Issue 8 - 2008

Issue 8 - 2008

Director's Report

By way of introduction my name is Noah Bassil and I am the recently appointed Acting Director of the Centre while Andrew Vincent is on leave until July 2008. One of the tasks I have taken upon myself is the reorganisation of the Centre's newsletter. This is the first newsletter to reach you with an amended structure and hopefully it will serve to ensure greater understanding and awareness of the issues facing the Middle East and North Africa , which is one of the primary roles any academic centre endeavors to fulfill.

Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Steve Townsend for his work in disseminating the news in the past as the coordinator of the newsletter and the centre website. I would also like to congratulate Jumana Bayeh on her appointment as the secretary of the centre and look forward to working with her in administering the Centre.

Andrew Vincent is in Beirut for twelve months in the capacity of visiting professor at the American University . Despite Andrew's absence he remains in close contact with us and having Andrew in the Middle East is a fantastic opportunity for the centre to broaden its connections and opportunities for future collaboration.

Much is happening here at Macquarie to promote Middle East and Arabic Studies. The Division of Humanities will commence a program in Arabic language studies as of 2008. This is an exciting proposition and will certainly mean greater capacity for Middle East and North African studies to be seen as a natural area of expertise here at Macquarie . To ensure the centrality of the study and teaching of the Middle East , the Department of Politics and International Relations has advertised for a second appointment in the area. With this appointment the future of Middle East Studies at Macquarie University will be secured.

In terms of speakers for this coming semester there are also exciting things on the horizon. So far I can confirm that Dr Ghada Karmi will be speaking at midday on the 10 October. Dr Karmi will stop here at Macquarie between engagements, including the presentation of the Edward Said memorial lecture in Adelaide . In addition, Jumana Bayeh will be presenting a paper on her research on 4 September. Both these events will be advertised through the Centre's mailing list and details will also available on the Macquarie University website.

The only other thing do in this report is to outline the format for future newsletters. Each newsletter will consist of a substantive piece of around 2000 words on a current issue in Middle East or North African affairs. I am hoping to include a countries report in future issues as well as book reviews of recent publications that may be of interest to members of the Centre. There will now be three newsletters a year sent via email to members in March, July and November. The newsletter you are receiving is the November edition come early. Enjoy the new format and if you have any interest in contributing please do not hesitate to contact the centre at .

Noah Bassil

Acting Director

Ghada Karmi
Ghada Karmi.

Coming Events:

Centre for Middle East and North Africa Studies and Department of Politics present: Dr Ghada Karmi

12 pm Wednesday 10 October in E7B BT4

Title: "Israel's Dilemma in Palestine": The process, failures and prospects for a just and workable solution.

Dr Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian-British author, academic and political commentator and is an honorary research fellow and assistant lecturer at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom .

A well known international commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Dr Karmi appears widely in the British and Arab media and frequently has articles on the Middle East published in The Guardian (UK), The Nation (US) and Journal of Palestine Studies .

Although born in Jerusalem , Dr Karmi has spent most of her life in Britain , where she studied medicine and initially practised as a physician, specialising in the health and social conditions of ethnic minorities, migrants and asylum seekers.

In her 2002 autobiography, In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story , she describes growing up in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Katamon, with its mixture of Christian and Muslim Palestinians. With her family she was forced to flee in 1948 and settled in London , where her father worked for the BBC Arabic service.

A year before his death Edward Said described Dr Karmi's autobiography as "a stunning memoir ....extraordinarily well written and amazingly honest." "Hers is a story of exile and in detail and human experience. Karmi is excellent on the quality of family and even communal life in Mandatory Palestine ...she also has a wonderfully subtle way of showing how in thousands of different ways the political and the personal intermesh, and this she does with a skill and insight that could be a novelist's envy," Said wrote.

Last July, Dr Karmi released her new book, Married to Another Man: Israel's Dilemma in Palestine . She borrows her title from a phrase from a cable sent by Vienna 's rabbis who visited Palestine in the 19 th century which said, " The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man. " Karmi makes a sharp distinction between binationalism and secular democracy in advocating a binational state. "The binational solution permitted a degree of communal autonomy and identity but also of separation. In that sense it was another way of preserving for Jewish Israelis the concept on which the whole Zionist enterprise was founded." She argues that "In a secular democratic state, on the other hand, citizens would have rights not derived from membership in an ethnic or religious group.... Unlike the binationalist state, a secular democracy was likely to be conducive towards helping its citizens develop a common national identity..."

For further Information:

MEC - Andrew Vincent headshot
Andrew Vincent.

The Centre's Growing Links with the American University of Beirut

by Dr Andrew Vincent

A small Middle East Centre such as Macquarie 's relies for much of its success and usefulness on its web of international connections.  This is because the field of Middle East Studies in Australia is so small.  Indeed there is only one other university-based Middle East Centre in the whole country, that at the Australian National University.

Macquarie's Middle East Centre has been fortunate up to now in having close links not only with the diplomatic, government and business communities but with prestigious universities in the United States (such as Georgetown, Texas and Penn) and Europe.  We also have links with universities in the Middle East: those places to which we have been able to send our students on exchange, in countries as diverse as Egypt , Turkey , Morocco and Lebanon .  Our links with Lebanon in particular have been enhanced by the semester just passed when our own Jumana Bayeh taught at the Lebanese American University in Beirut .

One of the best-known and most highly celebrated universities in the whole of the Middle East is without doubt the American University of Beirut .  Up to now, our links with that venerable institution have been largely informal.    All this now seems to be about to change.

For the invitation from the American University of Beirut to your Director to take up a nine month visiting professor position in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration will give the Centre an opportunity to enhance its contacts, both formal and informal, with AUB and through it, with more US universities.

The visiting professorship will involve teaching some of Macquarie 's courses in the AUB setting, as well as developing some new ones.  It will also give us the opportunity to showcase our award-winning simulations to a new audience of educators.  But perhaps most importantly of all, it will provide an opportunity to develop and formalise research and teaching links which will be very much in the interests of both institutions.

Following the last board meeting, we now have a new team of Noah Bassil and Jumana Bayeh responsible for the day to day running of the Centre, and I am confident that under their stewardship, the Centre will prosper during my absence in Beirut .  An example of their new initiatives in this very newsletter!  

I look forward to seeing you all in the middle of next year, when I return to Macquarie .


Civil War In Darfur: Understanding the sudanese context of the Conflict

The disturbing events that have taken place in Darfur certainly deserve the attention of the international community. Possibly as many as several hundred thousand civilians have been brutally killed and injured, Darfuri women systematically raped, and millions driven from their homes since the escalation of violence in 2003. The decision of the UN to intervene by situating 26,000 peace-keepers in the region, a decision taken on August 1 2007, may prove to have an impact contrary to that intended by the sponsors of the force and all who desire an end to the suffering taking place in the western Sudan . Furthermore, the ramifications for the Middle East of the UN intervention in Darfur while Iraq , Palestine and Chechnya remain unresolved may lead to increased instability in a region already tottering on the precipice of revolt and revolution. However, the principal problem for the UN will be the result of any misunderstanding that still exists of the conflict as a result of Arab and African animosities in Darfur and Sudan .

A more accurate and historically nuanced explanation of the conflict occurring in Darfur is provided by locating Darfur within Sudanese politics and exploring the colonial legacies that have shaped the modern Sudan . This brief paper deals with the character of the colonial system in Sudan and the problems for the Sudanese resulting from five decades of British rule. Concluding comments will make a case for resolving the conflict within the Sudanese context. I will argue that only through a process of negotiation by the two Darfuri rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equity Movement (JEM) , with the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the other major stakeholders in Sudan will peace be possible. Before I enter into a discussion of the ramifications of colonialism on Sudan a brief introduction of the Sudan is deemed necessary.

Sudan is the largest state on the African continent encompassing a region from the Sahara in the north to the very heart of Africa in the south. It has been said many times that Sudan is a microcosm of Africa in terms of the geographic and ethnic character of the country. In many ways Sudanese politics has also represented the best and worst elements of Africa 's recent past. However, Sudan cannot be viewed as exclusively African: it has a rich Arab historical connection that truly makes Sudan the crossroads between Africa and Arabia . Sudan resists all efforts at labeling with over 500 ethnic groups and dozens of languages and centuries of cultural exchanges, intermarriage and group cooperation that has led to considerable syncretism and cultural overlap in a manner where racial and ethnic labels should have become all but redundant. However, Sudan is mired in racial, ethnic and religious strife.

The Colonial Construction of Sudan

Colonialism of the Sudan commenced with the Turko-Egyptian conquest of Funj Sultanate and the regions surrounding the Nile in 1821. Darfur though remained independent until 1874 when it too was defeated by the superior armed troops of the Egyptians. The Sudanese regions were then lost to Egypt in 1885 with the Mahdist revolt that inspired uprisings against the foreign regime. The death of General Gordon at the hands of the Mahdists in 1885 is still one of the most memorialized moments of British colonial history. In 1898 the British under General Kitchener re-conquered the Sudan and the British dominated Anglo-Egyptian Condominium was formed to administer one of Britain 's last colonial conquests. Over the next two decades the British would endeavor to bring the entire region under their control and by 1916 with the conquest of Darfur the modern borders of Sudan were all but finalised. The fact that the Sudan had never previously existed or that most of the peoples that were encompassed in this new immense political construct had formerly exercised sovereignty over their own affairs meant nothing to the colonial regime. The only thing of interest to the British in Sudan was the Nile which they longed to control as away of ensuring a geo-strategic preeminence over Egypt and the Suez Canal . Long has it been said that control over the Nile meant control over Egypt and the British were fully aware of this in a period of French expansion into the Sahel .

The centuries of intermixing and interdependence of the groups across the Sudanese region could have provided the shared traditions on which Sudanese nationality could have been based. The spread of Islam into the Sahel and along the Nile as merchants and migrants from Muslim North Africa spread their influence was a historical process responsible for the integration of the region into the dar al-Islam and the formation of shared genealogies and traditions in Sudan. The Keira Sultanate of Darfur for example was situated on the very margins of Islam but the Sultans of Darfur considered themselves heirs of the Prophet and vassals of the Ottoman Caliph. Darfuri were sent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to study at the famous Al-Azhar University in Cairo where it had been noted that the Keira Sultans had established and funded a hostel in Cairo for Darfuri students studying at Al-Azhar. Membership of the Islamic faith was a far stronger determinant of identity in Sudan prior to the British invasion than race and ethnicity.

Colonialism introduced a form of racialism and ethnicity into the Sudan that has altered the perception of identity held by the Sudanese. The British system of rule was based on a strategy of classifying groups on the basis of race or ethnicity before establishing each of these racial or ethnic groups as a separate political unit. This system was known as "indirect rule" and was similar to one of the most prevalent forms of colonial administration employed across the British Empire . This as a strategy of control, or administration, was employed almost exclusively in the rural areas and peripheries of Sudan . The urban centres, Khartoum and Omdurman , were ruled in a different way altogether. The urbanites were considered to be more developed and politically mature than their rustic kin and through education and involvement in the project of government the urban elite of Khartoum and Omdurman in particular were elevated above the rest of the population. The urban elite would remain the holders of power in Sudan even after the colonial period was a mere memory. Race was a particular motif of the colonial administration as it always had a notion that it was ruling a country divided racially between Arabs and Africans. The distinction of an Arab and African Sudan is a direct legacy of colonialism which itself was based on the belief in a racial hierarchy of races with western Europeans at the apex and Africans and other "primitive" peoples at the bottom. The Sudanese notion of Arab superiority is a descended from the colonial ideology based on the inherent differences of the races.

The colonial period was predicated on a belief that some Sudanese were culturally superior to others and that all groups in the country, regardless of racial distinction, could be identified and divided even further on the basis of ethnicity or tribe. There was also a lack of effort made by the colonial administrators towards the economic development of the regions of the Sudan beyond Khartoum and it immediate surrounds. Even in the most developed area of Sudan the economy of the colony rested on the production and export of agricultural products, namely cotton. In the outlying areas of Sudan all policy was concerned with ensuring that control over the population could be maintained with the meanest amount of investment in men and money. In this context the development of economic, political and cultural practices that infringed on the existing stagnancy of the social order was considered dangerous, and was opposed. This system of colonialism resulted not only in entrenched ethnic divisions across the country but in a division between the urban elite of Khartoum and Omdurman on the one hand and the rest of the underdeveloped population on the other hand. The colonial legacies play a large part in any explanation of the problems of the modern Sudan , and hence Darfur .

The Crisis in Darfur in a Sudanese Context

Darfur's civil war broke out in February 2003 when contingents of the SLA and JEM attacked military installations in a well-planned and coordinated attempt to disrupt the peace talks proceeding in Navaisha in Kenya between the GoS and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) . Darfur 's rebel groups believed the Navaisha talks represented a betrayal by the SPLM of a decade of united opposition to the GoS by the National Democratic Alliance. The Darfuri were astounded by the decision of the SPLM leadership, headed by John Garang de Mabior who had been one of the most zealous opponents of the GoS since the coup brought Omar al-Bashir to power in June 1989, to enter into negotiations. It had long been argued by the SPLM and the National Democratic Alliance that only a constitution that provided for a democratically elected government and a secular state would lead to a stable and peaceful future for Sudan . In this context, the NDA resented the decision by the SPLM to convene talks with an Islamist military dictatorship headed by Bashir. In response to the SPLM betrayal, Darfuri opponents of the GoS formed armed movements to re-engage the GoS in a military confrontation in a bid to undermine the peace talks or force the GoS to include representatives from Darfur at Navaisha. That neither occurred and instead the GoS chose a military solution to the problem accounts for the devastation of the region and the bloodshed that has ensued.

The GoS has employed the Sudanese military in Darfur in a conventional manner to engage the rebel forces and concentrated the efforts of the regular military on the task of defeating the insurgency. As part of the counter-insurgency the GoS has turned to militias and private armies, the janjaweed , to clear Darfur of any civilians that could harbour or assist the rebels. The result has been that civilians without protection have borne the brunt of the counter-insurgency unleashed by the GoS. The janjaweed remain ambiguous in origin and motives but are clearly allied to the leadership of the GoS and have operated as a second front in the war against the Darfuri insurgency.

The tactics employed against civilians in Darfur is reminiscent of the use of tribal militias and the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) in the war in the southern Sudan which resulted in the loss of over two million lives in the twenty-two years between 1983 and 2005. Despite all efforts by the GoS to portray the events in Darfur as local tribal animosities enflamed the reality of the conflict is that it is a counter-insurgency campaign infused with a virulent form of racialism and claims of apostasy clearly evocative of events in the southern Sudan . The fact that a familiar form of racial and religious ideology should be present in Darfur as in the southern Sudan suggests that the same forces have been mobilized by the GoS to fight the insurgents in Darfur as those employed in the south.
The UN and resolving the Crisis in Darfur

One of the major problems the UN forces will face in Darfur is to remain impartial and non-partisan in an environment where political affiliations cut across ethnic, racial and religious boundaries. A lack of understanding of the complexities of the politics of Sudan is exacerbated by the dubious claims of the GoS regarding the locally derived hostilities between Arab and African tribes as being accountable for the war in Darfur which have been reiterated by politicians, reporters and some academic commentators. The common view of the war in Darfur as a result of ancient or recent tribal or racial hatreds if held by the UN forces in Darfur will lead to a partisanship on behalf of the Africans that may prove counter-productive and dangerous in Sudan and possibly throughout the Arab world.

An African and Arab divide in Darfur may become more reality than government fiction in the future if the UN is not careful in the way that treats the assorted groups across Darfur . For the people of Darfur the danger may be one of a solidification of racial differences. This may become a reality as UN forces unaware of the incongruity of identities in Darfur act in manner that institutionalises "Arab" and "African" distinctions through a process of reward and punishment on the basis of racial difference. This is very possible if the UN enters with a preconceived idea that in the conflict the victims are "Africans" and the perpetrators are "Arabs". If this does occur the GoS will undoubtedly continue to play the race card and if evidence of UN actions emasculating "Arabs" in Darfur comes to light then racism against perceived "Africans" may increase. The security of the Nuba and Beja as well as the tenuous peace with the south may be threatened by a surge in anti-Africanism in Sudan .

In the wider "Arab" world already incensed by the continuing violence in Iraq and the deemed insensitivity of the "west" to the plight of the Palestinians a belief that Darfur is a staging ground for more attacks on Arabs can only be seen to be incendiary. Unless the UN steps warily in Darfur the possibility that Arab resentment of the "west" and the US will increase cannot be discounted. Efforts by the UN force to be seen as engaging the "Arabs" of Darfur in a positive and helpful manner is the minimum expected for the prevention of anti-African and anti-western sentiments in Sudan and the Arab world. Furthermore, facilitating negotiations between the parties in Darfur as a way of coming to an agreed position vis-à-vis the GoS would provide evidence of the impartial role the UN was playing in Darfur .

An impartial UN involvement in Darfur could pave the way for the restoration of order and security in Darfur for the millions of civilians caught in the cross-fire between the GoS and its proxies on the one hand, and the SLA and JEM rebels on the other hand. Security in Darfur is a prerequisite for the delivery of the humanitarian assistance so desperately required by the displaced suffering from hunger and disease. While the UN's presence in Darfur will perhaps as everyone hopes bring an end to the violence and provide the security necessary for the provision of aid the likelihood of a long-term resolution for the conflict is not strong. The conflict in Darfur must be understood as a consequence of the contradictions in the character of the Sudanese State . Therefore, unless solutions to the Darfur crisis are forthcoming from the elites that have controlled Sudan since the beginning of the era of independence, from where they spring, crisis and conflict will remain another of the unfortunate legacies of the creation of Sudan

Noah Bassil

From the Chairman's desk


Tony Khouri
Chairman Tony Khouri.

The importance of the Centre for Middle East and North African Studies has continued to grow over the years. The urgent need to identify and implement long term solutions to the constantly changing events in our region of interest has focused if not demanded even more attention from world leaders from all corners of the globe.

The unbiased dissemination and critical study of such events is absolutely essential to the better understanding of the issues and continues to produce enormous challenges for our Centre.

Dr. Andrew Vincent, our Centre Director who has made an enormous contribution the Centre over so many years, is currently in Beirut for twelve months as Visiting Professor and after thirteen years of extraordinary service to the Centre, Dr. Sally Totman our Secretary and Deputy Director has taken up a full time position at Deakin University in Melbourne.

I take this opportunity to extend our thanks and appreciation to Andrew for his tremendous on-going commitment to the Centre and to wish Andrew and his wife Petra an enjoyable term in Lebanon .

I also wish to thank Dr. Totman for generously giving our Centre so much of her valuable time and effort over so many years. We wish her and her young family every happiness and a great future.

During Dr. Andrew's absence, Mr. Noah Bassil has accepted the nomination as Acting Director and Ms. Jumana Bayeh has accepted the role of Secretary.

On behalf of the Board I thank them for accepting these tasks I and welcome them to their new and challenging roles. We trust that their term with the Centre will be both rewarding and enjoyable.

The task of producing our newsletter; which has been carried out so well since its inception by our Deputy Chairman, Mr. Steven Townsend, has, as a result of Steven's heavy commitments, been passed onto our new Deputy Director and his team. I thank Steve for his excellent contribution and I encourage all readers of the newsletter to feel free to contribute their opinions, comments and papers for possible publication.

I extend my special thanks to all of my fellow Board Members who somehow always seem to find that extra time from their busy schedules to offer their professional skills and valuable input. I truly consider my association with each and every one of them to be a complete privilege.

Anthony Khouri
Chairman of the Board

Middle East glossary

The Centre's website has a handy glossary of Middle East terms.  Students, in particular, will find it handy for quickly looking up terms relating to the Middle East.  Access it on the Publications and Materials section of the website or click here

Middle East news sites

The Internet has quickly become the major source of fast, searchable access to news about the Middle East. It can provide up-to-the-minute email alerts, in-depth backgrounding and endless sources of further study. Board member Antony Loewenstein provides a useful list of Internet news sites with a wide variety of perspectives:
The Qatar-based news service that has revolutionised the world.
Weekly newsletter discussing the major issues related to Israel/Palestine.
Progressive US Jewish group.
Liberal Israeli daily.
Conservative Israeli daily.
Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.
Dissenting US historian on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Unofficial site of the UK Independent's Middle East correspondent.
Leading Israeli peace group.
Sydney-based Jews against the occupation.
Hanan Ashrawi founded Palestinian human rights group.
Leading Israeli human rights group.

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