Introduction

The position of women in the Middle East, and their role in the various processes and struggles for social and political change which are taking place in the area, are of crucial importance. This is so, both when we try to understand the societies of which they are a part, as well as when we consider general issues of women's struggles.

This is the second time Khamsin dwells on the subject of women. Khamsin no. 6, which included some systematic attempts to examine these issues in the Arab world and in Israel, is now out of print, although demand for it continues. Rather than reprinting it, we decided to dedicate another issue to the subject, updating and deepening some of the aspects of the analysis which we started then. We hope to continue this work in future issues.

The first article in the issue, by Magida Salman, a Lebanese feminist, attempts to describe and analyse some of the most general characteristics of gender relations in the Middle East as they have been constructed by the Muslim view of women's 'nature'. Only by understanding this basic perspective, hegemonic in the Arab society, can we appreciate the nature of the task which has confronted Arab women (and men) who have struggled to change this state of affairs.

The second article in this issue, by Selma Botman, looks at the political role played by Egyptian women (in the years 1939-52) who had to contend with this very reality. The article, however, written by an Egyptian feminist (and graduate student at Harvard University) goes further than that and points out some of the inherent practical, not to mention ideological, contradictions that have occurred between specific struggles for the change in the position of women and the general radical nationalist movement that took over political power in Egypt in the 1950s.

The relationship between women's struggle and the struggle for national liberation is the focus of the next article, by Hamida Kazi, an Indian feminist who studied the condition of Palestinian women in the West Bank for her Ph.D. thesis at the LSE (University of London).

Some Palestinian women have paid a high price for their participation in the Palestinian liberation struggle. Laila al-Hamdani, a Palestinian socialist, was arrested and put in an Israeli prison for three years for having been a political activist while a student in Bir-Zeit University. She describes, for the first time, the daily lives of Palestinian women political prisoners, their self-organization and their encounters with Israeli Jews-both as ambivalent fellow prisoners and as prison authorities.

An endemic question in the Israeli feminist movement, which has caused deep rifts at general feminist annual conferences, is the question ofthe co-operation between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab (both those who are Israeli citizens and those who live in the Occupied Territories) feminists. Debbie Lerman, an Israeli Jewish socialist-feminist has written a short piece to open the debate on why there has not been more co-operation between women of both nationalities, and on how to promote a common struggle.

The last article in the issue is written by Nira Yuval-Davis, an Israeli socialist-feminist sociologist. In her article she substantiates some of the claims madé in the previous piece on the constraints on the position of Israeli women as a result of the nature of Israel as a Zionist state. She examines the role of Israeli Jewish women as reproducers of the national collectivity and concentrates especially on the 'demographic race' which is often seen as vital to the survival of Israel as the Jewish state.

As our readers will note, Khamsin is now published by Zed Books. It will now appear as a series rather than a periodical (note the change from an ISSN number to an ISBN number). There is no change in the editorial structure and policy, but we do hope for an improved distribution. We call upon our readers to support us in that, as well as sending us relevant articles to consider for publication.