Concluding Remarks : Quandaries of Researching Middle East Politics


The conventional Anglophone wisdom about the Middle East is that “they” are mired in timeless, ancient antagonisms and enduring traditions: virtually changeless. Yet during the careers of today’s senior scholars, there have been many surprises: the 1979 Iranian revolution, Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait, two Anglo-American invasions of Iraq, the 2010/11 Arab uprisings, subsequent civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, and plenty of other events. Each upheaval wreaks havoc with research designs. Visas or research permits for holders of foreign passports or stipends can be revoked. Interlocutors or corner grocers may become suspicious. Security agents may follow you around, noting whom you have coffee with. Men, especially, might have their phones or laptops confiscated. A few have been brutalized. Junior scholars must be nimble, flexible, and defensive. A narrowly defined investigation, possibly framed by texts rather than interviews, is not only safe but potentially lucrative. Interpreting “local voices” brings them to “foreign” audiences and encourages dialogue.

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