World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Media and Political Contestation in the Contemporary Arab World (341) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Muwatin, The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy ( Palestine) and Chr. Michelsen Institute (Norway)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Lena Jayyusi and Anne Sofie Roald

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: The panel will address the role of the media in political contestation and its valence for political change and activity in the Arab world. The recent war on Gaza, and Al Jazeera’s 24 hours coverage of it, brought to the fore the question of the media’s role in the political life of the region, a region which is an arena of contestatory politics, social activism and change, as well as sharply competing local, national and global agendas. Across the Arab world and outside, as people mobilized in protest against the war, the sounds and images of the war, the coverage of it by various media, as well as popular and official responses to it, were all themselves covered and debated over television channels, in public meetings and across interactive cyber networks. As events unfolded, the media emerged more clearly than ever as vital instruments and fora of political debate and engagement. Satellite broadcasting and the internet, which both cross national borders and provide new and or alternative interactive spaces have significantly helped create not only a regional space for debate, information, and communication, but also instruments for political activism, and have enabled multiple, previously media-marginal, constituencies (both secular and religious) to have ‘voice’ and visibility.
The panel will be interdisciplinary with contributors addressing one or more facets of the media-politics nexus in the contemporary Arab moment. Some of the questions might include: how have various media enabled the redefinition and renegotiation of religion, politics and culture and their intersections in the region? What role do the new media play in the shaping, and active contestation of particular conflicts and different political agendas? How has the flow of images from direct sites of conflict contributed to the crystallization of inter-Arab and/or inter-Muslim identification, solidarity and orientation? What kind of social and political imaginaries have been enabled by these new media. How have the media, in particular the internet, enabled the development of new networks and thus the emergence of new potential constituencies, solidarities and alliances, both secular and religious? To what extent have mediated public discourses exerted pressure on governments and reshaped social movements, as well as trans-national interactions? Conversely, what factors and agents have themselves exerted counter pressure on various media in the region to enlarge or inhibit or modify their impact and coverage?

Chair: Lena Jayyusi, Muwatin: The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy/Zayed University

Paper presenter: Charles Hirschkind, University of California, Berkeley. “New Media and Political Dissent in Egypt”
This paper explores some of the ways that the Internet, and particularly the practice of blogging, has opened up new political possibilities in Egypt, a country where political participation has long been severely circumscribed by the policies and practices of an authoritarian state. While it is still early to assess the direct impact of activist bloggers on Egypt's political institutions, one clear effect of their activities has been the creation an arena of discourse and critique that traverses one of the more rigid divisions within Egyptian political life, that between so-called Islamist and secular-liberal or secular-leftist positions. Bloggers affiliated with such opposing political currents as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Socialist Workers Party have established an arena of alliance, coordination, and dialogue through the articulation of a common moral stance focused around four main issues: a condemnation of police violence in prisons and on the street; a demand for an end of the Mubarak regime; a rejection of Gamal Mubarak's succession of his father as president; and a demand for the democratization of political life in Egypt. These issues, in other words, provide common ground for the forms of citation, interaction, and commentary found across both leftist and Islamist websites. Bloggers understand their role as that of providing a direct link to "the street," understood as a space of state repression and political violence, on one hand, and of political action and popular resistance, on the other. They render visible and publicly speakable a political space that other media outlets cannot disclose due to censorship as well as state practices of harassment and arrest. My paper focuses on some of the conditions that have enabled the emergence of this public arena and the discursive conventions that have come to define it. These include the increasing availability of satellite television (and most importantly, al-Jazeera), the development of Islamic websites such as Islamonline and their role in promoting new vocabularies of critique and argument among Muslim activists, the highly individualist style of self-presentation that characterizes the blogosphere and how it has opened up possibilities of alliance and affiliation beyond the dichotomies of secular and religious.

Paper presenter: Marwan M. Kraidy, University of Pennsylvania. “The Contentious Politics of Pan-Arab Reality Television”
Drawn from a larger book project, this paper re-theorizes the political impact of Arab media in light of the pan-Arab reality television controversies that lasted from 2002 to 2008. Spawning heated polemics around a volatile mix of politics, religion and sexuality, the polemics surrounding programs such as al-Ra’is, Star Academy and Superstar compel us to re-think the media politics nexus in the contemporary Arab world. Rather than using a deliberative-rationalist approach embodied most prominently in the Habermasian understanding of the public sphere, this paper argues in favor of a deliberative-performative approach rooted in notions of cultural citizenship and political performativity. Such an approach, I argue, is better suited to understanding Arab public discourse because it takes into account various modes of communicating contention, accords a central place to gender and youth issues, accounts for emergent interactive and mobile media, and points attention away from a narrow focus on news and al-Jazeera to a more complex understanding of a vibrant scene of media and political contestation

Paper presenter: Anne Sofie Roald, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway. “Female Islamic interpretations on the air: Fatwas and religious guidance by women scholars on Arab satellite channels”
Religious programs on various Arab satellite channels have been on the increase during the last decade, a time also of increasing political and social contestation.. National as well as satellite televisions, including al-Jazeera have daily or weekly religious programs. Additionally there are also dedicated "religious channels" with a variety of religiously oriented programming. Some of these programs are headed by women, and these programs usually deal particularly with "women's issues" in religious questions or with family matters from a religious point of view: how should women pray and fast etc.; what is the role of women in educating children, taking care of the house etc. However, in some religious programs male and female scholars participate together, and together discuss various issues and give fatwas on the air. This paper will investigate religious programs that have female participants. It will discuss first, which issues have become "women issues" in this new dissemination of religious knowledge, and second whether and how "female" fatwas tend to differ from those of male scholars, and some of the implications of this for the nature of the contemporary public sphere in the Arab world.

Paper presenter: Toufic Haddad (Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights), “The Visual Public Sphere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”
The establishment of the Palestinian Authority [PA] in the mid-1990s and its nominal jurisdiction over the newly created Area’s A and B in the Occupied Palestinian Territory [OPT], gave Palestinians living in these areas the first chance to control their visual public sphere. Technical advances in printing, advertising and design have in turn facilitated the emergence of a new visual theater in which gestating political and social signifiers perform and compete. This increasingly saturated visual public sphere fluidly reflects transformations taking place in the OPT, both within the national movement and between the national movement, the Israeli occupation and broader forces of globalization.
This talk will explore the visual public sphere in the OPT, by looking at an array of emergent visual mediums including graffiti, posters, and a wide assortment of billboards and banners of both commercial and non-commercial derivation. It will attempt to trace how relevant agendas are articulated and negotiated in this unique political setting, creating a variety of imagined scapes of subjectivity and meaning. It will also look into the interests and forces behind these visual performances and attempt to identify to what extent they have been influential in getting their messages across.