In various places around the world, winds have names. There is the mistral in southern France, the sirocco in Italy, the foehn in the Alps, and the Santa Ana in southern California. In each case, legend and folk wisdom cast the wind as harbinger or bearer of misfortune, as heralding or causing anything from natural disasters to aberrations of human behaviour.
The Middle Eastern equivalent is the khamsin, a scorching desert wind that sweeps from Upper Egypt through the eastern Mediterranean. It takes its name from the Arabic word meaning fifty, for it is said to blow for fifty days a year, in particular the fifty days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, a Christian holiday commemorating the day the Holy Spirit is supposed to have descended on the apostles. Of all the world’s named winds, the khamsin is perhaps the most evocative of its region, for metaphorically at least, the khamsin has blown relentlessly over the Middle East for decades.
That is why Khamsin seemed an apposite title for a journal whose aim was to deal with all the intractable predicaments of the Middle East, from points of view likely to be ill-received by supporters of any of the states, political rulers, or even mass movements of the region. The image may be hackneyed, but one of the reasons for its over-use is its verisimilitude; as long as anyone alive can remember, the countries of this part of the world have been flayed by the destructive gales of religious intolerance, nationalist excess and oppression, economic exploitation, sexual discrimination, colonialism, industrial under-development, brutal civil wars, and debilitating wars between states.
The Middle East has been among the most tortured regions of the world in the twentieth century: there is hardly a problem of contemporary society and politics that does not possess a particularly severe form there. Nevertheless, in all the various countries, there have always been people who have challenged the status quo with the vision of a future that, however distant and elusive, nonetheless contains some hope.
The journal Khamsin was founded by a small group of such people in Paris, in 1975. The participants were citizens of a number of different countries; they included anti-Zionist Israeli Jews and Arab oppositionists from various states. The originator of the idea for the journal, and its most active editor during the early issues, was Eli Lobel, to whom this volume is dedicated and who died in autumn 1979. (A tribute to him, which appeared in Khamsin 7, is reprinted here).
The intention of the founding group was to create a journal which, while committed to the fight for progress and against all species of oppression and exploitation in the Middle East, would avoid alignment with any particular organized political tendency, and would therefore act as a forum for discussion and debate free of the constraints of organizational engagements. Some editors and contributors, of course, have been members of different political groups, but the journal itself has never acted as the mouthpiece of any of them.
The members of the editorial group and the editorial collective share a common outlook on certain crucial points, such as their radical socialist outlook, their opposition to nationalism as an ideology, their commitment to the struggle against Zionism, their rejection of foreign domination and of the oppression of women. But there has been – and still is – a pronounced lack of uniformity among the contributors and editors in their views on any number of particular political and ideological issues, small or large.
The first four issues of Khamsin were published in French, by Editions Francois Maspero in Paris. With issue number 5, published in 1978, the journal moved to London and began to be produced in English, primarily so as to reach a larger number of readers in the Middle East itself, and to take advantage of the more widespread use of English among potential contributors, nearly all of whom are from Middle Eastern countries.
Since then, each issue has featured a particular theme, on which several of the articles of that issue have been centred. The theme of Khamsin 5 was Oriental Jewry, of Khamsin 6 Women in the Arab World, of Khamsin 7 Communist Parties of the Middle East, of Khamsin 8 Politics of Religion in the Middle East. Khamsin 9 had a continuation of that theme, plus Capitalism in Egypt; the theme of Khamsin 10, the latest to be published so far, was Israel and its War in Lebanon.
The journal is now published by Ithaca Press, London. Each issue (normally 128 pages in book format) contains, apart from the articles on the theme, a range of contributions including such items as book reviews, correspondence from the Middle East, debates about conjunctural political questions (such as the strategy and tactics of the Palestinian resistance movement), and essays on historical subjects and contemporary analysis. The criterion of the present selection of articles has been to choose those dealing with topics the very discussion of which is often proscribed or fettered in the Middle East itself. The choices are also among the least dependent on the particular circumstances that prevailed at the time the pieces were written.
To some extent, of course, the division of this book into thematic sections is arbitrary. The nature and practice of the Zionist movement is a repeated theme throughout the collection; the articles dealing with women naturally also treat questions of religion, which also feature prominently in the section on the Oriental Jews in Israel. In fact, one of the hallmarks of Khamsin is its idea of the basic interdependence of the region politically, economically, and socially. Yet it is fair to say that the sections of this anthology accurately reflect both the central concerns of Khamsin as a journal and the critical issues of the region.
The preponderant place of the question of Israel and the Palestinians both in this collection and in Khamsin generally is a product of the pressures of reality, and not a matter of the preferences of the editorial group. In fact, from the beginning the editors have sought to treat a wide gamut of subjects extending beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some indication of how well they have succeeded may be afforded by a list of some of the articles that were not selected here. They include pieces on the limits of industrialization in the Arab world (focusing on the case of Iraq); the reasons for the decline of Egyptian Jewry; the development of the class struggle in Egypt; the question of national formation in the Arab world, confronting the theories of Samir Amin; the history of the Communist Parties of Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan and the positions of Arab Communist Parties on the Palestine question in the forties; the insurgent republic in Gilan province in northern Iran in June 1921; the economic and political development of the Arab ruling classes in the 1970s; the role of the Shi’i clergy in modern Iranian politics; the rise of capitalism in Egypt and the character of the Egyptian social formation; the place of tragic heroes and victims in Zionist ideology and Israeli literature.
Since the articles in this collection are arranged by theme, they may be read in any order desired. Within each section, the articles are generally, though not rigidly, presented in chronological order of their appearance in Khamsin. The brief introductions to each section are intended merely to set a context for the articles, and in some cases to explain the conditions in which they were written. Authors are also identified in these introductory paragraphs. No substantive editorial changes have been made, only the correction of a few minor errors, the addition of a number of explanatory remarks and references, and some small stylistic alterations. Otherwise, the articles are printed here as they were first published. It should be superfluous to add that the various authors are responsible only for their own articles, and not for the collection as a whole or for the introductions to their pieces.