Penn Professor Roger Allen Analyzes the Recent Arab Uprisings

At Penn, teaching students the language, culture and history of the Arab world has been part of the University’s curriculum for more than 200 years. In 1788, the University established what would become the nation’s oldest professorship of the Arabic language. Professor Roger Allen, who came to Penn in 1968, has served in the post for 43 years.

According to Allen, the recent uprisings in the Arab world have grown out of frustration and discontent among “an enormous population under the age of 20 who have minimal education, who have no job prospects, vast numbers of whom are poor, facing rising world food prices.”

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During his four decades at Penn, Allen has studied modern Arabic fiction and worked to improve Arabic language education in American colleges and universities. He also traveled frequently to Cairo, and has been involved in research at the University of Tunis at Manouba and at universities in Morocco. Many scholars regard Allen’s 1998 “The Arabic Literary Heritage,” a study of the Arabic literary tradition, as the standard work in the field.

allenAllen has translated numerous articles and critical writings in Arabic and served as translator for a collection of short stories titled “God’s World,” written by Arab novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. Allen was one of the scholars who nominated Mahfouz for the honor.

Recently, Allen announced that he is retiring and stepping down from his position as Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics, and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Last year, in recognition of Allen’s contributions to the field of arts and sciences, the Kingdom of Morocco awarded him its Medal of Honor, one of the nation’s highest honors. Allen is now Commander of the Moroccan Order of National Merit.

Text by Jacquie Posey
Video by Kurtis Sensenig