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Opinions: Mashriq-Maghrib: The Land of the Rising Sun and the Land of the Setting Sun.

Byline: Sondos Elgatit

Summary: "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet" is one of Kipling's most quoted lines. While the fact that what Americans refer to as the 'Far East' is actually just off their West Coast shows that 'East' and 'West' are not geographic realities, but political and cultural terms, it also exemplifies the power of the concept of East versus West.

"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet" is one of Kipling's most quoted lines. While the fact that what Americans refer to as the 'Far East' is actually just off their West Coast shows that 'East' and 'West' are not geographic realities, but political and cultural terms, it also exemplifies the power of the concept of East versus West.

But a simplistic opposition between East and West is challenged by the multiplicity of 'Easts' and 'Wests' in such pairings as East and West Africa, Eastern Europe and Western Europe, and the East and West coasts of the US.

In the Arab world East and West meet in Egypt which defies categorization and belongs to both the Mashriq (land of the rising sun) and the Maghrib (land of the setting sun), both regions defined in relation to this country has it is the 'beating heart of the Arab world'.

This classification had its classical equivalent in Asia Minor and Africa Minor, but this does not indicate an enduring division so much as continuing as they were a meeting place of Asia and Africa before they became an Arab speaking region straddling the two continents.

The Maghreb is often said to be doubly isolated by desert and sea, yet traders, tribes and traditions crossed the Sahara in both directions, and the Mediterranean was easier to cross and in fact connected the North African coastline to the East.

Two of the greatest periods in the history of the Maghreb were a result of a fusion of east and west. A Phoenician princess abandoning her Levantine homeland after losing a power struggle with her brother, and a millennium later an Umayyad noble fleeing Damascus after the Abbasid's came to power, both found a new home in what is now the Maghreb.

Cordoba and Carthage, the cities they founded, became centers of civilization which soon rivaled the magnificence of the East. But as Dr Belhachemi points out in regard to Andalusia, transplantation to a new African environment was crucial for the development of new products and new knowledge, which quickly made their way back across the Mediterranean.

Histories of the period often draw on the difference between East and West in their commentaries on events, as in the case of the Andalusian Ibn Said who argued that the Mashriq was more stable because its people were less likely to rebel against an unpopular ruler, being more mindful of the horrors of civil strife and the dangers of occupation than their Maghrebi counterparts.

A Muslim writing in Arabic in a part of Europe, Spain, which was then regarded as part of the Arab Maghreb, and who was writing in an era when Andalus was ruled by Muluk-ul-Tawaif (Kings of Sects) sees tolerance for tyranny as quite a useful thing if it stops the state from breaking down as it eventually did when Andalusia went the way of Carthage.

But not without leaving traces. It was the Phoenicians who introduced olive oil to the rest of the Mediterranean providing one common factor in both the diet and the landscape of the region, including the Maghreb and Mashriq.

In fact according to mythology it was Queen Elyssa herself who planted the first olive trees in North Africa, bringing her native Tyre in modern day Lebanon to Tunis. The shores of North Africa are dotted not only with Greek, Roman and Byzantine but also Phoenician ruins.

The musicians that were at first imported to Cordoba and Granada from Baghdad and Damascus evolved the Mowashahat tradition of chanted devotional poetry which the refugees from the reconquista have made native not only to Fez but to Aleppo.

A[umlaut] 2008 - The Tripoli Post

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Publication:The Tripoli Post (Tripoli, Libya)
Date:Jul 27, 2008
Words:695
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