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.

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

Qatar’s Emir setting up alternative to Al Jazeera?

Qatar’s Emir Tamim doesn’t have so much a Brotherhood problem as father issues. That’s the more likely explanation of a new television project that Qatar is involved in, people familiar with the project say. Tamim has set in motion a project to set up a channel, whose name could be Al-Arabi or Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, based out of London. Continue reading Qatar’s Emir setting up alternative to Al Jazeera?

Syria and the Battle for Public Opinion

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s recent intervention in American politics with an article placed in The New York Times was possibly the most spectacular turn in an immense battle raging in parallel to the Syrian civil war over the past two years – a battle for control of the narrative. Continue reading Syria and the Battle for Public Opinion

King says foreign media exaggerate unrest in Bahrain

Wed May 2, 2012 3:33pm EDT

* King Hamad: ‘Wilful foreign media campaign to distort facts’

* Solve any such problem by letting in foreign media -watchdog

* Bahraini monarch expresses commitment to media freedom

By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI, May 2 (Reuters) – King Hamad accused foreign media on Wednesday of exaggerating unrest and inciting violence in Bahrain after the Gulf Arab state hosted a Formula One race last month that tu r ned into a public relations headache.

The U.S. ally has been in turmoil since activists launched protests in February 2011 after successful popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The authorities tried to crush the uprising for democratic reforms with martial law and bringing in Saudi troops. But more than a year later, unrest has not gone away.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to stop dozens who tried to protest in Manama on Tuesday. Activists reported tear gas and birdshot fired in Jidhafs on the edge of the capital on Wednesday in a rally for the release of a hunger striker.

Bahraini authorities drew criticism from media freedom groups when they stopped some journalists entering the country ahead of the April 20-22 Grand Prix race. Critics said Manama staged the race as an improper show of normality in the country.

“It is quite clear that Bahrain has been targeted by purposeful, wilful campaigns in some foreign media that sought to distort true facts, instigate violence, sabotage, hatred and hostility among citizens in our united nation,” the king said in a speech carried by the state news agency BNA marking the International Day for Freedom of the Press on Thursday.

He gave no details on which media he was referring to, but said Bahrain would assure freedom of expression.

Bahrain has not been given the same attention in Gulf-owned, pan-Arab media outlets as uprisings in other Arab states, though Qatar-owned Al Jazeera has raised its coverage in recent weeks.

“There should be no tampering with the right of Bahraini citizens to express their opinions, nor any ceiling to freedom and creativity, except professionalism, national and ethical responsibilities and observance of the people’s unity and national interest…,” the monarch said.

Answering criticism over its media policy regarding the Grand Prix, the government said that it was not trying to suppress coverage and had let in more than 200 journalists to cover the race. It said that following the race it would admit non-sports journalists who had been barred earlier.

“If Bahrain believes it is the victim of distorted coverage abroad, there’s a simple solution: allow foreign journalists to enter the country and report freely,” said Robert Mahoney, Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Independent and opposition journalists in the country have endured the worst conditions since King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa assumed the throne in 1999,” he told Reuters.


Opposition parties hold weekly rallies and riot police clash almost nightly with protesters in villages of the Shi’ite Muslim majority demanding reforms that would reduce the extensive powers of the ruling Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family.

The Sunni monarchy says it has started reforms in the police, judicial and media after a report by rights investigators criticising last year’s crackdown on dissidents and referring to widespread use of torture.

But it has given no ground on the central opposition demand – full powers for parliament to legislate and form governments.

Columnists in Bahraini daily papers – all but one is pro-government – have denounced the main Shi’ite opposition party Wefaq as “the Bahraini Hezbollah”, in reference to the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militant movement. Many Bahrain activists follow online sites based abroad, such as Bahrain Mirror.

State television does not cover opposition rallies or feature opposition leaders as guests. A new minister of state for information, Samira Rajab, appointed last month, has been a prominent defender of government policies in Arab media.

A former supporter of the Iraqi Baath party of late dictator Saddam Hussein, Rajab regularly denounces Wefaq as a believer in Iran’s system of clerical government. Rajab says the opposition have declined offers to appear on state television.

Ali al-Deiry, a well-known Bahraini journalist who fled abroad during the crackdown, ridiculed King Hamad’s remarks.

“The gap is widening day after day between what the king says and the reality on the ground. The facts blatantly contradict what he says,” he told Reuters from a location outside Bahrain that he did not want revealed.

“There is no reform in the media at all, and it was a surprise for them that foreign media (during Formula One) did not wait for approval from them for what it said.”