x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fred Halliday: an expert eye on the Middle East

A prolific author and a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics (LSE) for more than 20 years, Fred Halliday wrote some of the most incisive studies of the modern Middle East.

A prolific author and a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics (LSE) for more than 20 years, Fred Halliday wrote some of the most incisive studies of the modern Middle East. His first, Arabia without Sultans, published in 1974, set out Halliday's overviews of national histories in the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. It included accounts of his visits to the guerrilla areas of Dhofar in Oman in 1970 and 1973, at the time held by the People's Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Occupied Arab Gulf. The book analysed the growth of social and political struggles within the states, placing such struggles within the context of the forces shaping the Middle East at the time, and over the preceding decades.

It was the first of many perceptive books, born of extensive research and travel, tinted with his Marxist perspective and honed during the period he spent working for the New Left Review. He was a thorough and far-sighted commentator, and at times, a prescient voice: his 1978 publication, Iran: Dictatorship and Development, anticipated perhaps not the exact nature of the revolution to come the following year, but certainly the fact of it.

Yet, Halliday had not always had such a good sense of timing. For his postgraduate thesis, he travelled to Yemen while it was still divided into North and South. When he finally completed his PhD some 17 years later in 1985, the two separate states had merged. Yemen, he observed, was still, in many ways, a country trapped in the past. On one occasion, Halliday recalled, he introduced a student of his at the LSE to reputedly the richest man in Yemen, a hotel-owner, who had been a minister of health in the first government after the 1962 revolution. His student, fluent in the Yemeni dialect, explained to the millionaire that she wished to do a thesis on the Yemeni economy. The response was: "Madam, I have to tell you: in Yemen there is no such thing as an economy."

Yemen remained a place close to Halliday's heart, and in 1992 he published a book about the expatriate Yemeni community in Sheffield, England. Arabs in Exile: Yemeni Migrants in Urban Britain was greeted as a pioneering study of Muslims in Britain, and was reissued as Britain's First Muslim in 2008. In 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, Two Hours that Shook the World appeared. He explored the rise of Islamist politics, the question of Afghanistan and the Wahhabi faith of Saudi Arabia, in which many of the perpetrators of 9/11 had been nurtured. In the early 21st century, he said later, Saudi Arabia remained a country still shrouded in enigma.

A regular columnist, he explored a host of subjects, ranging from jihadism to the politics of Cuba. A commanding lecturer and a deeply likeable man, he had a wide range of languages at his disposal, from Arabic to Catalan. His final post was as research professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies. Born in Ireland, Halliday attended Ampleforth in Yorkshire before graduating from Queen's College, Oxford, in 1967 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He went on to attend London's School of Oriental and African Studies. From 1969 to 1983, he worked for the New Left Review. He formally entered academia in 1983 when he was appointed to a lectureship at the LSE.

Halliday became an ever more popular speaker on the subject of the modern faces of Islam. An opponent of the historian Samuel Huntington's theory of a "clash of civilizations", he sought other reasons behind the discordance between West and East, including the economic implications for the Muslim world of the shift of economic power from the Atlantic region to the Far East over the past several decades. The Muslim world, per se, he said, was not a threat to the West. What was far more likely to lead to conflict was a complete lack of understanding. Where he could - as in Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (1996) - he sought to shed some light.

He was born on February 22, 1946, and died on April 26. He is survived by his wife Maxine and son Alex. * The National