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For immediate release: Dec. 10, 2000

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Princeton University Professor Charles P. Issawi, Middle East scholar, dies

Princeton, N.J. -- Charles P. Issawi, economist and historian, public servant and scholar who was Bayard E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies emeritus at Princeton University, died Friday, Dec. 8 at his home in Pennswood Village, Pa. He was 84.

Born in Cairo in 1916 to Greek Orthodox, Syrian parents, he was educated at Victoria College, Alexandria, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics and economics and specialized in economics. His public career began with his appointment to the Egyptian Ministry of Finance (1937-1938) and he later became chief of research at the National Bank of Egypt (1938-1943). He also served briefly at the Arab Office in Washington and then joined the United Nations’ secretariat in the Middle East Unit of the Department of Economic Affairs (1948-1955).

His teaching career began at the American University of Beirut (1943-1947). In 1951, he joined Columbia University and was named Ragnar Nurkse Professor of Economics. He subsequently was appointed director of Columbia’s Near and Middle East Institute. In 1975, Professor Issawi moved to Princeton University as Bayard E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, a position he held until his retirement in 1986. From 1987 to 1991, he served as a visiting professor at New York University.

He married Janina Maria Haftke in 1946. He and his wife arrived in the United States in 1947 and were naturalized in 1957.

Charles Issawi wrote three major books about contemporary Egypt: Egypt: An Economic and Social Analysis (1947), Egypt at Mid-Century (1954), and Egypt in Revolution (1963). All three were epoch-making in their time.

A second major theme of his work was developed in his four volumes on the economic history of the Middle East in the 19th and 20th centuries. These presented a selection of original documents, some archival and some from obscure and almost inaccessible sources, with many translated from a wide range of European and Middle Eastern languages. These documents are presented with necessary introductions and annotations and have set the agenda of economic historical studies in the Middle East. The four volumes deal with the Middle East in general (1966), Iran (1971), Turkey (1980) and the Fertile Crescent (1988).

Another group of Professor Issawi’s writings dealt with the politics and economics of the oil industry.

In addition to his professional and specialized writings, Charles Issawi wrote a number of essays containing the reflections of a well-stocked, cultivated and mature mind contemplating the history of the Middle East over the decades, the centuries and sometimes even the millennia. Some of these were published in a 1981 collection entitled The Arab World’s Legacy. A more light-hearted, yet profoundly serious, commentary on life and letters was offered in a book he named Issawi’s Laws of Social Motion. His last book, which appeared in 1999, was a memoir entitled Growing Up Different: Memoirs of a Middle East Scholar.

Professor Issawi was the doyen of the study of the economic history of the Middle East and the mentor of many of its present-day practitioners.

"Charles Issawi was both humanist and social scientist, and with his learning came other qualities -- wisdom, common sense, tolerance and humor," said his colleague Bernard Lewis, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, emeritus, at Princeton. "Dealing with a difficult region at a difficult time, he managed magnificently to preserve an open mind and an objective approach. These were accompanied and, indeed, made possible by a quite special humor with which he lightened the cares and brightened the lives of all who had the good fortune to work with him."

Among Professor Issawi’s numerous honors and awards were an honorary degree (L.L.D. [h.c.]) from the American University in Cairo (1987), the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award in Islamics from the University of California at Los Angeles (1985), and the presidency of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (1973).

He is survived by his wife, Janina Issawi.

A memorial service will be held in February at the Princeton University Chapel.