Politics are brimming with metaphoric references to games – be it the famous “Great Game” as the diplomatic confrontation of great powers in Asia at the beginning of the 20th century was referred to, the understanding of strategic moves in a region as a “chess board,” war “theatres” or references to the “players,” the strong of them framed as “actors,” the weak as “pawns”, or the crazy ones behaving like “wild cards.”
This issue of Perspectives is devoted to minority-majority relationships in the Middle East and North Africa. We portrait minorities beyond ethnic and religious divide such as vegans in Morocco, artists in Syria or cyclists in Beirut.
We took the liberty of illustrating this issue with a regional adaptation of the German Süddeutsche Magazin's 'Perceived truths' displayed in diagram form by Katharina Schmidt. In a way these transform'common perceptions' into thought-provoking rather than scientific graphs.
We hope that the ‘majority’ of you will enjoy this ‘minority’ issue.
Food can be a potent trigger for childhood and adult memories. Everybody has a ‘comfort food’, something associated with good times and good company. Food is vital in a culture of generous hospitality where even if you have hardly anything to share you will go to great lengths to provide something for your guests. Whether you love savoury food or have a sweet tooth, Middle Eastern and North African cuisine will never let you down.
This year marks 50 years of occupation – a significant period, not only for Palestinians living inside historical Palestine, but indeed first and foremost for them. It means an accumulation of 50 years of dispossession, displacement and oppression, 50 years under threat of being evicted, of losing their fields, springs, orchards and homes. 50 years without political and civil rights, without a future for themselves and their offspring. 50 years of despair and shattered hopes.
When women in the Middle East make the headlines, it is usually as victims. Disturbing stories of the so called 'Islamic State' (ISIS) kidnapping and raping tens of thousands of women are sadly often the ones which stick in the Western memory. But there is more to women's political lives in the region than their victimisation and oppression. We decided to look to the future, present and past in this issue, in order to present an alternative narrative which challenges these representations of women.
When ISIS announced the establishment of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ it fuelled discussions as to whether this would herald the ‘end of Sykes-Picot’ – borders artificially drawn by the colonial powers at the beginning of the twentieth century. But borders are more than ‘lines in the sand’: they divide. While the privileged few may cross legitimately by simply presenting their passport, for most, these borders present difficult if not insurmountable hurdles. People fleeing from war, climate change or economic hardship, attempt to cross the Mediterranean but many drown trying.
The Middle Eastern and Northern African (MENA) region, faced with tumultuous changes in the last five years, shows a picture of shrinking spaces for civil society activism. In contrast, ecological activism is growing and connecting the fight for climate justice to other demands for community and indigenous rights, gender equality, democracy and transparency.
The fight against corruption in the MENA region has gone through several ups and downs. Prevention, awareness and purification campaigns aiming to eradicate endemic or systemic corruption have had very little impact. The political will and the good intentions formulated in speeches and conferences during the democratic transitions referred to as the “Arab Spring” have hardly born results. On the contrary, in a phase of restoration of the old regimes, corruption continues to be a real impediment to the progress of our countries towards democracy and socioeconomic development that can offer living conditions that respect human rights and human dignity in a healthy and unpolluted environment. The countries of the MENA region continue to suffer, to different extents, from the existence of corrupt practices that prevail on a large scale within both private and public sectors, as demonstrated by the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranked the MENA countries in 2014 between 55 (Jordan) and the 170 (Iraq). This reflects the enormous difficulty faced by the region to implement effective reforms in the fight against corruption, although some countries in the region have ratified international conventions that provide a legal framework and a common strategy geared towards this goal.
Rumours serve as a medium through which unfulfilled hopes or unspecific fears can be voiced. They bond and drive a wedge between people and population groups at the same time. An issue about the social function of rumours.
Sadly, the Middle East has witnessed some of the largest mass displacements of people worldwide over the past decade. As it currently stands, millions of Syrians are fleeing their homes, moving within the country and sometimes far outside of it. Not surprisingly, neighboring states have absorbed most of these people and have managed well under the circumstances. However, the question of how to deal with the waves of those who have lost everything and might not be able to go back in the near future is a huge challenge for the refugees and for host communities, especially since there is no settlement on the horizon.