SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Jet Set Frontiers: Tourism, Hijackings, Petrodollars, and the Politics of Aeromobility from Beirut to the Gulf

Waleed Hazbun (American University of Beirut)

Date: 13 October 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 13 October 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Seminar

This presentation outlines a new research project that explores how different Middle Eastern cities became incorporated into US-centered global regimes of aeromobility and how those regimes were unmade by radical politics, rivals firms, and economic crisis leading to the eventual rise of petrodollar-fueled networks based in the Gulf. It begins by tracing the American postwar efforts to build global air travel networks and an ‘empire of the air’ which sought to incorporate the region of the Middle East referred as the ‘aerial crossroad of the world.’ Over the following decades the politics of the Middle East played a major role in reshaping the nature of these global and regional travel networks. By the late 1950s Beirut emerged as a regional travel hub, displacing Cairo, and enabling Lebanon’s rise as a cosmopolitan business, leisure, and communications center. Even as its own airline persisted through years of regional conflict, by the 1980s war, air piracy, oil price rises, and attacks against tourist abroad disrupted the idea of the American middle class having exceptional freedom to travel (safely) around the world thus challenging the notion (critical to Henry Luce’s idea of the “American Century”) of the US as a global hegemon that served as the guarantor of global mobility. Meanwhile, in the same way that Beirut’s position in regional travel networks enabled it to become a business and leisure hub in 1950s and 1960s, since the 1990s the petrodollar-fueled development of global airlines based in the Gulf were critical to the rise of Dubai and other Arab cities as dynamic, globally-connected urban centers while Gulf airlines now challenge US airlines to forge their own‘empires of the air.’

Waleed Hazbun is Associate Professor of International Politics at the American University of Beirut (AUB) where he serves as Director of the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the MIT and before joining AUB in 2010 taught at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He is author of Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: The Politics of Tourism in the Arab World (Minnesota, 2008) and other studies of Thomas Cook and Sons, Mediterranean beach tourism, and the politics of travel across Israeli/Arab frontiers. He also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Tourism History.

Organiser: Dr. Naomi Leite

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