Idir Ouahes

Department: History
Discipline: History
Research Centre/Unit: Imperial And Global History Network

Project Summary

My Ph.D looks at cultural institutions in the first five years of the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon. It is entitled "Method of the Mandate: Cultural Institutions in French Lebanon and Syria, 1920-1925." These include the press, the education system, the antiquities service and the welfare associations. It asks how and to what extent these institutions generated the spaces for local Syrians and Lebanese to challenge the imposition of the Mandate and, conversely, how far they were instrumentalised by the French authorities to undermine the sometimes violent rejection of French rule that marked the period between the Faisalian experiment (1918-20) and the Great Syrian Rebellion (1925-1927).

Preliminary Chapter headings:

  • The Antiquities Service and the Method of the Mandate
  • Mise en Valeur, Museums and the nascent civic sphere
  • Instruction Publique I: The Politics of Pedagogy
  • Instruction Publique II: The Content of Education
  • Subservience and Sanction: The Francophone Press
  • Sites of Struggle: The Mahjar newspapers
  • Internationalism I: The external press
  • Internationalism II: American Humanitarianism


Aside from this specific research for the thesis, my opportunity to work in archives in various countries has afforded me the chance to work with material on a variety of topics regarding this period (20-25) of the Syrian Mandate. These include:

  • The administrative organisation of the Syrian States of Aleppo and Damascus and, after 1922, the Syrian Federation.
  • The form and content of the early years of Lebanese democratic activity, and France's guiding role.
  • Tourism in these early years.
  • The ethnographic, particularly orientalist, representations at work, in both travel accounts and Mandate administration.
  • The Jazairi family, and other exiles from the Abdul Qader revolt in Algeria and their role in Syria in this period.
  • The question of Ottoman citizenship and the reception of the Lausanne provisions among the Syro-Lebanese mahjar.
  • Questions of borders and the role of tribes such as the Shaalan and Ruwala, primarily from the point of view of the administration.
  • The Quartier Reserves and the control of women's activities.
  • Anglo-American humanitarian activity, particularly Near East Relief and the Lord Mayor's fund.
  • The King Crane Commission and other early American public diplomacy efforts in the region.
  • The Syrian/Lebanese Communist Party.

Supervisory Team

  • My first supervisor is the respected historian of the inter-war French Empire Martin Thomas. Professor Thomas has specific interest in policing and repression in the Empire's territories across the Maghreb and Mashreq. His interests also expand to wider issues of comparative power relations and political economy of the inter-war French empire. Martin is a source of inspiration for comparative questions about the Syrian Mandate and other French (and European) colonies and for tackling deep questions regarding state formation -especially with respect to political and surveillance foundations. He has published a variety of works on these topics.
  • My current second supervisor, Dr. Robert Fletcher, provides a broad historical analysis as a result of his initial training in Japanese history at the University of Oxford. He worked in Japan and was postdoctoral fellow at Princeton before moving to a new interest in the British administration of bedouin communities in the inter-war Middle East. He has recently published a book on this subject, contrast policy in Mandate Iraq, Trans-Jordan and Protectorate Egypt. Dr. Fletcher's trans-Asian experience is of great conceptual value, though his empirical knowledge of the British Mandates are of equal importance to my research development.
  • My previous second supervisor Daniel Neep comes from a more conceptual background given his training as a sociologist. Dr. Neep convened my core Masters' seminar on a 'Historical Sociology of the Modern Middle East' and encouraged me to participate in politics seminars at Exeter. Dr Neep is now an assistant professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Neep's thesis, which integrates sociological analysis with in depth historical research to demonstrate the state-forming role of ongoing violence in the early years of the Mandate and it has been recently published by Cambridge University Press. My own research might be considered a complement to Dr. Neep's focus.

Wider Research Interests

Alongside the specific research topics that pertain to my empirical case study (Mandate Syria) certain wider, though related, interests have spurred on my academic development. Historical questions regarding power relations in specific and the wider questions of state formations and foundations. Historical questions of comparative developments in other French possession and mandates (Transjordan, Palestine, Iraq, Algeria,  African mandates and Indochina):

  • Socio-economic global exchanges. This is a wide topic including military labour (Colonial troop movements), immigrant labour to the French metropole and the Americas, and networks of capital flowing between Algeria, Indochina, and the lesser French possessions. I am also increasingly interested in international solidarity movements avant la lettre: 1920's and 30's networks of labour, women's and relief movements mainly situated in the United States or gravitating around the League of Nations.
  • The press and the French colonial economy in the inter-war years: North African (particularly Algerian) Press
  • 'Cultural Political Economy'- comprising questions of colonial exploitation of culture including the transfer and market for antiquities and archaeological thought and practice including the exploitation of local labour.
  • Labour and progressive thought in Islamic world in the first half of the 20th Century- specifically libertarianism.


Authored Publications/Reports

Roberto Mazza & Idir Ouahes (1st November 2012) For God and La Patrie: Antonin Jaussen, Dominican Priest and Frenchintelligence agent in the Middle East,1914–1920 (, First World War Studies, Volume 3, Number 2, 145-164

Idir Ouahes () Situating the Syrian State: Nation & Education 1914-2014, Citizenship, Belonging and Nation-States in the 21st Century (eds. Nicole Stokes DuPass & Ramona Fruja), (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2016)

Idir Ouahes () "The Maghreb", Islam: A worldwide Encyclopedia (ed. Cenap Cakmak), Forthcoming 2016

Idir Ouahes & Ben Smith (13th December 2013) The Deal With Iran, House of Commons Briefing Papers, Standard Note 06780

Idir Ouahes () "Jamal Al Din Al Afghani", Islam: A worldwide Encyclopedia (ed. Cenap Cakmak), Forthcoming 2016

Idir Ouahes () "Egypt", Islam: A worldwide Encyclopedia (ed. Cenap Cakmak), Forthcoming 2016

Idir Ouahes () "Feminism", Islam: A worldwide Encyclopedia (ed. Cenap Cakmak), Forthcoming 2016

Idir Ouahes (January 2015) Review of Divided Rule: Sovereignty and Empire in French Tunisia, 1881-1938 (Mary D. Lewis), French History, 29/1 (2015), 125-126

Idir Ouahes (14th October 2014) Review of The Structure of World History (Kojin Karatani), Rethinking History, 19/1/(2015), 141-144

Idir Ouahes (27th April 2015) Review of Masters of Mankind (Noam Chomsky), Marx and Philosophy Review of Books,

Idir Ouahes () Review of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World ( Richard Javad Heydarian), Marx and Philosophy Review of Books, Forthcoming 2016

Idir Ouahes () Review of Thinking History Globally (Diego Olstein), Rethinking History, Forthcoming 2016