Research Project: An Author’s Library in Sixteenth-Century Damascus

In recent years historians have become more interested in manuscripts not only as sources but also as objects of inquiry. In particular, their qualities as objects and their historical trajectories have become areas of study in themselves, breaching the temporal gap between their creation and their reception by modern historians. This has led to a reassessment of hitherto neglected formats of publication, foremost among them the majmūʿa, i.e. a “multiple-text manuscript” (MTM) that contains several texts between its covers. Continue reading

Research Project: The Financialisation of Home in the Middle East // A study of Lebanon’s mortgage markets: Tracing regulatory changes

The Lebanese real estate and banking boom as visible in newly finished projects in the Corniche an-Nahr area, Beirut © Marieke Krijnen

This project by OIB postdoctoral fellow Marieke Krijnen focuses on the increasing interconnections between real estate and finance in Lebanon. Real estate has always been dependent on the financial sector for loans, but the financial sector itself has become increasingly involved in real estate development, with its own subsidiaries and active investments. The financialisation of real estate is part of a larger movement towards the financialisation of the economy, which began during the 1980s when the capitalist system increasingly created money out of money in order to grow in the face of stagnation and inflation. Academic interest in the interconnections between real estate and finance increased massively following the global financial crisis in 2008, which was caused, in part, by the volatility that secondary mortgage markets had created. Continue reading

Research Project: SCRIPT // Source Companion for Research on Islamic Political Thought

As a tool for understanding how the heritage of political thought in the Middle East developed during its intellectually most productive periods, SCRIPT will offer access to a vast and varied literature, in Arabic and Persian, which flourished in the Islamic world from Andalusia to India from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Addressing local sovereign rulers or referring to local sovereign rule, this literature conceptualises legitimate rule and discusses the structure and ideal organisation of the polity. The online publication platform SCRIPT collects entries in English and Arabic (English translations are provided), exploring the historical context and conceptual significance of 65 source texts on political philosophy, political advice and administration. Continue reading

At the Deutscher Orientalistentag (DOT) in September

From 18 to 22 September 2017, the 33rd Deutscher Orientalistentag (DOT) is taking place in Jena/Germany. The DOT is the largest professional meeting of Oriental Studies in Germany, and generally takes place every four years. The OIB is participating at the DOT with a range of panels. Continue reading

Cluster: Higher Education as the Subject and Object of Critical Discourse

Billboard in Cairo, 6th October Highway © Daniele Cantini

The importance of universities can hardly be overestimated. Their numbers have grown massively, as have the number of the people enrolled in them relative to the total population worldwide. They exert multiple functions in the production and dissemination of knowledge. Moreover, they are ascribed the role to evaluate and certify knowledge in
the form of professional and scholarly status, curricula, as a basis for policies and more.
As universities themselves have a share in the definition and proclamation of social
problems and goals, they can easily turn into contested terrain in the claim for the right
interpretation of social phenomena and the right ways to address them. Unrest on university campuses, dense security regimes and long closures in the aftermath of political change in several Arab countries testify to that, as well as the continued control over teaching and research activities. Continue reading

Research at the OIB

Researchers at the OIB, 2016

How is research at the OIB organised?

The OIB conducts and supports research on (and in) the Arab region and the wider Middle East. Research addresses historical and contemporary matters, and shares the commitment to a systematic study of primary sources, regional agents, local conditions, discursive contexts and methodology. This provides a common conceptual framework for the work in and between the academic disciplines represented at the OIB, such as the history of the Middle East, Islamic studies, Arabic studies, social sciences, anthropology and cultural studies. Continue reading

Relaunch of the OIBlog

After the OIBlog Mish ma32ool (“unbelievable”) was first launched in late 2012, we are now relaunching it with a number of changes in structure, focus and content, which will be introduced in this and the following post. This serves two connected aims: to highlight current research at the OIB and to improve the accessibility of different types of information on the blog. This post will concentrate on introducing the structure, while the next post will give an overview over research activities at the OIB and how we are planning to introduce them on this blog. Continue reading

Obituary: Sabah Kharrat Zouein (December 8, 1954 – June 5, 2014)

Sabah Kharrat Zouein, August 2013 at the CITL library in Arles

Sabah Kharrat Zouein, August 2013 at the CITL library in Arles

The OIB is saddened to learn of the untimely death of Sabah Kharrat Zouein, an outstanding Lebanese poetess and literary critic who succumbed to a serious illness in early June, at the age of fifty-nine. Sabah was a friend of the OIB since the late 1990s. Working as a literary and cinema critic for Beirut’s daily an-Nahār and widely praised for the innovative prose poetry of her book Al-Bait al-mā’il (1995), Sabah was first ‘discovered’ for the institute by former OIB director Angelika Neuwirth who invited her in 1997 to the OIB’s recital series “Portfolio – Beiruti authors read their favorite texts”. Her seminal lecture “The multi-dimensional body in writing: Eros, sin and death” was a highlight of the OIB’s international Symposium “Ghazal as a genre of world literature” in July 1999. Her essay “Passion de l’écriture” was published in the OIB’s Festschrift for John Donohue (From Baghdad to Beirut: Arab and Islamic Studies in honor of John J. Donohue s.j., ed. by Leslie Tramontini and Chibli Mallat, Beirut 2007, BTS, vol. 108). She contributed also to the institute’s research focus on “Modern Arab Poetry”, launched by former OIB research associate Arnim Heinemann, especially in the framework of the international poetry translation project “Verstransfer Beirut-Berlin” (2007) in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut and the “Literaturwerkstatt Berlin”.

Humble and always ready to help, she was a goldmine of information for students of modern Arab literature who came to Beirut for field research. Her work and career are reviewed in two OIB related manuals: Agonie und Aufbruch: neue libanesische Prosa, ed. by Angelika Neuwirth and Andreas Pflitsch (Beirut: Dergham, 2000), and Crosshatching in global culture: A dictionary of modern Arab writers, ed. by John J. Donohue, SJ, and Leslie Tramontini (Beirut: OIB, 2004; BTS, vol. 101).

In 2005 she left an-Nahār and continued to work as a prolific free-lance literary critic, translator, and poetess. Facing many challenges in her professional life, but endowed with enormous energy, an exemplary working ethos, and an outstanding talent to feel and write in several languages, she was able to publish between 2006 and 2013, apart from her work as a translator, four new poetry books in Arabic and four anthologies of current Lebanese poetry in French, Spanish, and Arabic. Frequently invited to poetry events and public talks abroad and at home, she wrote, inter alia, for al-Quds al-‘Arabī (London), as-Safīr (Beirut), Nizwā (Oman), and had, from 2009-2013, a weekly column in al-Liwā’ (Beirut). Her last poetry book, ‘Indamā al-dhākira, wa indamā ‘atabāt ash-shams, illustrated by the Lebanese painter Amīn al-Bāshā, came out in November 2013, only a few weeks before her terminal illness prevented her from continuing her poetic ‘journey’ through life.

Her voice has now fallen silent, but her work will survive her. Those who had the chance to know her in person will remember her kindness, loyalty, humbleness, vast knowledge, and engaging curiosity. Those who had the chance to read and study her work will also deplore the loss of so many books, verses, and thoughts that now will remain unwritten.

Thomas Scheffler

Frank Walter Steinmeier zu Besuch am OIB

Außenminister Frank Walter Steinmeier und Stefan Leder, Direktor des Orient-Instituts Beirut

Außenminister Frank Walter Steinmeier und Stefan Leder, Direktor des Orient-Instituts Beirut

Der deutsche Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier und Mitglieder seiner Delegation sprachen am 30. Mai 2014 im Orient-Institut Beirut mit libanesischen Gästen über die desolate Lage in Syrien und ihre Auswirkungen auf den Libanon. Der Libanon war das erste Ziel auf Steinmeiers Reise durch Nahen Osten, die er am vergangenen Freitag antrat.

Die libanesischen Gesprächsteilnehmer machten sehr deutlich, dass konfessionelle Polarisierung, Gewalt und Angst das Zusammenleben zwischen Christen und Muslimen erschweren und gefährden würden. Christen sähen aber weiterhin ihre Heimat und Zukunft in der Region. Dass die religiöse und kulturelle Vielfalt im arabischen Osten dringend erhalten werden müsse, darüber waren sich alle Seiten einig. Die Zivilgesellschaft vor Ort und die internationale Gemeinschaft könnten gemeinsam dafür eintreten. Von libanesischer Seite hieß es, auf ein Einlenken der Konfliktparteien in Syrien könne man nicht hoffen, solange das Geschehen durch einen komplizierten Stellvertreterkrieg bestimmt sei. Für diesen müsse zunächst eine politische Lösung mit den in Syrien kriegführenden Staaten gefunden werden. Um politische Veränderungen anzustoßen, seien zivilgesellschaftliche Initiativen und Entwicklungen wichtig, die im Libanon, unter Beteiligung der geflohenen Syrer und vereinzelt weiterhin auch in Syrien selbst auf Verständigung hinarbeiten müssten.

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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Divercities blog

divercities poster

The divercities blog was created by the Orient-Institut Beirut and the Goethe Institut Lebanon to accompany our jointly organised event divercities: contested space and urban identities in beirut, cairo and tehran, taking place in various locations across Beirut from 12 to 14 December 2013 . The aim of this conference was to gain insights into experiences of urban governance as it is perceived and practiced by different social agents in view of the ambivalence of public space in diverse societies. It revolved around power dynamics over contested spaces, negotiations between state agents, corporations/private-interest groups and populations over the quality and use of urban spaces, delineations of public and private, and norms and practices of open air spaces of gathering. While initially created as a platform for the December 2013 conference, it is envisaged to remain a tool for exchange and debate on contested spaces in diverse cities with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Transregional comparatives beyond the region are also encouraged.

Browse the blog to see the photo reportage, read the full programme or watch some of the presentations online.

Obituary: Christoph Schumann (1969-2013)

By Thomas Scheffler

The OIB is saddened to learn of the sudden and untimely death of Dr. Christoph Schumann, Professor of Politics and Contemporary History of the Near East at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg on September 1, 2013.  Christoph Schumann has been a dear friend of our institute since 1995 when he came to Beirut to work as a student intern in the OIB’s library. In the following years he returned time and again to the OIB to search for material for his later PhD thesis on Radical Nationalism in Syria and Lebanon: Political Socialization and Elite Formation, 1930-1958 (2001). He was a contributor to the OIB’s Almanac, Beiruter Blätter (Nr. 4, 1996) and edited, together with Thomas Philipp, a volume of the OIB’s publication series Beiruter Texte und Studien (From the Syrian Land to the States of Syria and Lebanon, BTS 96, 2004). After becoming professor in Erlangen in 2009, he was the supervisor and mentor of numerous BA, MA, and PhD students who spent longer or shorter periods at the OIB and other research institutions in Beirut. In 2010, when he came to Beirut as a member of our international summer school “Official Religion in the Middle East: Political Opportunities and Constraints”, he impressed students of many countries by his outstanding talents as a creative, easy-going, highly interactive and helpful PhD advisor, well versed in the art of careful listening and devoted to helping students realize their own potential in cooperation with others.

Christoph Schumann is survived by his wife and two children. He will be mourned by everyone who had the chance to work with him and experience his deep humanity, thought-inspiring creativity and vast knowledge that is documented in his numerous publications.

Inverted Worlds: Cultural Motion in the Arab Region, Eds. Syrinx von Hees, Nadia von Maltzahn, Ines Weinrich (Orient Institute Studies, 2)


By Syrinx von Hees, Nadia von Maltzahn, Ines Weinrich


The wave of popular uprisings taking place in several countries in the Arab region since early 2011 launched a socio-political transformation process that is ongoing. While each country in the region is living a very different experience of what has come to be known as the Arab spring, most countries share the fact that diverse social players are asking themselves anew about their role in society. Established worlds have been inverted by reversing deep-seated orders and bringing new players to the fore, players whose voices existed but were often not heard and rarely appeared en masse before 2011. In these inverted worlds, the metaphor of inversion also relates to the momentum carrying cultural change in the region, in which for instance street murals become “not only ‘memorial spaces’ for remembering the dead and the injured, but they also become spaces of visual narratives with unfolding plots between the enemies and the defenders of the revolution” as Mona Abaza argues in her contribution to this volume. The revolutionary momentum in the region has invigorated various forms of expressing protest, be it through rap, graffiti and street murals, new media and video, or by using humour and non-linearity in visual and narrative forms.


This volume deals with arenas and manifestations of cultural motion in relation to revolution and transformation processes. The political vagueness of popular unrest and of its various backgrounds, as well as the complexity of the ensuing political itineraries, encourage inquiry into the broad cultural resonances and diverse expressions which feed the aspirations for change and inspire resistance. Inverted Worlds: Cultural Motion in the Arab Region thus considers both regional and cross-cultural aspects of recent events in the Arab world, and relates back to dynamics at hand prior to the uprisings. Cultural Motion here signifies the move of people and ideas towards a revision of power structures, social setups and cultural configurations, both on the home stage and in the international arena. The Arab drama of renewal and the movement towards diversified and globalized cultural orientations are closely interrelated.


The contributions in this volume are the documentation of a congress the Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) organised in light of the above in Beirut in October 2012. The articles represent three of the four main themes of the congress, namely the position of music as a vehicle for political, social and cultural ideas (conceived by Stefan Knost), the role of humour in coping with political, social and cultural oppression in the Arab world (conceived by Thomas Scheffler and Monika Halkort), and debates about the use of non-linear narratives in relation to current revolutions (conceived by Syrinx von Hees and Ines Weinrich).

Popular music and its role in political and social transformation

Music can be a vehicle for political, social and cultural ideas using critical, polemical or subversive lyrics. Messages circulate more or less freely, especially today through the use of the Internet. Recent and not so recent popular songs have been inspired by Arab nationalist ideology or the Palestinian struggle for liberation. At the dawn of the Arab uprisings, the dream of the Arab nation seemed to have vanished. What have artists of the young generation set out to fight for? How do they reflect upon their own role regarding social transformations and the impact of their songs? What positions do they take vis-à-vis the moral standards and politics of the twenty-first century? Outside the focus of mass media, young singers display their independence. They use social networks and free Internet platforms to broadcast themselves.


Not long ago, musical refrains were developed on the fringe of society. Today, they piggyback on their audience, and street singers strike up popular songs or those that have become popular in the demonstrations. Whether amateurs or professionals, do the singers represent the voice of the opposition? Does the writing of new songs or simply new lyrics for the refrains of folk songs play an active part in the current uprisings? Who are the authors and under what conditions are the songs developed? The “air” of rebellion has spread throughout the Arab world, each country and region with its own political, confessional and ethnic particularities. What are the themes recurrent in the revolutionary songs, and what insights into social dynamics do they reveal?


Yves Gonzalez-Quijano debates the question of modernity in cultural production in “Rap, an Art of the Revolution or a Revolution in Art”. He questions the recurrent notion that “rap is the voice of the Arab revolution” and criticizes France and other Western countries for simplifying a scene that is much more complex in its social, political and ideological reality, reflecting only their political agendas while ignoring local realities. He also discusses in which sense rap can be described as a new form of cultural production.


Ines Dallaji in “Tunisian Rap Music and the Arab Spring: Revolutionary Anthems and Post-Revolutionary Tendencies” focuses in particular on two rappers during and after the revolution and argues that rap music served as a medium strengthening the awareness for the causes of the outbreak. People could not only relate to critical lyrics, but singular singers provided the Tunisian revolution with a face. However, she reminds that music reflects social realities rather than driving them.


In “The Voice of Freedom”, Stephan Procházka on the contrary attributes a more active role to music during the Egyptian revolution. Selecting songs from the Internet including different genres like pop, folksongs, rap and hip-hop and analysing their language, he shows that the themes of freedom, rights, Egypt, dignity and honour appear frequently, often juxtaposing a bright future with a dark past, but rarely mentioning Mubarak or other opponents by name.


Simon Dubois in “Street Songs from the Syrian Protests” analyses four protest songs chanted by adult singers during demonstrations in interaction with the audience between October 2011 and March 2012, in which the direct call for Bashar [al-Asad] to leave and insults against him like “donkey”, “butcher”, “murderer”, “killer”, “liar”, “screw you” are pronounced. External enemies, namely the United States and Israel, are also mentioned in the songs, protesters using the same arguments as the government.

Humour, Suffering and Resistance

Humour, a multifaceted and ubiquitous phenomenon, may serve different and sometimes contradictory functions in dealing with authorities and norms. Depending on the particular political situation, jokes, sarcasm, irony, and other witticisms may serve as a “security valve” of authoritarian regimes by helping the oppressed to “let off steam” without changing the situation that makes them suffer. On the other hand, humour may also serve as a tool of resistance by publicly defying authoritarian rule through ridicule and laughter.


Humour is articulated through various types of media (such as Internet, TV, radio, personal communication), various genres (such as jokes, mocking, comedy, cartoons, satire, graffiti), by many types of actors (from spontaneous individuals to professional humourists), and in various interpersonal situations, ranging from intimate conversation to mass riots. Part of intentional acts as well as of comical situations, humour may convey its subversive potential by breaking the “rules of the game”, suspending established norms of self-conduct and exposing the contingency of power by confronting it with its own rhetoric and performative grammar, even if only temporarily.


Nader Srage focuses in his linguistic study “The Protest Discourse” on “The example of ‘Irhal’ (Go/Get Out/Leave)” being one of the key terms of the Arab uprisings, crossing boundaries. He shows how Egyptians have used great ingenuity in using “Irhal” and alternative expressions inspired by their daily lives, appropriating available local references to shape their rhetoric.


Sara Binay in her article “Where are they going?” considers jokes as one kind of narrative that can be used to express disobedience and subversion. Drawing parallels between Syria, Lebanon and the former Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic, she argues that while jokes may not change realities, they can express a desire for change. Jokes are good indicators of social and political change, since through their informal nature they reveal dynamics at play within a society.


Mona Abaza in “Satire, Laughter and Mourning in Cairo’s Graffiti” explores the role of street art in revolutionary Egypt, focusing on the fact that humour and satire remain one of the dominant features of resistance. Her account, rich in images, is also an attempt to chronicle the walls, constantly painted over and whitened by the authorities. While perceived as an underworld clandestine art, graffiti is an ideal medium to spread dissenting ideas anonymously. Abaza provides an insight into the appropriation of public spaces as spaces of contestation by younger artists.

Linear and non-linear narratives in the context of Arab revolutions

It can be argued that Tweets, Facebook status updates, Blackberry messages, and other html related material were a major catalyst in the recent uprisings. Digitalization in its multifaceted dimensions can be regarded as one of the pre-conditions of these societal motions. In his essay “Deep Remixability” Lev Manovich describes software as species within the common ecology. Once released software, like species, start interacting, mutating, and making hybrids. To explain, he uses the example of the designer who, by the end of the 1990s, was able to combine operations and representational formats such as a bitmapped still image, an image sequence, a vector drawing, a 3D model and digital video specific to these programmes within the same design – regardless of its destination media. He finally compares the production of software to the Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution, where a whole system was uprooted in an almost invisible pace. At this point in the Arab world, we are witnessing the change that is a recipient of this deep remixability.


In the digital era, narrative has lost its body to become volatile and viral, making its way to fluid transitions between different states of materiality. Narrative is manifested through information spaces that allow random access; the sequential is no longer a must. The elements of the linear narratives (script, scenario, scene, and the like) are now highlighted, tagged, mapped, annotated, thus accompanying the narrative to its deciphered realm. A narrative is today searchable, browsable, and mutable in most cases. On another note, narrative owes its current form to the inherited strictly linear form. The polemic in the narrative is derived from its swinging between the strictly linear that embeds a hierarchical structure and the non-linear’s seemingly infinite possibilities to reproduce and reconfigure the information contained in these aforementioned structures.


Lev Manovich, who presented his work at the congress, raises the question of how to take advantage of the gigantic amount of digital culture that is surrounding us. For about twenty years, institutions have been digitizing films, television shows, videos, newspapers and more. The narrative of history has become available to us as databases. In 2005, social media enlarged the source of digital information even more; tracking history has become easier, at least theoretically speaking. Manovich’s initiative in his lab of software studies tried to develop tools that allow us to look at large image collections – with often surprising results. His software studies initiatives and articles are available online ( and


Marwan Kraidy in his article “A Heterotopology of Graffiti: A Preliminary Exploration” approaches graffiti in Beirut from a theoretical angle, convincingly applying Foucault’s concept of “heterotopia”, or other space, to graffiti’s status in the Lebanese media system. Focusing on graffiti reflecting media, he explores the latter’s place in relationship to other media and its place in the media ecosystem in Lebanon and the Arab world. Kraidy highlights the intertextual and dialogical nature of graffiti.


The sound artist Matthias Kispert has created a collage of sounds recorded at different protests in London between 2001 and 2012. This way he gives audible evidence how riot sound effects may not create protests in the first place, but can amplify and motivate people in a tense situation finally provoking an actual riot.


Hassan Choubassi in his contribution “The Arab Masses: From the Implosion of Fantasies to the Explosion of the Political” argues that the use of mobile social media in Syria made it possible for the private/virtual/free/anonymous and public/real/restricted spheres to become more and more interrelated, creating an augmented reality – with reference to Jean Baudrillard and Lev Manovich – that finally led to street protest and personalized open criticism.


In her contribution “Counting versus Narration – On the Database as Political Form”, Monika Halkort reconsiders the relationship between database and information taking into consideration their openness and infinite variability. Starting from the experience of a grassroots initiative during the process of reconstructing the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el Bared after its destruction in 2007, she argues that the database can be used as a technology of resistance rather than a technology that imposes taxonomies in order to govern the other.


Lotte Laub focuses on two video works by two Lebanese artists that were produced as immediate artistic reactions to the ongoing conflict in Syria and to the 2006 war in Lebanon respectively. She analyses their replacement of linear structures with circular ones, comparing them to a rhizome, a conception of knowledge that works against linear connections. She shows that collapse and recovery occur simultaneously, expanding indefinitely. Regarding the lyrical dimension of the video works she argues that narration is focused on the level of mediality itself. Finally she develops the idea that these art works need to be interpreted as a performative attempt to emphasize the human aspect.


The journalist and novelist Sahar Mandour analyses the stories and their inherent narratives of a range of different Egyptian newspapers belonging to the ‘national’ and to the ‘independent’ press as they appeared on January 25, 2011. She explores the interrelatedness of all narration lines, grasping the overall picture through newspapers’ yesterday’s stories, arguing that the revolution was the intersection of a multitude of factors and contexts.


Taking advantage of the digital age, Inverted Worlds: Cultural Motion in the Arab Region incorporates an array of audio-visual material in its contributions, ranging from YouTube clips to sound-files to still images. This raises issues of longevity, however. While images and sound-files will be accessible to readers in years to come, the user-content-generated nature of YouTube does not allow for any predictability, since any content-provider may decide to withdraw his contribution at any time. Therefore YouTube files are incorporated into the text to add an audio-visual dimension to the reader as long as the files exist, while ensuring that the authors’ arguments are still valid without access to the files.


To conclude, let us turn to the Lebanese writer and intellectual Elias Khoury who opened Inverted Worlds: Congress on Cultural Motion with the following remarks: “The revolutions are still in the midst of formation, in the midst of a change which is very complicated and which obliges people like me to be humble. What is happening in the Arab world makes intellectuals like me, who have struggled all their lives for democracy, freedom and social justice, feel like we really were surprised by what happened. We must go back to the school of history, and to learn history from the young people who occupy the streets of the Arab world.” (The full keynote address is accessible here: This volume attempts to capture some of the narratives of cultural motion in the Arab region at a time of change and inverted worlds. Due to the nature of events, many of the contributions are work in progress and invite further inquiry into the subject matters at hand.


Table of contents

Syrinx von Hees, Nadia von Maltzahn and Ines Weinrich: Introduction

Yves Gonzalez-Quijano: Rap, an Art of Revolution or a Revolution in Art?

Ines Dallaji: Tunisian Rap Music and the Arab Spring: Revolutionary Anthems and Post-Revolutionary Tendencies

Stephan Procházka: The Voice of Freedom: Remarks on the Language of Songs from the Egyptian Revolution 2011

Simon Dubois: Street Songs from the Syrian Protests

Nader Srage: The Protest Discourse: The Example of “Irhal” (Go/Get Out/Leave)

Sara Binay: “Where are they going?” – Jokes as Indicators of Social and Political Change

Mona Abaza: Satire, Laughter and Mourning in Cairo’s Graffiti

Marwan Kraidy: A Heterotopology of Graffiti: A Preliminary Exploration

Matthias Kispert: The Sound of Discontent

Hassan Choubassi: The Arab Masses: From the Implosion of Fantasies to the Explosion of the Political

Monika Halkort: Counting versus Narration – On the Database as Political Form

Lotte Laub: Circularity versus Linearity: Immediate Artistic Reactions to Periods of War and Political Upheaval

Sahar Mandour: قصة الأمس | Yesterday’s Story

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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Article: The “Arab Spring”: A challenge to the Christian minorities of the Middle East

In the March 2013 edition of the “Armenian-German Correspondence” (Armenisch-Deutsche Korrespondenz, ADK) OIB research associate Thomas Scheffler published a brief analysis of the current uprisings in the Arab world and their impact on the region’s Christian minorities. For Oriental Christians, the simplistic choice between “democracy” and “dictatorship” often conceals a tragic double-bind dilemma:  Democratization threatens to increase the political power of Islamist movements; continuing loyalty to the region’s old regimes threatens to alienate Christians not only from large segments of the Muslim majority population, but also from Western ideals of ‘democratic progress’. In addition, the chaos accompanying the violent overthrow of an old order usually exposes small and scattered minorities to greater security risks than larger and more compact population groups. Until now, Western support for the region’s ‘democratization’ has done little to set these fears at rest:  In view of the fate of Armenian Christians in the 20th century and the dramatic decimation of Iraqi Christians after the US intervention of 2003, belief in a ‘natural’ convergence between the interests of ‘the West’ and Oriental Christianity is on the wane. The paper summarizes a range of minority strategies to deal with this dilemma: apart from ‘exit’ strategies like remaining silent or preparing for emigration, they include cautious loyalty to the powers that be in order to gain time for their internal reform, building alliances with other minorities, and searching for local partners that could help shaping democratization in ways that are compatible with the interests of minorities (e.g. separation of religion and politics, cultural autonomy, political decentralization, and human rights policies).

To download the PDF, click here.

Inverted Worlds – Congress on Cultural Motion in the Arab Region

„Wir befinden uns inmitten eines Wandels, der sehr kompliziert ist, und der Leute wie mich verpflichtet, bescheiden zu sein. Was heute in der arabischen Welt passiert, hat Intellektuelle wie mich, die ihr ganzes Leben lang für Demokratie, Freiheit und soziale Gerechtigkeit gekämpft haben, sehr überrascht. Wir sollten zurück in die Schule der Geschichte gehen und Geschichte von der Jugend, die die Straßen der arabischen Welt besetzt, lernen.“

Mit diesen Worten eröffnete der libanesische Schriftsteller und Intellektuelle Elias Khoury die fünftägige Konferenz „Inverted Worlds – Congress on Cultural Motion in the Arab Region“ am Orient-Institut (OI) Beirut im Oktober 2012. Diese Konferenz stellte die kulturellen Impulse, die die arabische Region seit 2011 erlebt hat, in den Mittelpunkt. In vier interdisziplinären Panels kamen prominente Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler, Künstlerinnen und Künstler sowie Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten zusammen, um sich über verschiedene lokale, regionale und transregionale Aspekte  des Wandels in der arabischen Welt auszutauschen. Zusammenhänge der Ereignisse innerhalb der Region sowie Schnittstellen mit Erfahrungen in anderen Regionen (z. B. in Serbien und England) wurden dabei herausgearbeitet. Im Vordergrund standen die Neuen Medien, urbane Kunstformen wie Hip Hop und Graffiti, Humor und soziale Bewegungen. Die dynamischen Debatten machten deutlich, dass die Künstlerinnen und Künstler und Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten lange vor den Ausbrüchen der Revolutionen aktiv waren, sich nun nach Wegfall alter Schranken aber intensiver mit der Neudefinierung der Beziehung zwischenS taat und Gesellschaft auseinandersetzen. Wie auch aus Khourys Einleitung deutlich wird, spielen neue Akteure verstärkt eine Rolle.

Ausdrucksformen des Arabischen Frühlings

Mittagspause in der Lebanese American University.

Das Ziel des ersten Panels mit dem Titel „Sound Messages: Popular Music and Social and Political Transformation“ war es, neue Fragen zu musikalischen Ausdrucksformen des Arabischen Frühlings zu stellen. Musik ist ein Mittler politischer, sozialer und kultureller Ideen. Dies wird in den regionalen Transformationsprozessen deutlich, etwa durch populäre Kunstproduktionen, die dem arabischen Nationalismus und patriotischen Bewegungen gewidmet sind, oder durch polemische oder gar subversive Texte. Wofür kämpfen Künstlerinnen und Künstler der jungen Generation? Die Präsentationen lösten eine lebhafte und kontroverse Debatte zwischen Panelisten und Publikum aus, in denen es unter anderem um die Frage von „Authentizität“ (z. B. ob Arabischer Hip-Hop oder Heavy Metal authentisch sein können?) und die Frage von „Vermittlung“ (z. B. welche Rolle Musik in den derzeitigen Transformationsprozessen spielt?) ging. Aufschlussreich war die Diskussion zwischen sechs Hip-Hop-Künstlern aus der Region (Syrien, Libanon, Jordanien, Tunesien). Die Musiker unterstrichen, dass sie sich im Augenblick inmitten eines Wandels befänden, der so schnell voranschreite, dass es schwierig sei, die Lage rational zu analysieren, während man gleichzeitig Teil der Ereignisse sei. Der libanesische Hip-Hopper El-Ras betonte: „Eine Explosion hat stattgefunden, sei es auf dem Niveau der Politik, der Kunst, oder des Denkens. Viele Schranken sind gefallen. Nicht Du oder ich entscheiden wie es weitergeht, sondern die Gesellschaft.“ Das zweite Panel „Linear and Non-linear Narratives in the Context of Arab Revolutions“ brachte neun Akteure aus Wissenschaft, Kunst und Politik aus dem Libanon, den USA, Bahrein, Großbritannien und Deutschland zusammen. Die Beiträge untersuchten verschiedenste künstlerische Ausdrucksformen wie Videokunst, Klangkunst, Datenbanken als kulturelle oder als politische Ausdrucks-, Speicher- und Wissensform, Film, Theater und Graffiti. Der Zusammenhang zwischen dem Aufbrechen linearer, hierarchisierender Erzählstrukturen und den politischen Aktivitäten im Kontext der arabischen Revolutionen wurde diskutiert. Besonderes Augenmerk erhielt auch die Zeit vor den politischen Ereignissen sowie die Interaktion zwischen Ausdrucksformen, Techniken wie zum Beispiel Datenbanken, Video- und Filmtechniken, Medien und Menschen.

Humor und Widerstand

Die ägyptische Revolution stand im Mittelpunkt der ersten Diskussionsrunde des dritten Panels „Humour, Suffering and Resistance“. Die zweite Diskussion konzentrierte sich vor allem auf die Rolle des Humors in den aktuellen Umwälzungen in Syrien sowie im zeitgenössischen Libanon. Neben Medien wie Wandmalereien, Print-Karikaturen und Slogans wurden hier auch Fernsehserien, Internetvideos und mündlich tradierte Witze einbezogen. Die Rolle des von Seiten des Staates tolerierten Humors unter dem syrischen Baath-Regime wurde ebenso gewürdigt wie die Rolle des Humors in politisch-kulturellen Aktivitäten der Opposition. Die weit verbreitete These, Humor sei „ambivalent“, wurde in den lebhaften Präsentationen und Diskussionen des Panels zugunsten einer stärkeren Würdigung der jeweiligen sozialen, räumlichen und politischen Kontexte der Artikulation des Humors aufgelöst. Im letzten Panel „Open Rebellion – Hidden Scripts“ wurde ergründet, von welchen Erwartungshaltungen sich die Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten der arabischen Aufstände leiten ließen und inwiefern die Ereignisse einer Form der Revolutionsdramaturgie folgten. Politische Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten und Think-Tank-Analysten behandelten unter reger Teilnahme des Publikums eine Reihe von Themen, wie etwa die gewaltlose Philosophie der serbischen Organisationen OTPOR! und Canvas. Diese verbuchten ihre Arbeit mit ägyptischen Akteuren als Erfolg, beurteilten jedoch die Zusammenarbeit mit syrischen Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten kritisch, da die Eskalation der Gewalt auch als ein Fehler der Opposition bewertet wurde. Ägyptische Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten stehen allerdings weiterhin vor großen post-revolutionären Herausforderungen, wie am Beispiel der „April 6 Jugendbewegung“ deutlich wurde. Die Demonstrationen in Bahrein, die auch Folgen der bis in die britische Besatzungszeit zurückreichenden sozialen Konflikte sind, wurden ebenso analysiert wie die Rolle der Neuen Medien im Transformationsprozess in Libyen und Gründe für die Ursprünge des syrischen Aufstands im ländlichen Daraa. Abschließend wurde die Rolle des Militärs in der arabischen Politik erläutert und gezeigt, auf welche Weise verschiedene Herrscher militärische Insignien zur Herrschaftslegitimation einsetzten.

„Inverted Worlds“ in Beirut

Filmabend auf den Stufen von Gemmayzeh

„Inverted Worlds“ nahm auch Bezug auf den Standort Beirut. Wie Stefan Leder in seiner Willkommensrede betonte, ist Beirut eine Stadt, die stets verschiedene Gesichtspunkte aufgenommen hat, experimentierfreudig ist und alle zur Diskussion auffordert. Auch Elias Khoury ging in seiner Einführung auf die Stadt ein. Beirut sei eine Stadt, die einen langen Kampf hinter sich habe. Seit der israelischen Belagerung von 1982 war sie eine Stadt des Widerstands, lange Zeit die einzige in der Region. 2005 versuchte Beirut, mit der sogenannten „Unabhängigkeitsintifada“ ein Modell für populäre Revolutionen zu schaffen, doch der Wandel funktionierte auf Grund der konfessionellen Struktur des libanesischen politischen Systems nicht. „Beirut ist eine traurige Stadt“, so beendete Khoury seine Einleitung. Sie befände sich heute am Rande der arabischen Welt, anstatt Vorreiter des Wandels zu sein. Er hoffe, dass sich dies bald ändern werde. Dies sei aber nur möglich, wenn die Libanesen es schafften, sich von der „Krankheit des Konfessionalismus“ zu befreien. Um die Vielseitigkeit Beiruts zu unterstreichen, fanden die Panelrunden nicht nur im Orient-Institut, sondern auch in der Bibliothèque Orientale und im Théâtre Monnot der Université Saint Joseph, im Gulbenkian Theater der Lebanese American University sowie im Beirut Art Center statt. Jeder Ort brachte seine eigene Identität und sein eigenes Publikum mit in die Diskussion ein. Das Experiment, die verschiedenen Ansätze von Aktivismus, künstlerischen Ausdrucksformen und wissenschaftlicher Analyse in einer Konferenz zusammenzubringen, war eine bereichernde Erfahrung für das OI Beirut. Über die Panels hinaus gab es auch ein facettenreiches Kulturprogramm: An einem der Abende wurden Kurzfilme auf den Stufen von Gemmayzeh gezeigt, die einen Einblick in die ägyptische Musikwelt gaben und den Frauen in den Aufständen in Ägypten und Bahrein eine Stimme verliehen. Ein Höhepunkt war das Hip-Hop Konzert der Kollektive Khat Thaleth, bei dem sich Akteure aus der Region kritisch dem Zeitgeschehen stellten und in ihrem Freestyle verdeutlichten: „Wir brauchen kein Al Jazeera, das Bild wird deutlich aus Beirut“. Einen visuellen Überblick über „Inverted Worlds“ eröffnet die Videovorschau

OIB Congress Trailer from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

und auch die einzelnen Vorträge können auf der Institutswebseite angeschaut werden. Derzeit wird eine Dokumentation zu „Inverted Worlds“ in der Orient-Institut Studies (OIS) vorbereitet.

Nadia von Maltzahn ist seit Februar 2013 Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Orient-Institut Beirut. 2012 hat sie die internationale Konferenz „Inverted Worlds – Congress on Cultural Motion in the Arab Region“ organisiert.

Video Inverted Worlds: Critical Sounds from the Periphery: Palestinian Electro in Lebanon

The variety of musical imaginaries in Palestinian camps of Lebanon echoes the distinctive ways in which Palestinian worlds are connected to international cultural flows. Isolated and stigmatized by part of the local population, discriminated against, both spatially and socially, Palestinians in Lebanon are part of globalized cultural flows, which they adapt within their own particular conditions. Considered from this perspective, they compensate – both inside and outside of the camps – the decline of national artistic productions by exploring new esthetic, and by creating through this process the conditions for their integration into the musical and political circulation. Among these cultural paths, electronic music (or electro) is one of the newest. By composing rap and electro and musical poetry, these musicians negotiate a place to be in tune with the contemporary world.

Nicolas Puig during his lecture at the Inverted Worlds Conference.
(Photo by Orient Institut Beirut)

As a new generation of Palestinian artists, they create writings that open political spaces as well as new modalities of individual and collective subjectification. These writings reshape the local presence by using transnational networks and selected samples from different spaces and times. I will focus on the case of “Studio Katibé”, a place near Burj al-Barajné camp where “Osloub” (“Style” in Arabic), rappers of Katibé Khamsé and different musicians are pursuing their innovative aesthetic work. Jean-Luc Godard said that fiction is for Israelis and documentaries for Palestinians. Can the way some Palestinian artists create their own fiction point to the emergence of new voices from the worldwide periphery as well as from the Arab periphery? Like the recent upraising in the Arab countries, one of the meanings of these explorations is that they are an attempt to redraw the cartography of world
hegemonies or, at least, a way to engage with the contemporary moment.

Critical Sounds from the Periphery: Palestinian Electro in Lebanon from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Nicolas Puig is anthropologist at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (France). He works in the field of anthropology of music. He had done fieldwork in Egypt (popular music and urban society) and is now visiting researcher at CEMAM (University St Joseph) in Beirut.