Are Gazans starving or on a “shopping spree”?

January 28, 2008

After the wall separating Gaza from Egypt was blown up in several places last Wednesday and thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to stock up on the basic commodities they have been denied by the Israeli blockade, most of the news coverage is reporting on the awkward Egyptian attempts to close the border. The New York Times coverage features a photo essay showing attempts to lift a cow, a camel, and a motorcycle over the border wall. As though to further insinuate the absurd and frivolous nature of the exchange across the border, the Times refers to it as a “shopping spree.” The NY Times article also says that with an estimated 200,000 Gazans entering Egypt, “the trade is becoming increasingly commercial.”

It’s hard to know what to make of such phrasing; it seems to hint that Gazans are just budding entrepreneurs and pleasure-seeking tourists — not at all victims of an Israeli blockade that has cut electricity and prevented basic food and medical supplies from reaching Gazans. Indeed, it is not until the end of the NY Times article that you even hear any information about the effect of the recent blockage, and even then, all it says is that “Israel decided to cut off shipments into Gaza, including fuel for the local power plant, in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.”

As ever, what is interesting to contemplate is what the NY Times does NOT say: that as of Sunday, electricity from the Gaza power plant has been cut in the dead of winter, and that the wall breach was prompted by an Israeli decision to completely block humanitarian shipments of medicine and basic food supplies. Read the rest of this entry »


Beduin Fuzzy-Wuzzies and Hairy Heretic Arabs

January 25, 2008

Apropos of nothing, I thought I’d point people over to some interesting historical material I put up ages ago on my old Princeton website (which will probably turn defunct any day now, so if you happen upon this blog entry a year from now and find that the links don’t work, let me know). It’s an extract from an early 1900s (I think) magazine that I bought in eBay. Unfortunately, I have no idea what magazine, so if you can figure it out, please let me know.

“Beduin Fuzzy-Wuzzies”

It’s a National Geographic-style photo essay by Donald McLeish with text by Hamilton Fyfe entitled “Arabia: Life Along the Fringes of the Desert Land.” Note the intense interest in ‘race’ (“many Yemen families along the coast show touches of Negro blood”), religious sect, empire (“The Turks have been beaten and the land is open to Europeans”), and hairstyles of the men (“Hairy heretic Arabs,” “He is one of the Beduin Fuzzy-Wuzzies…”). The photos are fantastic, but go see for yourself, because there’s much more than the example above.

L.L. Wynn

Rumours that Saudi Arabia will lift ban on women driving

January 23, 2008

On November 6, 1990, some 30 years after girls’ education was introduced in the Kingdom, some 49 Saudi women formed a convoy of cars and drove through the streets of Riyadh. [1] It was during the lead-up to the Gulf War, when international media attention was focused on Saudi Arabia, and the women hoped to use this public demonstration to pressure society and the government into allowing Saudi women to drive.

Religious conservatives were incensed. The women were taken into police custody and their male guardians were summoned to retrieve them and take them home. The women had reportedly articulated their request to drive in a formal letter sent to Prince Salman, the Mayor of Riyadh and brother of King Fahd, the day of the demonstration (ibid).

But the women’s hope for intervention from the royal family was disappointed. Those who had participated in the demonstration were sanctioned with confiscation of passports and many were suspended from their jobs. The Saudi Ministry of the Interior subsequently encoded in law the previously unofficial ban on women driving, and the highest ranking cleric in the Kingdom issued a supporting fatwā (ibid p.32). Months later, after the uproar had died down, King Fahd quietly restored these women’s passports and their teaching posts (Gause 1994:162).

The 1990 driving demonstration was one of the most visible of internal political events in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a monarchical oil state in which political demonstrations are infrequent and rarely publicized. For the outside world looking into the black box of Saudi society and politics, the driving demonstration and the fact that women continue to be barred from driving symbolizes the inferior status of women in Saudi society.

Yet when I interviewed 30 Saudi women about women and social change in the Kingdom in 1994 (Wynn, forthcoming), most considered driving to be a non-issue. Instead, their chief concerns revolved around expanding opportunities for women’s education and employment in Saudi Arabia. What’s more, they bristled at criticism of the status of women in Saudi Arabia, and were frankly tired of Westerners fixating on the fact that they could not drive, with the implications of social “backwardness” that this entailed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to Khaldoun

January 22, 2008

KHALDOUN is an interdisciplinary group blog. Our name (and inspiration) comes from the famously multi-disciplinary Ibn Khaldoun, the 14th century Arab social scientist who is variously described as a philosopher, sociologist, demographer, geographer, historian, economist, linguist, political theorist, and statesman. Our aim in this blog is to provide scholarly commentary on current issues in Middle East politics, society, culture, and media representation.


L.L. Wynn is a lecturer in the Anthropology Department at Macquarie University. She is the author of Pyramids and Nightclubs: A Travel Ethnography of Arab and Western Imaginations of Egypt, from King Tut and a Colony of Atlantis to Rumors of Sex Orgies, Urban Legends about a Marauding Prince, and Blonde Belly Dancers. In addition to her interests in tourism and transnationalism in the Middle East, she researches reproductive health technologies in the U.S., Canada, and the Middle East. She is also a contributor to Culture Matters.

Noah Bassil is a PhD student and lecturer in the Politics and International Relations Department at Maquarie University and just completed his dissertation on Dar Fur in Western Sudan. He is also the acting director of Macquarie’s Centre for Middle East and North African Studies.

Jumana Bayeh is a Postgraduate Fellow in Macquarie University’s Department of English. Her research and teaching interests include the third-world literatures, post-colonial studies and Middle East politics and society. She is currently working on her dissertation focusing on the literary works of Lebanese diasporic authors.

Maryam Khalid is a PhD student and tutor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Macquarie University. Her research and teaching interests include gender and postcolonial studies, imperialism, and Middle East politics. Her doctoral research investigates the ways in which neoimperial power relations are legitimated through the prism of gender, with a particular focus on the ‘war on terror’, Iraq and Afghanistan.