GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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"Terror Triangle" or "Land of Punt"?
Paper Proposal Text :
Referred to today as the terror triangle, the area joining Yemen, Somalia and Sudan was known to Ancient Egyptians as the Land of Punt to which rulers sent delegations and ships to trade. The connections and trips between Egypt and Punt were considered acts of significance, recorded with care extensively on ancient Egyptian temples and constituting important subjects recorded by Egypt's historians. The Red Sea, bordered by Saudi Arabia today, Sudan, Egypt and Yemen, has been central to exchange of people, goods and diffusion of culture since ancient times and continues to be so today with significant disjunctures with the past as the countries bordering the Red Sea became involved in historical struggles, imperialism and national aspirations against outside forces and between each other. Thus we see modern Egypt invading the Sudan and going to war against Ethiopia, conquering and being defeated in turn by them. Under the direction of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt's Muhammad Ali also sent armies into Arabia to defeat the Wahhabis and restore Hijaz to Ottoman suzerainty. As for Nasserist Egypt, it too invaded Yemen presumably to assist revolutionary forces but possibly to play a role in the politics of Saudi Arabia.

This presentation will focus on continuity of relations between Egypt and countries of the "terror triangle" and wider Arabia. More specifically, interest will focus on cultural diffusion, similarities and differences to illustrate the limits and parameters of international relations before the modern period and the age of imperialism. Gender and issues related to women and family will be used to show the significance and limitations of cultural diffusion. A number of questions will guide the study; related to circumcision, for example, the study asks why we see practices of circumcision in their various forms spread throughout the Nile Valley practiced by Muslims and non-Muslims, for both men and women. Yet we do not see circumcision practiced in Arabia or the rest of the Arab world, at least until the contemporary period and the rise of Islamism when the influence of Azhari sheikhs spreading the da'wa to Muslim countries used gender discourses joining circumcision with Islam. Mapping out the Nile Valley as cultural unit seems to present itself as possibility. Another question, perhaps setting the course of investigation in a different direction, involves family and marriage practices during the pre-modern period, more specifically the Ottoman period. Here the existence and similarities of courts in such towns as Qusayr in Egypt, Jiddah in the Hijaz and San'aa in Yemen are indicative of relations and the development of common cultural traditions during the early modern period. While Sudan has its own court records, there are differences in shape and practices due to different context. More importantly, Sudan's courts involve only Muslims, an important indication of the disjunctures brought about with the spread of Islam and Arabization in the "terror triangle". Theoretically, the presentation strives to emphasize the importance of cultural issues in understanding historical process. It also calls for a greater use of archival records and a focus on lived realities for a better understanding of international relations.