World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Individuals and Social Change in the Muslim World (late19th Century-Early 20th Century) (263) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Arizona (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Odile Moreau

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: This panel will bring together scholars to present their work in progress on individuals from across the Muslim World stretching from Morocco to Egypt, Syria, the Ottoman heartland, Central Asia and the Caucasus who influenced change in the late 19th to the early 20th Century. Each paper will also seek to delineate the forces that helped shape these individuals and transformed their perspectives and approaches to their work. By using a comparative approach these biographies and micro-histories can help us rethink narratives in modern Middle Eastern and North African studies. Although based on individual, local perspectives, the papers, we hope, will reveal new hitherto unrecognized trans-local connections across the Muslim Mediterranean world.

Chair & Discussant: Julia Clancy Smith (University of Arizona)

Paper presenter: Odile Moreau (Centre d'Histoire Sociale de l'Islam Méditeranéen CHSIM-EHESS, Paris), “Narratives of an Ottoman military Instructor in the Muslim Mediterranean Muslim World: Aref Taher Bey”
Reconstituting the itinerary of this military man, Aref Taher, will enable us to grasp his strategies, his career perspectives, and multiple allegiances - towards the Ottoman empire, vis-à-vis the Hamidian ancien regime, and the Young Turks; his connections with the ‘panislamist’ movement, and Egyptian centers of agitation. It poses the question in what way did he contribute to both the process of nation-building and the definition of states in the Muslim Mediterranean. The narrative contributes to the social history of interactions between the southern countries of the Mediterranean. By tracing the socio-cultural trajectory of an Ottoman military expert it will follow a micro-historical approach. At the same time, this case study will permit us to examine more closely his professional career in order to understand better professional expertise in the Muslim Mediterranean in the early 20th century.

Paper presenter: Stuart Schaar (Brooklyn College, City University of New York), “Mokhtar al-Ayari, A Radical Tunisian in the 1920s and his Place in Labor History”
Al-Ayari served in France as a soldier during the First World War. On many occasions he got into trouble with his officers and boasted about his insubordination while in the ranks. He returned to Tunisia as a committed Leftist and found work as a Tramway employee. He quickly became one of the rare native leaders of the French labor union and of the newly formed Communist Party. His oratorical abilities and intelligence attracted the attention of French Leftists in Tunisia and his independent spirit clashed with his superiors at the Tramway Company, who fired him. The French Union thereafter put him on its payroll as a full time organizer and scores of French police reports demonstrate that he attended most Communist Party and union meetings where he spoke frequently. When the CGTT formed in 1924 Al-Ayari became a major organizer and leader of the new formation along with M’Hamed ‘Ali and Tahar Haddad. He, along with M’Hamed Ali was exiled from Tunisia in 1925 for ten years. He ended up working on a Cairo trolley and died in Paris, never returning to his native land. Because of his adhesion to the Communist Party of Tunisia and his homosexuality he has received little attention from historians of the labor movement, who have downplayed his contributions. I intend to explain his important role as a mass leader and place him in his rightful place alongside M. ‘Ali and Haddad.

Paper presenter: Sanaa Makhlouf (AUC, Cairo), “Little Known roots of Islamism: al-Kawakibi’s Ummu’l Qurra”
Though Abd ar-Rahman al-Kawakibi (1855 –1902) is celebrated as part of the reform movement centered around Muhammad ‘Abduh and as a virulent critic of despotism (mainly through his book Taba’i‘ al-istibdad) and propagator of an Arab-centered Muslim Revival, his role in coining the term and concepts of Islamism ‘al-islamiyya’ is often unacknowledged. Upon a careful examination of his semi-autobiographical novel Ummu ‘l-Qurra: Proceedings of the first Conference on Islamic Awakening, one can find the foundation for the most basic creeds and strategies of what would become today’s Islamist ideology. This short political novel records the ‘fictional’ secret meetings of the organization of Ummu’l-Qurra in Mecca in 1898. In search for answers to al-Kawakibi’s life-long question of ‘what went wrong with Muslims?’ his 22 delegates express views that resonate with the rhetoric of contemporary Muslim activists; though few Islamists would like to admit such a possible parentage of their most cherished ideologies since they identify al-Kawakibi with the ‘secular’ reform movement. However, topoi developed in the novel like, al-islamiyya and second jahiliya (generally attributed to Sayyid Qutb), the need to revive the pure uncorrupted faith of the salaf as-salih preserved by the Arabs of the Peninsula (read Wahhabiyya), and the need to mobilize religion in order to lay the foundation for an Islamic revival etc., reveal a common ground for many of the arguments that modern Islamists have adopted for their causes. The question of ‘what went wrong’ central to the novel and kept alive throughout the twentieth century has also helped construct a common and uninterrupted space where Muslim activists could re-confirm their shared world-views, mission, goals, and common enemies. Published by Muhammad Rashid Rida in his al-Manar, the novel and its ideas gained a wide circle of readership amongst the early salafi movement. By the middle of the 20th century al-Kawakibi’s writings, also incorporated in school curricula, had become part of the making of a popular culture of political activists.
More than a record of the ‘reform’ consciousness of the times, this widely popular novel helped shape an emerging sense of identity that has spread all across the Arab-speaking world: a legacy that helped shaped the identity of the Muslim public activists for more than a century.
This paper attempts to examine the tenets of reform Islam as laid out in the novel in search for the ‘elders’ of Islamist ideology.

Paper presenter: Leïla Blili, Manouba (University, Tunis), “Women voices from the Beylical Palace in Tunis”
The advent of the French Protectorate in Tunisia in 1881 is considered as proof of the failure of the reform by the victory of the colonial system. However, as the reformist experience/experiment seems to be a failure, a circular movement of ideas, between Cairo, Tunis and Istanbul prolongs this sphere of influence.
Among these new places of meeting where we continue to discuss the necessity of changing the state of Arab countries, it is necessary to quote the circle animated by an Egyptian princess, Nazli, a descendant of Mohammed Ali of Egypt, who settled down in Tunis after her marriage with a Tunisian reformist. Her palace located in the suburb of La Marsa gathers a group of intellectuals who still discusses the reform, after the World War First.