This time, I want to tell you about two events, one you are likely to be familiar with and the other not so much. Just over ten years ago Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, set himself on fire in protest of poor living conditions, corruption and lack of freedoms in his home country, and because of hopelessness and desperation. These sentiments were so widely shared by ordinary people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that they led to demonstrations and in some cases regime fall. The extent to which these changes have been qualitative is questionable. Yet it serves as a strong reminder to regional observers, and should serve as such to anyone in power, that fortune is changeable.
But something else happened just over ten years ago. Not as profound as the Tunisian revolution, or so I thought. Battered by rejections but still on track to move to the UK for undergraduate study, I was clinging onto the only UK university offer I had received. I knew it was somewhere in the South West of England. To say that it was my insurance choice is an understatement – it was my last resort. While the Arab Spring was rocking the MENA and I was packing my suitcase, I changed our home radio station to the BBC. I had a decent grasp of world history and geography, but it was the first time I was actually listening to the news on what was happening in the lands of tough men and belly dancers, or so I imagined the far-away region at the time. I was quite pleased with myself as I understood the gist of it; I also understood nothing.
But fortune is changeable in the most unpredictable ways, as Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, the former authoritarian leaders of Libya and Egypt, could probably confirm (but they cannot). One article, two degrees and three MENA trips later, here I am writing yet another editorial note for the Asfar e-Journal. I confess: I have become drawn in, addicted. When I talk about the excitement of choosing to lose myself in the endless labyrinths of streets in the heart of old Marrakech, Morocco, or the euphoria of speeding up and diving into the chaotic late-evening traffic in Amman, Jordan, the response I often get is slightly raised eyebrows or that uncomfortable smile deployed when under pressure to admire other people’s babies. Each to their own, I guess.
What I actually want to highlight is the intricate web which links together seemingly unrelated phenomena; COVID-19 serves as a sad and brutal reminder of this. Yet the hope is that one day we will not need such profound and painful crises to remember that the mundane and the familiar tends to be elaborately tied into much broader dynamics and can take us far beyond the imaginable. The hope is that we will learn to acknowledge and empathise with suffering regardless of where and when it takes place. Ultimately, the hope is that the challenges we are facing today will make us kinder and braver.
And while we are getting there, let us turn to our new selection of articles which explore how supposedly straight-forward, sometimes personal and on the face of it non-political occurrences interact with the timeless themes of identity, power and human dignity. Our contributors unpack these trends within various time and space frames, from unravelling the stories Algerian food can tell us about its people’s history; to challenging the finality physical geography is meant to accord to places such as Georgia; to highlighting the complexities of how time is experienced by Palestinian Christians living in Jordan. Our articles explore the traditionally national domains of government formation in Montenegro and education in the United Arab Emirates, and their international dimensions which are pushing national agendas in multiple, habitually opposite directions. We yet again rethink and remind ourselves of the power of natural resources, whether to serve war and hopefully peace purposes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or to crystallise and routinely heighten local and regional tensions building up in Jordan. Ultimately, all of us tell stories, in our own peculiar, often unrefined yet always genuine ways, which encourages us to question where stories come from, who tells them and why. Our articles on the Caucasian mythology and war tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina demonstrate that there is no single, or simple, answer to these questions.
I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome our new Editors, Tamara Vujinovic (the Balkans) and Adam Jack (the Caucasus). We are very excited to continue to produce engaging, informative content which covers a variety of topics rarely spoiled with mainstream media attention while offering our contributors an opportunity to develop and refine their skills. As always, if you are interested in writing for Asfar, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Asfar Editorial Team wish you a happy, fulfilling and peaceful New Year, and hope that you enjoy our Winter 2021 issue.
With warm wishes,
Asfar e-Journal Senior Editor