Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

Nation States and the Political Geography of the Middle East, 1800-2040

Dr William Gallois, University of Exeter

25 November 2014

 
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Dr Gallois focused on examining the borders and shapes of states in the Middle East today and the early history of nation-building in the Arab-Islamic world.

 

The Conflict, Security and International Order Cluster was delighted to welcome Dr William Gallois to the University of Bath on 25 November 2014 for our fourth cluster talk of the current academic year. The talk was entitled, ‘Nation States and the Political Geography of the Middle East, 1800-2040’. Dr Gallois, who is Senior Lecturer in Modern Middle East History at the University of Exeter, focused on examining the borders and shapes of states in the Middle East today and the early history of nation-building in the Arab-Islamic world.

Dr Gallois highlighted different visions put forward by the people who would shape the way the Middle East would look in the future. He emphasised that behind these visions were always hidden agendas, particularly if the people came from the area in question. Dr Gallois used the case study of Algeria to describe the importance of early nation-building in the Arab-Islamic world. He then moved on to discuss the consequences of the Arab Spring on current borders and the future shapes of states in the region.

For Dr Gallois, the Arab Spring can be seen as having more to do with borders than politics. He referenced Ralph Peters when discussing how unjust borders were drawn up by European powers under their colonial rule. He pointed out that the above is the leading point for ISIS, particularly in reference to the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Dr Gallois emphasised that the boundaries of the state in the Middle East are historically regarded as being more open to question, referring to specifically to the cases of Iraq and Syria.

Algeria was cited as an example of colonial map-making. There was no national community before the state of Algeria was created by France. Whilst one may think Algeria could be unstable as a consequence, European powers have underestimated the dialogue between colonies and indigenous people. Dr Gallois talked about Abd-al-Qadir, a local Algerian leader, as someone who divided opinion between locals and the colonial elites. Where the locals saw him as an Islamic figure (religion being a source of legitimacy for him), Europeans did not see him in a positive light. The Moroccan “betrayal” of 1846 was discussed, where the Moroccan sultan refused to believe al-Qadir’s statement that he stood for all Muslims and decided not to support him.

The discussion after the talk centred around borders and Algerian identity. Questions raised included asking in whose interest it is to re-draw the Middle East, what makes the Middle East distinct from other regions in the world, and whether borders are more robust than the we in the West are led to believe.
The talk was well attended by both staff and students of the University of Bath. The Q&A session afterwards gave the opportunity for the audience to interact directly with one of the most prominent scholars in the field.