Fall 2020

Yasir Zaidan

The National University-Sudan and the University of Washington

Yasir Zaidan is a part-time lecturer at the National University-Sudan and a PhD student at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Zaidan’s research focuses on the growing influence of Middle Eastern countries in the Horn of Africa. He follows current dynamics that are shaping political transitions across the Red Sea region. His research focus has partially developed from his work experiences across East Africa and the Middle East. Before starting his Ph.D. studies, Zaidan worked as a research assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He earned an M.A. in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., that focused on a comparative national security system. He received his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Khartoum in Sudan in 2012. Zaidan has published several articles on Sudan’s transitional economy in journals including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Inside Arabia, and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.

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Presentation: Sudan Faltering Transition: The Role Spoilers and Regional Players

Wednesday, October 21

18:30 GST (Abu Dhabi) | 10:30 EST (NYC)

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Last year, Sudan witnessed the removal of Omar al-Bashir’s regime, which had ruled Sudan for over thirty years. The military reached an agreement with civilian opposition groups to govern the transitional period. However, Sudan’s transition is not happening in a regional vacuum as the Horn of Africa is experiencing a new dynamic of Middle Eastern competition and rivalry. This lecture explores the role of regional players in Sudan’s transition.

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Presentation: Politics at the Red Sea Gate: Romance, Tragedies, and Opportunities in Djibouti

Wednesday, October 28

18:30 GST (Abu Dhabi); 10:30 EST (NYC)

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Samson A. Bezabeh

Makerere University

Samson A. Bezabeh is a Research Fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) and a permanent fellow of the African Studies Center- Leiden, the Netherlands. He was previously a Post-doctoral researcher at the  École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and has been affiliated with the University of Bergen, the University of Exeter, and Addis Ababa University. His research interests include diaspora studies, state-society interaction, colonialism, religion (Islam and Orthodox Christianity) as well as issues of citizenship, ethnicity, and class in Africa. Bezabeh is author of Subjects of Empires/Citizens of States: Yemenis in Djibouti and Ethiopia  (2016) and Djibouti: The Politics of a Strategic State (2021).

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Gebreslassie Kiros is an Assistant Professor of Governance and Human Rights in College of Law and Governance and Director of the Center for Citizenship and Public Service Ethics at Mekelle University. His researches dwell on human rights, governance and development in sub-Saharan African countries. He has published in Migration and Development.

Gebreslassie Kiros

Mekelle University

Presentation: Human Trafficking from Ethiopia to the Gulf Countries: from the Human Rights Perspective

Wednesday, November 11

TO BE RESCHEDULED

Every year, many young Ethiopians migrate to the Arab Gulf States where they face human rights violations such as torture, forced labor, imprisonment, disappearance, death, and psychological and physical injury. This presentation explains why a human rights-based perspective to human trafficking is required to address the major causes and consequences of human trafficking and to protect and empower victims and vulnerable groups. This is of utmost importance to address discrimination, inequality, abject poverty, and power imbalance by establishing transparent and accountable leadership, all-inclusive policies, and developing partnerships between duty bearers and rights holders.

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Riham Bahi

Cairo University

Riham Bahi is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University.  Dr. Bahi was a visiting Professor at the American University in Cairo (2009-2018). Dr. Bahi earned her PhD in International and Public Affairs from Northeastern University in Boston, where she also received her MA in International Relations and Comparative Politics. She is the academic coordinator of the Euro-Mediterranean Studies program at Cairo University. Dr. Bahi is a member of the Future Studies and Risk Management Council at the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology. She serves as Associate Editor for Review of Economics and Political Science. Dr. Bahi was a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics at Freie Universität Berlin (November 2017), and a visiting Professor at the Institute of the Middle and Far East, Jagiellonian University, Poland (November-December 2018). Her research interests include international relations and global governance, gender studies, Egypt and U.S. Foreign Policies, Iran-Gulf relations and Euro-Mediterranean relations.

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Presentation: Iran-Saudi Rivalry in Africa: Implications for Regional Stability

Wednesday, November 18

19:30 pm GST (Abu Dhabi) | 10:30 EST (NYC)

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The ongoing reshuffle in the Middle East has generated new competition among regional powers, the resurgence of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being a major one. It is sectarian (Sunni vs Shiite), ethnic (Arab vs Persian), ideological (U.S.-allied vs US-opposed), and geopolitical. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia present themselves as the leaders of both the Middle East and the Muslim world, and their competition has expanded to include Africa. This presentation offers an analysis of the role of Africa in the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, touching upon the strategic importance of the continent’s untapped natural resources and location. It will also analyze the effect of the rivalry on alliance formation and stability in Africa.

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Michael Christopher Low is an Assistant Professor of History at Iowa State University and is currently a Senior Humanities Research Fellow for the Study of the Arab World at NYU Abu Dhabi. He is the author of Imperial Mecca: Ottoman Arabia and the Indian Ocean Hajj (Columbia University Press, 2020) and co-editor (with Lâle Can, Kent Schull, and Robert Zens) of The Subjects of Ottoman International Law (Indiana University Press, 2020). While in residence at NYU Abu Dhabi Low will be working on a new monograph project and several articles exploring the entangled enviro-technical histories of desalination technology, water production, infrastructure, energy, and climate change in the Arabian Peninsula, the wider Middle East, and more globally.

Michael Christopher Low

NYU Abu Dhabi and Iowa State University

Presentation: When the ‘Water Prince’ Brought an Iceberg to Iowa: Muhammad bin Faisal Al Saud’s Frozen Fantasies of Antarctic Arabia

Tuesday, November 24

19:30 GST (Dubai) | 10:30 EST (NYC) 

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Over the last several years, an Abu Dhabi-based green technology firm has touted its plans to harvest water from Antarctic icebergs for the United Arab Emirates as part of a ‘green jihad’ to revolutionize that nation’s environment. Strangely enough, this was not the first time that such a proposal had made international headlines. More than four decades earlier, in October 1977, Iowa State University hosted an international conference on iceberg utilization. The conference was the brainchild of Muhammad bin Faisal, a Saudi prince, who dreamed of towing Antarctic icebergs to provide freshwater for his parched kingdom. In addition to bringing together nearly 200 researchers from around the world, a giant chunk of Alaskan glacier was flown into Ames, Iowa for the event. The spectacle of a Saudi prince and an iceberg visiting rural Iowa played out before bemused locals and an unlikely flurry of international media attention. Though the prince is often remembered for this dubious scheme, his most important legacy was his visionary role in the founding of Saudi Arabia’s desalination sector. Fueled and financed by its massive oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest producer of potable water converted from the sea. By retelling the stranger-than-fiction story of Muhammad bin Faisal, this talk seeks to re-contextualize recurrent fantasies of harvesting polar ice as a way to understand the tangled histories of fossil fuels, desalination, climate change, and green technologies in the Arabian Peninsula. By retracing the emergence of Arabian dreams and schemes for the provision of ‘infinite water,’ we can better understand its intimate connections to the global melting of the cryosphere.

Samar Al-Bulushi

University of California, Irvine

Presentation: Citizen-Suspect: Transnational Policing in the East African Warscape

Wednesday, December 2

19:30 GST (Dubai) | 10:30 EST (NYC) 

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This talk will center the experiences of Kenyan Muslims who have been subject to transnational assemblages of policing that are designed to identify individuals suspected of ties to militant groups. In foregrounding transnational policing, I grapple with the interlinked infrastructures that facilitate the coordinated use of coercive and surveillant powers across borders. I introduce the term ‘citizen-suspect’ to capture both how transnational police power is produced, and how it is lived and contested by its targets. As a socially constructed ‘universal enemy’ (Li 2020), the citizen-suspect is subject to overlapping and coordinated forms of police power authorized by the so-called War on Terror.  Citizen-suspects contend not simply with fear and paranoia, but also with the knowledge that is needed to navigate uncertain landscapes.

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Samar Al-Bulushi is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. Her current book project (provisionally titled Citizen-Suspect: Militarism, Race and Geopolitics in the East African Warscape) draws on 15 months of ethnographic research to explore the relationship between the imaginative and grounded geographies of the so-called “War on Terror” in East Africa. She is a contributing editor at Africa is a Country and her work has appeared in public outlets such as The Guardian, Al-Jazeera, Intercepted, Jacobin, and Pambazuka News

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Jatin Dua

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

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Presentation: Chokepoints: Temporalities of Navigation in the Red Sea

Tuesday, December 8

19:30 GST (Dubai) | 10:30 EST (NYC)

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Jatin Dua is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and director of the University of Michigan Center for South Asian Studies. His research explores processes and projects of law and economy along the East African coast and the wider Indian Ocean region. His book, Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Indian Ocean (2019), is a multi-sited ethnographic and archival engagement with contestations over legitimate and illegitimate commerce and exchange. Focusing on the ransom economy of Somali piracy, the book places protection as central to global mobility to see how a variety of actors from pirates and diya kinship groups in Somalia, to naval ships and Indian dhow captains at sea as well as insurance agents and security consultants in London create and regulate order and disorder within economies of piracy and counter-piracy. Dua's current research projects continue this emphasis on maritime worlds and their entanglements with law, sovereignty, economy, and sociality in the Indian Ocean and beyond through a focus on chokepoints and port-making in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and African mobility and its relationship to global shipping and maritime capitalism.

In an increasingly virtual era, shipping continues to play a crucial role in global geopolitical imaginaries of mobility and circulation. Approximately 90% of the world’s imports and exports currently travel by sea on some 93,000 merchant vessels, operated by 1.25 million seafarers, carrying almost six billion tons of cargo. A critical chokepoint connecting the Red Sea and Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait is central to this global sea of trade. An estimated 25,000 merchant vessels ply these waters on a daily basis. In addition to crew and cargo, some 3.3 million barrels of oil (representing 30% of the world’s oil supply) are also transported through this strait. The story of shipping in these waters-- whether the transition from sail to steam in the nineteenth century or the shift towards containerization in the twentieth century and, more recently, the rise of logistics--is often presented as a linear narrative about the triumph of logistics and containerization and the replacement of one kind of transportation and geopolitical epoch by another. However, in the shadow of this mechanized and seemingly standardized world of corporatized oil tankers and container ports, smugglers and migrants sail vessels once characteristic of other epochs. Wooden dhows, fishing trawlers, pirate skiffs, and old car ferries now full of human cargo also crisscross these waters evading whirlpools, reefs, and navy vessels.  Bringing their own eras into the strait, these vessels make it necessary to navigate not only coral reefs and military interdictions, but also the temporal eddies of a chaotic seascape. Foregrounding ethnographic encounters between these disparate vessels emphasizes the human and non-human energies that make mobility possible in this spatially and temporally crowded strait. In addition to offering a corrective to the seeming triumph of logistics and containerization, tracing the complexities of navigation highlights the multiple histories of maritime encounters and the ripple effects they create far beyond the Bab-el-Mandeb.  In doing so, they show the ways that the art of navigation becomes key to the making and unmaking of geopolitical imaginaries and chokepoint geographies.