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Throughout history, the Middle East has been locked in engagements with the West through crusades, wars, colonialism and terrorism. In contrast, their history of engagements with the East has been more positive through trade, pilgrimage and inter-marriage.
This series of lectures gave an overview of the circumstances and impact of the encounters between the Middle East and the rest of the world in terms of politics, economics and cultural norms.
A certification of participation was awarded to those who attained 70% attendance at the 2018 ME 101 Lecture Series.
The talk was held from 5pm to 6.30pm and the registration link was accessible HERE.
Series Introduction: Middle East from the Perch by Bilahari Kausikan [Wednesday, 03 October 2018]
Throughout history, the Middle East has been a key region that affected the engagements between the East and the West. Be it through positive activities like trade, pilgrimage, scientific and literary exchanges, etc. Or negative ones like the wars, piracy, colonialism and terrorism. The introduction to the ME 101 series will highlight the significance of the Middle East on the rest of Asia, in particular to Singapore. The curtain-raiser for the series was based not only on informative inputs but also be enriched with valuable lessons and understanding drawn from the speaker’s own first-hand 37-year experience in the foreign service as well as his personal connections and interactions.
Lecture #01: Birthplace of Monotheism by Farid Alatas [Wednesday, 10 October 2018]
More than half of the world’s population adheres to the three major Abrahamic religions that all stemmed from the same geographic location: the Middle East. What are the significant figures and events in these faiths? What are some of the factors among them that remain contentious to this day? Can their common religious histories be a unifying agent rather than a basis for discord?
Lecture #02: The Ominous End of the GCC? by Mattia Tomba [Wednesday, 17 October 2018]
The signing of the GCC Charter in 1981 formally bound the 6 Gulf countries’ into working together to achieve basic common objectives including economic prosperity and regional stability. Among the notable successes in its 3 decades of existence is the establishment of a central patent office, a monetary council and a common market. Although, individually, a majority of the GCC members enjoy booming economic prosperity due to the abundance of oil in the region, these successes can arguably be considered as sluggish when compared to accomplishments of other unions like ASEAN and the EU. Additionally, recent hostilities between half of the GCC on one side and Qatar on the other, underscores the existing animosity that has surfaced more regularly since the onset of the Arab Uprisings. Is it time for the loosely bounded charter to finally be abandoned?
Lecture #03: The Wave of Sectarian Politics by Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman (via Webex) [Wednesday, 24 October 2018]
Once the cradle of multiple ideologies and cultures for hundreds of years, the contemporary Middle East is now tarnished by identity politics which have seen the emergence of militant/violent sectarian organisations like ISIS and Hizbut-Tahrir (HT). With the aid of migration and the internet, these movements have extended their influence to the shores of South East Asia and beyond. This lecture attempts to trace the establishment, development and impact of these movements with particular focus on HT and its network and influence in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Lecture #04: The United Nations and the Arab-Israeli conflict by Victor Kattan [Tuesday, 30 October 2018]
One of the most protracted of political struggles, the Arab-Israeli conflict has never just been concentrated between Palestine and Israel. It has affected regional politics and even international relations in profound ways. As we reach the 70-years anniversary of the Palestinian Nakbah (expulsion), this lecture took stock of the main political developments that have influenced the Arab-Israeli conflict, from the League of Nations to the United Nations, and the extent to which recent developments in the Gulf may be helping or hindering efforts to resolve the conflict.
Lecture #05: Women on Top: Re-hauling Perceptions of Women in Islamic history and tradition by Sher Banu A. L. Khan [Wednesday, 07 November 2018]
“Oppressed,” “Harassed,” “Victims,” are terms commonly associated with women in Islam. Whilst images of women in black burqas are generally taken as representative of Muslim women, stories of Muslim women lashed under the so-called syariah laws are rather commonplace, Muslim women as sovereign rulers would indeed appear as an anathema. Yet, a study of Muslim women in the past in a variety of Islamic cultures and traditions demonstrates that women’s positions and roles in Islam did not necessarily reflect popular contemporary images of subordinated Muslim women. Indeed, there were sovereign women rulers who ruled Muslim societies. This provides an important counter-narrative to the current absolutist narratives about women’s subordinated position in Islam. It shows how important it is to know about women’s position and roles in different Islamic societies and contexts to understand the complexities and diversities of women’s experiences and how women negotiated patriarchy, religion and culture.
Lecture #06: Rise and Fall of Neo-Ottoman Turkey by Serkan Yolacan [Wednesday, 14 November 2018]
Once hailed as a political model for the Arab world, Turkey has failed to uphold its reputation as a ‘moderate Muslim country that works.’ A decade ago, Turkey was a country of unprecedented economic growth, major political reforms, and a newfound cultural confidence. Today, after a series of diplomatic, political, and now, economic crises, the country is struggling to make ends meet. This lecture explains Turkey’s baffling transformation by placing it within a chain of historical developments that can be traced back to the Soviet break-up in 1991, and analyses those developments within a single narrative, namely that of Turkey’s post-Cold War odyssey.
Lecture #07: From the Rural Life to the Souq by Linda Matar [Wednesday, 21 November 2018]
Food security is a complex and often overlooked topic. While not the entire MENA region is food insecure— Turkey, Israel and Morocco are able to export food products and are self-sufficient—food security is an issue that has affected the region for decades. Countries such as the Gulf states do not have land suitable for food production and need to rely on food imports and other means to sustain food supply and consumption. Food insecurity is also the cause and the result of unrest. Despite such wide implications, these countries are not any closer to resolving this issue which is becoming more serious due to the ensuing conflicts. The volatility has led to soaring prices, disruption of food supplies and lack of investor confidence, causing large numbers of people in the MENA to be increasingly food insecure. Are there solutions to making the region more food secure or is it too late?
Lecture #08: Uprisings in the Middle East by Fahed AlSumait (via Webex) [Wednesday, 28 November 2018]
The Arab uprisings of 2011 onwards were initially regarded as a remarkable turning point in Middle Eastern politics with high expectations for democratic change. However, looking back 7 years later, it is clear that such expectations may have been premature. With many authoritarian regimes in the region now more entrenched and several countries from the uprisings still in turmoil, it may be relevant to call into question the efficacy of protests and popular mobilisations in the MENA region. What are the prospects for either some kind of change or a continuation of the status quo going forward? Can protests in the MENA region be as significantly transformative as in other regions, or should those who are interested in political change seek out other methods?
[EVENT CANCELLED] Lecture #09: China’s Pivot to the Middle East by Eng Seng Ho [Wednesday, 05 December 2018]
Historically, China has managed to stay above the fray in the Middle East, but its actions in past few years seem to hint a change in China’s non-interference policy towards the region. One of the largest importers of oil from the Middle East, China plans to continue expanding its economic footprint in the region through the One Belt One Road initiative. Veering from its usual policies, China has begun to engage the MENA at a diplomatic and security level too. What does China’s involvement mean to the United States and Russia who have been dominant international players in the region? Will China be able to successful in navigating the Middle East’s complicated geopolitical situation?
Lecture #10: Interlacing of the Middle East with Southeast Asia by Zoltan Pall via Webex [Wednesday, 12 December 2018]
Although they are two relatively distant regions, the Middle East and Southeast Asia share a number of common interests. These commonalities go beyond religion, terrorism and energy. In fact, the Middle East and Southeast Asia are bound to each other by a deep historical connection that is even cited in the Sejarah Melayu—a historical and literary text written in the 16th century about the history of the rulers of the Melaka Sultanate and their descendants. With the rise of Asia in the 21st century, Arabia is becoming ever more engaged with the rest of Asia, making it necessary to also look forward and assess potential trends between the regions.