(volume 1 no 1, Fall 1998, 1-5) French text / texte en français
The publication of this first issue of The Arab World Geographer (AWG) marks an auspicious occasion for Arab geographers, scholars, and students interested in the region, and in the field of geography as a whole. First and foremost, the periodical intends to bring together like-minded scholars and colleagues interested in the Arab lands extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman – one of the most culturally cohesive regions on the planet. Native geographers from the Mashriq and the Maghreb countries – and those in the Arab diaspora will now have the opportunity to read the work of their colleagues around the globe and disseminate their research findings in an international language to the rest of the world. The Arab Mashriq geographers will likely benefit not only from the wide exposure of publishing in English, but more importantly from having their research reviewed and commented on by fellow geographers in the international community, a process conducive to cross-fertilization and extended mutual enrichment.
The journal aims to address the specific needs of geographers in the Arab world, and through its forum to help overcome some of the objective constraints that bedevil scholarship in certain countries of the Arab world, where there are few geographic journals in global languages and even the basic material amenities are in short supply. To be sure, there are numerous locally and regionally based journals available to Arab geographers in Arabic to publish research. Indeed, numerous faculties in Arab academic institutions maintain a university-based journal and encourage staff to contribute. Yet the upshot is that many first-rate geographical articles are reviewed by geographers fluent only in Arabic, or even by non-geographers, and are then published in the multifarious multidisciplinary journals so common in the Arab world. That ambience remains restrictive, indeed insular, in an increasingly globalized world of scholarship. This is where AWG intends to provide a new alternative. The obvious advantage of an English-language geographic forum is that the scope of scholarly review is broadened immensely, and the potential for constructive evaluation and enrichment is significantly enhanced.
Geography departments and individual geographers active in Mashriq Arab countries have made tremendous efforts over the years to overcome the basic limitations to easy access to international periodicals and recently published books. Universities have endeavoured to incorporate readings in geography in English into the curricula, and key works have been translated into Arabic, such as Mohammad S. Makki's 1984 translation of John Clark, Population Geography; Hartshornes monograph Perspective on the Nature of Geography (1959; translated by Issa Shair and Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh 1988); Mikel Sterns Census from Heaven? Population Estimates with Remote Sensing Techniques (translated by Issa Shair and Ismat Al-Hasan 1993); and a volume of 32 articles on the Middle East authored by German geographers, which was translated into Arabic and published in Beirut in a time of great turmoil, when the city was under siege (Wirth 1983). Other examples could be cited.
A telling sign of the prevailing new spirit of current research in the Arab world is reflected in the key topics recently proposed for a forthcoming regional conference in Sanaa, Yemen, in November 1998, organized under the auspices of the University of Sanaa and MultaqaAl-Jughrafieen al-Arab (Forum of Arab Geographers), Sanaa. Significantly, the call for papers in the program centred on three overarching themes: (1) the role of geographers in consolidating Arab unity; (2) geography curricula and research technologies; and (3) geography and future challenges. Many geographers in the Arab world keenly sense the need to keep abreast of current research in the major industrial countries. Paradoxically, Arab geographers in some Maghreb countries notably Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco face a different linguistic reality: they are apparently more closely linked to France and the francophone cultural area than to the Mashriq Arab countries and the English-speaking world. As Yahyawi (1992) notes, French is still widely used as a second language in the region, and it is important as a scholarly means of communication; indeed, a number of Maghreb writers even prefer to publish in French, as is reflected in the Tunisian Geographic Review (founded in 1978) and its editorial policies.
The Editorial Board of The Arab World Geographer does not have a magic formula for the many francophone geographers dealing with the Arab world in France alone, there are, currently some 170 active geographers focused on the Arab world, according to a list prepared by Michael F. Davie to persuade them to publish in English. In any event, it is our hope that AWG will be instrumental in encouraging all scholars, whether in francophone countries or elsewhere in the Arab world and beyond, to submit papers in English.
Arab diaspora geographers in particular are one identifiable group whose needs AWG wishes to address. In a significant sense, AWG can be broadly characterized as a journal of diaspora geographers for the Arab world. The idea for the journal and its actual publication came to fruition outside the Arab world, in Canada. Moreover, more than one-third of the members listed in its International Advisory Board and on the Editorial Board (both Arabs and non-Arabs) currently live and work far from their native lands. Their contributions, in particular, are solicited. The publication of AWG in the Arab diaspora will likely help many of these dispersed geographers find a focus for their research and an international forum for spirited exchange and mutual growth and enlightenment.
The scope of AWG is regionally specific, yet global. The journal opens its pages to original research papers beyond the Arab world and welcomes theoretically informed papers on various topics in the international discipline. Thus, Nepali labour migration to India, the theme of a paper in this issue, should interest many geographers who deal with regions that have experienced similar phenomena. Theories and concepts utilized in this paper can be tested and applied, for example, in examining Yemeni migration to Saudi Arabia or Egyptian labour migration to the Jordan Valley or to the United Arab Emirates. Similarly, the publication of Colin Flint's paper is of considerable potential use for political geographers, given the sources of material and methodology employed. Future issues of AWG will contain papers on post-Apartheid South Africa and slums in Bangladesh and Nigeria, topics that have various parallels and analogues in the Arab world. A potential comparative dimension is central to geographic inquiry as an international discipline.
The Arab World Geographer wishes to make clear right from the outset that the journal does not aim to legitimize or delegitimize perceptions about Arab and Moslem people and their places. We have no partisan agenda. Nor do we agree with any blinkered notion that reduces the Arab world to nothing but the victim of Western domination. Realities are far more complex. Yet our basic outlook is simple and clear: Arab world geography, like any other region around the world, has its own locus and identity. Islam as a religion and civilization continues to have a great impact in shaping the geography of the region. The geography of Islam cannot be reduced and transformed to power/knowledge constructs that accommodate the geopolitics and interests of others.
We hope the year 1998 (1419 Hegra) will in future come to be regarded as the birth-year of concerted efforts to spark a fresh renaissance for modern Arab geography. On the eve of the millennium, it is time we overcome the vestiges of insularity and organize to communicate
our work to the global community, striving to renew the ancient legacy of Arab geographers who were pioneers in the field from the 7th to 14th centuries, spearheading the development of the science in a then global context.
Makki, M. S. 1984. Population geography. Riyadh: Dar al-Marrikh. (Translation into Arabic of John Clarkes 1969 Population geography. Oxford: Pergamon Press).
Shair, I., and Al-Hasan, I. 1993. Census from heaven? Population estimates with remote sensing techniques. Amman: Dar Al-Bashir. (Translation into Arabic of Mikel Sterns 1985 Census from Heaven? Population Estimates with Remote Sensing Techniques. Lund: Lund University).
Shair, I., and Al-Sheikh, A. A. 1988. Perspective on the nature of geography. Riyadh: Dar al-Marrikh. (Translation into Arabic of Richard Hartshornes 1959 Perspective on the nature of geography. Chicago: Association of American Geographers, Monograph 1).
Wirth, E., ed. 1983. German geographical research in the Middle East. Beirut: Arab Institute for Research and Publishing. (In Arabic).
Yahyawi. R. 1992. Arabic language and foreign languages in the Maghreb. Al-Wahda 8: 198-204. (In Arabic).
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Contact: V.D.Mamadouh@frw.uva.nl | Last update: 22 October 1999