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Middle East Critique

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Middle East Critique: Situating the Gulf’s Anti-Imperialist Currents in History and Theory

Abstract deadline
15 March 2024

Manuscript deadline
15 September 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Dr. Wafa Alsayed, Gulf University for Science & Technology
[email protected]

Dr Hsinyen Lai, University of St Andrews
[email protected]

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Middle East Critique: Situating the Gulf’s Anti-Imperialist Currents in History and Theory

Throughout the twentieth century, the Arab Gulf states witnessed successive waves of movements that challenged British (and later American) hegemony, shaping the region’s political and cultural life. In the 1910s and 1920s, intellectuals influenced by Islamic modernism and the Arab nahda took the first steps towards fostering an anti-imperialist discourse and novel modes of activism. Between the 1930s and 1960s, this trickle steadily grew into a torrent, with mass movements inspired by Pan-Arabism emerging in several Gulf states. The 1967 Arab defeat caused widespread reverberations in the Gulf, leading to the rise of new strategies and paradigms in the form of Islamism and revolutionary Marxism, most notably represented in the Dhofar Revolution.

Throughout their development, the Gulf’s anti-imperialist movements tied their liberation from imperialism with the independence struggles of the wider Arab world. For example, connections with the Palestinian national movement started as early as the 1920s, intensifying in the 1930s and in the events leading up to the 1948 nakba. Additionally, as in other Arab regions, the people of the Gulf embraced Nasserism in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing in its message of Arab unity and liberation the key to their own emancipation and advancement. At the same time, the Algerian revolution inspired both acts of solidarity and emulation by militants and activists across the Gulf.

Despite this rich history, the longue durée of popular activism in the Gulf has been marginalized in the academic literature, both that dealing with the broader Middle East and in the more specialized field of Gulf Studies. Gulf historiography has long emphasized the notion of “empire by invitation,” whereby local rulers voluntarily submitted to British tutelage. This comes at the expense of more nuanced analyses that explore the region’s histories of popular resistance as well as problematize the idea that all political elites welcomed the British presence. Furthermore, this literature often argues that British protection isolated the region from external influences before the exploitation of oil (and arguably even afterwards). Works within the disciplines of international relations and political science often paint the region through a security lens and are generally state-centric, paying little attention to civil society and grassroots dynamics that have shaped the Gulf and its regional and international interactions. In particular, the dominant paradigm of Rentier State Theory has done much to paint the Gulf states as all powerful entities acting on submissive societies.

The dominant tendency to downplay the Gulf’s anti-imperialist history has long been countered by alternative narratives that have recently gained further traction. In the 1970s and 1980s, scholars influenced by Marxism and Arab nationalism penned the first studies critiquing imperialist influence in the region and/or detailing resistance to it (see for example: Halliday 1974, Lackner 1978, Zahlan 1981, al-Naqeeb 1987). This topic subsequently fell out of fashion in the field of Gulf studies, yet a new wave of scholarship in the last decade has rekindled interest in the Gulf’s anti-imperialist history (see for example: Takriti, 2013, Bsheer 2018, Matthesion, 2018, Alshehabi, 2019). This literature highlights the Arab nationalist and leftist movements that spearheaded the fight against imperialism in the region through mass mobilization, labor activism, intellectual production, and armed struggle.

Despite these advances, there is a need for more works that overcome the aforementioned methodological and theoretical limitations of previous scholarship on the Gulf’s political history. The suppression of these histories has produced analyses of the Gulf that perceive this region in isolation from global and regional anti-imperialist trends in the Global South. The centering of the state in the current scholarship has prevented the ability of envisioning histories of the Gulf that move beyond the state temporally and spatially. This suppression also meant that there are few studies that thoroughly explore the role played by workers, women and students in these anti-imperialist movements. By overcoming these limitations in the literature, more avenues can open up to studying the popular histories of the Gulf.

This call for papers seeks submissions that reflect on the history of the Gulf’s anti-imperialist currents in the past and their legacy in the present. The call encourages novel theoretical, methodological and empirical reflections on the topic, working towards setting new research agendas in the field of Gulf studies and beyond.

Topics of interest include:

  • Anti-imperialism in the Gulf and its transnational connections with the wider Arab world, Indian Ocean arena, the Third World (e.g. China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc) and globally. This includes ties with Palestine, other Arab struggles and Third Worldist movements and nations among others.
  • Analyses problematizing and responding to the knowledge produced by colonial archives and/or using local Arabic language sources to offer new perspectives on the Gulf’s anti-imperialist history.
  • Novel theoretical and methodological analyses across disciplines that help reconceptualize the history of anti-imperialism in the Gulf.
  • How the oil industry contributed to shaping the ideology, aspiration and activities of anti-imperialist movements in the Gulf.
  • The role and place of workers, women, students, minorities, and other marginalized groups in the Gulf’s anti-imperialist movements.
  • The legacy of the Gulf governments’ historic relations with imperial powers in shaping their current security arrangements and political alliances. For example, the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the UAE and Bahrain’s decisions to normalize relations with Israel, among others.
  • The contemporary reverberations of historical government reactions to anti-imperialist movements within domestic politics and the erasure of popular history from official narratives.

Submission Instructions

Interested authors should submit a 250-word abstract with a CV by email to the journal's Editor, Dr. Matteo Capasso, at [email protected] and SI guest editors, Dr. Wafa Alsayed, at [email protected], and Dr Hsinyen Lai, at [email protected].

We aim for a special issue of 7-9 original articles, preceded by an introduction by the editors.

Selected authors are expected to submit an original article of 8000-9000 words.

Abstract deadline

15 March 2024

Manuscript deadline

15 September 2024

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article