Two-day conference explores the roots and attributes of this century's radical changes in the Middle East
As part of the inaugural celebration of UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, faculty from the UCLA departments of history, sociology and anthropology worked with the Center for Near Eastern Studies to organize the two-day conference, “Understanding the New Middle East,” in early February 2018. The conference brought together academics, politicians and other experts to explore the roots of current crises in the region and chart its probable near future.
The crises that have marked the Middle East since the beginning of the Arab uprisings in 2011 are linked to the region’s enduring historical challenges of population growth, poverty, corruption, economic decline, unemployment, drought and religious extremism. But these crises have led to modern challenges of their own, including the shifting role of regional and outside powers now locked in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen, the emergence of new nonstate actors seeking to displace existing nation states and the explosion of grassroots demands that have questioned the durability of existing authoritarian regimes.
Under the direction of UCLA historian James Gelvin (history), colleagues Kevan Harris (sociology), Aomar Boum (anthropology) and Aslı Bâli (School of Law, and director, Center for Near Eastern Studies) created the conference around interdisciplinary themes. Individual panels addressed the topics of “The Arab World Post-Uprisings,” “The Future of Political Islam,” “Art and Culture in the New Middle East,” “The Syrian Crisis,” “Regional and International Competition in the New Middle East” and “Human Security in the New Middle East.”
James Gelvin (History), Aslı Bâli (outgoing CNES Director), Gail Kligman (Associate Vice Provost, International Institute),
Moncef Marzouki (Guest Speaker), and Ali Behdad (incoming CNES Director) mark the keynote address. (UCLA Photo)
Some 20 experts from European and North American universities, policy and military institutions gave presentations, with a UCLA professor summarizing the key points of each panel. Moncef Marzouki, the first democratically elected president of Tunisia (2011–14) and a well-known human rights activist and public intellectual, delivered the keynote address to an audience of roughly 200 scholars, policy makers, journalists and students.
The February conference laid the groundwork for continued interdisciplinary research collaboration among UCLA and external scholars on the pressing issues of the Middle East and their policy implications. Of note, the event also gave UCLA graduate students and the broader Los Angeles community unparalleled access to the most recent research of leading scholars of the Middle East. To spur new scholarship on the region, the conference materials will be disseminated as an edited volume.