Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa

Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa

Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa

Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa

Excerpt

Conference papers do not always make happy bedfellows when thrown together in a single volume such as this, but we believe the following chapters have a highly coherent theme. First, they trace the story of the transplanting of the European state idea to North Africa and the Middle East in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, largely by the colonial powers. At the end of this process a state system emerged based upon European concepts of territorial sovereignty, with state territory outlined by a network of land boundaries totalling some 21,000 miles (or 34,000 kilometres), (1). The idea of the territorial state was at odds with the region's precolonial tradition derived from Islamic practice in which communal relationships, not territorial control provided the basis of sovereignty. In Chapter 1 Bahgat Korany considers some of the contradictions arising in the Arab world as a result of the taking root of this European territorial system. While there is still a strong belief in Arab and Islamic unity as confirmed by opinion surveys quoted by Professor Bahgat Korany, the nation state is increasingly accepted as the norm in the Middle East. States are creating their own infrastructures, distinctive landscapes, and even demographic characteristics. One result is a deepening obsession with territorial and boundary questions, and a substitution of state nationalism for the "pan state" idea.

These themes are taken by George Joffé in Chapter 2 which considers the creation of colonial interstate boundaries, and boundary disputes in North Africa. He shows how the colonial legacy has obliged successor states to justify colonial administrative creations in terms of a nation that is assumed to occupy state territory, even when the nation concept was irrelevant to the pre-colonial situation. Although the Organisation of African Unity (O.A.U.) resolved in 1964 to leave colonial boundaries in Africa intact, this has not prevented a number of serious territorial disputes arising in North Africa. Many disputes associated . . .

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