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Media in the Egyptian Uprising: New Edition of On-Line Journal

June 5, 2011

Add this to your summer reading: AMS special issue on media and social change in the Arab Spring

The latest issue of the on-line journal  Arab Media and Society is a special issue focusing on the role of media in the Arab uprisings.

The first four articles focus on Egyptian media.

Cyberactivism in the Egyptian Revolution: How Civic Engagement and Citizen Journalism Tilted the Balance” by Dr. Sahar Khamis and Katherine Vaughn, offers an overview of the multiple roles new media played in the overthrow of President Mubarak.  The authors argue among other things that

these new media avenues enabled an effective form of citizen journalism, through providing forums for ordinary citizens to document the protests; to spread the word about ongoing activities; to provide evidence of governmental brutality; and to disseminate their own words and images to each other, and, most importantly, to the outside world through both regional and transnational media

The paper also considers whether these media tools will enable activists to keep up the pressure for change during the lengthy transitional period.

In my own paper, “Egypt’s Media Ecology in a Time of Revolution,” I try to give a broad overview of the media ecology of Egypt before the uprisings and now:

A media ecology refers to the dynamic, complex system in which media technologies interact with each other and with other social and cultural systems within a particular social field, and the ways these interrelationships shape the production, circulation, transformation and consumption of images, texts and information within this system. In Egypt’s current revolutionary phase, the media ecology is unstable, in flux, as the myriad of institutions and technologies adapt to the dramatically changed – and changing – economic, social and political climate.

Comparing this situation to that of Iran during and after its revolution, I suggest that Egypt is likely to have a quite different outcome.

In “Rebuilding Egyptian Media for a Democratic Future” Dr Ramy Aly argues that the current moment, in which the older structures no longer hold sway, provides a golden opportunity to abandon media practices that privileged a narrow range of voices and create a pluralistic media that recognizes many ways of being Egyptian–but only if the revolution imagines itself as progressive rather than nostalgic:

Echoing throughout Tahrir Square and now on the airwaves of satellite channels are the words of Sheikh Imam “ya Misr oudi zay zaman” (Oh Egypt return to your former self) – a testament to a nostalgic yearning for an imagined and romanticized past that is often debilitating to attempts to make sense of the present and imagine the future. While nostalgia at times of crisis is by no means unique to Egypt or the Arab world, Egypt’s revolutionary moment will certainly remain unrealized if, as Sabiha Al Kheimir (1993) persuasively puts it, we “wait in the future for the past to come.”

Finally, El Mustapha Lahlali looks at the rhetorical devices used by Ben Ali and Mubarak when they addressed their nations through state media in their last three speeches during the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in “The Arab Spring and the discourse of desperation.”

Although the two former leaders used different dialects of Arabic, and chose their words very differently, both employed the same strategies, in roughly the same order: first, a strategy of blame and denial in which they denied the reality of the protests — renaming them as “chaos,” for example — and then shifting the responsibility for them onto others, especially “foreign elements. Second, both men a strategy of self-defense, in which they sought to reclaim their authority and assure protesters their concerns were being attended to.

He concludes

The analysis shows that they followed similar strategies, passing through a series of stages as earlier strategies failed. …The one contrast is in the realm of register: while all Mubarak’s speeches were delivered in MSA, Ben Ali in his final speech switched between MSA and Tunisian dialect.

Other papers in the special issue focus on the roles media has played in other uprisings, or across the Arab world as a whole. These include:

Finally, there are a couple of papers on how the uprisings affected local media use in other parts of the world. These include:

The journal is published by the Al-Adham Center for Journalism Teaching and Research at the American University in Cairo.

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