UCSB Professor Garay P. Menicucci discusses nationalism in the middle east
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt stepped down February 11, 2011 after protests gathered hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, an event that is known as the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Garay P. Menicucci, a former teacher at the American University of Cairo in Cairo, Egypt, and a professor of Arab Cinema at the University of Santa Barbara, spoke this Thursday at Santa Monica College about the recent revolution and the history of the traditionally war torn region known as the Middle East. The lecture hall in SMC's HSS building was packed full of students and faculty wanting to hear Menicucci speak. One student, Mirai Taira, said she had come for an extra credit assignment for her communications class, while many other students appeared to be taking notes for something similar.
Menicucci introduced himself to the audeince and posted a large picture of a map of the Middle East at the front of the lecture hall using an overhead projector.
He would go on to explain that the Egyptian revolution, like others now occurring in the Middle East, was based largely on the sense of nationalism in the region.
Menicucci spoke of Nationalism in the Middle East, and how it has driven modern revolutions such as the one that occurred this year in Egypt.
He explained how the Middle East was unfamiliar with the concept of Nationalism until the 1800's and explained that it wasn't until literacy and education swept across the region that people began to identify themselves as members of a nation.
According to Menicucci, racial purity is a foreign concept in Islamic culture, and 90 percent of the Middle East is Muslim. However, there are many conflicting ethnic and religious sects in the Middle East, and European imperialists in the 19th century sought to disrupt the balance of power by using a divide and conquer strategy, by offering land to struggling minorities.
Menicucci made it clear that the modern Middle East is still being affected by the imperialists' carefree carving of territories that ignored all ethnic and cultural boundaries in the region. Treaties such as the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 between Britain and France are still being felt today by warring nations such as Palestine and Israel, or in the conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.
He went to make a clear distinction between European and Middle Eastern nationalism and how nationalism in Europe was anti-revolutionary, but nationalism in the Middle East is pro-revolutionary due to their history of colonization.
"Nationalism in the Middle East is important because the question of sovereignty is undecided in the Middle East almost everywhere," said Menicucci. "First of all you have the boundaries of states that are artificially drawn by external powers after World War I, and all of those states still suffer from disintegrative aspects because of the artificial boundaries and because every single state in a sense, faces the possibility of external aggression against them by European or American sort of or other external forces. So the idea of protecting the nation and protecting your self-determination and your sovereignty is an everyday concern, that's why nationalism is so important to people of the region."
Menicucci broke down the Egyptian revolution day by day pointing out how he paid close attention to the role of his old University, the American University of Cairo, which sits right on Tahrir Square, the headquarters of the protestors in the revolution. He showed a series of pictures on an overhead projector of protestors gathering in Tahrir Square, highlighting the growth of the Revolution, from it's beginning days to it's final "Day of Departure", when millions of Egyptians poured into the streets to support the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
Despite the history of turmoil in the area, Menicucci remains hopeful for the protests occurring currently in the Middle East.
"I think one thing that's positive, especially among youth is that there's a consciousness of human rights and rule of law, and these are some of the main demands of the movements across the Middle East. So I'm relatively optimistic that the young generation is going to pull people through to the right side." said Menicucci.