Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 January 2021
Banditry has been endemic across the Middle East and North Africa. Yet the Middle Eastern experience of banditry has thus far failed to receive sustained academic attention. In particular, the debates stimulated by Eric Hobsbawm's thesis of social banditry have elicited only a few responses from scholars of the Middle East and North Africa, and these largely negative. This chapter, taking a global and comparative perspective, asks to what extent the recent work done in the field of ‘Bandit studies’ helps to elucidate the experience of the Middle East and North Africa. Why has there been such a lack of interest in banditry when the phenomenon itself, and rural crime in general, was so widespread? Why are so few individual bandits celebrated or reviled? What do we mean by banditry in the Middle Eastern context, who became a bandit, why and in what circumstances, what did bandits do and how was this perceived by elites and subalterns, what were the connections between bandits and peasants and between bandits and the worlds of power and, perhaps most importantly, who has written about bandits and what sources have they used? The chapter concludes with an examination of the reinvention of banditry in the in the ungoverned spaces, on land and sea, created by the collapsing states of the twenty-first century Middle East and North Africa.