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During the Zanzibar revolution in 1964, the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government was overthrown by local African revolutionaries, leading to the displacement of thousands of refugees, many of whom “returned” to the Arab Gulf states. Drawing upon historical records and legal advocacy with members of the Zanzibari community in the UAE, this presentation examines the disputes that emerged over the categorization of Zanzibari refugees as “Arab” vs “African.” The records reveal how racialized perceptions of competing political elites and external actors (empires and foreign states) influenced the status of groups, as well as how international organizations, such as UNHCR, wielded the language of racial similarity to advance their humanitarian agenda. The presentation will examine how ethnic identifications are driven by political allegiances and the shifting balance of power that accompanied decolonization and state formation in East Africa and the Persian Gulf.

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