New book – Pop Culture in North Africa and the Middle East

Here’s a link to my new book, Pop Culture in North Africa and the Middle East, with a detailed content list and limited access to many pages. The first iteration of this book in 2005 allowed the phrase ‘Arab world’ in the title. Although I saw that as some kind of victory over the colonial nomenclature of ‘Middle East’, the fact is it is equally problematic and requires its justifications and correctives. This time round, the publisher, ABC-CLIO, preferred a geographically located regional title, and I think it’s a good thing that in that context we made a distinction between North Africa and the Middle East. There is no clear boundary between the two: some would include Egypt in North Africa from a purely geographical  perspective, while a Moroccan friend argued that Libya was more Mashriq, and so Middle East, than North Africa because he finds their Arabic dialects too difficult to follow. But recognition of the difference these two zones is a good thing in my view, so it works as an alternative to the unquestionably ideological ‘Arab world’.

The more important issue with this book is that it is written in the shadow of the Arab Spring uprisings and thus surveys the region and its cultural production in the context of those events. The Arab Spring as a failure or a bad idea in the first place has become fashionable in some areas of public discourse on the Middle East/North Africa/Arab world, but it’s a short-sighted and rather political analysis in my opinion. The popular protest movements of 2011 captured trends across politics, economy, religion and media which have reframed those fields and how we understand the region. Cliches of passive Arabs have been exposed for the manipulative discourse of which they were always a part and attention appears to have shifted in academia towards the dark arts of regime securitisation and sectarianisation, on the one hand, and new media as an arena of resistance and counter-resistance, on the other. The book is intended as both a Middle East Studies textbook and reference book, and a station for pausing to consider how we define this region at a point of intense conflict and change in its modern history.

Arab Media: From Decolonisation to Arab Spring

(First published by Italian think tank IPSI)

Arab media has been a powerful tool in the hands of Arab states since the decolonisation period. The Nasser regime used radio, television and print media to mobilise support for Egypt’s Non-Aligned and Pan-Arab foreign policy, apply methods of mass media propaganda developed in Europe and establishing a model for the region. The power of media to function as a subversive force was seen in the 1970s when cassette tapes of preachers denouncing governments for tyranny and corruption spread in Egypt and Iran. Continue reading Arab Media: From Decolonisation to Arab Spring

عن استقلال الاعلام الغربي في الشرق الأوسط

تشرفت بفرصة نشر القال التالي في صحيفة الاخبار اللبنانية – عن موضوع الاستقلالية المزعومة في طريقة تغطيتها لأحداث الشرق الأوسط.

 al-akhbar.com/node/238223

إني أشهد… لماذا نحر الإعلام الغربي ضميره على مذبح آل سعود؟ Continue reading عن استقلال الاعلام الغربي في الشرق الأوسط

Making and Unmaking a revolution: Media and Bahrain

Media freedom has been one of the prime victims of the conflict in Bahrain since 2011. Both sides in the conflict saw media as a key arena for propagating their message and winning support. The protesters turned to outlets that would listen to them such as Iran’s Al-Alam, Al Jazeera English and the new social platform of Twitter. The government and its supporters hit back and ultimately proved successful in instrumentalizing both old and new media to crush the uprising and end at least for now the threat to the entrenched elites who run the country and benefit from its political and economic system. Continue reading Making and Unmaking a revolution: Media and Bahrain

EL PUZLE ISLÁMICO: Batallas internas en el islam político

Published in Spanish in Vanguardia Dossier, July/Sept 2014

Islamic society and politics in the Middle East are riven by two schisms today that have produced violent instability that is set to continue until a critical moment, such as the fall of a regime such as that in Iran or Saudi Arabia, or a historical compromise between the two. It would be hard to choose one as more unlikely than the other in the current situation. Both conflicts are products of the past generation and though they have developed separately it is possible to see a link between them if we consider the Islamic Republic in Iran as a Shi’ite mirror image of the political Islam that the Brotherhood and movements such as Ennahda, Hamas, Islah are representative of within a Sunni framework. Continue reading EL PUZLE ISLÁMICO: Batallas internas en el islam político

Reform and Dissent in Saudi Arabia since 2011

From BBC Arabic on release of documentary Saudi Secret Uprising

_75195397_safaincarThe Saudi regime likes to present the country as an apolitical space where the rules of normal politics don’t apply. It promotes a vision of Saudi Arabia as an Islamic utopia, replicating the Sharia state of the early Islamic era, with Al Saud in charge of the political affairs of state and the religious scholars (ulama) assuring the application of God’s law in society. This schema obviates the need for political parties, elected legislature or right to public protest since the divinely-ordained society would have no differing opinion and the ulama have in any case arrogated the right to rule to the dynasty. Continue reading Reform and Dissent in Saudi Arabia since 2011

TIME: In Egypt, It’s Street Art vs. State Soap

Before the street, there was the screen — and the stage. In Syria and Egypt pre-2011, citizens used soap operas, plays and songs to voice political commentary — slipping criticism in between lines and lyrics. Then, the Arab Spring began, collapsing this natural order and impaling the region’s most powerful and traditional motors of media production in Egypt and Syria. Continue reading TIME: In Egypt, It’s Street Art vs. State Soap

ECFR: Gulf rift: uneasy dynasties in a changing world

This week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, citing Qatar’s apparent failure to heed the terms of a security agreement made at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting late last year. The two issues in the dispute are Qatar’s perceived backing for the Egyptian Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the coverage on Qatari pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera, which has been favourable to the Brotherhood and its challenge to the Egyptian authorities after the military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last year. Continue reading ECFR: Gulf rift: uneasy dynasties in a changing world