Orientalism and international law: the Middle East as the underclass of the international legal order

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Taking Edward Said's ‘orientalist’ thesis as a starting point, this piece considers the manner in which the ‘Orient’ has been transformed by the West into a zone wherein the dictates of international law need not hold. By giving voice to a number of cases – the regime of the Suez Canal, the creation of the state of Israel, aggression during the Lebanese and two gulf wars, UN-imposed Iraqi sanctions, and states of emergency in Syria and Egypt – it becomes evident that international law has been utilized in an instrumental manner. The outcome is a region which has been treated as the underclass of the international community, wherein international law has been, in fundamental instances, interpreted arbitrarily, applied selectively, and enforced punitively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-404
Number of pages14
JournalLeiden Journal of International Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • international legal theory
  • Middle East
  • orientalism
  • post-colonialism
  • third-world approach

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