World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


New Communication Media in the Arab World (022) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: MON 19, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:
Chair: Ece Algan (Assistant Professor - California State University, San Bernardino)

Discussant:Nahid Siamdoust (D.Phil. Candidate in Modern Middle Eastern Stds - Oxford University)

Paper Presenter: Teresa Pepe (Phd Student in Near and Middle East Studies, University of Naples L'Orientale- Research Fellow in American University in Ciaro), “When a Blog Turns into a Best-seller: A Study about ''Ana Ayza Atgawwaz'' by Ghada Abdel Ali”
The study explores the phenomenon of publishing books from blogs which was introduced in 2008 in Egypt by the publishing houses Dar el-Shorouk and Dar el-Malamih and reached an immediate success. In particular, it focuses on the blog 'Wanna-be-a-Bride' which was started by Ghada Abdel Ali in 2006 and published as a book by Dar el-Shorouk in 2008. Earlier studies of the Arab blogosphere have analyzed the role of blogs in political and social activism, or as a competitive alternative to traditional media channels. Very little, almost nothing was published on Arabic cyber-literature. The study analyzes the debate arisen among Egyptian critics and writers and appeared on several newspapers and journals (Al-Rafid, Al Masry al Youm) about blogs as a new literary genre and the literary value of 'Ana Ayza Atgawwaz'. Through the example of Ghada Abdel Ali’s book, the research highlights the main features of cyber-literature and printed blogs, taking into account the author/reader relation, the text flexibility, the writer anonymity and the influence of oral narrative. Then, the article looks at the reasons which push the Egyptian editors to publish books from blog. It explores the factors which account for Ghada Abdel Ali’s success, since she has become the most popular and youngest Egyptian women writer and her book has reached its seventh print, has been translated in several languages and has now been turned in a TV-serial. Basing on interviews and Arabic and Western literary criticism, the article reveals that blogosphere is an alternative platform of literary publishing in Egypt, since the ordinary publishing scene is still hampered by censorship, lack of professional channels for distribution and mistrust against young writers. The reasons of Abdel Ali’s success should be found in the increasing diffusion of satirical literature in Egypt, the popularity of the argument, the use of Egyptian dialect and the growing influence of the Arabic on-line community.

Paper Presenter: Khalil al-Anani (Senior Scholar, Durham University, School of Government and Intl. Affairs), “Virtual Democracy in the Arab World: The Role of Young Moderate Islamists in Egypt”
This paper will examine the role of the Arab youth in achieving democratization and political change in the Middle East. The last five years witnessed a growing number of dissent voices among young Arabs who resort to the internet to express their political views. The blogs, Facebook, and twitter created a new space for many young Arabs to challenge and oppose the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. The young activism map in the Middle East is covering different types of ideological currents, liberals, secularists, nationalists. However, the young moderate Islamists activists remain the most influential and powerful. They are more politicized, organized and mobilized comparing to their peers. In Egypt, youth activism constitutes a political force that cannot be denied: there is the April 6 youth movement which spearheaded attempts at a general strike in 2008, youth groups on Facebook, and more than 150,000 blogs based in Egypt. These bloggers comprise a vanguard, searching for new frameworks, which exploit its abilities and fulfil its ambitions, similar to the student movement that took place throughout Europe in the late 1960s. They did not have purpose or a means to express their aspirations and ideas until they found their purpose in blogging - a medium that allows them to vent their criticisms and serves as an incubator for their ideas. This much they have made clear in their postings on the Internet, Facebook, and various blogs a political movement are taking shape, albeit in virtual space. There, where no monopoly or make-believe parties exist, energy is amassing. It is only a matter of time before this energy spills over into the actual world. The number of Islamists blogging in Egypt has increased noticeably of late, and this mass movement is especially apparent within the Muslim Brotherhood. Often lacking freedom in their own organization, the Brotherhood bloggers have begun to savor the freer outlet of the internet. Though the Muslim Brotherhood may have initially approved of its younger members starting blogs, the bloggers have gone beyond their role as a tool for inciting media warfare; now, they are writing unprecedented, blunt public criticism about certain aspects of the Brotherhood. The paper will try to answer two main questions: To what extent could the young moderate Islamist activists push for political change and democratization in Egypt? What might happen if the Egyptian regime suppressed the young Islamists and didn’t engage them politically? Those two questions might draw the possible future of democratic transformation in Egypt and weather it will go peacefully or violently.

Paper Presenter: Nele Lenze (PhD Fellow, Oslo University Norway), “Stories without authors? Reflections on Authorship in Online Forums in the Gulf”
In the Gulf a huge variety of short stories are posted every day in various social forums. If a story is entertaining enough it will be posted multiple times in different forums. Most of the time it is not easy to find out who might have been the original author of a story and the date of its first distribution. This is due to the fact that stories get posted and forwarded by numerous people without mentioning an original source. The broad distribution of one and the same story without an accountable author raises a variety of questions: What is the status of authorship in times of online publication? Why do copyright and creative common licenses not apply? Why do authors not protest against the "misuse" of their stories? Why do they not claim their authorship to these texts? Do they not want to get credited for their works? I would like to discuss my findings around the story قصة حب بالرياض Qiṣṣat ḥubb bi’l-Riyāḍ as an example for many other stories distributed in the same routine. Its earliest version (to my knowledge) can be dated back to 2006 and until now is re-posted continuously. The story is about love letters that are exchanged through buying and selling a used book at a bookshop in Riyadh.

Paper Presenter: Johanne Kübler (M.A., SciencesPo. Paris), “The Role of the Internet as an Alternative Public Space in Authoritarian Countries at the Example of Egypt and Tunisia”
The emergence of the Internet deeply influenced the way we live today. While emailing and information gathering online has become common to the majority of Westerners, the Internet equally entered politics. Particularly in the Middle East, the most frequent narrative is that the mere availability of alternative sources of information will empower political actors that are marginalized in the traditional media controlled by authoritarian regimes. Indeed, the protest movements in authoritarian countries interact creatively with this new medium to get their message across in an environment marked by censorship and repression. However, while the Iranian case is evidence that mobilization over the Internet can have an impact, a revolution started through online activism is still to come. As such, the relationship between political activism and the use of the Internet for mobilization in authoritarian countries warrants further inspection. This includes looking closely at how, why and in what context people choose to voice their political opinions online, as well as exploring the expectations of active participants such as bloggers and social network users. Anonymity as a major characteristic of the World Wide Web poses the question of ‘virtuality’ of online discussions, the motivation of ‘virtual’ political actors and under what circumstances a political commitment on the Web will become an actual challenge to the authoritarian regimes. Comparing the patterns of Internet use for political mobilization in Egypt and in Tunisia is particularly interesting as the former has witnessed a certain opening of the public sphere while the Tunisia’s continues to be locked. At the same time both countries share political aspects such as an eternal leader whose upcoming succession causes quite a stir. Following Marc Lynch, new media tools such as blogs are not a universal remedy, but they might create a new space of debate allowing eventually more accountability and transparency. In Egypt, these effects have already been visible in the Kefaya movement, while political activism is severely limited through online censorship in Tunisia. By providing testimonies of active participants in this new public sphere and examining the respective country’s Internet regulation, this paper will endeavor to shed light on the motivation of ‘virtual’ political actors and how the attitude of the state towards the Internet influences the way online activism is shaped.