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.