Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Basic Needs: Palestine Capitalists and the British Rule" by Sherene Seikaly

By: Rawan Lasheen, Eshraka Sumrain and Nourhan Rateb

Cairo, Egypt – On Wednesday, April 9, Sherene Seikaly, assistant professor of history and director of the Middle East Studies Center, gave a lecture critiquing the Palestinian economists and the Arab liberal project during the British colonial rule. Seikaly expressed at the start of the lecture that the topic lies at the heart of her new book, “Bare Needs: Palestinian Capitalism and British Colonial Rule.”  

The lecture took place at the Prince AlWaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Hall at The American University in Cairo, and generally explores how Palestinian capitalists and British Colonial officers used the economy in the 1930s and 1940s to shape notions of territory and nationalism in Palestine.

Seikaly started by shedding light on the Balfour Declaration, which she described as having “committed the British Government to fulfilling…to facilitating a Jewish national home in Palestine.” Seikaly expressed that it was odd how European Jews, who began settling in Palestine in the 1930s, are almost completely nonexistent in the Palestinian capitalist narratives. 

Her take on this narrative dissonance is that Palestinians at the time were occupied in separating the economy from the political arena by “trying to carve out the economy as a discrete sphere.” Herein lies Seikaly’s critique of the Palestinian Capitalists of the late 19th century. Seikaly went on to clarify that, ultimately in the 1940s, it became clear to them that this separation was virtually impossible. 

At the end of the lecture, Seikaly left 15 minutes to open the floor to questions. One attendee’s question appropriately served as a conclusion to the lecture. She asked whether it was at all possible to separate the economy from politics, referring to the Palestinian capitalist’s intent to do so during the 1930s. Seikaly argued that they tried to read politics ‘between the lines’ as the politics present at the time was one that embraced capitalism. She put forth an example where the Palestinian capitalists would say that they’d refuse to talk about the legislative council, for example, as they would leave that issue to the “men of politics.” However what they would talk about is how this legislative council would be good for the economy.

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