only search

About Sami Zubaida

Sami Zubaida is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Sociology at Birkbeck, University of London and a Fellow of Birkbeck College. He is also Research Associate of the London Middle East Institute and Professorial Research Associate of the Food Studies Centre, both at SOAS. He has held visiting positions in Cairo, Istanbul, Beirut, Aix-en-Provence, Paris, Berkeley CA and NYU, and has written and lectured widely on religion, culture, law and politics in the Middle East, with particular attention to Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Turkey.. He is the author of Beyond Islam: A New Understanding of the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2011)

His earlier books include Islam, the People and the State: Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East (IB Tauris, 1993); A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2001); and Law and Power in the Islamic World  (IB Tauris, 2005)

Articles by Sami Zubaida

This week’s front page editor


Adam Bychawski is an editorial assistant at openDemocracy.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Islamic Reformation?

We keep hearing calls for an ‘Islamic Reformation’, but the Protestant Reformation was not a liberal enterprise: it was the original ‘fundamentalism’, whence the label now applied to Islam.

Varieties of ‘Islamophobia’ and its targets

The presence of growing Muslim populations in Europe at the same time as the rise of political Islam and the inception of Israel, was largely a legacy of twentieth century colonial history.

The question of sectarianism in Middle East politics

Everywhere the Arab uprisings have been confronted by the entrenched vested interests of old regimes, the so-called ‘deep state’ in Egypt, and by Islamist populism. The alignment of regional powers, following geopolitical interests, has sharpened the sectarian lines. But these alignments are not somehow essential to the region.

Turkey, alcohol and Islam

Now, after a decade of electoral success and economic growth, governing without a coalition, the army neutralised, in control of the media, the judiciary and the police, Erdogan feels free to move on this crucial symbolic issue of alcohol and its venues.

Islam in the Arab transformations

The Shari’a is largely irrelevant to most important issues of policy and administration in the economy and in government. Its historical and symbolic locus is on family and sexuality: patriarchal rights, segregation of the sexes, enforced female modesty.

Women, democracy and dictatorship

In the early and middle decades of the twentieth century it was always Middle Eastern dictators who embarked on policy and legislation which liberated and empowered women in both family and society. The dictators liberated women in the good days, but retreated under pressure, and it was the populists ushered in by ‘democracy’ who oppressed women.

The "Arab spring" in historical perspective

How will the popular uprisings in the Arab world affect the future of states and regimes in the region? All possible outcomes are shadowed by the fate of the contending ideologies and movements - nationalism and socialism, secularism and Islamism, dynasticism and liberal constitutionalism - that have dominated the Arab political landscape in recent decades, says Sami Zubaida. His overview of their rise and fall both illuminates a complex history and indicates the scale of the challenge facing democratic reformers today.

9/11: the identity-politics trap

The reaction to the attacks of 11 September 2001 included an instinctive veneration of their chief architect. Its deeper foundation is a regressive and widespread ethno-religious view of the world, says Sami Zubaida.

Turkey as a model of democracy and Islam

Democracies are about more than elections and majorities: they require genuine separation of powers, autonomous institutions and associations, all regulated by the rule of law. The current Turkish situation is the product of social and institutional patterns, now in question, in which multiple centres of institutional power confronted and checked one another, unlike the centralised and personalised regimes of much of the Arab world.

Cosmopolitan citizenship in the Middle East

As ethnic and sectarian solidarities and conflicts sharpen in this part of the world, it may be worth reminding ourselves of another way of being - ‘new Ottoman’ cosmopolitanism, with its complex relationship to colonialism

Sharia: practice of faith, politics of modernity

The logic and application of sharia law need to be understood in their theological and historical context if intense controversy is to be succeeded by calm and constructive debate, says Sami Zubaida.

The many faces of multiculturalism

Tariq Modood's revised multiculturalism acquiesces in rather than critiques the essentialising, religious mythology that surrounds the subject, says Sami Zubaida.

Islam, religion and ideology

The argument made by Meghnad Desai for the confinement of religion to the private sphere does not take account of the dynamics of modern Islamic belief, says Sami Zubaida.

Democracy, Iraq and the middle east

Iraq had a vibrant civil society and rich layers of secular political argument in the pre-Saddam era. These key ingredients must be reclaimed if democracy is to take root in the middle east, says Sami Zubaida.

In search of British Muslim identity: responses to 'Young, Angry and Muslim'

Navid Akhtar’s documentary film seeks the roots of alienation of young Muslims in Britain and discovers a complex story that starts long before the July bombs in London. Six viewers – S. Sayyid, Max Farrar, Mohammed Sajid, David T, Abdul-Rehman Malik, and Sami Zubaida – assess the film and the issues it highlights.

Iraq's constitution on the edge

The deadline for agreement on the Iraqi constitution is slipping. Sami Zubaida examines the issues that may prevent a workable agreement.

The London bombs: Iraq or the 'rage of Islam'?

Many commentators regard the London terror attacks as Tony Blair’s payback for Britain’s role in Iraq. Sami Zubaida assesses the evidence.

Understanding the insurgencies in Iraq

Will Iraqis unite in revolt against US forces? Beneath the boiling surface of Iraqi anger lies a more complex and fractious reality which points to a different outcome.

The next Iraqi state: secular or religious?

Will Iraq’s new state define its people as secular citizens, religious believers or members of a tribe? Sami Zubaida sees the Iraqi Governing Council’s arguments over “personal status” issues – including marriage, family, and women’s rights – as the latest, vital chapter of a struggle for democracy and the rule of law across the Middle East.

The rise and fall of civil society in Iraq

Iraq's rich social, political and cultural life in the mid-20th century has been crushed in the decades of Saddam Hussein's rule. Now that his regime faces a terminal crisis, what resources from this earlier period remain as the possible foundation of a post-Ba'athist order? Sami Zubaida examines the buried legacies of Iraq's modern history.
Syndicate content