When Leadership Becomes Allegory: Mzeina Sheikhs and the Experience of Military Occupation

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

This article reconstructs the process by which Mzeina sheikhly allegories of leadership emerge. In terms of methodology, such a procedure entails combining traditional and experimental styles of textualizing the field experience. I will proceed as follows: first, in the course of reviewing the anthropological literature on Bedouin leadership, I discuss the postcolonial positions of sheikhs. Second, through my own interpretative voice I juxtapose these descriptions with the position of sheikhs among the Mzeina of the South Sinai. Weaving three dialogical vignettes from the field, I then explore the process of the temporaneous allegorical emergence of the sheikh qua leader-persona. In the penultimate section, combining approaches from anthropology and literary criticism, I theorize from these vignettes, discussing the poetic construction of sheikhly allegorical politics. I close with a brief narrative wherea participant to the events and history discussed here ironically reveals how, in the fantastic conditions of occupied Sinai, fiction becomes fact: a real sheikh spontaneously speaks the very script Doughty and Musil wrote for him a century before. I hope that this article, taken as a whole, provides a "polyphony of multiple discourses" (J. Clifford 1983:136), each relecting the others. Therefore, emulating the multilayeredness of allegories, this article will itself become an allegory. (Lavie, 101)

About the Author

Smadar Lavie is a Professor of Anthropology at University of California at Berkeley.

Israeli anthropologist, professor and author, Smadar Lavie has written and spoken widely about Middle-Eastern politics, feminism and society.  Her books include The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mzeina Allegories of Bedouin Identity(1990), Creativity/Anthropology (1993), and Displacement, Diaspora and Geographies of Identity (1996).  She earned both her Ph.D and M.A. from the University of California,Berkeley and has held teaching positions at  Diablo Valley College, University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Davis, the School of Media Studies, Sapir College of Negev, and between 2001-2007 she was a Visiting Associate Professor in the Social Science Division at Beit Berl Teacher's College.   

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