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Editorial

Critical Political Anthropology of the Middle East

Soheila Shahshahani

This issue of AME focuses on the critical political anthropology of the Middle East. Studies of tribes and states have been on the agenda of political anthropology of the Middle East for decades, and in this issue we have various articles related to this topic. What is particularly informing in this issue are the brilliant articles concerned with informal politics going beyond statistical and formal studies, showing how power works through access to resources, and particularly the reproduction of political systems and hierarchies, and finally how modern legal systems within certain political structures are exercised in everyday life. Other fields of anthropology such as the anthropology of children and the anthropology of law may also benefit from this issue.

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Soheila Shahshahani

This article refers to the methodology of this eld as a viable way of being in a very complex (personal, institutional, research) situation of existence at different levels over a long period of time. The author uses ‘distancing’, putting in abeyance her personal reactions in order to comprehend and make evident what would otherwise have been difficult to go through. So participant observation not only deeply familiarises the researcher with a situation and culture, it also provides a standpoint of not personally getting involved in order to continue research.

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Edited by Soheila Shahshahani

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Editorial

Everyday Life in the Middle East

Soheila Shahshahani

Ever since the 1970s, when I attended a conference of the American Anthropological Association for the first time, a question had been with me: Why do anthropologists of the Middle East not have a common forum in the form of a journal or an anthropology association? Now, as Anthropology of the Middle East makes its debut, my belief in the need for such a publication has become even stronger.

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Soheila Shahshahani

Ceremonies are a very important part of Iranian life. They have definite order, ritual and objects associated with them. The political and economic situation of individuals taking part in a ceremony mark them, and if there are various classes, positions and gender, they are all markers of ceremonies. To study any topic in terms of the duality of traditional and modern versions has become banal and too simplistic. Looking at one single ceremony, indeed even looking at only a few hours of a ceremony can show how malleable are the boundaries of a ceremony, to be affected by many factors. Regarding the few hours that I am reporting about, the following factors are involved: an earthquake; the Islamic Revolution and the reactions to it; satellite television; and consumer goods; as well as changes in people’s way of life that have affected the availability of time, the availability of space, and, finally, the place of the visual, the centrality of the camera in organising a ceremony in a way that it can be recorded in an acceptable manner for later viewing. Responding to all these changes and trying to hold together a very important ceremony and a number of people who must be kept together through ceremonies is what gives the following its meaning and urgency of its reporting.

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Editorial

Today, Is 'Ethnicity' the Most Important Topic in the Middle East?

Soheila Shahshahani

It was decided by the editorial board of AME that some issues of the journal should be open-themed so that new topics of interest to researchers could have a place to be presented, and, in this way, perhaps new horizons of scholarship could be opened up. This issue was an open-theme issue but, amazingly, all the articles are concerned in one way or other with ethnicity. Would it be incorrect to call this the most important concern in the Middle East today? I think there is some truth to it, as our articles show: from concern with nation formation through enculturation in mahallah’s of Uzbekistan; to linguistic behaviour in two regions in Uzbekistan; to ethnic conflict and violence in Kyrgyzstan; the Turkish diaspora returning to Turkey and trying to set a superior example; and last but not least the emblem of a prosperous nation, Qatar, claiming not only tribal origins but also acting democratically through tribal delineation at times of voting. This is exactly what I have observed in southern Iran where people vote according to tribal lines. The same topic was evoked in ‘You Have Car Insurance, We Have Tribes’ (AME 6 no. 1, 2011).

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Introduction

Ecology and Migration in the Middle East

Soheila Shahshahani

In this special issue, not only is the human-environment relationship addressed with a few types of environmental adaptations in rural and urban contexts, including governmental measures and disaster situations, but also the process of culture making is explored through the use of vocabularies in forming mind sets. In this way, a wide spectrum of ideas and situations is portrayed, and the role of culture in making these processes meaningful is shown. The articles in this issue concern Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and they also consider migration. While environmental problems are partial causes for migration, yet symbolic reference to parts of that same environment can symbolise the lost land. The role of poetic language is seen here, while poetry itself becomes a means of better adaptation for a migrant.

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Editorial

Unthemed Issue

Soheila Shahshahani

This issue of Anthropology of the Middle East is unthemed, but there is a definite continuity to its articles. Previously, we have had themed issues – for example, on kinship, migration, medical anthropology, Central Asia – and the articles here touch on the same topics, so they relate very well to earlier issues.

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Editorial

Open-Themed Issues

Soheila Shahshahani

In the 1970s and 1980s, North and South Yemen appeared to be two states pursuing opposing, sometimes hostile, economic and political policies. Then, in 1990, they suddenly united. This article analyses sport diplomacy as an instrument in opening institutional contacts between the two governments and as a venue for conveying important socio-political and historical messages. Cross-border football contests reinforced the largely invented notion of a single Yemen derived from pre-Islamic kingdoms. This idea remains a foundation of Yemeni nationalism and a base of Yemeni national identity.

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Soheila Shahshahani

As from this issue of Anthropology of the Middle East, we are planning a new section, open to all readers, to share their academic experience in the Middle East. For those of us working in the region, anthropology has been a difficult field to get established and to contribute its share to the academia of the Middle East and from there to the academia and the public in the Middle East, and to the world of anthropology at large. We have had a variety of difficulties, as you will see in this text, and when we mention them, we realise anthropologists in some other countries far and wide have had similar experiences. Here, we propose to open an arena for expression and discussion with the hope of facilitating the road for younger anthropologists. In doing so, we shall not be pointing the finger at any one person or academic institutions, but wish to adopt a more comprehensive and holistic approach in addressing and solving our problems, and suggesting some solutions.