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The Sidahmeds deal with the political history of post-colonial Sudan and a short but weighty postscript outlines developments of recent years. Their declared aim is to "provide an adequate background to understand present-day Sudan and its international relations, and to indicate a pointer to the way ahead as far as its political and economic development are concerned." They have done a very good job explaining present-day Sudan and describing the crossroads at which the state now finds itself.

Abdel Salam Sidahmed is an honorary research fellow at the Institute for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Durham; Alsir Sidahmed is a freelance journalist. Both are Arab Muslims originally from northern Sudan.[1] The authors' origins are relevant, for their book provides a distinctive perspective, one that complements the recent stream of books written mostly by either Western scholars, including Robert O. Collins and J. Millard Burr's study of Hasan al-Turabi and the Islamist state[2] (although Burr is originally from Sudan), and Douglas H. Johnson's book on Sudan's civil wars,[3] or Sudanese scholars and others sympathetic to the Christian and animist south, such as Mansour Khalid's study of war and peace in Sudan.[4] This makes Sudan: The Contemporary Middle East an essential and enriching addition on Sudanese state and society.

Sudan focuses mainly on internal issues, including a brief chapter on economic affairs, in which they discuss the issue of oil, Sudan's leading export and a commodity that increasingly dominates its politics. The book also examines the country's broader geopolitical situation and its effect on domestic stability. Examining Sudan's state formation from the nineteenth century onwards, the authors analyze the major features and functioning of Sudan's political machinery, which has been characterized by a cycle of alternating civilian and military regimes. Their survey is illuminating, providing rich information and thorough discussion of Sudan's political map.

In their conclusion, the authors find that the country has been "involved in a painful search for Sudan's soul for the past half century." It has also been engaged in an equally painful search for its "body," that is, an ongoing attempt to maintain the country's political stability and territorial integrity.

[1] "North Sudan" actually encompasses the east, west, and center of Sudan—a huge territorial expanse; the editors use it because "North" and "South" are commonplace in dealing with the sides in Sudan's civil war.
[2] J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, Revolutionary Sudan: Hasan al-Turabi and the Islamist State, 1989-2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
[3] Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2003).
[4] Mansour Khalid, War and Peace in Sudan: A Tale of Two Countries (London: Kegan Paul International [KPI], 2003). For details on the above-mentioned books, see Michael Rubin, "Brief Reviews," Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2004, pp. 83-95.