The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South

The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South

by PAUL AMAR (Editor)


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Connections between Brazil and the Middle East have a long history, but the importance of these interactions has been heightened in recent years by the rise of Brazil as a champion of the global south, mass mobilizations in the Arab world and South America, and the cultural renaissance of Afro-descendant Muslims and Arab ethnic identities in the Americas. This groundbreaking collection traces the links between these two regions, describes the emergence of new South-South solidarities, and offers new methodologies for the study of transnationalism, global culture, and international relations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253012272
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 07/15/2014
Series: Public Cultures of the Middle East and North Africa
Pages: 366
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Paul Amar is Associate Professor of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author of The Security Archipelago: Human-Security States, Sexuality Politics, and the End of Neoliberalism and editor of Global South to the Rescue: Emerging Humanitarian Superpowers and Globalizing Rescue Industries.

Read an Excerpt

The Middle East and Brazil

Perspectives on the New Global South

By Paul Amar

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2014 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01496-2


The Middle East and Brazil Transregional Politics in the Dilma Rousseff Era

Paul Amar

This chapter traces the changes in transregional and geopolitical relationships between Brazil and the Middle East during the first two years of the government of Brazil's first woman president, Dilma Rousseff. Between the end of 2010 and the start of 2013, Rousseff's administration faced escalating tensions with the United States over relations with Iran, military intervention in Libya and Syria, and manufactured "crises" over Hezballah militants in Brazil's southern border regions. This period also witnessed the epochal transformations of the Arab Spring, and the emergence of new kinds of solidarity between state actors and social movements in the Arab region and Syrian-Lebanese diaspora groups within Brazil. In this study, Amar identifies some of the major causes of Brazil's shifts during this period, from politics of personalism to commercial and geopolitical pragmatism, and from "handshake politics" between Third Worldist leaders to a more liberal advocacy of human rights, gender justice, and democratization. He also analyzes some of the surprisingly counterhegemonic stances President Dilma took vis-à-vis the Middle East which challenged the U.S.-dominated global order during this period.

* * *

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first woman president, was elected to office on October 31, 2010, on the eve of the eruption of mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that would captivate Brazil and the rest of the world, and that would demand radical transformations in relationships between emerging Global South countries and Arab governments. Would these surging movements and regime changes in the Arab region, combined with Rousseff's commitment to promote women's empowerment and tackle cronyism and corruption, fundamentally alter the eight-year-old framework of South American–Arab solidarity that her predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ("Lula"), had initiated? This transregional pact had been built as a top-down arrangement based on handshakes between Lula, who enjoyed a popular democratic mandate, and a few aging dictators who had long dominated the region. But now those Middle Eastern leaders were toppling, one after the other.

With her inauguration on January 1, 2011, Dilma immediately faced a vast array of challenges to her ambition to reframe, relegitimize, and deepen a set of transregional solidarities between her country and the Middle East region. Previously, during Lula's eight-year term, Brazil had been instrumental in forming a diplomatic bloc, ASPA (the Summit of South America–Arab States), that had become a key instrument of South-South economic and cultural cooperation and an incubator for cultivating geopolitical resistance to what Brazilians refer to as the "paternalistic mediation" of northern and western governments in the affairs of the Global South or the postcolonial East. In 2003, as part of the launching of the ASPA project, Brazil had even joined the Arab League, granted observer status (Ezzat 2003). Since 2003, trade between Brazil and the Arab region had boomed, especially with Saudi Arabia (Câmara Árabe TV) and other countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Also, the ASPA framework had fostered a myriad of cultural and educational exchange agreements. Under President Lula, Brazil had asserted itself as a leader of emerging Global South powers and an articulator of new forms of South-South cooperation. But while doing so, Brazil walked a fine line between two conflicting aspirations.

On the one hand, Brazil wanted to convince northern powers, particularly the United States and Europe, that South America's superpower was ready to provide "mature" world leadership and would act as a stabilizing force in global affairs. By impressing northern powers, Brazil aimed to prove itself worthy of being named the sixth permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (Amar 2013a; Nieto 2013). On the other hand, by reaching out to the Middle East in ways that deployed rival visions to Western geopolitical and policy approaches to the region, Brazil explicitly challenged the hegemony of those very powers with whom it was trying to win favor. With this more counterhegemonic project in mind, Lula revived the Third Worldist language of the Non-Aligned Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and of the Bandung Conference (Prashad 2007). Although in the mid-twentieth century Brazil had not been a member of those forums, by the dawn of the twenty-first, Brazil belatedly took up these banners and revived their claims and ideologies, in certain contexts. Lula's Brazil came to articulate in certain forums such as the G20, a Third Worldist or Bandung-type language of South-South solidarity. Lula demanded the articulation of a third path between capitalism and communism, integrating Brazilian nationalism and center-left populism with a new Global South–centered multilateralism aimed at ending northern dominance in world ordering. This southern multilateralist and counterhegemonic vision was launched at a moment when the United States' reputation as a global leader was at its lowest point in modern history, during the administration of George W. Bush. Brazil began reaching out to the Middle East in 2003 in the context of record-setting mass mobilizations (Folha de S. Paulo 2003) within Brazil (and across the Global South) against the U.S. war in Iraq, and in the context of the reemergence of millions of Brazilians of Syrian-Lebanese descent as a conscious identity group and collective lobbying force within Brazilian political society.

By the time Dilma Rousseff was inaugurated in January 2011, the events of the Arab Spring, debates at the UN about admission of the Palestinian Authority as a state, and controversy over Iran's nuclear program rendered it more difficult for Brazil to maneuver in this space of geopolitical contradiction where it strived to serve as the Global North's Security Council apprentice all the while acting as a neo–Third Worldist architect of counterhegemony. The uprisings, revolutions, and civil wars that swept through the Middle East, starting coincidentally at the moment of Dilma's election to the presidency, forced Brazil to put its cards on the table and to make hard choices. Also troubling Dilma immediately after her election, the United States had begun to assert a more aggressive and interventionist posture in South America, itself. U.S. president Obama did meet with Rousseff in the White House in 2012 and visited Brazil in 2011 and 2012, offering soaring progressive rhetoric and talk of partnership and solidarity. But behind the speechmaking, the United States under Obama had reestablished its dark ties to archconservative military and economic elites within Latin America and taken desperate measures to curb the spread of Latin America's "pink tide" of leftist and socialist governments. In this context, the United States had begun to target what it had identified as a growing menace of "terrorism" among Lebanese-Brazilian merchants in the southwest of Brazil, which the U.S. State Department claimed had been infiltrated by Hezballah elements.

Lula's summits and speeches had laid the groundwork for a new era of trans-regional collaboration between South America and the Middle East. But in the subsequent Rousseff era, whose side would Brazil take when significant strife split the Arab region or when Middle East conflict began to be identified as destabilizing the borders within South America itself? With whom would Brazil stand when NATO and UN Security Council interventions unleashed military intervention in Libya and perhaps Syria? Whose side would Brazil take, when its public- and private-sector commercial and investor interests, tied to contracts signed by authoritarian rulers, were pitted against the interests of Arab democratic social movements?

In the chapter below I will explore Brazil–Middle East political relations and transregional solidarities during the first years of Dilma Rousseff's administration, covering the period from late 2010 through the beginning of 2013. During this incredibly challenging and dynamic time, the Brazilian government came to maintain an increasingly consistent and strong posture vis-à-vis the Middle East on the diplomatic front, augmenting Lula's personalistic approach with new substance and consistency. I argue that increased assertions of Arab-Brazilians as political actors on the domestic front, and an increasing awareness of Brazil's leverage in a multipolar world order where Russia, China, the African Union, and other powers were acting increasingly independently of Western agendas, gave Brazil a new set of incentives and opportunities. In this context, President Dilma realized that her country could not afford to kowtow to U.S. militarism and interventionism in the Middle East or abide U.S. meddling in affairs close to Brazil's own borders in South America. But in pursuing an agenda increasingly independent of that of the United States, Brazil had to make the painful decision to set aside what for more than a generation had been perhaps its number one foreign policy goal: that of winning a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and thereby being recognized officially as a first-tier world power. But after freeing itself from this goal, Brazil would strike out confidently, providing leadership on several geopolitical fronts in the post–Arab Spring era. This shift would mark Brazil–Middle East relations and transregional cooperation in ways that gravitated more toward a counterhegemonic stance, but one which would represent a pragmatically defined "BRICS alternative" more than a revival of the more visionary agenda of the Bandung Conference.

Below I will explore these transregional political debates and some of their social and cultural dimensions. First, I will focus on the Rousseff administration's stance on regime change and popular sovereignty during the Arab Spring events that erupted at the very moment the president took office. Second, I will examine Brazil's insistence on standing up as an alternative voice, articulating a UN-centered South-South dialogue modality for resolving tensions around Iran's nuclear program. Third, I will analyze the significant breaks with western powers that took place around Brazil's leading opposition to military-humanitarian interventions in Syria and Libya. And finally, I will explore Dilma's strong stance against U.S. meddling in South American affairs, particularly her evisceration of U.S. support for the "coup" against President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, which she saw as preemptive U.S. aggression against groups the Obama administration had identified as "Lebanese terrorists" based in southwest Brazil.

Democratic Insurgencies Challenge the "Crony Club" of ASPA

How did the Rousseff administration respond to the mass social movements that drove the first wave of Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen? The popular uprisings and mass protests against dictators in the Arab world that began in late 2010 highlighted contradictions that had been latent within the ASPA transregional process from the beginning. The pairing of South American and Arab region blocs may have represented from the start a revolutionary shift in South-South relations, but it also embodied an essential paradox. Yes, many South American countries did have long histories of connection to the Middle East through immigrant populations, trade relationships, and some common experiences of European colonialism and repressive interference by northern powers during the Cold War. However, by the 2000s, the political profiles of the two regions could not have been more distinct.

In South America since the 1980s, a spectrum of strong social movements—including massive labor organizations, visible human-rights movements, land reform occupations, anti-militarization campaigns, participatory budgeting and governance reform movements, and mobilizations for women's empowerment, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, recognition of indigenous peoples, and racial justice—had managed to overthrow regimes of political repression and military rule. These movements had unseated authoritarian rulers and corrupt presidents and had pushed for the writing of new, thoroughly democratic constitutions. Then, starting in the late 1990s, these same social mobilizations and constitutional changes in South America brought to power, through free and fair elections, a series of progressive governments. These included center-left governments in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil; progressive populists in Peru and, for a time, Paraguay; and even several revolutionary socialist governments in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. During the 2000s, these progressive administrations stabilized their rule and established durable popularity and legitimacy for the long term within their own countries, through inclusive policy programs that eventually managed to impress and win over business classes and certain military elites in their own societies.

But this trend toward leftist, populist, and social-democratic government, often called Latin America's "pink tide," was not reflected in any analogous processes in the Arab region during the years that immediately followed the signing, on May 11, 2005, of the Brasilia Declaration, which founded the South American–Arab bloc, ASPA. This meant that in the early years of the ASPA collaboration, popularly elected progressive heads of state from South America placed themselves in the difficult position of negotiating declarations of solidarity and shaping common visions with Arab counterparts who were military dictators, absolute monarchs, and intensely repressive and corrupt presidents. These Arab leaders resembled, all too clearly, the regime leaders that had arrested and tortured these very same South American presidents back in the 1970s when many of these leaders were engaged in brave struggles against dictatorship. Thus for the first years of the ASPA bloc, many social movement actors and human-rights groups throughout South America were enraged to see their leaders act to exclude clauses about democracy, human rights, gender and sexuality rights, and accountability from their accords with these Arab leaders. For example, in March 2004 Brazil withdrew its support for a UN Commission on Human Rights resolution on LGBT rights and protection against non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (which Brazil itself had originally initiated) in response to the pressure from its Arab ASPA partners (Ontario Consultants 2009); and in May 2005, Brazil allowed for a clause about the importance of democracy and free elections to be stricken from the founding accord of ASPA (Ministério das Relações Exteriores 2005). For a time, geopolitical maneuvering—specifically the need to produce a transregional South-South alliance that could start to counterbalance the centrality of the United States and Europe, which was at war across the Middle East—overwhelmed, all too easily, the democratic and social-justice principles of the pink tide countries.

Some of the reasons for this tendency to sideline issues of democracy, rights, and social justice in this transregional process can be traced to very specific conjunctures and relations, such as the fact that during the George W. Bush administration, U.S. policies and wars had become so profoundly loathed by public opinion in the South American region that popular media outlets in countries like Brazil and Argentina portrayed Arab dictators as heroic resistance actors standing up against Uncle Sam. Also, many of the new leftist leaders of the pink tide countries had grown up feeling great admiration for the anti-colonial revolutions in the Arab world—the Algerian war of independence, Gaddafi's overthrow of the Italian-backed monarchy in Libya, Nasser's Arab Socialist movement in Egypt. These Arab regimes or their direct inheritors were still in power in the 2000s. So South American leaders' nostalgia for and old loyalties to these once-radical Arab governments made it difficult, at first, to recognize that these "revolutionary" regimes had been morphed into oligarchies of gross corruption, repressive atrocities, neoliberal authoritarianism, and political exclusion. But it was not just anti-Bush sentiment and misplaced nostalgia that shaped South America's, and particularly Brazil's, initial ability to discard human rights and social-justice agendas as it pursued transregional solidarity with the Arab world. There were other structural and political-cultural factors that rendered the regions more comfortable with each other's more repressive policy aims and power structures.


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Table of Contents

Introduction Paul Amar

Part I. South-South Relations, Security Politics, Diplomatic History
1. The Middle East and Brazil: Transregional Politics in the Dilma Rousseff Era Paul Amar
2. The South America-Arab States Summit: Historical Contexts of South-South Solidarity and Exchange Paulo Daniel Farah
3. Brazil’s Relations with the Middle East in the "Oil Shock" Era: Pragmatism, Universalism, and Developmentalism in the 1970s Carlos Ribeiro Santana
4. Palestine/Israel Controversies in the 1970s and the Birth of Brazilian Transregionalism Monique Sochaczewski
5. Terrorist Frontier Cell or Cosmopolitan Commercial Hub? The Arab and Muslim Presence at the Border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina Fernando Rabossi

Part II. Race, Nation and Transregional Imaginations
6. Tropical Orientalism: Brazil’s Race Debates and the Sephardi-Moorish Atlantic Ella Shohat and Robert Stam
7. Slave Barracks Aristocrats: Islam and the Orient in the Work of Gilberto Freyre Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
8. Islamic Transnationalism and Anti-Slavery Movements: The Malê Rebellion as Debated by Brazil’s Press, 1835-1838 José T. Cairus
9. Brazil and Its Middle Eastern Populations: A Transnational Intellectual Sphere María del Mar Logroño Narbona
10. The Politics of Anti-Zionism and Racial Democracy in Homeland Tourism John Tofik Karam
11. Rio de Janeiro’s Global Bazaar: Syrian, Lebanese, and Chinese Merchants in the Saara Neiva Vieira da Cunha and Pedro Paulo Thiago de Mello
12. Muslim Identities in Brazil: Engaging Local and Transnational Spheres Paulo Gabriel Hilu da Rocha Pinto

Part III. Literature and Transregional Media Cultures
13. Telenovelas and Muslim Identities in Brazil Silvia M. Montenegro
14. Turco Peddlers, Brazilian Plantationists, and Transnational Arabs: The Genre Triangle of Levantine-Brazilian Literature Silvia C. Ferreira
15. Multiple Homelands: Heritage and Migrancy in Brazilian Mahjari Literature A

What People are Saying About This

George Mason University - Bassam Haddad

[A] pathbreaking journey toward a new scope and scale for transnational scholarship. This fine volume offers a set of groundbreaking analyses of the transregional social processes, geopolitical linkages, and public cultural flows that animate exchanges between two of the most dynamic and rapidly changing areas of the global south. Students of international politics, migration history, race/sex/coloniality, Latin American Studies, Middle East Studies, American Studies and cultural studies—as well as journalists and public-affairs readers—will be surprised by the degree of intensity and productivity that have woven together Arab and Muslim universes with Brazil for the past two centuries. . . . [L]ays the foundation for a new sub-field of trans-area studies, and creates a new transnational community of conversations and research agendas that will be taught and cited for a generation.

Emory University - Jeffrey Lesser

The Middle East and Brazil is a sweeping examination of the long-term links between international relations and the creation of ethnic identities in two hemispheres often presented as having only recent contact. Paul Amar has organized a wonderful volume that examines topics like contemporary policy, historical and current immigration patterns, and literary representations. In doing so, the book dismantles the stereotyped dichotomies that often dominate discussions of these regions. With contributions from scholars of different disciplines and a range of academic communities, The Middle East and Brazil will stimulate wide-ranging debate and will become a reference for future research.

CIDE, Mexico - Camila Pastor de Maria y Campos

Fresh and exciting . . . . Provides a uniquely full and balanced view of the processes bridging the regions under study. The transregional approach is innovative and sheds light on both regions.

Brooklyn College, CUNY - Moustafa Bayoumi

In this unique and insightful collection, one which ranges from the 1835 Muslim slave rebellion in Bahia to contemporary Brazil’s myriad political and cultural connections with today’s Middle East, Paul Amar has assembled a probing set of essays us that shows us what critical transnational scholarship ought to look like. More important, though, is the political project at its core. At the heart of The Middle East and Brazil we can feel the subversive pulse of dismantling Eurocentrism beating through the pages of this necessary book.

University of Illinois at Chicago - Nadine Suleiman Naber

This book is a theoretical and methodological breakthrough. From the contributors’ brilliant analyses of the politics of oil, the movement of people, and political solidarities, to their fresh perspectives on the transregional mass cultures of tourism and Orientalism—all between the Middle East and Brazil—this book provides a new conceptual apparatus for de-centering European colonialism and U.S. imperialism in transnational studies and international relations. While many scholars are writing about transnationalism, no book addresses south-south relations with as much depth and rigor as The Middle East and Brazil. The contributors do not merely compare the Middle East and Brazil, but they bring into focus what is often lost in both area studies and empire studies: new kinds of transregional Global South cultural struggles, migrations, and political realities.

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