World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Identity and National Culture - 2/2 (445) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: FRI 23, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:
Chair: Dr Marta Wozniak (University of Lodz)

Paper presenter: Nasser AlBadri (PGR, IDPM, Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, UK), “Beyond Just Religion and Tribalism, the Today's Omani National Culture”
Scholars have always observed that any technological or economical transformations in the surrounding environment affect cultural values in that environment (Fertig, 1996; Inglehart and Baker, 2000; Tsui et al. 2007; and Tang and Koveos, 2008). Along with the same view, Roe and Ester (1999) refer to several cultural studies which tackle the importance of different factors in forming the concept culture and differentiating a country's culture from other countries, such as the natural environment, economic circumstances, economic development and the process of modernization. Nevertheless, in management studies in the Arab world context, most of the researchers, if not all of them, have mainly focused on Islam, tribalism, and the family as the major components of Arab culture which influence the work practices (see for example: Ali, 1996; Tayeb, 1997; Mohamed et al, 2008). Not to minimize the importance of these factors, the contribution of other several factors, such as geographical location, demographics distribution, economy and wealth, and modernization, have been ignored or have not received enough attention. Realizing that culture is an outcome of a complex and long-term interactive process between different dimensions, the main aim of this paper is to shed light on the most important aspects which formulizing Arab countries' culture including, but not limited to, Islam, tribalism, and family. And because these factors are varying from one country to another, the paper will focus mainly on the Sultanate of Oman which is considered as an important geographical and political position in the Middle East. This will serve the paper's aim from two sides. On one hand it will enhance the researcher to provide specific examples on how each factor influences the cultural process and, on the other hand, will enrich the limitation of research on Arab culture in general and the Omani culture in particular. Furthermore, although previous researches emphasized on the role of Islam and tribalism on management, it has been rarely involved in showing how these two factors are forming Arab and Muslim culture throughout years and whether or not they have the same effect in all Arab countries. Thus, this paper will try to fill in the mentioned gaps by highlighting the most important factors which have been always participating in reforming the Omani culture from different perspectives. Additionally, this paper will built its strength by giving live examples on how such a new formed culture has an effect on sensitive topics such as gender equality and other equal opportunities policy's issues.

Paper presenter: Dr. Marta Wozniak (Lecturer, University of Lodz, Poland), “The Modern Assyrians and Arameans in Search for National Identity”
The modern Assyrians/Arameans are one of the oldest Christian minorities originating from the Middle East (territories of today’s Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey). Tragic events of the First World War, as well as almost constant turmoil in its aftermath forced many of them to leave the fatherland and form a diaspora. Until the beginning of 20th century the community developed strong ethno-religious identity, based on the belonging to one of the oriental churches (Assyrian Church of the East, Syrian Orthodox Church and Chaldean Catholic Church) and Aramaic language. Currently, the group is undergoing a process of national identity formation. As I try to prove through my research, the latter splits into at least two sub-identities (the third one would be Chaldean identity). The most important rivalling factions, which produce and carry these two sub-identities, are Assyrians and Arameans, who have much in common, though are separated by the perception of origin and vision of future. Many Assyrians cultivate ethnic mythology derived from the tradition of Assyrian Empire (destroyed by Babylonians, Meds and Scythes in 7th century BC), which transforms their previous identity into ethno-nationalism (they are the followers of so called Assyrianism). The idea of being descendants of ancient Assyrians is refuted by the majority of Arameans, who trace their roots to the Levantine namesakes (Arameism). So far the first tendency seems to take the upper hand. The paper consists of three parts. The first discusses the transformation within the status of the category of identity in the modern social science, as the contemporary epoch puts the men in front of a difficult task of constant identity search. An individual has therefore not a ‘given’ but an ‘assigned’ identity. In the second part the authoress presents the results of an online survey which was conducted from March 2008 to May 2009 among the group of 796 Assyrians and Arameans. A critical analysis of the presented data and the comparison between two subgroups are presented in the third part. This paper advances a thesis that in the post-national era the social mobility of the Assyrians/Arameans is based on the ongoing process of national identity construction, in which the extensive use of the new media, especially the Internet, plays a crucial role. Nevertheless, it is difficult to say, whether the Assyrians and Arameans will build one common identity or rather two distinct ones.

Paper presenter: Aharon Klieman (Emeritus Professor, Tel-Aviv University and Ashkelon Academic College, Israel), “Beyond Nationalism: Inclusive Middle East Regional Frameworks -The Argument and the Urgency”
Arabs and Israelis, Turks and Iranians - those of us determined to survive and possibly even survive in a geographically ill-defined part of the world known as ‘the Middle East’ have long since adopted the Western orientalist’s convention of a ‘shark al-awsat’. Nevertheless, we have not undertaken to reshape our regional identity accordingly. We have yet to perceive of ourselves as ‘Middle Easterners’, let alone to give this broader collective identity any single tangible organizational or operative expression. We are in effect a variant of Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined community’ waiting to be invented. Still more important: to be institutionalized. In this arrested stage of regional identification and cooperation ‘Middle Easterner’ and ‘Middle Easternism’ represent little more than an abstraction, a concept, a blank passport, and a larger socioeconomic-political framework whose time, tragically, has yet to come. Because of the Middle East region’s widening developmental gap and looming nuclearization, however, and the threat of renewed subordination to outside forces and larger global considerations, time is precisely the commodity, or luxury, all co-residents of the Middle East do not have. I employ this regionalist perspective of ‘From Many, One’ while realizing full well few subscribers are prepared to rise above parochial nationalism and to see themselves as ‘Middle Easterners’ in struggling to keep pace with measured steps toward greater integration in Europe, East Asia and the Americas. The thrust of my paper is on pointing out -statistically as well as geopolitically- the imperative for considering possible constructive frameworks. Joint efforts aimed at promoting immediate even if minimal functional cooperation, beginning, most urgently, with a Middle East water regime. Here, ironically, an Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian model for greater independence through interdependence might very well serve as the inspiration for wider regional collaborative efforts reminiscent of the post-1945 Franco-German transition from enmity to amity. Yet even in the absence of a definitive end to the Middle East conflict, the aggregate social and economic data pointing to accelerated decline and an alarming loss of competitiveness vis-à-vis other regional blocs commands attention.

Paper presenter: Elie Podeh (Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel), “Celebrating the nation: The Politics of Commemorations in the Arab World”
The paper deals with the ways in which the Arab states celebrate and commemorate their national holidays. Based on the analysis of six Arab case studies - Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia - the paper will address two questions: first, the role of the national calendar; and second, how the calendar was shaped and changed along the years. The calendar and the celebrations were means to develop national identity. Since the state was, in most cases, a colonial invention and since a cohesive nation, as such, had not existed, there was a need to invest efforts at building such an identity. A second reason was the need to establish legitimacy. Since most rulers were and regimes were not democratically elected, the national celebrations were used to attain or strengthen their legitimacy. A third reason is connected with the regimes' desire to maintain hegemony and elicit obedience by creating fearful citizens. In such cases, the citizen is coerced to take part in national celebrations, presented as the display of the regime's might. Finally, national celebrations have a psychological function, responding to the need of the individual to feel part of a larger community. As for the second question, state celebrations constitute a contesting ground - or negotiation space - between tradition and modernity, and between Islamic and non-Islamic elements. The end result was often the formation of a hybrid political culture. The new symbolic market included Western and Eastern inventions, as well as Islamic and pre-Islamic traditions - sometimes adopted in a modern guise (such as the Bay'a ritual). This hybridization is not only a product of the colonial period, but of various Arab regimes, which have used this market in accordance with their interests and needs.