transitional justice to address the myriad abuses that had taken place in the region, both during the uprisings and for decades prior to them. Despite these hopes, most of the transitions in the region have stalled, along with the possibility of transitional justice. This volume is the first to look at this process and brings together leading experts in the fields of human rights and transitional justice, and in the history, politics and justice systems of countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco. While these countries have diverse histories, political institutions, and experiences with accountability, most have experienced non-transition, stalled transition, or political manipulation of transitional justice measures, highlighting the limits of such mechanisms. These studies should inform reflection not only on the role of transitional justice in the region, but also on challenges to its operation more generally. This project brings together a number of distinguished scholars to examine a variety of relevant topics and to contribute original chapters to the CIRS book titled, Transitional Justice in the Middle East and North Africa (Oxford University Press, 2017), edited by Chandra Sriram.

Annual Report 17-18

The 2017-2018 CIRS Annual Report contains information about all the activities, research initiatives, publications, lectures, and events that CIRS organized throughout the year. Highlights include the publication of ten new CIRS books, as well as the initiation of new research initiatives and grant awards.

Jonathan Benthall

CIRS Occasional Paper no. 20
Jonathan Benthall, University College London, UK

This paper records and interprets the rise and decline of Saudi overseas humanitarian charities, with special reference to the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO or IIROSA). Founded in 1975, IIROSA grew as a vehicle for a distinctively Saudi version of Islamic humanitarianism. By the mid-1990s, IIROSA was the world’s largest Islamic charity. Following the dismissal of its secretary general in 1996, and the crises of 9/11 and the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which cast a cloud to varying degrees over nearly all Islamic charities, IIROSA’s activities were reduced but efforts were made to revive them. In 2017, however, the kingdom’s new policy of centralization, and its disengagement from the “comprehensive call to Islam,” resulted in a remodeling of IIROSA’s role in support of the kingdom’s diplomatic interests but marginalized and stripped of religious content.