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Article

Babatha  

Kimberley Czajkowski

Babatha was a Jewish woman who lived in the province of Roman Arabia in the first half of the 2nd century ce. Her documents were found wrapped up in a leather purse in the Cave of Letters, near the Dead Sea. Babatha’s archive is multilingual and dates from before and after the annexation of the region in 106 ce. It consists of legal and administrative documents, including marriage contracts, deeds of gift, land registrations, and two cases of litigation that were aimed at the court of the Roman governor. The archive therefore sheds light on various aspects of the life of one particular Jewish family in this era, particularly on everyday legal transactions in the newly annexed province and “on the ground” reactions of imperial inhabitants to the new ruling power.Babatha was a Jewish woman who lived in the province of Roman Arabia in the first half of the .

Article

The Indian Ocean and Africa  

Edward A. Alpers

The Indian Ocean has occupied an important place in the history of Africa for millennia, linking the continental land mass to the peoples, products, and ideas of the wider Indian Ocean world (IOW). Central to this relationship are environmental factors, including the biannual operation of monsoon winds, which determined the maritime movement of people, things, and ideas. The earliest of these connections involve the movement of food crops, domestic animals, and commensals both from and into Africa and its offshore islands. From the beginnings of the Current Era, Africa was an important Indian Ocean source of valuable commodities, such as ivory and gold; in more recent times, hardwood products like mangrove poles, and agricultural products like cloves, coconuts, and copra gained economic prominence. Enslaved African labor also had a long history in the IOW, the sources and destinations for the export trade varying over time. In addition, for centuries many different Indian Ocean immigrant communities played important roles as settlers, merchants, sailors, and soldiers. In the realm of culture and ideas, African music, dance, and spiritual concepts accompanied those Africans who were forcibly removed from the continent to the different Indian Ocean lands where they were enslaved. A further indicator of Indian Ocean connectivity is Islam, the introduction of which marks an important watershed in African history. The human settlement of Madagascar marks another significant Indian Ocean connection for Africa. At different times and in different ways, colonial rule—Portuguese, Dutch, Omani, French, and British—tied eastern African territories to India, Arabia, and Southeast Asia. Since regaining independence, African nation-states have established a variety of new linkages to other Indian Ocean states.

Article

Africans in the Indian Ocean World  

Richard B. Allen

The African diaspora in the Indian Ocean is inextricably intertwined with slavery and slave trading in an oceanic world that encompasses southern and eastern Africa, the Red Sea, the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, South Asia, the Indonesian archipelago, and parts of East Asia. A combination of factors, including the cost of free labor, high morbidity and mortality rates from diseases such as malaria and smallpox, and the perceived attributes of different African peoples spurred the exportation by Arab, Muslim, and Swahili merchants of an estimated 2.9–3.65 million men, women, and children from diverse populations in southern and eastern Africa, Madagascar, and the Horn of Africa to Arabia, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and Southeast Asia between 800 and c.1900. European involvement in this transoceanic slave trade began during the early 16th century and continued well into the 19th century. This diaspora’s legacy includes the presence of communities of African descent in modern Iran, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Article

West Africa and the Middle East since 1900  

Oliver Coates

West Africa has long-standing economic, religious, cultural, and military ties to the Middle East and North Africa. Historical links between the two regions include centuries of pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, educational travel to Al-Azhar University in Egypt, and trading and religious links with the Arabian Peninsula and Maghreb. The years from 1900 to c. 2020 can be divided into three periods: the colonial era until 1960, the years of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism from 1956 to around 1979, and the intensification of political and religious contact after 1979, with Saudi Arabia and Iran playing prominent roles. In the 21st century, trading relations have intensified and diversified, involving new interventions by Turkey, the Gulf States, and Morocco, while Middle East and North African actors, both state and nonstate, were closely implicated in the destabilization of the Sahel in the 2010s, including providing military, intelligence, and ideological support to West African states and terrorist groups. Since 1900, significant issues and ideas affecting interactions between the Middle East and West Africa included pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, Salafi and Wahhabi thought, spanning far beyond jihadist ideas to incorporate social and political critique, and new formulations of shiʾi Muslim identity following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Importantly, Africans actively appropriated and developed these ideas for diverse ends, mounting their own interpretations of the Middle East, ranging from ʿulema settling in Mecca to shiʾa students in Iran, Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem, and the search of West African Jews for recognition by Israel.

Article

Scandal  

Tarek El-Ariss

What does scandal designate? Is it a narrative of moral outrage, a titillating spectacle of shame, or a violation that simultaneously unsettles and consolidates norms and traditions? Scandal as a phenomenon, event, and analytical category has been the focus of debates and representations in works by Kant, Heidegger, Rousseau, Sade, and Mme de Sévigné, as well as in The Arabian Nights. These engagements with scandal in philosophy, literature, and media constitute a genealogy if not a tradition that emphasizes the relations between scandal and the body, gender, story-telling, visuality, marginality, and power. From the body of Aphrodite that frames scandal in the Greek mythological context to the body of Egyptian activist and nude blogger Alyaa Elmahdi, adulterous affairs and fantasies of debauchery particularly have been used as instruments to critique the rich and powerful but also to oppress women and sexual minorities. What becomes of scandal in the age of the Internet, apps, and social media? The article examines whether the digital is bringing about the demise of scandal as an affective scene that generates outrage and condemnation but also as a model of telling and representing tied to antiquated reportage genres, gossip scenes, and fictional models.

Article

Saudi Arabia-US Relations  

Victor McFarland

The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has shaped the history of both countries. Soon after the Saudi kingdom was founded in 1932, American geologists discovered enormous oil reserves near the Persian Gulf. Oil-driven development transformed Saudi society. Many Americans came to work in Saudi Arabia, while thousands of Saudis studied and traveled in the United States. During the mid-20th century, the American-owned oil company Aramco and the US government worked to strengthen the Saudi regime and empower conservative forces in the kingdom—not only to protect American oil interests, but also to suppress nationalist and leftist movements in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. The partnership was complicated by disagreement over Israel, triggering an Arab oil embargo against the United States in 1973–1974. During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest oil exporter, nationalized Aramco, and benefited from surging oil prices. In partnership with the United States, it used its new wealth at home to launch a huge economic development program, and abroad to subsidize political allies like the Afghan mujahideen. The United States led a massive military operation to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1990–1991, protecting the Saudi regime but angering Saudis who opposed their government’s close relationship with the United States. One result was the rise of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and the 9/11 attacks, carried out by a largely Saudi group of hijackers. Despite public opposition on both sides, after 2001 the United States and Saudi Arabia continued their commercial relationship and their political partnership, originally directed against the Soviet Union and Nasser’s Egypt, and later increasingly aimed at Iran.

Article

Oil Industrialization in the Middle East  

Katayoun Shafiee

The building of the global oil industry in the Middle East served as the occasion for one of the largest political projects of technical and economic development in the modern world. Scholarship has long associated an abundance of natural resources such as oil with autocracy in the Middle East while overlooking the sociotechnical ways in which oil operations were built with political consequences for the shape of the state and the international oil corporations. The early period of oil development was marked by oil abundance up to World War I, when demand for oil started to increase rapidly with the invention of the internal combustion engine. The cheapest source of production was in the Middle East. From the perspective of the largest transnational oil corporations to emerge in this period, the energy system needed to be built in a way that demand and overabundance were managed. Oil industrialization enabled the production and large-scale consumption of this new and abundant source of energy but was also connected with striking oil workers and controlling or blocking processes of industrialization in rival sectors such as the coal and the chemicals industries. In the first three decades of the 20th century, the process was made possible through the building of an international oil economy that took the form of production quotas and consortium agreements to restrict new oil discoveries in the Middle East. Oil industrialization projects intensified after World War II due to a flood of petrodollars into OPEC countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Rising oil revenues and sovereign control achieved through oil nationalization triggered the execution of five-year development plans of industrial and infrastructural expansion. The birth of environmental activism in the 1960s–1970s coincided with the end of oil abundance and the fear of the planet’s destruction, spurring the passage of legislation to place limits on the hydrocarbon economy in which the machinery of oil industrialization had thrived.

Article

Commercial Networks Connecting Southeast Asia with the Indian Ocean  

Tom Hoogervorst

Southeast Asian history has seen remarkable levels of mobility and durable connections with the rest of the Indian Ocean. The archaeological record points to prehistoric circulations of material culture within the region. Through the power of monsoon sailing, these small-scale circuits coalesced into larger networks by the 5th century bce. Commercial relations with Chinese, Indian, and West Asian traders brought great prosperity to a number of Southeast Asian ports, which were described as places of immense wealth. Professional shipping, facilitated by local watercraft and crews, reveals the indigenous agency behind such long-distance maritime contacts. By the second half of the first millennium ce, ships from the Indo-Malayan world could be found as far west as coastal East Africa. Arabic and Persian merchants started to play a larger role in the Indian Ocean trade by the 8th century, importing spices and aromatic tree resins from sea-oriented polities such as Srivijaya and later Majapahit. From the 15th century, many coastal settlements in Southeast Asia embraced Islam, partly motivated by commercial interests. The arrival of Portuguese, Dutch, and British ships increased the scale of Indian Ocean commerce, including in the domains of capitalist production systems, conquest, slavery, indentured labor, and eventually free trade. During the colonial period, the Indian Ocean was incorporated into a truly global economy. While cultural and intellectual links between Southeast Asia and the wider Indian Ocean have persisted in the 21st century, commercial networks have declined in importance.

Article

Modern Saudi Arabia  

Fred H. Lawson

Modern Saudi Arabia emerged in the 1920s as the successor to a collection of local political entities on the Arabian peninsula, whose histories are only starting to be investigated. Existing studies of Saudi history emphasize the actions and objectives of successive rulers, most notably the founder of the kingdom, 'Abd al-'Aziz bin 'Abd al-Rahman Al Sa'ud, and his sons Faisal, Khalid, Fahd, and 'Abdullah. Popular responses to the rise and consolidation of Saudi rule have received little sustained attention. Equally lacking is an objective analysis of the pivotal period of the late 1950s, when elite and mass movements for political reform took shape. Instability during this period is generally attributed to the personal failings of King Sa'ud bin 'Abd al-'Aziz, rather than to conflicts among influential social forces. Current scholarship explores the emergence of radical Islamist movements in the Sunni and Shi'i communities alike.

Article

OPEC, International Oil, and the United States  

Gregory Brew

After World War II, the United States backed multinational private oil companies known as the “Seven Sisters”—five American companies (including Standard Oil of New Jersey and Texaco), one British (British Petroleum), and one Anglo-Dutch (Shell)—in their efforts to control Middle East oil and feed rising demand for oil products in the West. In 1960 oil-producing states in Latin America and the Middle East formed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to protest what they regarded as the inequitable dominance of the private oil companies. Between 1969 and 1973 changing geopolitical and economic conditions shifted the balance of power from the Seven Sisters to OPEC. Following the first “oil shock” of 1973–1974, OPEC assumed control over the production and price of oil, ending the rule of the companies and humbling the United States, which suddenly found itself dependent upon OPEC for its energy security. Yet this dependence was complicated by a close relationship between the United States and major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia, which continued to adopt pro-US strategic positions even as they squeezed out the companies. Following the Iranian Revolution (1978–1979), the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), and the First Iraq War (1990–1991), the antagonism that colored US relations with OPEC evolved into a more comfortable, if wary, recognition of the new normal, where OPEC supplied the United States with crude oil while acknowledging the United States’ role in maintaining the security of the international energy system.

Article

Ḥimyar, kingdom of  

Yosef Yuval Tobi

The beginning of the Ḥimyari kingdom is reckoned at 110 bce, when the tribe of Ḥimyar split off from the Qatabān kingdom in the western Ḥaḍramawt, located in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and established its own capital in Ẓafār, located in southeast of our time Yarim. Starting in the 1st century ce, there were incessant conflicts between the kingdom of Ḥimyar and the kingdom of Sheba, whose seat of government was Ma’rib, until the year 175, when the Ḥimyarites completely conquered the kingdom of Sheba. They had taken over Qatabān some hundred years earlier. The religion of the kingdom, as in all other kingdoms in South Arabia at the time, was polytheist, but during the 4th century, the effects of monotheism began to take hold. No later than 384, King Malkīkarib Yuha’min (r. 375–400) had adopted Judaism as the state religion. The kingdom of Ḥimyar remained in a state of constant war with the Christian kingdom of Axūm in Ethiopia, on the western shore of the Red Sea, while the Ethiopians succeeded in even occupying militarily the city of Ẓafār for a short time. The tension between the two kingdoms reached its peak during the time of As’ar Yath’ar’s reign (more commonly known as Yūsuf Dhū Nuwās) (517–525), who acted ruthlessly against the Christians in his kingdom, especially those in Najrān. Because of this action, the army of Axūm invaded Yemen in 525 at the request of the Christian Byzantine emperor, bringing an end to the Jewish kingdom of Ḥimyar. In 531, Abraha the Ethiopian took over the reins of government in Yemen and expanded his kingdom’s realm of influence further north towards the central part of the Arabian Peninsula. A short time following his death, Persia wrestled control of the kingdom, with the assistance of Sayf Dhū Yazan, who, according to tradition, was one of the descendants of Joseph Dhū Nuwās. In 629, Yemen fell entirely to the armies of Islam.

Article

Red Sea Slave Trade  

Jonathan Miran

Together with the Trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades, the Red Sea slave trade is one of the arenas that comprise what is still referred to as the “Islamic,” “Oriental,” or “Arab” slave trades that involved the transfer of enslaved people from sub-Saharan Africa to different parts of the Muslim world. It arguably represents one of the oldest, most enduring, and complex multidirectional patterns of human flow. It animated a series of routes and networks that moved African enslaved people mainly to Arabia, the eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf, Iran, and India. The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden slave trade also constituted part of a broader commercial system that comprised, in varying degrees, the greater Nile Valley trade system through which enslaved people from the northeast African interior were moved via overland routes to Egypt and beyond. Unlike the Atlantic slave trade system, where slave cargoes were commonplace, enslaved people were most often shipped across the Red Sea on regular sailing boats carrying a variety of other commodities. At the peak of the trade during the nineteenth century, a large majority of enslaved people exported through the Red Sea were in their teens. The sex ratio heavily favored females. Enslaved individuals from northeast Africa were exploited in a host of occupations that varied from “luxury” slaves (eunuchs and concubines) to domestic servants to labor-intensive enterprises such as pearl divers, masons, laborers in ports, and workers on agricultural plantations. Others were employed in urban economies in transportation, artisanship, and trade. Estimates based on a notoriously weak evidentiary base (for most periods) put Red Sea slave exports for the entire period between 800 ce and around 1900 ce at a total of just under 2,500,000, though this figure may be higher or lower. The heyday of the Red Sea trade was in the 19th century with estimates of around 500,000 enslaved people exported during the period. The abolition and suppression of the slave trade proper in the Red Sea region took a century to accomplish. It is infamously known as one of the most enduring slave trades in the world and it was only in the mid-20th century, when slavery was legally abolished in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia (both in 1962), that illicit slave smuggling across the sea was choked off. But legal abolition has not ended various forms and practices of human trafficking, smuggling, forced labor, debt bondage, commercial sex trafficking, and in some cases enslavement. These persist in the third decade of the 21st century in most of the modern countries bordering the Red Sea and, as in the past, with a reach that extends far and wide, beyond the region proper.

Article

Commerce and the Agrarian Empires: Northern India  

Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

This article focuses on the shifts in the ways of seeing the history and historiography of the emergence of agrarian landscapes, manufacture of crafts, and trade and commerce in north India, during the mid-first millennium bce to the 13th century. Continued manifestation of settled agrarian localities, or janapadas, with its attendant concomitant processes, is visibly more noticeable from the middle of the first millennium ce onward, though their early beginnings can be traced back to the later Vedic times. The study of the janapadas or localities and regions, as distinguished from earlier regional studies, focusing on the trajectory of sociopolitical developments through time is a development dating to around the turn of the 21st century. It has much to do with the recognition of the fact that historical or cultural regions and modern state boundaries, which are the result of administrative decision-making, do not necessarily converge. Simultaneously, instead of engaging in macro-generalizations, historians have moved on to acknowledge that spaces in the past, as in the present, were differentiated, and there were uneven patterns of growth across regions and junctures. Consequently, since 1990 denser and richer narratives of the regions have been available. These constructions in terms of the patterns for early India have moved away from the earlier accounts of wider generalizations in time and space, colonization by Gangetic north India, and crisis. Alternatively, they look for change through continuities and try to problematize issues that were earlier subsumed under broader generalizations, and provide local and regional societies with the necessary agency. Rural settlements and rural society through the regions are receiving their due, and so are their networks of linkages with artisanal production, markets, merchants, and trade. The grades of peasants, markets, and merchants as well as their changing forms have attracted the notice of the historian. This in turn has compelled a shift in focus from being mostly absorbed with subcontinental history to situating it in its Asiatic and Indian Ocean background.

Article

Saudi Arabia: The Role of the Military in Politics  

Ayman Al-Yassini

More than any other time in Saudi Arabia’s history, Saudi nationalism and the role of the military in society are becoming a major source of regime legitimacy. Military expenditure is exceeding allocations to other ministries, and Saudi Arabia surpassed its past spending on the military to become one of the world’s main importers of arms, particularly from the United States. The process of increased militarization corresponded with the concentration of power in the hands of Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Muhammad Ibn Salman. It ushered in a period of drastic restructuring of military and security agencies to consolidate his rule. On the regional level, Saudi Arabia increasingly projects itself as the leader of the Arab world, including the Gulf region, in fighting terrorism and in direct challenge to Iran’s positioning to assume regional dominance. However, the surge in spending on equipment and training has never translated into an effective fighting force that would enable the kingdom to protect itself internally or engage in military ventures abroad. Consequently, and in the process of consolidating his power, Ibn Salman initiated a number of changes. He secured the support of the younger generation of royals but sidelined the more senior members of the royal family. He pacified the religious establishment and restructured the military leadership. He became deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, Chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs, and Minister of Defense. Ibn Salman’s role as Minister of Defense enabled him to assert full control over the military and national security agencies. Throughout this process, Wahabbism, tribalism, economic rewards, and the steady flow of advanced armaments ensured the military’s continued allegiance to al-Saud and Ibn Salman’s vision for Saudi Arabia. Ibn Salman introduced a top-down plan (Vision 2030) intended to create employment, to diversify the economy, and to reshape the social and cultural life of the kingdom. The kingdom adopted a more aggressive foreign policy, and the military became an important instrument of this policy. In departure from long-standing practices, the kingdom deployed air and ground forces outside its borders. It joined the U.S.-led air raids against the Islamic State (ISIS), and air and ground forces have been deployed in the campaign in Yemen. It also resorted to traditional means of influencing regional politics through financing local allies and the promotion of the kingdom as the guardian of Sunni Islam. The rentier base of the Saudi economy enabled the kingdom to spend billions of dollars to purchase an impressive array of military hardware from the United States, Britain, France, and other countries, making Saudi Arabia among the top nations in the world in terms of spending for the military. However, the military’s performance on the battlefield, such as in the Yemen war, have shown that heavy spending is not translated into an effective fighting force that would protect the kingdom internally or externally. Restructuring the military organization did not produce a modern fighting force. Tribalism, lack of transparency, and discrepancy between ambition and reality continue to prevail. It remains to be seen if Ibn Salman’s national modernization process, including a push to build a domestic armament industry and to reform the military establishment as a whole, will succeed. The challenge for Saudi Arabia today is how to balance its development initiatives with maintaining the traditional bases of regime legitimacy.