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Arab Winter?




Has the Arab Spring been followed by a bleak winter? Civil war is raging in Syria and in Cairo the Tahrir Square comrades have started fighting one another. The differences in the Arab world has deep historical roots. In the 12th century Saladin travelled between Damascus and Cairo to keep his realm together. 800 years later the Egyptian president Nasser wanted to create a unified Arab republic including Syria and Egypt. And ever since the times of Saladin the region has been strongly influenced by external forces. From Mongol invasions in the 13th century to European colonialism and cold war.

The Saladin Days 2013 are dedicated to Syria and Egypt, and the threat of an Arab Winter. We have invited scholars, artists and activists who can inform us of the context and history of these countries in order to help us better understand what is going on there today.





... is director of the Middle East Centre, St Antony's College, Oxford. His book The Arabs: A History, published in Norwegian in 2011, is considered a standard work of modern history and he is recipient of the prestigious Albert Hourani prize.



... is senior researcher at the House of Wisdom Centre for Strategic Studies, a writer and Tahrir Square activist. He is a former spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood, a position from which he resigned when he left the organisation. El-Houdaiby holds a master’s in comparative politics and development studies from the American University in Cairo, and is currently finishing a master’s in Islamic sharia at the High Institute of Islamic Studies. He contributes regularly to the Arabic daily Shorouk and Al-Ahram Online.



... is an author and journalist from the Syrian coastal city of Jableh. She is a member of the minority Alawi community, of which Bashar al-Assad is also a member – which made her a traitor when she supported the Syrian revolution in 2011. Yazbek was forced into exile and in 2012 she published the book A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries from the Syrian Revolution. Samar Yazbek has also been a clear voice in the struggle for women’s rights in Syria. 



... is a Syrian scholar, former member of the Syrian National Council and the director of the Arab Reform Initiative. Through her academic efforts, Kodmani has been an important advocate of democratic reform in the Arab world. Among her publications is the book Abattre les murs about the awakening of Arab intellectuals after 9/11.

Tariq Ali.jpg


... is an international author, historian and political activist. He has written more than 30 books of non-fiction, fiction and history, and is a popular lecturer. He was one of the organisers of the big demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, and has been celebrated in song by the Rolling Stones. Together with Norwegian author Thorvald Steen, Tariq Ali wrote the play Desert Storms, which premiered at the House of Literature during the Saladin Days in 2010.





5 PM - The roots of the Syrian revolution
The Saladin lecture 2013
by Eugene Rogen

Eugene Rogan is director of the Middle East Centre, St Antony's College, Oxford, and an international authority on Arab history. In this lecture he examines the historical background of the ongoing civil war in Syria. The lecture is given in English, with simultaneous translation into Arabic.


7 PM - The Syrian civil war seen from the inside
Samar Yazbek, Bassma Kodmani and Eugene Rogan

Syria was one of the first countries to experience the Arab Spring, with protests first being organised against the rule of Bashar al-Assad in January 2011. Clashes between protesters and the armed forces rapidly grew and in 2012 the revolution developed into a civil war. Author Samar Yazbek supported the protests against Assad from the start. Bassma Kodmani, scholar and politician, is a former member of the Syrian National Council and the director of the Arab Reform Initiative. They have both seen the civil war from the inside, even though they had to leave the country. In this conversation they are joined by Eugene Rogan. The conversation will be held in Arabic, with simultaneous translation into English.



10 AM - Is the Arab Winter coming?
Seminar with Bassma Kodmani, Ibrahim El-Houdaiby and Eugene Rogan

The Arab Spring is over, but what happened to the summer we all hoped for? Has it already turned into a bleak winter? In this seminar we invite scholars and activists to discuss the Arab Spring’s current status and prospects. 

Can secularists, Islamists and other groups overcome the deep divides affecting Arab societies that have been nurtured for centuries by dictators? What do the newborn constitutions promise for the future of the region? Will we experience the emergence of liberal democracies based on Western models, or will Islamist fundamentalists gain control, or are there other possible scenarios? What factors will determine what happens in the near future? The seminar will be held in English.


5 PM - Where is the Arab world going?
Lecture by Tariq Al

Starting in Tunis, then in Cairo and then spreading to virtually every country in the region, the Arab Spring was highly infectious. Hope was reborn. Taken by surprise, Washington and its EU allies jumped on the bandwagon, and NATO bombed Libya for six months. The fall of Qaddafi has not been repeated in Syria, however, where an ugly stalemate continues, but it helped to further destabilise Mali and Algeria. Where will it all end, and how? Two years after the Arab Spring, British-Pakistani author Tariq Ali sums up the situation and looks ahead. After the lecture, he will talk with Aslak Sira Myhre and answer questions from the audience. The lecture will be held in English.



5 PM - Brotherhood, sharia and democracy
Lecture by Ibrahim El-Houdaiby

Radical Islam can be characterised by anti-democratic ideas. But what about the moderate forms of Islam – are they compatible with freedom of speech and democracy? The Muslim Brotherhood has been a leading force for change in Egypt. What is the current position of the Brotherhood and what place should religion have in Egyptian society? Ibrahim El-Houdaiby is a scholar, writer and Tahrir Square activist. His family has been central to the Brotherhood and his grandfather was one of its leading thinkers. Houdaiby has himself been a spokesperson for the Brotherhood, but has now left the organisation. In this lecture he talks about the Brotherhood, sharia and religion in Egypt. The lecture will be held in English.


7 PM - Egypt, quo vadis? 
Ibrahim El-Houdaiby in conversation with Bjørn Olav Utvik and                 Amal Wahab 

During the Arab Spring the Egyptian opposition stood together to overthrow Hosni Mubarak. When the regime was gone, however, this alliance fell apart. In particular the divide between religious and secular groups has been notable. Where does this struggle stand at present? What will be the consequences of the new constitution? Amal Wahab has covered the Arab Spring from Cairo as foreign correspondent for the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen. Bjørn Olav Utvik is professor of history at the University of Oslo and an expert on Egyptian Islamism. They join Ibrahim El-Houdaiby in conversation on the future of Egypt.




The Saladin Days are organised with support from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.