The ACRPS’ Marwan Kabalan delivered the opening remarks at the Second annual
Gulf Studies Forum, slated to become a regular, recurring event on the Arab Center’s calendar. In his remarks to the audience, Kabalan pointed out that the Forum grew out of a pressing need recognized by scholars across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for a venue for scholarly discussion on the Gulf states. Crucially, said Kabalan, such a venue needed to have “a modicum of freedom of expression”. Kabalan used his remarks to illustrate the variety of challenges which the Gulf states were coming to face. These include the growing uncertainty of military security due to the withdrawal of US forces from the region, and the economic challenges posed by unconventional hydrocarbons resources. In addition, Kabalan pointed out, there was also a “wide sense of disenchantment” over the experience of educational institutions and their products across the Gulf.
A third of the four speakers on the first panel was Kuwait University’s Abdulhadi Al Ajmi, also an academic historian, whose intervention was focused on the political exploitation of historical narratives of the Gulf states. Reflecting a wider interest across the Forum, Al Ajmi spoke of how history and historical narratives were uniquely central to the formation of the nation-states in the Gulf. Referring to Kuwait’s recent past, Al Ajmi explained how an individual’s citizenship within, and perceived loyalty to, the state was determined by the historical pedigree of their family and its place in Kuwait’s national narrative. This set the stage, said the Kuwait University historian, for a politically charged definition of history which continued to be a living force in Kuwaiti politics, which Al Ajmi referred to as “historical citizenship”. The attention and dedication which Kuwait and other Gulf states paid to history would eventually come full circle, explained Al Ajmi, as growing oil revenues allowed the state to finance large scholarship programs that sent students to complete postgraduate work in academic history in “some of the world’s most prestigious universities”. Once returned, ambitious young historians were faced with a conundrum: their methodical, hard-nosed approach to history could not easily be squared with the state’s demand for a tame hagiography that “produced praise for the ruler”. With time, these academics would also contribute to the formation of state supported educational systems and curricula. Evaluating the performance of these was a topic mentioned elsewhere during the panel, and at the official opening ceremony.
As a special guest, American international relations expert and author John Mearsheimer delivered a lecture titled “US Policy towards the Region since 9/11: One Disaster after Another”.
Gulf Studies Forum
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