Contemporary History of the Arab World


[Henry Laurens]

The Institute of the Contemporary World supervises a series of research projects developed by Professor Henry Laurens that aim to better understand the dynamics affecting the Arab world in its interrelations with its Western counterparts. The nineteenth century was a turning point in the formation of the Arab political scene as we know it. It has been driven by endogenous movements, such as economic and social changes in the various societies or the formation of new political ideas (Islamism Arabism, Nasserism, etc.) and by exogenous processes related to the European expansion that structured the East as an object of study, a territorial conquest, and varying spheres of influence. The Chair’s approach is both “annalitical” – constructing a narrative of the Arab East – and analytical, providing problematized frameworks to reflect on this part of the world and its societies. Ceaseless updating from new sources and the study of the latest developments extend analysis of the field from the nineteenth century to the second decade of our twenty-first century.

Research Theme 1

The Palestinian question. The recreation of the holy land and the emergence of the Eastern question at the turn of the 1830s brought East and West into Palestine, a territory that has become extremely valuable. A crossover study of endogenous and exogenous dynamics centered on the Palestine conflict reveals both the main political force on the Arab scene for two centuries and complex patterns at the local, regional, and international levels.

Research Theme 2

World War I in the East. If we chose 1914 as the date the war began, it is significant for the Ottoman Empire only if we examine the last decades of a disappearing empire. The challenge is to provide a better understanding of largely neglected areas of research – Ottoman Arab provinces – and to provide an analysis of the war as a whole in the East.

Research Theme 3

Contemporary political culture. Following a study of contemporary political autobiographies, an analysis of "current" situations beginning in 2011 reveals the emergence of two structuring processes: one revolutionary, fundamentally changing ways of acting and leading to the emergence of new players, and the other, institutional attempts by Arab states and their leaders to offer coercive and/or structural responses to normalize new orders born of revolutionary upheaval. Egypt and Syria have received special attention in this context.

Research Theme 4

Political movements. A study of the construction of the modern state, a process that is well advanced in the West, is based on the analysis of the special case of Syria. A monographic approach is required given the silence of historiography for this country. Two other projects have been initiated. One is the study of bilateral relations between the Middle East and Europe through the case of Syria and France; the other studies a singular political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.