Mediating the Arab Uprisings
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From “Facebook revolutions” to “Al-Jazeera uprisings,” the outburst of popular activism across the Arab world has either been attributed to the media, drawn up by the media, observed through the media, or decontextualized by the media. Bloggers become icons, self-proclaimed experts becoming interpreters of unfolding events, stereotypes are cultivated, and autocratic regimes continue to subdue freedom of the press. The uprisings have become the most compelling media stories in recent memory. With much at stake, the burden of relaying human narratives accurately and responsibly is a burden on all journalistic establishments worldwide.
In a unique collection of essays that covers the expanse of the Arab popular protest movements, Mediating the Arab Uprisings leaves no stone unturned by offering spirited contributions that elucidate the remarkable variation and context behind the fourth estate’s engagement with these mass protests.
So while the public debate about the coverage of the Arab uprisings remain effervescent and polarizing, the essays in this volume go beyond the cursory discussion to historicize media practice, unsettle pre-existing suppositions about the uprisings, puncture the pomposity of self-righteous expertise on the region, and shatter the naiveté that underlies the reporting of the uprisings. The volume includes essays on the tribulations of covering Syria, the contextualization and demythologizing of Facebook activism, the New York Times’ reporting rituals on Palestine, the tumult of Egypt’s media post-Mubarak, the ominous omnipresence of perennial media darling Fouad Ajami, the faltering of Al-Jazeera Arabic in the wake of the uprisings, the gendered sexuality of reporting Egypt, and journalism’s damning failure on Iraq. The first volume of its kind on this pressing topic, Mediating the Arab Uprisings is a primer for the curious reader, a pedagogical tool for media studies and communication, and a provocative collection for the seasoned scholar.
This initiative was supported by the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University.
Mediating the Arab Uprisings is an excellent corrective to the unfortunate framing of the Arab revolutions by the false choice between technological and social determinism. Recommended for all readers interested in getting an informed view of how media shaped the uprisings, as well as how they were represented to the world.
-Walter Armbrust, University of Oxford
At a time when armchair intellectuals are lavishly partaking in their luxurious pessimism about the Arab Spring and the US- and EU-based media are easily distracted by sideshows, Jadaliyya has remained a solid and unwavering source of purposeful criticism, at once committed to the cause of Arab revolutions and beyond and yet vigilante as to how to read them. In this superbly edited volume, Adel Iskandar and Bassam Haddad bring out some of the most penetrating analysis of how the media represented and interpreted the Arab Uprisings. As we continue to watch carefully how these revolutions unfold and renew our commitment to the democratic cause of millions of people, I know of very precious few sources other than Jadaliyya that are so indispensable in setting the record straight and guiding us through the treacherous but hopeful path ahead. Read and savor this volume as by far among the best collections of writings produced on the media and the Arabs uprisings so far.
-Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University
Adel Iskandar teaches at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Communication, Culture and Technology program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He is the author and coauthor of several works including Al-Jazeera: The Story of the Network that is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism (Basic Books) andEdward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation (University of California Press). His forthcoming book is titled Egypt In Flux: Essay on an Unfinished Revolution.
Bassam Haddad is Director of the Middle East Studies Program and teaches in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University. He is the author of Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience (Stanford University Press, 2011), and co-editor of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). Bassam serves as Founding Editor of the Arab Studies Journal, a peer-reviewed research publication, is co-producer/director of the award-winning documentary film About Baghdad, and director of a critically acclaimed film series, Arabs and Terrorism, based on extensive field research/interviews. He recently directed a film on Arab/Muslim immigrants in Europe, titled The "Other" Threat. Bassam also serves on the Editorial Committee of Middle East Report and is Co-Founder/Editor of Jadaliyya Ezine.
from "Introduction" by Adel Iskandar
At a time of overwhelming enthusiasm for social media as tools for political action, expression, mobilization, and identity construction, sound analyses and critical discussions about the manner in which these popular uprisings originated, developed, and materialized are often lost in the fine print. The international news media’s heavy reliance on social activists on Facebook and Twitter poses significant advantages to relaying messages at a time when global correspondency is increasingly underfunded and documentation and reporting is more frequently conducted by members of the public. It also poses overwhelming challenges to the ability of journalists to corroborate information and events on the ground. Not to mention, there exists the concern that these online spaces are prone to becoming echo chambers divorced from what happens on the ground in each respective locale. In such instances, especially when protest groups are actively embellishing their narratives for collective mobilization and inspiration (which is by no means unnatural given the hefty regime propaganda machinery they face), the international media’s reliance on these online spaces often has contrary-to-intended effects by disconnecting journalists from unfettered access to action on the ground.
from "Al-Jazeera's (R)Evolution" by Vivian Salama
A similar stance was taken by the network amid the Syrian uprising to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, who has maintained an alliance with Iran, to the chagrin of many Arab governments. Qatar has recently teamed up with other Arab Gulf regimes to offer assistance to Syrian opposition fighters in the way of salary and weapons. A number of Al-Jazeera employees in the Beirut bureau, including correspondent Ali Hashem, who covered both the Syrian and Libyan uprisings, resigned in March, citing the network’s bias. In an interview, Hashem cited a shift in policy towards coverage of the events in Syria, and said it had become increasingly difficult to maintain this bias and neglect other important angles of the story. English-language daily Al-Akhbar released leaked emails, allegedly hacked and released by the Syrian Electronic Army, in which Hashem and another colleague, anchorwoman Rula Ibrahim, discuss “widespread disaffection within the channel” over its coverage of Syria.
from "Ajamindustry" by Bassam Haddad
Now and then, Ajami's work (with the exception of his early books) rightly points to the repressive regimes in the region, but consistently attributes the causes of repression to factors inherent in Arabs themselves, exhibiting the ugliest form of Orientalist salvo as it appears to come from a dissident within the "culture". Furthermore, Ajami fails to move up the chain of causality, as he absolves the outside powers of responsibility for the perpetuation of a particular geostrategic configuration. No one in their right analytical mind would attribute all authoritarian/economic ills in the region to outside powers, but the same goes for confining the causes to local factors, and ignoring the palpable role of external powers. For Ajami, Syria, like other Arab cases, becomes one of those tragic Arab tales that follow the same predicament of wasted potential of a people who could have done much better for themselves had they rooted out their self-inflicted cultural ailments.
from "Saeeds of Revolution: De-Mythologizing Khaled Said" by Amro Ali
Khaled also provided the missing link to the social media savvy generation – he was martyred at an Internet café while allegedly about to upload a video to YouTube of crooked cops sharing the spoils of drug money. However, irrespective of corroboration on this matter, the initial YouTube video claim fomented a rapid cognition to which people reacted intensely. One wonders if Tunisians would have reacted as vehemently if Mohammed Bouazazi were labeled a fellah fruit vendor rather than an unemployed middle class university graduate, as erroneously reported in initial accounts. The horrific image of Khaled’s mangled face went viral through social media, and the creation of the “We are all Khaled Saeed” Facebook page by Abdelrahman Mansour and Google executive Wael Ghonim transformed and sustained Khaled as a focal point for the nation to rally behind. Khaled became the human face of not only Egypt’s tragedy, but also its digital youth.