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Origins of Writing in Northeastern Africa  

John Coleman Darnell

The Egyptian hieroglyphic script is one of the longest attested continuous uses of a writing system in world history. Between the late fourth century CE and the early nineteenth century, knowledge of the hieroglyphic script was lost, and the complexities of its mixed system of phonetic and ideographic signs delayed decipherment until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the work of Jean-François Champollion and other pioneers. Egyptian hieroglyphic writing originated between 3300 and 3100 bce, on the basis of evidence attested in funerary and petroglyphic contexts; the early date of phonetic hieroglyphic writing in Upper Egypt confirms the independent development of the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing systems. Rather than emerging abruptly and fully formed during the reign of a Dynasty 0 ruler c. 3250 bce, hieroglyphs appear to have a millennium-long “proto-history.” Decorated ceramics, small inscribed objects, and a large corpus of Upper Egyptian and Nubian rock art indicate that visual communication prior to true writing in Upper Egypt could express key early political and religious concepts, developing a form of “iconographic syntax.” Careful examination of predynastic iconography thus provides the conceptual missing link in the origins of writing in Northeastern Africa. The marginal environments of ancient Egypt—the Western Desert and Sinai Peninsula—also preserve evidence for the development of the world’s first alphabetic script, a writing system that emerged c. 1800 bce from contact between ancient Egyptian scribes and Semitic speakers who participated in Egyptian expeditions, with signs deriving from Egyptian scripts. During the 2nd century bce, the Meroitic script, with signs also originating in both cursive and hieroglyphic Egyptian scripts, developed in the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe and remained in use for as many as 700 years.

Article

Medieval/Christian Nubia  

Alexandros Tsakos

“Christian Nubia” is a term that describes the cultures that developed south of Egypt roughly between the 5th and 15th centuries ce. Although it is often also called “medieval Nubia,” its major characteristic is Christianity, practiced by Nubian-speaking peoples living in at least three kingdoms, namely, Nobadia, Makuria, and Alwa. Very little is known about Alwa, both because of limited archaeological research in the region and due to the focus of written sources on Nobadia and Makuria, which were closer to Egypt. What is known about the Christian Nubian kingdoms suggests that they were heavily influenced by their northern neighbor. In the first centuries of the medieval era, Nubia received the Christian faith and church organization of Byzantine Egypt, and its church was subsequently subordinated to the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria. After the Arab conquest of Egypt, the relations between the Caliphate and Makuria were defined by an agreement called the Baqt, which was signed after a failed siege of the Makuritan capital in 651–652. The Fatimid period of Egypt coincided with the apogee of Christian Nubian civilization, while the arrival of the Ayyubids in the 12th century broke with a long-standing tradition of relatively peaceful coexistence. Interventions from the north increased under the Mamluks, particularly due to internal strife and dynastic conflicts in Nubia itself. After two tumultuous centuries, Muslim rulers took over the throne of Old Dongola, the capital of Makuria. Bedouins then pushed the centers of Christian authority to the peripheries of Makuria and to centers in northern Nubia, such as Qasr Ibrim and Gebel Adda, where the last Christian Nubian king is attested in an inscription in Old Nubian dating from 1483. Soba, the capital of Alwa and perhaps the largest city of Nubia, was also in ruins by the early 16th century, as witnessed by European travelers to the region.

Article

The History of Sudanese Nationalism  

Yoshiko Kurita

Ever since its conquest by the armies of Muḥammad ‘Alī Pasha in 1820, Sudan (the Republic of Sudan today) has been subjugated to colonial rule by foreign powers—first by the Ottoman-Egyptian regime from 1821 to 1885, then by the British (nominally the Anglo-Egyptian “Condominium”) from 1899 to 1955. Consequently, modern Sudanese history came to be characterized by the emergence of a series of anticolonial popular struggles, such as the Mahdist movement (1881–1898), the 1924 Revolution, and other political movements in the 1940s and 1950s. In spite of apparent differences in style, method, and ideological background, these were essentially based on the energy of the masses aspiring for liberation from colonial rule. The development of the national liberation movement in Sudan was a complicated process, since the modern Sudanese state itself was an artificial colonial state, and it was never self-evident what the “Sudanese nation” was. Building solidarity among peoples of different cultural and religious backgrounds within Sudan (such as the mainly Arab Muslim population in the north and peoples of different backgrounds in the south and the Nuba Mountains) turned out to be crucial to the anticolonial struggle. Because of the colonial situation which prevailed in the Nile Valley after the 1880s (Egypt itself was occupied by the British in 1882), the idea of a regional (if apparently contradictory) coordination of “Sudanese nationalism” and the cause of the “unity of the Nile Valley” coexisted. Finally, since colonialism inevitably had its socioeconomic dimensions, a conflict of interests between the privileged local elites (tribal and religious leaders) and the general masses emerged, leading to a struggle over who would represent the “Sudanese nation.” The independence of the country in 1956 did not put an end to the question of Sudanese nationalism, since the colonial nature of the modern Sudanese state remained unchanged, and the popular struggle against oppressive state apparatus and social injustice continued even after independence. Various elements of civil society, including trade unions, students, and women, called for a democratic transformation of the Sudanese state. Peoples of the politically and economically “marginalized” areas in Sudan (such as the South and the Nuba Mountains) rose up in protest against underdevelopment, leading eventually to the emergence of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SLPM) in the 1980s, which advocated the vision of “New Sudan”—a type of “Sudanese nationalism,” so to speak, based on the aspirations of marginalized areas. Although, with the independence of the South in 2011 (a development which was not originally anticipated by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] itself) the modern Sudanese state (as it used to be known) ceased to exist, this does not mean that the heritage of various anticolonial struggles in Sudan has been meaningless. Rather, it constitutes a common property, so to speak, for the peoples in the region (though now divided between different states), and serves as a source of historical lessons and political inspiration for future generations.

Article

Arab Spring  

Ahmed Abushouk

The phrase “Arab Spring,” “Arab Awakening,” or “Arab Uprisings” refers to the series of prodemocracy protests and demonstrations that erupted in the Arab world. It began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread to other countries, most notably Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, in 2011. The demonstrators expressed their political and economic grievances and called for regime change: “The people want to bring down the regime.” Under the increasing pressure of the mass protests, Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (r. 1978–2011) fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011; Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (r. 1981–2011) resigned on February 11, 2011; Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (r. 1969–2011) was deposed on August 23, 2011, and killed on October 20, 2011, in his hometown of Sirte after the National Transitional Council took control of the city; and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh (r. 1990–2012) resigned in favor of his vice president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Hadi became president for a two-year transitional period on February 25, 2012, but Yemen remained deeply divided between government supporters and the Houthi rebels who killed Saleh on December 4, 2017, in Sanaa. This change of leadership did not improve the political and economic situation in the Arab Spring countries but rather led to a contentious struggle between remnants of the old regimes and prodemocracy supporters, which finally turned into devastating civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The second wave of the Arab Spring took place in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, and Lebanon, confirming the persistent conditions that led to the outbreak of the first wave against tyranny and exploitation in the early 2010s. The two waves of the Arab Spring have drawn global attention. Tawakkol Karman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her role in organizing peaceful protests in Yemen. Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda won the 2011 World Press Photo Award for his photograph of a Yemeni woman carrying an injured family member, taken during the civil uprising in Yemen.

Article

Ancient Egypt and Southwest Asia  

Jana Mynářová

Relations between ancient Egypt and the neighboring regions of Southwest Asia, which began to form already in prehistoric and early historic times, underwent a significant development consisting of a series of booms and declines before reaching the Iron Age (c. 1150–586 bc). The geographic conditions stand out as a crucial element in this formation process, as these enabled the essential communication between the respective cultural and political entities. In these historical periods, the relations were realized on several bases, and the presence of Egyptians in the regions of the Levant, as well as “foreigners” in Egypt, is well attested both by means of archaeological and textual evidence.

Article

Education in Colonial Sudan, 1900–1957  

Iris Seri-Hersch

In the first half of the 20th century, Sudan, which included the territories of present-day Sudan and South Sudan, was ruled by a dual colonial government known as the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899–1956). Britain was the senior partner in this administration, Egypt being itself politically and militarily subordinated to Britain between 1882 and 1956. During most of the colonial period, Sudan was ruled as two Sudans, as the British sought to separate the predominantly Islamic and Arabic-speaking North from the multireligious and multilingual South. Educational policy was no exception to this: until 1947, the British developed a government school system in the North while leaving educational matters in the hands of Christian missionaries in the South. In the North, the numerically dominant government school network coexisted with Egyptian schools, missionary schools, community schools, and Sudanese private schools. In the South, schools were established by the Anglican Church Missionary Society, the Roman Catholic Verona Fathers, and the American Presbyterian Mission. Whereas Arabic and English were the mediums of instruction in Northern schools, the linguistic situation was more complicated in the South, where local vernaculars, English and Romanized Arabic were used in missionary schools. The last colonial decade (1947–1957) witnessed a triple process of educational expansion, unification, and nationalization. Mounting Anglo-Egyptian rivalries over the control of Sudan and the polarization of Sudanese nationalists into “pro-British” independentists and “pro-Egyptian” unionists led the British authorities in Khartoum to boost government education while giving up the policy of separate rule between North and South. In practice, educational unification of the two Sudanese regions meant the alignment of Southern curricula on Northern programs and the introduction of Arabic into Southern schools, first as a subject matter, then as a medium of instruction. Missionary and other private schools were nationalized one year after Sudan gained independence from Britain and Egypt (1956).

Article

The Nile Waters Issue  

Terje Tvedt

To understand the role of the modern Nile in African history, it is first necessary to have familiarity with the premodern “natural” Nile, including both its hydrology and societal importance. It is well known that no river basin in the world has a longer, more complex, and more eventful history. The Nile water issue in modern times is a history of how economic and political developments in East and North Africa have been fundamentally shaped by the interconnectedness of the Nile’s particular physical and hydrological character; the efforts of adapting to, controlling, using, and sharing the waters of the river; and the different ideas and ambitions that political leaders have had for the Nile.

Article

Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century  

Teshale Tibebu

The history of Ethiopia during the 19th century involved three fundamental processes: (1) the Zämänä Mäsafənt (Era of Princes) and its coming to an end under Kassa Häylu, later Emperor Tewodros II; (2) the repeated attempts by Egypt and Italy to colonize Ethiopia, culminating in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896; and (3) Mənilək’s territorial expansion and conquest of what is now southern Ethiopia during the last quarter of the 19th century in campaigns known as agär maqnat. These three distinct, yet related, processes laid the foundations for the making of modern Ethiopia. The end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt was a key factor in centralizing state power in the hands of the emperors of Ethiopia. It enabled consolidating the power of the regional lords under the emperor, which in turn played a critical role in confronting Egypt and Italy’s colonial intrusions in the late 19th century. Mənilək’s territorial conquests in the south further strengthened the state, garnering vast human and material resources that played a critical role in the Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa. All three processes worked in tandem: the end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt created a strong centralized state; such a state succeeded in nipping in the bud the colonial invasions of Egypt and Italy; and the successes of the agär maqnat campaigns added to the overall strength of the country. It also laid the ground for the problems of the 20th century, chief among them being the “national question.”