Archive: Academic English

Raising the Phoenix

The Rise and Decline of Student Political Activism in the Sudan

 Paper presented to the National Conference on Fostering Positive Political Participation of University Students and Youth in Development

12-13 December 2009 Khartoum, Sudan

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The basic theme of this study is that the political activism of the Sudanese student movement is, at present, in a state of decline and that any remedial effort first requires an examination of the reasons and processes of regression. The focus is mainly on the University of Khartoum as the institution with a history and legacy of a once vibrant student movement. Perceptions of decline usually stem from images of extraordinary past activism that are projected and contrasted with the present. The study offers the cautiously-optimistic proposition that the present itself may yet hold some possibilities for renewal. Read more

The Federal Option

Democratization and State-Building in Africa:
The Federal Option in the Sudanese Experience


Mohamed Beshir Hamid


An Arabic translation of this study was presented to the conference on Problems of Democratization in the Arab World (اشكاليات التحول الديمقراطى فى الوطن العربى) Cairo, Egypt, 2-3 March 1996. The writer is currently updating and expanding the Arabic version to cover the period from 1995 to the present as a book project.

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As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again to-day.
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

Hughes Mearns, The Psychoed





Democratization in Africa is a concern that dates back to, and was implicit in, the nationalist struggle for independence. But the parliamentary system inherited from the colonial period failed to live up to the democratic ideals. The failure was due partly to the colonial legacy and partly to the unresolved contradictions between the imperatives of democracy and the exigencies of development. “What emerged from the debris of the parliamentary model were varied forms of personal rule that achieved degrees of success, with varied degrees of coercion. Where there was success, however, it was precarious, temporary and crippled by its class and ethnic limitations; where there was failure, it was egregious, massive and tragic”.


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Critical Dialogue versus Sanctions

Instruments of International Politics – Critical Dialogue versus Sanctions:

The Role of the United Nations Reconsidered

Mohamed Beshir Hamid


Paper presented to the Bertelsman Foundation and Munich University Workshop Project on Critical Dialogue and Economic Sanctions, Munich, Germany, 1996





The post-Cold War period has seen the emergence of a number of approaches that seek to reexamine some of the strategies for international security and organization in the light of the transformation taking place in the international system. The renewed focus on a dialogue approach can be seen as a reaction to the increased multilateral and unilateral recourse to the sanctions regime. But while sanctions raise difficult questions in terms of practical application as well as of tensions with humanitarian concerns, the European critical dialogue is conceptually vague to the point of abstraction. The experience of economic sanctions demonstrates the need, first, to balance the humanitarian implications of sanctions with their expected political gains and, second, to avoid obscuring their explicit political goals with implicit agenda. Since there is no consensus on an alternative to economic sanctions, the challenge is how to refine them to reduce their negative impacts. In this context, the dialogue approach can come into play as a complement of, rather than a counterpoint to, the sanctions approach. The goal should be not to inflict collective punishment but to signal international censure in a process of gradual and limited application that places more premium on incentives than on coercion. Such a combined sanctions-and-dialogue approach might more readily bring about the desired changes of behavior by reinforcing recognition of mutual interests in observing international norms and in reintegrating the sanctioned state. This international reintegration, in turn, might encourage a similar process of internal reintegration. But just as the sanctions approach needs to be precisely clear in determining its target and goals, a dialogue policy should be unambiguous in defining its means and objectives. The focus of this dual process must be on its multilateral and not unilateral application. The United Nations constitutes a comprehensive forum that facilitates both dialogue and sanctions and provides the legitimating authority to endow the combined approach with political and moral force. But the tensions arising from new power realities and relations can no longer be effectively contained by Cold War security arrangements. For the international community to meet these challenges, the United Nations has to be reformed to make it more democratic and representative and more effective in transmitting its constitutive norms. The process of restructuring the emergent power relations of the new international order would likely be less disruptive if it is placed within the context of reforming the UN system.

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Perspectives on Democratization

This chapter was published in Population and Economic Growth: Perspectives from the Global South: (Reports and Papers No 7), Center for the Study of the Global South, School of International Service, The American University in Washington D.C. (March 30. 1994)


Some African Perspectives on Democratization and Development:
The Implications of Adjustment and Conditionality


Mohamed Beshir Hamid


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I. Introduction


The end of the Cold War, and subsequent transformations in the global order, has given rise to new external pressures on African states to democratize. These pressures have taken the form of political conditionality – the linkage of bilateral and multilateral aid to political and economic liberalization. The rationalization of this new approach – the so-called “democratization carrot” – is that political reform is necessary for economic development. This reform is usually envisaged in the form of multiparty liberal democracy with the emphasis on cultivating a political culture anchored in Western democratic values. Read more

Traditionism and Modernization

Download the full paper PDF [18 pages] Original scan in French

 Traditionalisme et Modernisation:
Une Perspective Politique

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Lecture: U.S. Intervention in Somalia

The U.S. Intervention in Somalia:

Revisiting the ‘White Man’s Burden’?



Public Lecture given to the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars in March 1993


The U.S. military intervention in Somalia was unique in many as aspects. It was an action invoked and justified as a moral imperative. According to Newsweek, President Bush told the American troops departing for Somalia they were doing “God’s work”. An article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Bring Back Lord Kitchener?” commented that “what Desert storm did for America’s military credibility, Somalia may do for America’s moral credibility”. An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor equates the national interest of the United States with the moral imperative to move “the international community towards a policy of responding to humanitarian and human-rights crises before they breed larger conflicts.” An essay in Time magazine entitled “sometimes Right Makes Might” observes that “what makes America’s intervention into Somalia seem so inspiring and also so dangerously slippery is that this might be the first time since the Crusades that an invasion has been launched for a purely moral rationale”.


These and other similar sentiment reflect perhaps the American tendency—some will say obsession—to ascribe morality to American actions, a morality that is always “self-defined” and often “self-righteous”. There is obviously nothing new in this. The best examples go back not exactly to the Crusades, but to the Wilsonian idealistic notion of “making the world safe for democracy”. The Cold War was always described by the United States in moral terms from Kennedy’s call to “pay any price and bear any burden” to Reagan’s uncharitable reference to the “Evil Empire”. But the real motivation was not morality but self-interest.

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Sudan’s Foreign Policy

Aspects of Sudanese Foreign Policy:
‘Splendid Isolation’, Radicalization and ‘Finlandization’


Mohamed Beshir Hamid


This chapter is an extract from Sudan since Independence: Studies of the Political Development since 1956, (R.K. Badal et al eds., Gower, London, 1986). The last section draws extensively from an article by the author, “the ‘Finlandization’ of Sudan Foreign Policy: Sudanese-Egyptian Relations since the Camp David Accords” in Journal of Arab Affairs, Vol. 2 No. 2, Spring, 1983 (Fresno, California) and from his contributions of the Sudan annual chapter to Africa Contemporary Record (London) from 1976 to 1985.

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The foreign policies of successive Sudanese governments since the period of self-determination had been characterized by a curious pattern in which policies changed course, or were aborted or reversed in a way that indicated the lack of any consistent or long-term foreign policy strategy. The first national government of Isma’il al-Azhari, elected in November 1953 on a platform calling for union with Egypt under the slogan of ‘Unity of the Nile Valley’ had by December 1955 opted for Sudan’s complete independence. The military regime of General Ibrahim ‘Abbud – despite, or perhaps because of, its rather consistent record of passive withdrawal and non- involvement in foreign affairs – had managed by 1964 to dissipate the goodwill it had initially generated with Egypt, and to alienate Sudan’s African neighbours by its harsh and brutal policy in southern Sudan. The radical foreign policy initiated by the first provisional government in October 1964, had ended by July 1965 in a new retreat to conservatism. The Numayri regime undoubtedly beat all records for policy reversal by making a complete U-turn from a pro-Soviet stance in 1969 to a pro-Western posture by 1976 – a reversal of policy which, not coincidentally, ran parallel to that of Egypt. Read more

Anti-Americanism 3rd World


Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy

Edited by Alvin Z. Rubinstein and Donald E. Smith PRAEGER
(New York 1985)


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Perception, Preference, and Policy:
An Afro-Arab Perspective of Anti-Americanism

Mohammad Beshir Hamid


The evil in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do
as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men are more good
than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant and it is
that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which
fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill…

Albert Camus, Le Peste (1947)



Anti-Americanism, as such, is not a new phenomenon. Nor is it one originating in, or confined to, Third World countries. Consider the following expressions: “Degraded thinking, lying deception and unlimited greed are the natural and inescapable consequences of the commercial spirit, a spirit that like a tidal wave inundates the highest and lowest elements of American society”. “In this [American] society composed of a mixture of all peoples, freedom is purely materialistic and lacking in all idealism”. “Just read the newspapers of opposing parties during a presidential campaign, and rest assured, you would believe the candidate for this highest honor in the United States deserved life-imprisonment sooner than residence in the White House”. “Cheating is an old American custom”. 

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For going over the preliminary draft of this paper and for their valuable advice and comments, I am grateful to Professor L. Carl Brown, Director of the Program in Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.; to Professor Richard P. Stevens of the Center (or Contemporary Arab Studies. Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; to Professor Alvin Z. Rubinstein of the Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.; and to Professors Richard and Carolyn Lobban of the Department of Anthropology and African Studies, Rhode Island College, Providence R. l. Needless to say, I am solely responsible for the perspective and the shortcomings. 


National Reconciliation

Occasional Papers Series




Mohamed Beshir Hamid
November 1984

Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
Georgetown University Washington D.C. 20057 

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“I don’t see much sense in that.” said Rabbit.
“No,” said Pooh humbly, “there isn’t.
But there was going to be when I began it.
It’s just that something happened to it on the way.”

A.A. Milne. The House at Pooh Corner




The Historical and Political Background


Located astride a number of significant cultural and strategic boundaries, the Sudan occupies a key position between the Arab and African worlds. Its modem history can be traced to the Egyptian invasion in 1820, under the nominal sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. The Turco- Egyptian occupation lasted for over sixty years and was ended in 1885 by an Islamic nationalist movement under the leadership of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi. The Mahdist revolution succeeded in the reconstruction of a politically independent and unified Sudan; but the Mahdist state itself was short-lived. Al-Mahdi’s successor, the khalifa ‘Abdullahi, was defeated in 1898 by the combined forces of Britain and Egypt, and the Sudan came to be ruled under the so-called Anglo-Egyptian “condominium.”


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Devolution & National Integration

Devolution and National Integration in the Sudan

Mohamed Beshir Hamid


This study appeared as a chapter in Sudan since Independence: Studies of the Political Development since 1956, (R. K. Badal et al eds. Gower, London, 1986). The original draft was presented at the Marga Institute Dialogues on Devolution and Ethnicity, Colombo, Sri Lanka (12-17 December 1983) and was published in Ethnic Studies Report, Vol. 2, No. 2, Kandy, Sri Lanka (July 1984). 

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Would it not then
Be simpler for the government
To dissolve the People and
Elect another?

Bertolt Brecht, The Solution (1954)



The problems of national integration have plagued many countries, particularly in the third world where ethnic, religious and cultural differences have in some instances brought the state to the verge, if not actually into the abyss, of national disintegration. These problems are by no means confined to developing countries; in some of the most developed ones the traditional fabric of society has been threatened by similar forces, as in the case of Britain, Canada and the USA.


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