On Fridays at 3:00 during the semester, the CMES hosts an informal weekly coffee hour and guided discussion of current events in the Middle East and North Africa, open to all and free of charge. This page records past and upcoming topics and suggested readings.
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8/25 Summer In Review
Join us for the first MENA Salon of the Fall 2017 semester, as we revisit the events and themes that shaped this summer.
The US is far more deeply involved in Syria than you know
What happens the day after the Kurdish referendum?
How the Saudi-Qatar rivalry reshaped the Middle East
Morocco’s Burgeoning Resistance
End times in Mosul
Israel targets Al Jazeera
Turkey’s Great Terror
Iran nuclear deal
5/5 Year In Review
Join us for the final MENA Salon of the semester, as we revisit the events and themes that shaped this academic year.
4/21 Referendum in Turkey: what lies ahead?
In a referendum held on Sunday April 16, Turkish citizens narrowly voted in favor of a series of constitutional amendments that will transform the country’s parliamentary system of government into an “executive” presidency. In practice, the result expands the powers of the office presently held by its head of state, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On top of the highly contentious process which culminated in the referendum, the ad hoc procedural modifications on the day of voting caused widespread suspicion of electoral fraud and sparked outbursts of protests. What do these mean for Turkey’s democracy? In this week’s MENA Salon we will reflect on the political future of a country in the midst of a transformation.
4/14 Military Intervention Revisited: Syria
On April 7, in response to a chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib, the Trump administration launched several dozen Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian Military’s Shayrat Airbase. The strike was the first direct attack on the Assad regime by the American military in the six year war. Inevitably, the developments sparked off heated debates between the proponents and opponents of American interventionism in the Middle East, and further speculations on Trump administration’s motivations in the region and the new route the Syrian Civil War may take. In this week’s MENA Salon, we will tease out the nuances of this debate by examining a wide range of perspectives on the American attack.
4/7 Why Are We in Iraq?
In March it was alleged that the US-led coalition against ISIS had caused a record number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria. The battle for Mosul took a particularly grim turn as reports emerged that one US airstrike had killed more than 200 civilians. In this week’s MENA Salon we will discuss this escalation in the war against ISIS in Iraq. We will reflect on how the latest wave of airstrikes fits in within a decades long history of American military intervention in Iraq.
3/24 Israel, the United States, and the United Nations
The United States has been at loggerheads with various United Nations bodies and member states over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since at least 1975, the year in which UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring “that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Over the past few months, the new Trump administration has made confrontation with the UN over “bias towards to Israel” a conspicuous component of its foreign policy agenda. In this week’s MENA Salon, we will discuss the UN’s relationship with Israel and the United states.
3/17 Anarchists, Islamists, and Other Foreign Fighters
Foreign fighters have flocked to Iraq and Syria over the past few years to fight on behalf of various parties to the related conflicts raging in both countries. In this week’s MENA Salon we will discuss the phenomenon of foreign fighters in the contemporary Middle East. We will consider the motivations for engaging in violence in far-flung battlefields, and the risks posed by such decisions.
3/10 Who’s Afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood?
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood captured much of the world’s attention in 2012 when its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. A year later, Morsi was deposed amid massive protests by the Egyptian military and the new regime designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. How has this shaped Egypt’s reconstituted political order in the year’s since? In this week’s MENA Salon we will examine Egypt’s war on the Brotherhood and the debates it has sparked among Egyptians.
3/2 Saudi Arabia: Between Repression and Reform
Building on last week’s discussions, in this week’s MENA Salon we will discuss the contemporary attempts in expanding political rights and freedoms in Saudi Arabia and the limitations of such endeavors, put against the background of the historical and politico-economic particularities of the Gulf countries. We will try to develop an ‘insider’ view, in an effort to grasp the dynamism within the society and the politics of Saudi Arabia, by touching upon issues regarding the women, the youth and the economy.
2/24 Migrant Labor in the Gulf
The economies of several Persian Gulf states are heavily dependent on migrant labor. These workers are often subject to poor working conditions and other human rights violations. In this week’s MENA Salon, we will examine the political economy of migrant labor in the Gulf and reflect on recent trends in this area.
2/17 Islamophobia and Europe’s Shifting Political Landscape
Far right political parties are on the rise in Europe. With promises to de-Islamize the Netherlands, Geert Wilders leads polls for an upcoming election. Marine Le Pen, who has identified Islamism as a new “totalitarianism,” is a viable competitor for the the French presidency. In this week’s MENA Salon we discuss the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that the ascendant European right is riding. We will also consider its effects on immigrants to Europe from the MENA region.
2/10 MENA Prisons
Amnesty International released a report this week indicating that as many as 13,000 people were executed in Syria’s Saydnaya prison between 2011 and 2015. The report details the inhuman conditions in the prison as well as a regime of torture and “extermination.” In this week’s MENA Salon we will discuss the grave situation described in the report and similar cases of prisons across the region, with a focus on political prisoners.
2/3 Trump’s Muslim Ban
Last week the Trump administration issued an executive order banning the nationals of seven Middle Eastern and African countries along with all refugees from entering the US. The order sparked protests across the world, with international airports becoming flashpoints of resistance against the new policy. This week’s MENA Salon will feature a discussion of the so-called “Muslim ban.” We will reflect on its origins and its political implications.
12/2 “Reforming” Islam and Searching for the “Moderates”
Does Islam need a reformation? This question, which rose to the mainstream after the September 11 attacks, is again center stage with the rise of ISIS. Muslim communities have faced a wave of external and internal demands for religious reform, at times advanced by individuals with dubious motivations. Yet the idea of Islamic reformation (political, theological, and cultural) has a long and rich history. In this week’s MENA Salon, we will reflect on recent discussions about religious reformation swirling around the MENA region, and how they play out in diaspora communities.
11/18 Trumpism and the Middle East
Yikes! In a stunning turn of events billionaire and reality TV star Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States. How will a Trump administration change US foreign policy in the MENA region? Are there threads of historical continuity that can be traced from America’s foreign excursions to the triumphant Trump campaign? In this week’s special MENA Salon we take another look at the president-elect, his supporters, and some of the individuals in his orbit in order to grapple with what is coming.
11/4 The International Criminal Court
10/28 US Presidential Candidates on the Region
How different are Trump and Clinton’s ideas on the Middle East? With the election less than two week away, in this week’s MENA salon we will examine the candidates’ messaging on developments in Syria, on the Iran deal, and other unfolding events. We will also reflect on personal, professional, and institutional relationships of the candidates that may shed light on their policy leanings.
10/21 Yemen’s War
Who is responsible for the war in Yemen? In this week’s MENA Salon we discuss the origins of the ongoing conflict between the international allies of the country’s transitional government-in-exile and a coalition of Houthi-led rebels. We will pay special attention to escalating American and Saudi intervention in the conflict. We will also discuss the vulnerabilities unique to the poorest state in the Middle East.
10/14 Kurds and Kurdistan
What unique challenges do Kurdish communities face in the contemporary Middle East? How do recent political developments affect Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran? And how has the Syrian conflict changed US foreign policy discourse on Kurdish communities? In this week’s MENA Salon, we will discuss new opportunities and challenges raised by contemporary military conflicts, while also reflecting on modern Kurdish history and competing conceptions of a future Kurdistan.
10/07 Press Freedom
Five years after the start Arab Spring, is the press in the Middle East more or less free? In this week’s MENA Salon we will reflect on the ways in which journalists navigate this changing political environment to produce reliable news reports. We will also consider changes in governments’ treatment of the press in various countries including Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
9/30 Post-coup politics in Turkey
On the night of July 17, 2016, a coup was attempted in the Republic of Turkey. Unlike several successful 20th century putsches, this one failed. In the wake of the crisis, Turkish citizens–familiar with their country’s recent history of military rule–are divided. Perspectives on the coup range from determined opposition, to furtive consent, to apathy and alienation. Attempts to grapple with the army’s intervention have been further complicated by conflict with the Kurdish communities, the state’s entanglement in the Syrian Civil War, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s continuing crackdown (or “counter coup”). This week’s MENA Salon aims to highlight divergent views that have emerged in Turkey’s post-coup politics.
9/23 What is a ‘Settler Colonial Analysis’?
This week, UC Berkeley reinstated a DeCal, “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis,” after briefly and unusually suspending the student facilitated course three weeks into the semester. A nonprofit called AMCHA Initiative had described the DeCal’s syllabus as “defamatory” in an open letter to Chancellor Dirks, signed by 43 like-minded groups. While the incident has spurred many to consider important questions related to academic freedom, in this week’s MENA Salon we will discuss the substantive political issue at the heart of the controversy instead: Does the concept of settler colonialism provide a useful analytic frame for understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
9/16 The Refugee Crisis
There is a broad, global consensus that the flow of refugees out of Middle Eastern and North African states in conflict today constitutes a “crisis.” But is the precise meaning of the word “crisis” subject to contestation? How should we assess the responses by members of the international community? In this week’s MENA Salon, we will discuss some of the political, humanitarian, and national security questions that have arisen as Middle Eastern refugees have become more numerous. We will also consider long-term issues including the daily struggles that await these displaced people in their host countries.
The EU’s migration crisis is far from finished
Martyr on the Mediterranean: Athens’ Double Crisis
How Syrian Refugees Are Helping One Another Adjust to Life in a Strange Land
Why Syria’s children should be a global priority
Obama Administration Floods Country With 769 Syrian Refugees in First Week of September
9/9 U.S. Intervention in the Middle East: End of an Era?
9/2 Summer in Review
4/22 Hope for Beirut
A group of politically unaffiliated academics, activists and professionals are challenging the status quo of Lebanese politics by running for Beirut City Council in the municipal elections in May. Their electoral program aims to make the city a livable space for all its inhabitants, and not just the privileged few who can navigate exclusive spaces unaffected by the current garbage, refugee, and housing crises. In this week’s MENA Salon we will discuss this municipal election campaign in Beirut, the “My City” (Beirut Madinati) campaign, and other grassroots mobilization initiatives in Lebanon that envision a different political future for the country.
4/15 How Do We Talk about Terror?
March was a bad month. Brussels was just one of several cities hit by serious, violent attacks. For those of us who conduct research and teach about the Middle East and Islam, recent events can be a difficult topic to address. The conversation quickly turns into a matter of moral outrage, making political contextualization both difficult yet also more necessary than ever. How do we acknowledge the tragic loss of life and also advocate for forms of speech (and action) that don’t fall back on racist or Islamophobic tropes? How do we talk about “terror”?
4/8 The Panama Papers and the Middle East
It only took two days for the Panama Papers leak to claim its first casualty, with the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland. The cache of over 11 million documents implicates a dozen world leaders, plus 128 other politicians and public figures–the Middle East is not absent from this list. The Panama Papers offer a glimpse into the mechanics of the region’s famously corrupt governments, ill-funded wars, and ever-growing economic gap between rich and poor. Reporting over the last few days has situated the problems that have plagued the Middle East for decades in a broader network of global corruption. This week in the salon, we’ll talk about the implications of the Panama Papers on Middle Eastern geopolitics, including the ongoing war in Syria.
4/1 Is Anti-Zionism a Form of Anti-Semitism?
Last week, the UC Regents unanimously adopted a “Statement of Principles on Intolerance” to govern campus behavior, based on a report developed by a system-wide working group. While ultimately broad in scope, the report specifically addressed an apparent increase in anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses. According to the report, these kinds of incidents are now frequently “more coded and difficult to identify,” as they occur under the guise of a political critique of Zionism. The resulting “Statement of Principles” linked anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism as a form of discrimination, although language directly equating the two was subsequently modified in the face of considerable opposition. The UC report is not an anomaly, but part of a larger trend both on and off university campuses in the US and Europe, with similar statements from world leaders ranging from Pope Francis to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. This week in the salon, we’ll talk about the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, thinking about it in the broader historical context of the earlier UN resolution that tipped in the other direction, declaring Zionism a form of racism.
3/18 Cruz, Kasich, and Trump on the Middle East
After discussing Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s respective foreign policy positions in the Middle East, this week we will look at the policy positions of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich. With republican voters concerns about the threat of terrorist attacks, Trump’s Islamophobic stance is popular, but his proclaimed “neutrality” on Israel- Palestine may off-set his rhetoric about Muslims. How do the Republican and Democrats differ on American policy in the Middle East? And how does the Middle East see primary-season juggernaut Donald Trump?
3/11 Clinton and Sanders on the Middle East
It has been an unusually exciting primary season in the US, with nail-biting fights on both sides of the aisle. And while the debates have skewed towards domestic politics, foreign policy–regarding the Middle East in particular–remains a constant. While on the Republican side, the candidates may be more or less entrenched in a politics of Islamophobia, among the democrats, it often seems that the less said (or the more obscure), the better. This week in the Salon, we’ll look closely at the foreign policy records of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, asking, what would a Clinton or Sanders presidency mean for the Middle East?
Details on Sanders and Sha’ar ha-‘Amakim
The Middle East Policy of President Sanders
Sanders and Trump Similar on the Middle East
27 Years of Sanders on Israel
Hillary Clinton and Libya
Clinton’s Middle East Policy
Interventions, Wars, More of Same
3/4 Cultural Heritage and Current Events
As the CMES looks forward to next weekend’s symposium, Beyond Destruction: Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in the Middle East, this week’s MENA Salon will explore the relationship between cultural heritage and current events in the Middle East and North Africa. The protection of cultural heritage is at the forefront of international discussions, since the Islamic State began the systematic destruction of archaeological sites across Iraq and Syria in March 2015. We will consider questions such as: Who owns the past? Whose responsibility is it to protect cultural heritage? How is cultural heritage being used to pursue the political agendas of the various groups involved? And what is the legal framework within which these political agendas are being pursued?
2/26: Permanent War – Perspectives on Iraq
How has the central Iraqi state transformed during 35 years of war? In this week’s MENA Salon, we consider a longer time horizon to think through state reconstitution and consolidation in Iraq, particularly in the wake of falling oil prices and blatant corruption. We will touch upon the sectarian dimension of state-building and state-identity, think through the rise of ISIL as extreme Sunni fundamentalism, and discuss Iran’s interventions to support Shia constituencies as well as the role of Iraqi Kurdistan in this state (re)constitution effort.
2/19: Marriage, MENA-Style
In a belated Valentine’s Day edition of our MENA salon, we thought we’d step back for a moment from the bleak landscape of war and crisis to talk about marriage! In nearly any part of the world, marriage is a costly endeavor, but in the Middle East, we see a whole set of additional challenges. This week, we’ll look at how people face this basic and important life event, raising dowries and evading religious strictures in order to achieve legal and social recognition of that crazy thing called love.
2/12: The Siege of Aleppo
This week we have witnessed escalating threats of a siege of Aleppo by the Assad regime and its supporters. In this week’s MENA Salon, we will discuss the implications of a siege for the evolving geography of the Syrian civil war, with special attention to Aleppo’s experiences, as well as its repercussions in terms of new waves of refugees in the region.
2/5: Turkey in Crisis
As violence flares up in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has issued crackdowns on dissent across the country. The worst examples are predictably in the southeast, where civilians are under curfew and military clashes leave the bodies of the victims uncollected on the streets. Elsewhere, academics are being blacklisted and imprisoned simply for making statements calling for peace. This week in the salon, we’ll talk about the crisis in Turkey–what’s been happening over the last few weeks, and the direction things may go.
1/29: The Arab Revolutions Five Years On
1/22/16: Winter in Review
A lot has happened since we last met two months ago! (The Paris attacks, in fact, were taking place as we held our final session of the fall.) For the first MENA Salon of the semester, we will do a quick roundup of these past months, including the Paris attacks, the execution of a prominent Shiite activist in Saudi Arabia, the severing of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a result, ongoing unrest in eastern Turkey, and the academic boycott votes that have been passed by major American academic bodies. This is only a slice of recent events: the Egyptian Parliament has convened, the European Union has proceeded with its plan to label goods produced in Israeli settlements, and women in Saudi Arabia have gone to the polls for the first time. There is much to discuss! We’ll use the articles below as a starting point, but feel free to bring in other topics or suggestions for weeks to come.
11/6/15: Tunisia – Hope of the Arab Revolutions?
Is Tunisia the model for Arab revolutions, or was the so called Jasmine Revolution a unique case? When the National Dialogue Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, global discourse proposed that Tunisia was the hope of the region. In this week’s Salon we will discuss Tunisia’s post-revolutionary moment, including the achievements (or lack thereof) of the Truth and Dignity Commission, the highly contested economic reconciliation bill, and the threat the bill poses to transitional justice today.
10/30/15: What Makes an Election Credible in the Middle East and North Africa?
With only 26% of Egyptian voters turning out for last week’s parliamentary elections, serious questions have been raised as to whether these elections are emblematic of a functional democracy. Observers have also pointed out structural problems obstructing Egyptian democracy: the system of independent candidates, the banishment of the main opposition party, etc. Nonetheless, as Egypt forms its first parliament in over three years, this election will have significant consequences for the form the state takes in the foreseeable future. This week in the Salon, we’ll talk about the Egyptian parliamentary elections in terms of their challenges and outcomes, with an eye toward elections and their credibility in the broader region as well.
10/23/15: Drone Wars
Documents leaked to The Intercept last week reveal new information about the Obama administration’s drone strikes. In this week’s MENA Salon, we will discuss the way in which drones try and fail to overcome the tyranny of distance, the people targeted and killed by U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East (writ large), the people who operate them from thousands of miles away, and the right of the state to kill.
10/16/15: A Third Intifada?
Acts of violence have been a relatively common occurrence in Israel-Palestine for a few years now; however, the recent increase in the frequency of such attacks, including stabbings or hit and runs, has left many people asking whether a third intifada has begun. Palestinians and their supporters argue that for those living under occupation, every day is a new cascade of violence, while the more personal turn toward vigilantism raises fear all around. This week in the Salon we will discuss the escalating violence in Israel-Palestine, compare this moment to the intifadas of 1987 and 2000, and consider the implications of the current unrest for both the immediate and long-term future of the region.
10/9/15: The Injustice of Egypt’s Justice System
Since the advent of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president of Egypt, hundreds of Egyptian activists have been imprisoned and thousands more have been sentenced to death. This week’s Salon will explore state violence and the role of Egyptian police in enforcing the law while being outside or above it. We will also discuss the history of the Egyptian judiciary, and the space it has carved out as a constantly evolving and non-homogeneous institution operating under a thoroughly authoritarian regime.
10/2/15: The War in Yemen
While the world debates the ongoing Syrian war and the ever-growing refugee crisis, the war in Yemen has received relatively little attention in the international press. But the Yemen conflict has seen some thirty thousand casualties since March alone, including a misfired air strike this week that killed over a hundred guests–many of them women and children–at a wedding party. This week in the Salon, we’ll discuss the crisis in Yemen, both in terms of domestic upheavals and the Houthi takeover of Sanaa, as well as the role of Saudi Arabia, the United States, and ISIS in the conflict.
9/25/15: Proxy Wars and a “Resolution” for Syria
As it becomes clear that the Obama administration’s efforts to train Syrian rebels have largely failed, the emerging approach to Syria is “no policy.” Meanwhile, US special operations forces on the ground in Syria are assisting Kurdish forces in fighting ISIS, while Russia continues to supply equipment, training, and armaments to its ally Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s declared position is that it is helping Assad fight terrorism in Syria; the unspoken message is that the US should be coordinating with the Russian government to find a “resolution” to the Syrian civil war. But Russians are also thinking of post-Assad Syria, particularly their regional interests vis-à-vis Iran. In this week’s Salon we will try to make sense of these alignments and their ramifications in the region and beyond.
9/18/15: What Went Wrong in Turkey, Part 2
In June, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority, thanks in large part to the success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in that election. Since then, there has been a violent state campaign against pro-Kurdish entities across the country, including airstrikes, military raids, and curfews in the southeast, as well as attacks on Kurdish people and organizations by non-state groups. This week in the Salon, we’ll follow up Wednesday’s talk by Şahin Alpay at the CMES with a discussion of the growing civil unrest in Turkey, and the larger regional ramifications of how the Turkish state addresses its ongoing “Kurdish problem.”
9/11/15:The Refugee Crisis
With ISIS entrenched and no end to the Syrian civil war in sight, millions of Syrians have been displaced. But where should they go? Millions are currently seeking shelter in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan; hundreds of thousands more have assumed tremendous physical risk and crossed land and sea into Europe, where they face prejudice and even attack as they await asylum. As gut-wrenching images of lifeless bodies circulate around the world, Europe is finally rolling out its plan for dealing with the refugees at its borders, and there is increased pressure for the United States to accept more refugees. Moreover, Israel’s small border with Syria has opened up serious questions about its own role in the production of refugee populations in the Middle East: Will Israel accept Syrian refugees? PM Netanyahu has declined to do so thus far. Would this open the door for the return of approximately 525,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria? This week in the Salon, we will discuss the debates that have circulated across the globe as refugees look anywhere they can for a safe harbor to weather the storm.
9/4/15: “You Stink”: Lebanon’s Imminent “Revolution”
This week: “You Stink” – Lebanon’s Imminent “Revolution” In this week’s Salon, we will discuss Lebanon’s “You Stink” movement, which has brought major protests to the streets of Beirut, and which some observers are interpreting as a sign of Lebanon’s imminent revolution. For now, there are more questions than answers, which makes it a perfect topic for the MENA Salon. Is the movement really about trash? Who are its leaders and what do they want? Who is participating in the protests? And, critically, what is the significance of “You Stink” in Lebanon’s current climate? Could the movement shake Lebanon’s entrenched sectarian politics? Join us for a discussion on this dramatic (and odorous) intersection of civic infrastructure and national politics.
8/28/15: Summer 2015 in Review
This Week’s Topic: Summer 2015 in Review The first MENA Salon of the semester will feature a brief roundup of notable events in the Middle East and North Africa this summer, including the murder of Khaled al-Asaad and the destruction at Palmyra carried out by ISIS; the attacks in Sousse, Tunisia and the changing perception of Tunisia as the success story of the Arab revolutions; the summer of protests in Lebanon and the rise of the “You Stink” movement; and the Iran deal and its effects on broader regional dynamics, including relations between Israel and Palestine.
4/24/15: 100 Years after the Armenian Genocide
4/17/15: Deal or No Deal? The Iranian Nuclear Negotiations
4/10/15: Regional Crisis in Yemen?
3/20/15: Israel’s Parliamentary Elections
3/13/15: Neoliberal Palestine
3/6/15: Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Washington
2/27/15: ISIS and Geopolitics: The Beheading of Copts in Libya
2/20/15: The Politics of Islamophobia in America
2/13/15: ISIS, Islam, and Shock Politics
2/6/15: Arab Identity Crisis?
1/30/15: Continued Reflections on Charlie Hebdo: French Secularism and Minorities in France
1/23/15: Charlie Hebdo: Islam, Muslims, and Free Speech
11/21/14: U.S.-Saudi Relations
11/14/14: The Politics of Persecution: Christians in the Middle East
11/7/14: Tunisia Calling
10/31/14: Secularism and Islamist Politics
10/24/14: “Saving” Women in the Middle East
10/17/14: Islamophobia and its Effects on the Popular Sphere
10/10/14: Gaza and Operation Protective Edge
9/26/14: What’s at Stake for Iran’s Nuclear Program?
9/17/14: The Egyptian Presidency from Revolution to Counterrevolution
9/12/14: ISIS and Rethinking Sykes-Picot