World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010


THE MIDDLE EAST DURING THE GLOBAL COLD WAR - 2/2: Beyond Superpower Rivalry: the Agency of the Middle East within the International Context (269) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Padua / University of Florence (Italy)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Massimiliano Trentin & Matteo Gerlini

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The Cold War rivalry had never been merely a conflict between two superpowers with competing geopolitical ambitions: the US and the USSR carried the flag of capitalist and socialist paths to modernity and the two alternative ideological systems soon translated into geopolitical realities. The end of colonial empires, the Bandung Conference in 1955 and the birth of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) contributed to set the framework for a global, bipolar competition: the main issues at stake for establishing a new standard of conduct in international relations were political independence and economic development. Both concepts were structurally embedded within the notion of modernity because the sovereign, fast-growing nation-state was to be the basic unit for political action and economic organization. The need for change in the so called Third World was first emphasised by the rising postcolonial elites who were generally aware of the opportunities as well as of the risks: they could exploit the competition to extract the best possible offers, but their national priorities could well be undermined by the politics of the bipolar conflict. If the NAM tried to set up a common framework, such issues translated differently in every single region: in the post-colonial Middle East, security mainly involved central state consolidation over centrifugal forces and defence against external interventions, while development primarily meant industrialization as a strategy for national production and social reproduction.
The Panel Series bring together scholars who willfocus on the interplay between diplomacy, politics and economics which shaped the international relations of the Middle East from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s: of particular interests will be contributions dealing with the changes in the patterns of diplomatic dealings, the political salience of the transfer of technology and know-how as well as of models of industrial development and institutional reform.

The second Subpanel will deal with three different cases which highlight the political autonomy of the Middle East in respect to the superpower rivalry. Israel’s development of nuclear capabilities in 1960-1963 was highly problematic for both camps of the Cold War and could well ignite another major crisis that neither parts wished for. However, the Israeli government proved very effective to continuing its programme and achieving its own particular aim. The Iranian revolution of 1979 was found to be another crisis which partly escaped the rules of the superpower rivalry: more in depth, the peculiar interplay between oil rent, labour and revolution challenged the traditionally held paradigms of economic development and political integration as they were elaborated by the Shah and his Western patners, as well. Again, the peculiar features of the Iranian revolution proved difficult to be categorized by Western powers, like France and Germany, which then struggled to use the Iranian case as a reference point when elaborating their policies towards political Islam.

Chair: Prof. Alberto Tonini (University of Florence, Italy)

Paper presenter: Matteo Gerlini (University of Florence, Italy), “The nuclear issue in the Middle East Global Cold War
The paper analyzes the American and British Governments’ approach to Israel’s development of nuclear capability during the 1960-63. It reviews the diplomatic crisis between the US and Israel since December 1960, and the western powers’ concerns about the possibility of a preemptive attack by the Arab States motivated by the advancement of Israel’s nuclear program. In the Cold War framework, it interesting to note how in that years the Soviet union didn't trigger any Arab State to move war against Israel for such an issue. It is possible to assert that, because the inspections were more of a political tool for the Arabs than a genuine effort to deny Israel the ability to achieve nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union would accept an Israel nuclear option, but just in the ambiguity of nuclear posture. Thus, the superpowers cooperated to quell Arab fears, and to smooth Egyptian aspirations for its own nuclear military program. The US and the USSR averted a nuclear cascade in Middle East, but the final balance was unfavorable to Moscow: the Israeli nuclear option became a strategic asset for the West in the struggle for the Middle East.

Paper presenter: Reza Jafari and Morteza Ghanoun (International Institute of Social History), “Oil, Labour and Revolutions in the Middle East: The Case of Iran”
A decisive factor that contributed to the remarkable growth in the Western economy and the accompanying significant improvement in material prosperity throughout the twentieth century was access to an ample and reliable oil supply. Since the discovery of oil and its mass production in the Middle East in the early twentieth century, the international relations system has largely been based on a distinction between oil producing and oil importing countriesAfter consolidating his power in the 1950s and using increased oil profits, Mohammad Reza Shah embarked on a massive modernisation project, under which Iran experienced significant socio-economic changes. The oil revenue that flowed into Iran served to industrialise the country, previously agrarian driven, and created a sizable working class, with some 2.5 million people employed in manufacturing, and 70,000-80,000 workers in the key oil industry. Despite the Shah's intended efforts to secularise the society coupled with his attemptsto implement massive socio-economic reforms, the religio-political forces remained to be notably active. While in the political developments of the 1940s and the crises of the early 1950s, the influence of the left and nationalists on the ranks of the staff of the oil industry was paramount, in the absence of organised political opposition in the years leading to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the core of political activities amongst the mainstream industries gradually adapted certain Islamic dimensions in the 1960?s. Some strike committees, controlled by the religious forces, were the channels through which the working class expressed its opposition to the government. This was aided by the fact that throughout his rule, the Shah was reluctantly more tolerant of religious opposition, while other social forces were silenced considerably. The oil workers' late, yet all-out, participation in the Revolution proved to be vital to the success of the Revolution. With the oil price hikes of the 1970s, reportedly improved living condition and evidently a massive social benefit system in effect, the question, however, remains as to why the oil workers joined the Revolution of 1979. In addressing this fundamental question, this paper focuses on the oil workers? socialconditions in order to analyse the possible trends, influences and pressures that caused them to join the Revolution. Emphasising the vital role played by the oil workers during the Revolution, this paper further explores the workers' perceptions and expectations of the Revolution and how it affected their everyday life in the immediate post-Revolution era.

Paper presenter: Timo Behr (Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Finland), “Europe and the Islamic Revolution: The Cases of Germany and France”
This paper aims to provide a fresh look at the impact of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran on European policies and perceptions of political Islam, based on case studies of the policy establishments in Germany and France. Iran?s Islamic Revolution was a watershed eventwith wide-ranging repercussions not only for regional politics, but also European politics and perceptions of Islam more generally. It is commonly perceived that the Revolution served as the starting point for the spread of Islamist movements and parties throughout the wider Middle East and into Europe throughout the 1980s and 90s. As a result, the Revolution has served as a reference point for European policy-makers when evaluating their subsequent policy positions toward political Islam in internal and external affairs. Given the importance of the Islamic Revolution, this paper will seek to understand a) what image of political Islam was formed by the two foreign policy establishments at the time and b) in how far this image impacted the subsequent policydevelopments of France and Germany towards the Islamic Republic of Iran specifically and political Islam more generally. To do so, the paper will draw on recently opened resources in the diplomatic archives of Germany and France that will be consulted in the course of early 2010. The hypothesis the paper seeks to support is that European countries have developed differentiated threat perceptions of political Islam as a result of their readings and experiences at the time of the Iranian Revolution.