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The second edition of Ostour, a semi-annual journal devoted to the academic study of history, was published by the ACRPS in July, 2015. This second edition carries a host of selected, peer-reviewed articles and book reviews ranging from theoretical studies of the “history of the present moment” and liberation movements, through military and diplomatic accounts, to political and economic histories.


In addition to the regular sections of the journal, this edition includes three supplements. The first, “The Ostour Seminar”, reports back from a special session of the ACRPS’ Second Annual Conference for Historical Studies. A second, Masarat, takes a close look at the lives of noted Arab scholars, and will become a regular feature of successive editions. Finally, Dafatir Ostour or “The Ostour Folio” is a new supplement featured in this issue which is devoted to refereed articles, historical documents and established works which cannot normally be printed due to their length. This first Dafatir Ostour features: The Murshidiyya Community from within its Alawite Context: Political and Social Trends, 1923-1946, by prominent Syrian scholar Abdullah Hanna.

History of the Present Moment: Background and Problematics

Institutes with an interest in contemporary history have mushroomed across the world, and particularly in Europe. The powerful rise of the media has contributed to giving a new gloss to the present, the witness, the historical actor, and to daily life. The writing of present history, however, raises difficulties for historians, difficulties that arise with the obtaining of documentation in circumstances where the time between an event and its documentation is short, the sensitivity of the issues that may be under judicial examination, and of course the issue of objectivity when interpreting events. This focus on contemporary events has risen among historians since the 1980s. The global political upheavals following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the rise of international terrorism, have triggered a strong demand for studies analysing these trends. We are living today in a period of return to the event, biography, and narrative. These three forms have proved their legitimacy once again and found their place in the writing of contemporary history, and with it a focus on subjects of daily life, and on experiences as lived by those who have personally witnessed them. This study is an attempt to provide insight to the following questions: What are the contexts that highlight contemporary history? What are the phenomena of the major revival of this form of history? And what are the conditions they impose on historians?

Memory and Testimony in Writing the History
of the Algerian Revolution 1954 - 1962
The Liberation Struggle in History of the Present Moment

Testimony, as a source for oral history, expresses a moment when historical reality identifies with its immediate disclosure:  historical testimony thus provides a link with history itself as well as with the witness. In the context of the Algerian revolution, the author notes how narrating the revolution requires powers of perception and an awareness of self and subjectThe loss of contact with the other also deprived Algerian fighters of the possibility of narrating the course of the armed struggle on the basis of the background of the French-Algerian presence. However, the opposition that affirms the self as an active subject and affirms the other as an opponent can be challenged and overcome. Those who had the ability to communicate with the French were those at the forefront of the general, existential, diplomatic and political fronts at the time of the revolution and they were also those able to narrate the history of the Algerian revolution as a second chapter created by the revolution itself.

The Almohads' Military Strategy in the Western Mediterranean

Almohads (al-muwaḥḥidun) annexed a vast area of the Islamic West to their state by extending their conquest to the East. They then entered into conflict with the Arab tribes in Ifriqiya (or al-Maghrib al-Adna, i.e. Lower West) and Banu Ghaniya, rulers of the Eastern Islands (Balearic Islands). The Almohads attached great importance to this eastern front, leading them to wage huge military attacks there under the leadership of the Almohads rulers themselves. They had however a far more dangerous front to deal with in the North, but failed to accord it its due attention. Despite all the military efforts exerted by the Almohads in Al Andalus, their efforts did not match the losses incurred because of the Eastern Front the conquest of which was neither urgent nor necessary. Additionally, they were unable to preserve what their predecessors, the Almoravids, had achieved in Al Andalus due to internal revolts and the attrition resulting from the Reconquest Movement (Reconquista). Such an orientation and vision clearly showed the deficiencies of the Almohads' military strategy in the West Mediterranean whose catastrophic consequences for their domains Al Andalus and North Africa clearly materialized after the defeat in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (al Uqa¯b). As a result, the Reconquista seized the Eastern Islands shortly after the Almohads conquest. Major cities such as Cordoba, Valencia, Murcia, Jaen, Sevilla and important fortresses thus fell in the hands of the Christians who also attacked Almohads in their own territories in Al-Maghreb.

The Battle of Kosovo 1389: From Myth Making to Ideology

The battle of Kosova (in Ottoman Turkish), or Kosovo (in Slavic), which took place on June 28, 1389 between the Ottoman Sultan Murad I and his allies and the Serbian prince Lazar Hrebeljanovic, is a critical but also puzzling historical event taking place at the end of the middle ages in Europe. It was the first battle in which an Ottoman sultan met his death – this being the only certain fact about the battle. The details of the battle are were not accurately recorded and therefore subsequently left to the poetic imagination of those who wanted to make use of the battle according to the historical and political context in the region over the following centuries. To begin with, the battle served as a symbol of the conflict between Islam and Christianity until the 18th century. Then it became a symbol of rising nationalist ideology in the 19th century and nationalist revival at the end of the 20th century in the post-communist period. Right up to the beginning of the present century, the battle of Kosovo remains on open symbol for the future, reflecting the reality of powers and alliances in the Balkans.

"Karimi", Egypt during the Ottoman Era (1517 - 1630/923 - 1040 H): New Documents Shed Light on the Spice Trade

There is a common misconception thatthe discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese led to the collapse of the Arab and Egyptian economies during the Ottoman era, and to the downfall of the Karimi caste of Muslim merchants who dominated the spice trade along the Red Sea beginning in the Mameluke and Ayyubid periods. This study challenges these misconceptions, demonstrating how these merchants maintained their supremacy in this profitable trade thanks to the relatively short distance between India and Europe via the Red Sea, as well as the Ottoman presence there which allowed the Egyptians access to ship-building wood. The Ottoman abolishment of monopolies allowed for traders to trade freely, away from state interference, enabling Egyptians to build a strong shipping fleet in the Red Sea and to regain a large part of the African gold dust market, which was necessary for buying spices from India. Portugal's ability to control the entrance to the Red Sea had also suffered a setback after the year 1572 (980 H) when Spain overtook Portugal. All these factors contributed to the spice trade continuing to reach Europe through the Red Sea and to the reemergence of the Karimi traders in official documents and sources highlighting their prominent role in the Egyptian economy during that period. What did eventually lead to the downfall of the Karimi merchants was a major shift in the global trade market occurring c. 1630 (1040 H), when Yemeni Coffee replaced spices as the most important product shipped through the Red Sea, and dyed cotton cloth replaced spices as the most traded item from India.

The Military Strategy of the Mahdi in Sudan (1881 - 1885)

Abu Shouk offers an analytical review of the military strategy of Muhammed Ahmed al-Mahdi in the 1881 - 1885 against Ottoman-Egyptian rule in Sudan (1821 - 1885). The period begins with the declaration of the "Mahdiyya" from Aba Island on the White Nile in 1881, and ends with the liberation of Khartoum and the killing of British General Gordon in 1885. The study's historical narrative and discussion is based on the analytical method and further integrates methodologies from other social sciences. Its material derives from the historical documents available from both the political supporters and opponents of the "Mahdiyya" at the time, touching on the political, social, and economic reality that formed the events of the Mahdi Rebellion, as well as documentary material that reflects different aspects of its history of struggle. In its theoretical dimension, the discussion of the military strategy of the Mahdi focuses on the suggestions made by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in The Art of War, which is a key work for modern military strategy. It also considers the concept of the charismatic personality in the work of the German sociologist Max Weber, which helps analyse the personality of Mohammed Ahmed al-Mahdi as a leader and its relationship with the military strategy he implemented on the ground.

Political Conflict in Morocco Prior to the French Protectorate

This paper discusses periods of political conflict that defined Morocco before the French protectorate in 1912 and focuses on three main areas of study. The first analyses the political rivalry between two ancient families –Al Alboukhari and Al Jamiai – during the second half of the 19th century, especially during the reign of Hassan I (1873 - 1894). The second examines two movements that contributed to the depletion of Moroccan state, the first one under Jilali Ben Idris Zerhouni and his armed confrontation with the armies of the Sultan Abdul Aziz; and the second under Rissouli, which was known for its abduction of foreigners that led to strained relations between Maghzen and the foreign powers. The third area of study unveils the conflict between the direct political actors Sultan Abdul Aziz and his brother Abdul Hafeez, and the resulting internal political dynamics accompanied by the emergence of constitutional writing and forms of political contracting. Through these events, the paper portrays the political mechanisms used during a critical period of Morocco marked by the then-impending fall of Morocco to the French protectorate in 1912.

Diplomacy Aspects of the Rif Liberation Movement Leader Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Khaṭṭābī

This paper looks at the diplomatic practices of Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Khaṭṭābī, leader of the Rif Liberation movement, and how they contributed to the success of his liberation movement. It does so by examining his victory accounts and his ability to connect with global public opinion, which turned him into an international liberation symbol. Al-Khaṭṭābī wasn't like any other tribal leader engaged in Moroccan resistance movements, and was primarily a statesman with experience and an understanding that diplomacy needs to run in parallel with military action. Al-Khaṭṭābī increased communication with many international figures, and was known to have contacted governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as European political parties, especially leftist ones, informing them of the war on the ground in an attempt to gain their sympathy and support. Fully aware of the major role played by media in the diplomatic process and its ability to reach wider audiences, Al-Khaṭṭābī exerted major efforts in befriending Western media circles to clarify the fight waged by the the people of the Moroccan Rif, and to show that it was principally a liberation movement against colonization. To a large degree, Al-Khaṭṭābī succeeded in rectifying the image portrayed by Spanish and French colonial authorities and their propaganda machine.

Historical Topography of Ancient and Medieval Syria by René Dussaud

Despite being nearly a century old, the book Historical Topography of Ancient and Medieval Syria, by the French archeologist and orientalist Rene Dussaud, continues to be a seminal work in its field. Its Arabic translation will be no less important since it brings Dussaud's writings to a wider Arab readership. Dussaud's work represents a European Orientalist perspective on the history of the region and its problematics. It is this perspective and similar ones that helped draw up policies and borders, and helped create entities the impacts of which continue to plague the region. Published just after the First World War, the book marks an important rupture in the history of the Levant and the Arab world, with the collapse of the last Islamic Caliphate, and European dominance of the region. The book explores the geography, history, and archeology of sites, towns, castles, and villages, and the peoples who lived or passed through the region, from the most ancient periods of the Assyrians, Akkadians, Arameans, Greeks, and Romans, continuing through the appearance of Islam and the region becoming Muslim, up to the Crusades. By means of archeology, the accounts of historians and travelers, and documentary records, the French archeologist follows ancient routes and uses them to trace the military campaigns and the routes they followed, the sites and towns they passed through and the battles fought.

Towards a Constitutional State: The Project of the Young Turks Intellectuals in Hurriyet Newspaper (1868 - 1870)

Towards a Constitutional State: The Project of the Young Turks Intellectuals in Hurriyet Newspaper was originally the doctoral dissertation of author Christiane Czygan. This book follows the roots and origins of the Young Turks movement, and is set around the political, economic, and social transformations thrown up by the industrial revolution in Europe, the colonial movement that followed, and its different effects on the Ottoman state such as the rise of the intellectual and the nationalist.

The Revival of Japan in the Meiji Period from an Arab-Islamic Perspective: A Reading

Al- Arabawi offers a reading of Ahmed Al-Makkawi's book on the Meiji Restoration, an era which paved the way for the formation of the modern Japanese state. The Revival of Japan in the Meiji Period covers critical events and issues of interest to many researchers from an Arab-Islamic civilizational perspective, which deal with Japan's economic, social, and even cultural revival. This interest generated among scholars who were alert to the rise of Japanese power, years before its 1905 victory over Russia, and among whom were Mohammed Bayram Al-Khamis, the first Arab writer to examine Japan as a rising power, and Mohammed Rashid Rida, who, in his magazine Al Manar praised the Japanese Emperor for his role in Japanese revival, and his quest to be an equal with Western powers. This reading considers the subject of Islam in Japan and makes reference to the travels of Ali bin Ahmed al-Jarjawi, who failed in his mission of Islamic proselytization in Japan, and to the Tartar reformist and innovator Abdel Rashid Ibrahim, who made his first visit to Japan between 1908 and 1910. From an academic perspective, the author recognizes the existence of a time gap between the Arab Near East and the Maghreb in their approaches to the Japanese revival. He notes the precedence and superiority in the academic studies from the Near East, and finds the Maghreb a latecomer to interest in the Japanese experience.

Ex-Libris: Chronicles of Theft, Preservation, and Appropriating at the Jewish National Library

Ex-Libris: Chronicles of Theft, Preservation, and Appropriating at the Jewish National Library exposes another aspect of Israel's crimes against the Palestinians during the 1948 war, when it plundered Arab books – from the homes of their Palestinian owners or from Palestinian institutions and libraries – following the occupation of Palestinian towns and villages and the expulsion of their residents. The 229 page book was published in Hebrew in 2014 by the Van Leer Institute in West Jerusalem and comprises an introduction, three chapters, and a conclusion. Originally the author's doctoral dissertation at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, the book's research relies on primary sources preserved in the archive of the Jewish National Library – which is part of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – interviews, and secondary sources with relevance to the subject.

Moroccan Northern Tribes' Awareness of Palestine's Tragedy

This article offers a number of official Makhzen documents dating back to the period between 1939 and 1948, highlighting the support provided by the Moroccan Rif region (which was under the Spanish protectorate between 1912 - 1956) to the Palestinian people, in spite of the then difficult circumstances caused by Spanish colonialism. This aid, despite of its symbolism, reflects an awareness among these tribes of the nature of the tragedy of the Palestinian people caused by the Zionist movement.

The Arabs and World War I

As part of the ACRPS conference "The First World War A Hundred Years On: Arab Perspectives", which was held in Beirut in February 2015, Ostour's academic board hosted a seminar on "The Arabs and World War I". The seminar was directed by Abdel Rahim Benhada, Deputy Editor of Ostour, and attended by a number of specialists and researchers working in the field of modern history of the Arab region including Jami Bayda, Saud al-Mawla, Abdel Hamid Haniyah, Abdel Wahid al-Makani, Fathi Lisir, Mohammed Al-Arnaut, Mohammed Jamal Barout, Mohammed Afifi, Muhannad Mabidin, and Nacereddine Saidouni. Topics addressed by a number of specialists attending the seminar included: the Arab status quo on the eve of the Great War; Arab participation in the Great War, in terms of material and morale; contemporaneous transformations within the Arab countries and their relation to the Great War; a reckoning of what the Arabs won and lost through peace treaties; and Arab intellectuals, and how the Arabs portrayed the Great War in journalism and in literary works, during and immediately after the war.

Masarat: Arab Scholars and their Contributions to the Writing of History

A Conversation with Algerian Historian Nassereddine Saidouni
Masarat (Trajectories) seeks to introduce Arab scholars who have made distinguished contributions through their historical writings, and to reveal the core of their relationships with the subjects which they explored and the difficulties they encountered – be they material, methodological or related to their access to sources. This section also aims to reflect on the extent to which these researchers have benefited from contemporary historiographical schools of thought and their openness to the other social sciences. In this edition, Ostour introduces its readers to  Algerian historian Nassereddine Saidouni, who reflects here on his personal experience with the academic domain of history and his relationship with historical materials. He also discusses the seminal works of history which impacted his life's work.