Video Inverted Worlds: “Dégage – Out – ارحل “ A Password that Transcends Arab Countries

“Dégage” – Out – « ارحل » was one of the most widespread slogans by the youth of the Arab Spring (2011-2012) revolting against their Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan or Syrian tyrannies. This clause-equivalent or saying, comprised of a single word, plays the role of a sentence in terms of function, as it delivers a direct and transparent message.

Leave – ارحل in several languages
(RamyRaoof | CC BY 2.0)

It in effect reflects an imperative verb, demanding the immediate fall of tyrants. The French version of this clause-equivalent, “Dégage”, saw the day at the end of 2010 in Tunis. Its Arabic equivalent, « ارحل », subsequently spread in Tunis, then in Cairo at Tahrir Square by January 2011. My paper aims to study the style or sarcastic tone adopted by young Egyptians claiming Moubarak, even Ben Ali and Khaddafi Out. The clause-equivalent « ارحل », repeated orally or written on numerous signs and billboards has given way to around 20 dialectal variants in Egypt. It has thus translated the sarcastic popular temperament in addition to the renowned Egyptian sense of humour.


“Dégage – Out – ارحل “ A Password that Transcends Arab Countries from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.
Nader Srage is a professor of linguistics at the Lebanese University since 1981. Throughout his professional career, he focused on functional socio-linguistics, and especially the relationship between language and society in its various levels, aspects and developments. He is currently working on a linguistic study regarding political slogans in Arab countries, in collaboration with the OIB. He received his PhD with honours from the University of Sorbonne (Paris III). He is member in various associations, including the International Society for Functional Linguistics and the Union of Arab Translators. He is the founder of the Beirut Urban Observatory, through which he published two books and organized two conferences regarding cultural heritage in Beirut thus far. He is the author of 10 books in Arabic and French, and more than 200 articles. Amongst others, he is also an expert in communication and PR.

Video Inverted Worlds: The Voice of Freedom – Egyptian Revolution Pop: Provocation or Encouragement

The lyrics of songs composed during or immediately after the Egyptian Revolution in the spring of 2011 are a topic that is worth to be shed a light on. About 25 songs covering different genres from mainstream pop to hip hop and rap will be analysed with regard to their underlying messages. What kind of atmosphere did the composers of these songs create? Are martial revolutionary themes preponderant or does Hani ‘Adil and Amir ‘Id’s song “The Voice of Freedom” (sot il-hurriya) typically reflect the spirit of Midan at-Tahrir during the “hot phase” of the revolution?

Live music at Tahrir Square during the protests.
(Lorenz Khazaleh | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

With more than 2 million hits on YouTube this seems to be the most popular of all songs. One hypothesis is that the songs that were sung at Tahrir Square or uploaded during the first weeks of February 2011 do represent the voice of those parts of the opposition that were actively involved in the revolution. Particularly little-known or new singers like Ramy ‘Isam created an encouraging atmosphere of non-violence and mutual understanding, above all the bridging of religious and social boundaries. In this regard the phrases and metaphors of Egyptian revolution songs much more resemble the music of the 1968-movement than, for instance, songs from the revolution of 1848.

Very striking is the almost complete absence of references to the Islamic religion and to “external enemies” such as Israel or the West. Stars of the Egyptian music scene entered the stage only very late and composed often sentimental and emotional songs glorifying the martyrs of the revolution. A theme common to almost all songs can be interpreted in the light of cultural motion, namely the wish to shape a better society based on freedom (hurriya) and dignity (karama), which are the two concepts most often mentioned.

Stephan Procházka is Professor of Arabic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. His main areas of research are Arabic dialectology and popular religion and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. He is the head of several research projects and has published widely on numerous topics related to contemporary spoken Arabic and aspects of everyday culture.

The Voice of Freedom – Egyptian Revolution Pop: Provocation or Encouragement from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: The State of the Media just before and during the Libyan Revolution: Impact, Violation and Challenges

Media during the Qaddafi era was a family means of controlling and directing the masses. There were four TV stations and a similar number of newspapers which were owned and controlled by the “great” leader’s children and favoured kinsmen. Libyans who fled persecution found in the diaspora a breathing space to set up less glamorous media posts in Arabic and English, such as websites/radio in London and the USA, that proved to be more effective and impact making than those of the regime with budgets and corruption in millions. Qaddafi and his lynch men especially the head of the security services, Mousa Kousa, saw that a looming danger had to be stopped by any means including jamming centres and hiring foreign technical expertise from east and west to do that.

Faraj Najem
(Photo by Orient Institut Beirut)

When the revolution broke out on the evening of the 15th of February 2011 in Benghazi, the regime reverted quickly to old habits by liquidating and arresting activists all over Libya. At the same time, they carried on monopolizing his media mouthpieces and advocating violence against the revolutionaries, depriving them of any voice. This necessitated alternatives and ultimately led to an explosion in the number of media outlets in the hands of the revolutionaries culminating in more than 170 newspapers and 20 TV satellites stations. Now the revolution triumphed in Libya with almost 50 thousand casualties. However, there remains a threat that Qaddafi’s immediate family and cronies around the region are bent on sabotaging thesuccess the Libyans have made in the last year post liberation. The future will be determined by the influence exerted by media, as we have seen in the case of Libya where Qaddafi was defeated primarily by Libyans on the ground and NATO jets and Aljazeera and its likes in the skies. Also, the local media post revolution impacted on ordinary Libyans and made them cast their vote against the Islamist parties in an unprecedented move that shocked the Muslim Brotherhood and surprised the rest of the world.

Faraj Najem is a widely respected Libyan author, lecturer, historian, political commentator and advisor on Libyan matters, and a leading member of the Libyan diaspora in the UK. He has acted as a special advisor to the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Office as well as many colleges, universities and think tanks in Britain. He is a regular interviewee on Aljazeera, BBC, CNN, SKY etc. His book ‘Tribe, Islam and State’ is recognised as the seminal work on the tribal history of Libya. Following the February 2011 revolution in Libya, he founded the Forum for Democratic Libya with others, advocating “active citizenship & democratic participation” and served in the Commission for Advice & Support to National Transitional Council of Libya. Born in Benghazi, Libya, he came to the UK as a student in 1983. He soon found out that he was seen by the Qaddafi’s regime as “persona non grata”. Since the revolution, he has returned to Libya on many occasions helping out with media appearances defending the military action against Qaddafi’s troops and moderating the various revolutionaries’ forces on the battle fields across Libya and most recently to host a series of seminars right across the country on electoral and constitutional reform. He is currently running for election to the Libyan National Assembly.

The State of the Media just before and during the Libyan Revolution: Impact, Violation and Challenges from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: Muhammed Mahmud Street. Egyptian Heritage and Popular Saga

Graffiti is an art of rejection that reaches its audience through the street. It is an expression of social and political conditions, addressing issues concerning society. There have been some attempts to express the Egyptian revolution and the rejection of the colonial mandate over the people. Such attempts were linked to Egyptian heritage as an important part of the culture of society. Means of expressing popular resistance and suffering have varied, and included humour and irony as a natural result of oppression practiced by the regimes against the people.

Alaa Awad
(Jonathan Rashad | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The downtown area of Cairo was one of the most important areas which witnessed the events of the Egyptian revolution, including demonstrations and sitins against violence. Muhammed Mahmud Street is one of the most important streets where revolutionaries recorded their views and rebellion on the walls, turning the street into the biggest witness to recent events. It is impossible to understand ourselves and appreciate our capabilities unless our past is fully grasped as it contributed to creating us. Our understanding of the past is only an understanding of ourselves. The historical consciousness complements the national culture. It highlights the national character and creates integration between the past, the present and the future.

Alaa Awad has been instructor in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Luxor, in the Department of Painting (Mural Painting Section) since 2006. He obtained his Master Degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Zamalek, Helwan University. He participated in a number of collective exhibitions inside and outside Egypt, and contributed to several workshops. Alaa has experience in implementing field murals using different materials. He carried out Graffiti art works in Egypt.

Mohammed Mahmud Street – Between Ancient Egyptian Tradition and The Modern Epic from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

During the Inverted Worlds Conference Alaa Awad explained his art to Mona Abaza. She is Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo. In 2009-2011, she was visiting Professor of Islamology, Department of Theology at Lund University. Previously she has been a visiting scholar in Singapore at the Institute for South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) 1990-1992, Kuala Lumpur 1995-1996, Paris (EHESS) 1994, Berlin (Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg) 1996-1997, Leiden (IIAS) 2002-2003, and Wassenaar (NIAS) 2006-2007. Her books include Twentieth Century Egyptian Art: The Private Collection of Sherwet Shafei (The Amercian University Press, 2011), The Changing Consumer Culture of Modern Egypt; Cairo’s Urban Reshaping (Brill/AUC Press, 2006), Debates on Islam and Knowledge in Malaysia and Egypt; Shifting Worlds (Routledge Curzon Press/UK, 2002), and Islamic Education, Perceptions and Exchanges: Indonesian Students in Cairo (Cahier d’Archipel, EHESS, Paris, 1994).

Alaa Awad explains to Mona Abaza about his Art from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

REPORT: Workers’ organisations between fragmentation and protest: A workshop

Unions have continued to play an important role before and during the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia since 2011. Lebanon has also witnessed a variety of strikes and sit-ins in 2012. On the one hand, electricity workers staged the longest ever strike in Lebanese history and employees managed to establish new unions, sometimes after a long struggle. On the other hand, the fragmentation of Lebanese unions is second to none because they are divided along party political lines. How independent and effective are unions under these political circumstances? At a workshop organized by postdoctoral fellow Aurora Sottimano at the OIB, Unionists and scholars discussed this question before the background of Egyptian and Lebanese experiences as well as the status of workers’ rights and the union laws at a workshop organized at the OIB.

From left: Ghassan Slaiby, Tarek Moustafa, Elisabeth Longuenesse, Castro Abdallah and Hussein El Masry

In her introduction, Aurora Sottimano pointed to the sharp contrast between the newly proactive role taken up by unions in Tunisia and Egypt and the corporatist stance of most Lebanese workers organisations. The failure of Lebanese unions in linking social and workplace concerns, she contended, accounts for their inability to get public support and affects their ability to pressure government into taking action for workers’ interests. Guest speaker Charbel Nahas, former Lebanese Minister of Labour, explained the political economy of the Lebanese job market – often reduced to a patron-client relationship – as a structural aspect of the Lebanese economy. He further illustrated the difficulties to reform such an “inefficient and inequitable yet powerful system”, which stymied his attempts to bring about social and economic reforms earlier in 2012.

Charbel Nahas (right) and Bassem Chit (background)

Keynote speaker Elisabeth Longuenesse, Director of Contemporary Studies at the French Institute for the Near East (IFPO), introduced three topics for discussion: the fragmentation of Lebanese workers organisations; legal barriers and actual work conditions; and current trends in the Lebanese labour market –  all of which negatively affect the ability of unions to mobilize workers. In answering  her questions, the speakers discussed the precarious balance of peace that followed the Lebanese civil war. In contrast to the vitality shown by workers unions during the war, the early 1990s saw a proliferation of yellow unions. Abdel-Amir Najde, President of the Federation of Public Car Drivers for Land Transport, and Adib Bou Habib, General Secretary of the Printing Press Employees Union, drew on their personal experience to explain this development. Whilst most union leaders blame the direct and indirect interference of Syrian authorities for the fragmentation of the workers movement, Abdallah Castro, President of the Federation of Lebanese Workers Unions (FENASOL), pointed to the questionable role of domestic actors as well as international organisation agencies, all of which contributed to “kill the labour movement”.

Public Service International Secretary for Arab Countries, Dr. Ghassan Slaiby, argued for the need for a new organizational framework to replace the General Confederation, which represents political and sectarian factions rather than workers’ interests. According to him, a new organizational framework is a precondition in order for re-launching the Lebanese labour movement and placing it once again on the track of independence and democracy.

The independence and unity of workers organisations also were the background issues of the ensuing discussion, which included leaders of the most active and politically independent organisations in Lebanon, such as Hanna Gharib, President of the Secondary School Teacher League (rabita); Kamal Mawlud (Document 1| Document 2), President of  the Union of North Lebanon Water Establishment Workers; and Georges Hajj, President of  the Federation of Bank Employees Unions. In their contributions, they showed how they articulate workers’ demands and the obstacles they routinely faced in the context of the “politicization” of the public sphere in Lebanon.

The two Egyptian speakers, Hussein El Masry, (Training Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Union Services), and Tarek Moustafa (General Secretary of the Real Estate Tax Authority Union), focused  on the strategies of the Egyptian labour movement in confronting  the two challenges of repression by the former regime and a pro-regime General Confederation. They maintained that unionist practice is inseparable from politics and involves more than narrowly conceived workers’ interests – as their demand for a maximum as well as a minimum wage implies. Moreover they urged their Lebanese counterparts to “think out of the box” (Moustafa) in order for unionist work to become more effective in authoritarian or democratically-deficient contexts.

From left: Samir Tawk, Aurora Sottimano, Ghassan Slaiby

Both positions – to skilfully play by the political rules and to resolutely act against them – were represented by some of the new actors in the Lebanese labour movement, which includes workers from a variety of work conditions. Mohammad Mansour (Public Sector Cooperative Workers) and Mohammad Boukhari (Hariri Hospital Workers) explained the situation of public sector workers. Lubnan Makhoul, president of the newly formed Electricity Workers League, described how daily workers are torn between the public Electricity Establishment and private subcontracting companies. Samir Tawk, from the newly established Spinneys Workers Union, highlighted the working conditions in the private commercial sector. All these speakers denounced heavy political pressure and breaches of labour law provisions, including the firing of leading activists. Lubnan Makhoul also deplored the lack of solidarity with the cause of daily workers on part of established unions amidst the general public apathy vis-à-vis the longest ever strike in Lebanon.

Ziyad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development, said in his concluding remarks that Lebanese unionists appear increasingly aware of the potential role of workers organisations as engines of political and civil action. However, it appears that Lebanese unionists lack a clear vision of their own capacity to bring about change. Faced by their own apparent limitations – discussed at length during the workshop – almost all expectations remain directed towards the state, which the unionists deem responsible for creating and enforcing a democratic regulatory framework for labour activities. Crucially, each case study pointed to the need to democratize union practices as a first step to gain credibility and increase workers mobilisation.


Inverted Worlds

OIB Congress Trailer from maxweberstiftung on Vimeo.

The Inverted Worlds – Congress on Cultural Motion in the Arab Region was held in October 2012 by the Orient-Institut Beirut and focussed on exploring arenas and manifestations of cultural change effective in the eventful and disruptive outbursts of the Arab spring. Over the five days of the congress, artists, activists and academics engaged in debate and exchange. During that time the congress addressed the manners and means of articulation and self-imaging, the medial catalysts of change, the framing that encourages both mobilization and individual action towards change, the tools and inspirations of nonviolent resistance.

The chosen metaphor of inversion relates to both the moment when established orders were toppled, and the momentum carrying cultural change in the region. The political vagueness of popular unrest and of its various backgrounds, as well as the complexity of the ensuing political itineraries, strongly encourage inquiry into the broad cultural resonances and diverse expressions which feed the aspirations for change and inspire resistance.

The congress took place in different venues in Beirut and had multifaceted topics. Scientists and those engaged in the cultural sector from all over the world discussed the cultural effects of the Arab spring. Yves Gonzalez-Quijano from Université de Lyon for example talked about Arab Rap: a Culture of Revolution and a Revolution in Culture. Sinisa Sikman from OTPOR! and Canvas in Serbia argued how ‘Nonviolent Movements are Dictators’ Worst Nightmares’.

The congress was accompanied by cultural events: A Night of Independent Arab Short Films and a Hip Hop Concert with Khat Thaleth entertained the participants.

Mish ma32ool

Das Blog begleitet die wissenschaftlichen Aktivitäten des Orient-Instituts Beirut. Das Institut, gegründet 1961 durch die Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, betreibt und fördert Forschung zur Geschichte und Gegenwart des Nahen Ostens und der arabischen Welt. Es ist ein Ort des Austausches unterschiedlicher Sichtweisen und Erkenntnisziele. Die Pluralität konfessioneller Sonderperspektiven im Libanon und die landesübliche Mehrsprachigkeit der wissenschaftlichen Artikulation sind Impulse, welche die Dringlichkeit und Schwierigkeiten von Austausch und Verständigung hervorheben. Neben der traditionellen historischen und philologischen
Perspektive werden verstärkt Ansätze aus benachbarten Wissenschaften wie Sozialanthropologie, Politikwissenschaften, Soziologie und Linguistik aufgegriffen. Im Jahr 2010 eröffnete das Institut ein Büro in Kairo.