About Sami Zubaida

Sami Zubaida is emeritus professor of politics and sociology at Birkbeck College, London. 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 guest editors

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 furore in Britain over the Archbishop of Canterbury's cautious references to the sharia and law in his lecture in London on 7 February 2008 has been extensively discussed by a number of openDemocracy writers and from a variety of perspectives: among them Tina Beattie, Fred Halliday, Theo Hobson, Tariq Modood and Roger Scruton, as well as Simon Barrow in OurKingdom.

The many faces of multiculturalism

Tariq Modood is clearly correct in pointing out that common citizenship and nationhood do not depend on cultural uniformity or ideological consensus - which are, in any case, impossible to create in a complex society.

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.

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


As a sovereign nation Iraq is a recent creation. It was formed by the British in 1919 out of provinces of the Ottoman Empire. While its borders may be arbitrary and contested, it does not follow that Iraq does not have the heart of a real nation, shared by the different groups who live within them. Iraq is much more than the sum of conflicting ethnic and religious groups. It is a country where people have developed a sense of being Iraqi.

My purpose here is to explore how this has evolved.

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