Panel 7D

Juxtaposing Identities: Migration, Minorities and Language

9.00 – 11.00
Chair: Paul Rowe, Trinity Western University

No Place Like Home?  Understanding the Attitudes and Identity Maintenance of Persian Speakers in the UAE

James Worrall, POLIS, University of Leeds and Alam Saleh

This research explores the attitudes and sense of identity of Persian Speakers in the UAE. In recent times there has been a tendency to focus on the Sunni-Shia split and to label Persian Speakers under the banner of Shi’as, and while more than 90 per cent of Persian Speakers are Shi’a, this can serve to occlude the nature of an identity community for which religion is not the only source of identity and is also not the only interest calculator. It also ignores the fact that there is no guaranteed link between religion and ethnic identity – Persian after all does not always equal Shi’a. This is further compounded by the fact that many Persian Speakers who happen to be Shi’a are not religious radicals and may have complex feelings towards the current regime in Tehran while maintaining a strong sense of Persian identity.  Based on extensive fieldwork, this research examines conceptions of identity within Persian Speaking communities. We build up a picture of the range of Persian Speaking groups, disaggregate them and understand the specific issues they face but also, perhaps more importantly, we map patterns and commonalities across these diverse interest groups. We explore the attitudes of different groupings by wealth, education, political views and their ethnic background within Iran, not to mention factoring in their geographic location within the UAE itself. This enables us to build up a complex picture of how Persian Speakers construct, maintain and defend their identity and what this entails for their wider attitudes towards a range of issues.

Turkish or Egyptian?:  An Ambassador with Two Nationalities

Büsra Barin, Middle East Technical University in Ankara

This paper examines transnational identity using the case study of the crisis which arose between Turkey and Egypt in 1954 as a result of the Turkish ambassador, Hulusi Fuat Tugay’s critical attitude to the new Egyptian regime under Nasser. Tugay’s wife was Emine Fuat Tugay who was the daughter of Princess Nimetulah who was the daughter of Ismail, the Khedive of Egypt, and aunt of King Faruq. The Revolution thus personally affected the Turkish ambassador’s wife as she had inherited lands in Egypt and became a target of the Egyptian press. The crisis between Turkey and Egypt was occasioned by a struggle for leadership in the Middle East in the early Cold War period and was further complicated by the personal stance adopted by the ambassador in support of his wife. Although the ambassador was recalled shortly afterwards, the repercussions of the crisis continued to be felt in the relations between the two countries in the years to come. This paper thus demonstrates the potential impact of personal identifications as a legacy of the Ottoman Empire on the international relations between states in the Middle East.

Pluralism and the Future of Christian Minorities in Middle Eastern States

Paul Rowe, Trinity Western University

The crisis that emerged out of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings fueled dashed hopes of democratization and liberalization.  The overthrow of previous governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, and the destabilization of other states such as Syria and Iraq, have led to two outcomes.  The first is the breakdown of central authority amid civil conflict.  The second is the retrenchment of authoritarian government. The past four years have been particularly hard on various religious minorities, including Christians.  The election of Mohamed Morsi to the Egyptian presidency and his subsequent overthrow at the hands of General Sisi increased tensions between the Islamist movement and the Christian minority in that country.  The invasion and conquest of northern Syria and Iraq at the hands of the so-called Islamic State displaced thousands of indigenous Christians.  Internal migration and flight defines the lot of many indigenous Christian minorities today. Can there be a future for these people groups, and for those Christians who remain in their ancestral homes?  Building upon the work of Coptic church leader, Andrea Zaki Stephanous, this paper explores the ongoing significance of Christian corporatist and pluralist interest representation amid civil conflict and authoritarianism as a means of navigating the turbulent post-Arab Spring era.  It presents the argument that in the absence of full democratization, group politics remain the most prominent means by which Christian populations remain and seek to influence their societies. The form this interest representation takes will determine the future trajectory of Arab Christian survival in the region.

Labour Migration in Egyptian Public Discourse

Relli Shechter, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

During the early 1970s, one estimate put the number of Egyptian migrant workers at fewer than 300,000. However, by 1980, their estimated number increased by a multiple of five, reaching ca.1,600,000. During the first years of the Iran-Iraq War, labour migration almost doubled yet again, when, for the most part, Egyptian rural migrant workers replaced Iraqi draftees, bringing the total to ca. 2,900,000, or about a quarter of officially employed Egyptians. Despite the dramatic increase in labour migration, it was relatively little studied at that time; the first official research into labour migration only appeared in the early 1980s. Moreover, and this is the central argument of the proposed paper, public commentary was ambivalent at best when discussing labour migration; such migration was hardly perceived as a positive economic opportunity. Instead, commentators often associated labour migration with the ills of President Sadat’s Open Door Policy (infitah), and raised objections to the seemingly negative impact of remittances on the Egyptian economy, for example, in promoting consumption instead of production, and/or investment in non-productive sectors such as real estate, trade and tourism as opposed to industry. Labour migrants, especially those from rural or lower-class urban background were often charged with lack of patriotism, inferior morality, and “parasitic” economic and social conduct. In my paper, I juxtapose evidence taken from Egyptian press, cinema and academic commentaries with official statistics and ethnographic analysis to discuss the gap between fast socio-economic mobility (the economic realities of labour migration) in Egypt, and how it was perceived in public commentary.