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Skidmore College

Lecture to explore the roots of Arab uprisings

April 4, 2014
Rami Zurayk, American University in Beirut
Rami Zurayk

“Bread, Freedom, Social Justice:  The Agrarian Roots of the Arab Uprisings” is the title of a talk scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, April 7, by Rami Zurayk of the American University of Beirut (AUB). The lecture will be in Davis Auditorium of Palamountain Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.

Zurayk a professor of ecosystem management in the faculty of agricultural and food sciences at AUB, says the Arab uprisings are rooted in agrarian transformations. The region is home to some of the world's thirstiest and most degraded lands, and is exceedingly vulnerable to climatic instability. It also exhibits the world's highest unemployment, the greatest food insecurity, the fastest urbanization, and the highest income and land inequality.

In spite of soaring rural migration, the absolute number of rural people is still steadily increasing, and with it, rural poverty. Given this, Zurayk said, “It is hardly surprising that the insurrections, revolutions, counter-revolutions, civil wars and proxy wars that are reshaping the Arab World were sparked in rural towns and fueled by thousands of jobless rural migrants chanting bread, freedom, social justice.”

These events are still unfolding amid a historical and ecological inconsistency. The contemporary nation states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan as well as Palestine were once known as the Fertile Crescent. This is the center of origin of wheat, of which the region has become the world’s largest importer. Zurayk asks, “How did the landscape where farming was born become an empty breadbasket? What political-ecological processes have precipitated the uprisings? How did the transitional regimes address the Arab agrarian question?  Can the proliferating Arab civil society movements play a role in turning the tide? These are the main questions that I will address in this talk.”

A researcher, educator and writer from Lebanon, Zurayk chairs the Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management at AUB. He is also a founding member of the Arab Network for Food Sovereignty. His latest books—Food, Farming and Freedom and 2006: A War Diary—were published by Just World Books in 2011. This talk is an update of his contribution to the edited volume: The New Middle East: Protests and Revolutions in the Arab World published by Cambridge University Press in December 2013.

Skidmore’s Department of Government, International Affairs Program, Office of Student Diversity Programs, Environmental Studies Program, and Office of the Dean of Special Programs are sponsors of this talk.

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