Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

How the Gulf War Changed the AAUG's Discourse on Arab Nationalism and Gender Politics

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

How the Gulf War Changed the AAUG's Discourse on Arab Nationalism and Gender Politics

Article excerpt

The second Gulf War (1991) served as an indirect marker of the changes in the Arab nationalist discourses of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG), and in their understanding of gender and politics. During the 1980s, the AA UG subordinated gender and Arab American concerns to Arab nationalism. The financial crisis of the 1990s contributed to the rise of women to leadership positions, the development of a more balanced discussion of Arab and Arab American agendas; and the critique of the US and Arab complicity in the reproduction of gender inequality.

The second Gulf war (1991)1 left its imprint on the identities of many generations of Arab Americans. The postwar period witnessed the publication of some studies which examined how the participation of the US in the war helped to crystalize the gender identities of many Arab American women and their feminist discourses.2 The war influenced Arab Americans in other indirect ways. It led to a new round of intense reexamination of the complex relationships that tie them to their adopted (US) and original (Arab) national communities. Arab American women were not only part of this debate, but they emerged in the post Gulf war period as presidents of two very important institutions: the Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG). The coincidence of having two visible and important Arab American organizations electing women as presidents made me interested in exploring the historical role that gender has played in the development and operation of these institutions.

Up to 1990, men had monopolized the leadership of Arab American organizations and had served as their only spokesmen. In fact, before Hala Maksoud became president of ADC in 1996, the organization, which was established in 1980, had only one other woman serve as president. She was Candace Lightener, the founder of Mothers against Drunk Drivers (MADD). Her tenure as president was a short one, from 1994 to 1995. It came after 14 continuous years of male leadership.3 AAUG had a slightly better institutional record. Between 1967, when it was established, and 1990, it had elected two women presidents. During this 23 year period, Elaine Hagopian was the first woman to be elected as president, in 1976; Faith Ziady followed 12 years later, in 1988. Like ADC, the AAUG has since 1990 elected three women presidents: Ghada Talhami in 1991, Hala Maksoud in 1993 and Nadia Hijab in 1997.

What could explain this sudden interest and recruitment of women in leadership positions in the 1990s by Arab American institutions? Initially, I hypothesized that these developments represented a formalization of the assertiveness exhibited by women during the Gulf War and in its aftermath. I also thought that this increased reliance on women indicated a delayed but final institutional recognition of Arab American women and their contributions.

These hypotheses were fully confirmed by the research done for this article. It included an examination of the publications by AAUG from 1981 to 1998, coupled with interviews with many women who occupied leadership positions during this period. It also showed that the rise of Arab American women to leadership positions within that organization in the 1990s was both a manifestation of, and a response to, the major institutional crises that characterized the postwar period. The war coincided with a difficult financial situation produced by risky investments made by the AAUG in the late 1980s. The weakened economic position of the large and well established Palestinian communities in the Gulf states undermined their ability to support the AAUG during this difficult period.4 In addition, the AAUG's opposition to American military intervention in the second Gulf War, which was interpreted by the Gulf state benefactors as de facto acceptance of Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, contributed to the loss of another source of income. …

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