Scholars in Context: Mansour Ali M. Al-Maswari
Jadaliyya's Scholars in Context series consists of Q&As in which scholars of the Middle East describe their research and the paths they took to arrive at it. The series provides a platform for these scholars to highlight the significance of their work, identify the audiences they seek to reach, and outline their future research trajectories, giving readers an in-depth look at the latest research in a given field.
Jadaliyya (J): What is the main focus of your current research and how does it connect to or depart from your previous work?
Mansour Ali M. Al-Maswari (MM): My current research revolves around the intricate nuances of Gulf society and culture, delving into the complicated aspects of contemporary Gulf societies encompassing culture, identity, and modernity. A pivotal component of this investigation involves shedding light on the unique circumstances of the Bedoon community within Gulf countries. Additionally, I am examining the relationship between Gulf nationals and expatriates, including in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. These countries experience a unique dynamic where expatriates, particularly those from South Asia, constitute a majority among both the local populace and all Gulf residents.
In terms of thematic alignment, my current research shares similarities with my previous work, yet it diverges in its contextual focus and scope. My doctoral research predominantly centered on the comparative exploration of race, ethnicity, and identity between African Arabs and African Americans, with special reference to selected works of Tayeb Saleh and Toni Morrison. My current research shifts its gaze toward cultural revitalization and the crisis of identity within Gulf societies, with reference to selected works of Saud Al-Sanousi and Wudad Al-Kuwari. A significant part of this study also concerns the segregation and racial profiling faced by expatriates in the Gulf region.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
MM: The research delves into a spectrum of topics that revolve around Gulf politics, culture, anthropology, religion, and society, spanning both historical and contemporary contexts. It addresses several key areas of interest. Firstly, it focuses on the experiences and struggles of marginalized groups like the Bedoon community, offering a platform to explore their challenges and their contributions to Gulf society.
Secondly, my research addresses the profound impact of the oil industry on Gulf culture and society, aiming to uncover how this industry has shaped the region's identity over time. A crucial aspect involves a comparative analysis of social and cultural transformations, juxtaposing historical shifts with the present day. By doing so, the research seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of the complicated interplay between the oil industry, expatriates, and the indigenous population of the Peninsula.
Thirdly, the study explores the role of digital media in shaping perceptions of or about the Gulf people. It examines the influence of social media platforms on the image of Gulf society, particularly among the younger generation. The emergence of digital humanities and its impact on the Gulf's socio-cultural landscape also come under scrutiny.
J: What brought you to this work? What was the source of inspiration?
MM: My journey into this realm of research was fueled by a confluence of motivations that ignited my curiosity. Primarily, my prolonged stay in India provided me with a unique vantage point to interact with numerous Indian expatriates who had, or were still, contributing their labor in the Gulf. Conversations with them unveiled a disconcerting reality: a prevailing negative perception of the Gulf region marred by tales of unprecedented segregation, humiliation, and conditions that seemed reminiscent of modern-day slavery, all under the guise of the sponsorship (Kafala) system and other forms of subjugation. The stark contrast between the economic promise and the expatriates' discontentment compelled me to embark on an exploration of the roots of this discontent. The echoes of historical abominations resonated, and I felt an ethical obligation to amplify the voices of those whose rights had been flagrantly violated.
A second motivation emerged from the shadow cast by the Saudi-led military coalition's aggression against Yemen. Over the course of nearly a decade, Yemen bore witness to a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, a tragedy orchestrated by some ruling regimes of the Gulf states. Unraveling the history, geopolitical alliances, and power dynamics of these states offers profound insights into the motivations underpinning this aggressive military intervention.
Thirdly, my pursuit bore an academic dimension, stemming from a keen desire to unveil the inner intricacies of Gulf society, through the literature of Gulf writers like Saud Al-Sanousi, Abdo Khal, Wudad Al-Kuwari, and so on.
J: What audiences would you like to reach, and what kind of impact would you like your research and writing to have?
MM: My ambition is to foster an intellectual discourse that transcends borders and resonates with a diverse readership. Through research-driven narratives and thoughtful reflections, I aim to contribute to a richer understanding of the Middle East's complex tapestry while bridging linguistic and cultural gaps for the enlightenment of all who seek knowledge. Since my research journey, along with my research interests and academic endeavors, navigates a multidisciplinary landscape within the realms of humanities and social sciences, the objective is to foster a symbiotic relationship between the researcher and the audience, aiming to engage and enlighten.
My research is intended for the general populace, as well as individuals whose spheres of interest intersect with my research—those who seek to traverse the intricacies of the Gulf and the broader Middle East, delving into its politics, culture, and society, even if they are not well-acquainted with the Arabic language and its cultural nuances. By presenting these subjects in languages familiar to them, my goal is to break down barriers and create a bridge of understanding. I aspire to resonate with readers, both those well-versed in the matters of the Middle East and those seeking a comprehensive insight into its societal dynamics. My writing strives to unveil the contemporary Middle East, including its anthropology and politics, with a keen eye for accuracy and integrity.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
MM: In addition to my research and academic commitments, I am currently involved in various concurrent projects. Primarily, I am an active news writer for the Middle East English website, Al Bawaba News.
Moreover, I am engaged as a translator and copywriter for the Association of Abductees’ Mothers, a Yemeni human rights NGO. This involvement extends to documenting instances of abduction, detention, and forced disappearance amid Yemen's wartime turmoil.
My current translation endeavor involves a significant historical work titled "Ruling Shaikhs and Her Majesty's Government." This project casts a light on the relationship between Gulf ruling sheikhs and Britain during the transformative 1960s-1970s era, unearthing concealed aspects of their establishment.
Furthermore, my interests have led me to delve into Yemeni politics and visual art, specifically the interplay between art and authoritarianism during Yemen's wartime period.
Additionally, a research initiative is underway, delving into the “emerging democracy” in Yemen, exploring transitions and the complexities inherent in the political landscape. This research endeavor is anticipated to conclude by March 2024, with acknowledgment by the MESA Global Academy.