Books

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.

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.

Troubled Waters: Insecurity in the Persian Gulf

Kamrava, Mehran.Troubled Waters: Insecurity in the Persian Gulf. Cornell University Press, 2018.

Troubled Waters looks at four dynamics in the Persian Gulf that have contributed to making the region one of the most volatile and tension-filled spots in the world. Mehran Kamrava identifies the four dynamics as: the neglect of human dimensions of security; the inherent instability involved in reliance on the United States and the exclusion of Iraq and Iran; the international and security policies pursued by inside and outside actors; and a suite of overlapping security dilemmas. These four factors combine and interact to generate long-term volatility and ongoing tensions within the Persian Gulf. Through insights from Kamrava’s interviews with Gulf elites into policy decisions, the consequences of security dilemmas, the priorities of local players, and the neglect of identity and religion, Troubled Waters examines the root causes of conflicts and crises that are currently unfolding in the region. As Kamrava demonstrates, each state in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar, has embarked on vigorous security-producing efforts as part of foreign policy, flooding the area with more munitions—thereby increasing insecurity and causing more mistrust in a part of the world that needs no more tension. Read more at Cornell University Press.

Inside the Arab State

Kamrava, MehranInside the Arab State. Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2018.

The 2011 Arab uprisings and their subsequent aftermath have thrown into question some of our long-held assumptions about the foundational aspects of the Arab state. While the regional and international consequences of the uprisings continue to unfold with great unpredictability, their ramifications for the internal lives of the states in which they unfolded are just as dramatic and consequential. States historically viewed as models of strength and stability have been shaken to their foundations. Borders thought impenetrable have collapsed; sovereignty and territoriality have been in flux. Inside the Arab State adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, examining a broad range of political, economic, and social variables. It begins with an examination of politics, and more specifically political institutions, in the Arab world from the 1950s on, tracing the travail of states, and the wounds they inflicted on society and on themselves along the way, until the eruption of the 2011 uprisings. The uprisings, the states' responses to them, and efforts by political leaders to carve out for themselves means of legitimacy are also discussed, as are the reasons for the emergence and rise of Daesh and the Islamic State. This book examines some of the central questions facing observers and scholars of the Middle East concerning the nature of power and politics before and after 2011 in the Arab world. The focus of the book revolves around the very nature of politics and the exercise of power in the Arab world, conceptions of the state, its functions and institutions, its sources of legitimacy, and basic notions underlying it such as sovereignty and nationalism. Read more at Oxford University Press.

Environmental Politics in the Middle East

Verhoeven, Harry, ed. Environmental Politics in the Middle East. London: Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2018.

This book investigates how ecology and politics meet in the Middle East and how those interactions connect to the global political economy. Through region-wide analyses and case studies from the Arabian Peninsula, the Gulf of Aden, the Levant and North Africa, the volume highlights the intimate connections of environmental activism, energy infrastructure and illicit commodity trading with the political economies of Central Asia, the Horn of Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The book’s nine chapters analyse how the exploitation and representation of the environment have shaped the history of the region—and determined its place in global politics. It argues that how the ecological is understood, instrumentalised and intervened upon is the product of political struggle: deconstructing ideas and practices of environmental change means unravelling claims of authority and legitimacy. This is particularly important in a region frequently seen through the prism of environmental determinism, where ruling elites have imposed authoritarian control as the corollary of ‘environmental crisis’. This unique and urgent collection will question much of what we think we know about this pressing issue. Read more at Oxford University Press.

Social Currents in North Africa: Culture and Governance after the Arab Spring

Abi-Mershed, Osama, ed. Social Currents in North Africa: Culture and Governance after the Arab Spring. Oxford/Hurst, 2018.

Social Currents in North Africa is a multi-disciplinary analysis of the social phenomena unfolding in the Maghreb today. The contributors analyse the genealogies of contemporary North African behavioral and ideological norms, and offer insights into post-Arab Spring governance and today’s social and political trends. The book situates regional developments within broader international currents, without forgoing the distinct features of each socio-historical context. With its common historical, cultural, and socio-economic foundations, the Maghreb is a cohesive area of study that allows for greater understanding of domestic developments from both single-country and comparative perspectives.  This volume refines the geo-historical unity of the Maghreb by accounting for social connections, both within the nation-state and across political boundaries and historical eras. It illustrates that non-institutional phenomena are equally formative to the ongoing project of post-colonial sovereignty, to social construction and deployments of state power, and to local outlooks on social equity, economic prospects, and cultural identity. Read more at Oxford University Press.

Digital Middle East: State and Society in the Information Age

Zayani, Mohamed, ed. Digital Middle East: State and Society in the Information Age. Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2018.

In recent years, the Middle East’s information and communication landscape has changed dramatically. Increasingly, states, businesses, and citizens are capitalising on the opportunities offered by new technologies, the fast pace of digitisation, and enhanced connectivity. These changes are far from turning Middle Eastern nations into network societies, but their impact is significant. The growing adoption of a wide variety of technologies in everyday life has given rise to complex dynamics that beg for a better understanding. Digital Middle East sheds a critical light on the continuing changes closely intertwined with the adoption of information and communication technologies in the region. Drawing on case studies from throughout the Middle East, the contributors explore how these digital transformations are playing out in the social, cultural, political, and economic spheres, exposing the various disjunctions and discordances that have marked the advent of the digital Middle East. Read more from Oxford University Press.

Art and Cultural Production in the Gulf Cooperation Council

Mirgani, Suzi, ed. Art and Cultural Production in the Gulf Cooperation Council. London: Routledge, 2018.

State-driven investments in art and cultural production in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are an important part of the search for longer-term alternatives to the longer-term unsustainability of the hydrocarbon-based economic development model. They also are an element in the search for soft power and status, and intersect with the nation-building project. The long-term planned––and unplanned––effects of such cultural initiatives include a necessary opening up to a future of unexpected and often undesired cultural encounters, whether in the classroom, the art gallery, the sports stadium, or the labor office. As states driven by a desire to raise both their regional and international status, but needing to satisfy their domestic conservative constituencies, their greatest test will be their judicious negotiating of the conflicting sociocultural elements of an increasingly globalized world. This volume offers a comprehensive multi-disciplinary analysis of this complex arena and the state of art and cultural production in these Gulf societies, through original studies on identity formation and an emerging museology; the aesthetics of censorship; the question of authenticity; cultural projects as state-driven soft power efforts; the phenomenon of public art; and artistic engagements with migrant labor communities. Read more from Routledge.

The Red Star and the Crescent

Reardon-Anderson, James, ed.The Red Star and the Crescent. Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2018. 

The Red Star and the Crescent provides an in-depth and multi-disciplinary analysis of the evolving relationship between China and the Middle East. Despite its increasing importance, very few studies have examined this dynamic, deepening, and multi-faceted nexus. James Reardon-Anderson has sought to fill this critical gap. The volume examines the ‘big picture’ of international relations, then zooms in on case studies and probes the underlying domestic factors on each side. Reardon-Anderson tackles topics as diverse as China’s security strategy in the Middle East, its military relations with the states of the region, its role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, the Uyghur question, and the significance and consequences of the Silk Road strategy. Read more at Oxford University Press.