Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A prism on SAIS Bologna

A new book on Libya offers a window on intellectual life at SAIS Bologna.

The book, Libia: Fine o rinascita di una nazione? (Libya: End or rebirth of a nation?), was co-authored by Prof. Karim Mezran, who teaches Middle East Studies at SAIS.

Alice Alunni, who attended SAIS Bologna in 2008-09 and graduated from SAIS in 2010, wrote a chapter of the book and moderated the unveiling of the volume at a recent event in Bologna.

The book launch was part of a series organized by the Bologna Institute for Policy Research (BIPR), the research division of Johns Hopkins University in Bologna.

Varvelli, Alunni and Cremonesi
This confluence of research and writing on a current topic, teaching, teamwork and outreach is part of SAIS's mission and consistent with the mix of theory and practice that prepares students for challenges in the work place.

The book on Libya was a joint effort by SAIS professors, researchers and professors from Italian universities. It is one of the first in Italian that provides an analytical perspective on the oil-rich North African country. SAIS alumna Saskia Van Genugten, who is writing her Ph.D thesis on Libya, contributed a chapter on ties linking Libya, France and the United Kingdom.

I talked with Alice after the book launch, which was attended by co-author Arturo Varvelli of the IPSI research institute and Lorenzo Cremonesi of leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Since graduating from SAIS, Alice has worked at the International Labor Organization and at the Center for American Studies headed by Prof. Mezran. (You may remember our chat with Prof. Mezran at the outset of the Arab Spring). She is currently a junior associate fellow at SAIS Bologna.

Q: In a few words, what is the book about?
Alunni: The book analyzes the main social, political and economic aspects of the history of the country from the Ottoman domination till the present. Therefore, it allows the reader to understand the driving forces of current events.

Q: I understand you wrote a chapter of the book. What’s your chapter about?
Alunni: It’s about the relationship between Qaddafi's Libya and Middle Eastern and African countries. In particular, it analyzes the switch from pan-Arabism to pan-Africanism in Qaddafi's foreign policy and the socio-economic and political drivers that determined this process.

Q: Who would read the book?
Alunni: Anyone interested in learning more about what brought Libya to the situation it is in today. Many historical, social, political as well as economic factors have materialized into today’s events. The lack of a Libyan national identity, for instance, is discussed in the book, and this can help understand the centrifugal forces at work in Libya in 2012.

Q: What role has SAIS played?
Alunni: I finished my studies at SAIS a couple of years ago. Through SAIS I was able to nurture my interest for North Africa. And BIPR gives me the opportunity to carry out the research.

Q: What will your next work be?
Alunni: I’m finishing an article for the BC Journal of International Affairs. The topic this year is power shifts, and I’m co-authoring the article on power shifts in the North African region with Prof. Mezran. I’m also working with him on the case study on Libya for a project conducted by the Clingendael Institute and directed by SAIS Prof. William Zartman called “Negotiations in Transition”, which focuses on the role of negotiations among local actors during the Arab Spring.