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Cleaning Up Cairo

November 26, 2016

a-civilized-revolutionOne of the things I teach my students about power in my Peoples of the World class at Miami University is that power rests in the ways that we discipline ourselves to some moral order. We make power structures real by speaking and acting as if they were real; we bring them into existence day-by-day, moment-by-moment through the ways we live our live.

People who seek power can never rely on force alone; they must appeal to cultural principles of good and evil, right and wrong, inclusion and exclusion,  and order and disorder, to justify their actions and persuade citizens to discipline themselves to the political order they seek to create. Often these are articulated through images of embodied experiences: family life, health and illness, sports, earning a living and so forth.

This lesson is beautifully illustrated in a new article in American Ethnologist by my old friend Jessica Winegar. Jessica is the Harold H. and Virginia Anderson Associate Professor of Anthropology and Middle East and North African Studies at Northwestern University.

Entitled “A civilized revolution: Aesthetics and political action in Egypt,” Jessica focuses on what she calls aesthetic ordering, “collective action seeking to beautify public space and regulate behavior in it” which were  “cultivated and extensively performed during the 18-day protest, and … came to dominate public action in the immediate aftermath of its success.”

Read more…


Creating Participatory Democracy (Or Trying, Anyway)

November 22, 2016

democracyIn hindsight, the biggest problem with the extraordinary protests in Tahrir Square was the lack of a coherent plan for creating democracy once Mubarak stepped down.

I hear that all the time from journalists, Egyptian friends, fellow academics and friends. Certainly it is heartbreaking to watch documentaries about the uprisings and listen to excited young protesters insisting that once the regime falls, democracy will spontaneously flourish.

Much the same has been said about Occupy, #BlackLivesMatter, Indignados and other social movements that insist they are expressing popular democracy but have failed to articulate clear plans for change.

Buried in the logic of this critique is the assumption that protesters should have clearly articulated goals. This assumes that they are heterodox voices trying to change the existing system to make it more democratic.

But is creating positive social change within the existing system what protesters are actually going for? Or could these protests mean something else? And if so, what?

One way to find out is to ask them.

Armine Ishkanian of the London School of Economic and Marlies Glasius of the University of Amsterdam interviewed core activists in street protests in Cairo, as well as in London, Athens and Moscow in order to understand what these protesters expected of “democracy.”

Read more…

Bibliography of the Egyptian Revolution Updated

November 15, 2016


The Bibliography resource on the Egyptian uprisings has been updated.

The bibliography now includes over 875 references.

Updates include articles from such journals as Digest of Middle East Studies, Information, Communication & Society, Journal of North African Studies, New Media & Society, South African Journal of International Affairs, and many others.

It also now includes books like Reem Abou El-Fadl’s Revolutionary Egypt: Connecting Domestic and International Struggles, Brecht De Smet’s A Dialectical Pedagogy of Revolt: Gramsci, Vygotsky, and the Egyptian Revolution, and The Arab Spring: Pathways of Repression and Reform by Jason Brownlee, Tarek E. Masoud, and Andrew Reynolds among others.

“The Arab Spring: Five Years After”

November 5, 2016

5-years-afterThird World Quarterly has a special collection of articles on “The Arab Spring: Five Years After.”

The collection of six papers is edited by Richard Falk, of Princeton, and Bülent Aras, of Solenci University.

There are, alas, no articles on Egypt specifically (as there are on Turkey and Syria), but several of the articles touch on Egypt and issues relevant to its 2011 uprisings, and their aftermath.

Here are the abstracts:

Read more…

“The Egyptian Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet”

October 21, 2016

robin-wrightI had dinner with Robin Wright this week after she delivered the 2016 Grayson-Kirk lecture at Miami University.


Egypt was one of seven countries she discussed (along with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Tunisia), after a lengthy description of what she saw as the main issue in the region.

One way to see the changes in government wrought by the Egyptian uprisings is as a set of military coups, she said.

The first coup occurred when the military refused to open fire on Egyptian citizens, ultimately resulting in the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

The second was the military ouster by force of the government of of Muhammad Morsi.

During the lecture, she emphasized that Egypt’s politics have “gyrated” since the uprisings, ultimately returning to autocracy. Yet the underlying problems that led to the uprisings have never been resolved. The economy continues its downward spiral, youth unemployment continues to grow and the willingness of the government to violate the constitution in the name of security creates an atmosphere of fear and anger.

“Is the real revolution yet to come?” she asked.

Read more…

Twitter Images of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution: New Journal Article

September 13, 2016

twitter-flagImages have a semiotic density quite different from that of words,

So if “a picture is worth a thousand words” how many tweets is it worth? And is the value different when you are trying to incite collective action?

Tamara Kharroub and Ozen Bas of the University of Indiana ask these questions about the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Claiming that “the role of social media in political activism has received much attention in recent years [but] the role of social media images remains largely understudied” they seek to fill this lacunae by looking at images circulated via Twitter.

To be precise, they ask three questions:

  1. What are the most dominant visual themes (in terms of emotionally arousing and efficacy-eliciting content) in the Twitter images posted during Egypt’s 2011 revolution?
  2. Does the content of images (emotionally arousing vs efficacy-eliciting) vary
    across the different phases of the Egyptian revolution?
  3. Does user information (user role, gender, and location) predict the number of
    retweets an image receives?

The authors use retweets to seek answers to these questions, arguing that:

In Twitter, retweets are commonly accepted as measures of the attention a message
receives and the popularity of a tweet… Retweets are also useful indicators of the influence of an image because they are a simple, common way of demonstrating people’s interest in content and its reach… We seek to investigate the relationship between the content of an image and the total number of times the image is retweeted. We, therefore, hypothesize the following: Emotionally arousing images (containing violence) will be retweeted more than efficacy-eliciting images (containing crowds, protest activities, and uniting symbols).

They discovered:

Read more…

CFP: Media & Culture

August 14, 2016


Arab Media & Society, the biannual journal of the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism in the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo is seeking submissions for our next issue on “Media and Culture”. Broadly, topics may relate to any area of culture including but not limited to art, music, literature, film, television, comics, and popular culture. Possible subtopics and themes may include:

  • Censorship and creative resistance
  • Social media and popular culture
  • Depiction, perception, and cross cultural influence
  • Fashion
  • Children and youth media and Arab culture
  • New trends in music and dance
  • Arab cinema
  • The economics of art
  • The politics of art
  • Art and nationalism
  • Cultural manifestations of social inequality
  • Art in exile and the creative diaspora
  • Regional conflict and its impact on the arts
  • Culture and violence
  • Private/public sponsorship and agenda setting
  • Cultural phenomena and the social impact of art
  • Underground arts in the Arab world
  • Cultural evolution and new media

Submissions for peer-review consideration should be received by October 25, 2016. All other submissions should be received by November 15, 2016.
We also welcome research and narrative writing; analysis and reviews of reports, policy, laws, and regulations; conference reports; and book and film reviews. Contributions can address any aspect of the intersection between media, politics, society and culture, and relate to the Arab world or its diaspora. While we encourage shorter pieces, submissions may be up to 10 000 words, including footnotes, and should conform to The Chicago Manual of Style.
Send articles and ideas to Sarah El-Shaarawi, Managing Editor,

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