CfP: Rethinking Social Movements in the Digital Age: Activism, Dissent and Rebellion in the Post-Arab Spring

International Workshop

Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB)

July 29, 2016

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Laila Shereen Sakr
Assistant Professor of Film & Media Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

The pivotal and unprecedented role that digital technology has played in instigating, as well as documenting the Arab Spring has without a doubt renewed the interest in social movements beyond the traditional realm of the “physical”. As the revolution in digital technology is slowly revolutionizing the way people communicate, debate existing norms and are exposed to other social and cultural practices and forms of governance worldwide, it is also providing new means for coordination and mobilization. In the advent of the Arab ‘Spring’ revolts throughout the region, digital technology has successfully pushed its way into politics: allowing people across borders, class, and formal venues of associations to debate, coordinate, and transform the ‘digital’ into the ‘physical’. Continue reading

Video: Wohin treibt der Nahe Osten?/Where is the Middle East Heading? (4)

Panel III: Minderheiten, Konflikte und neue Einflüsse/Minorities, conflicts and new impacts

Chair: Dr. Thomas Scheffler, Beirut

Die folgenden Vorträge waren Teil der Konferenz “Wohin treibt der Nahe Osten? Ethno-religiöse Minderheiten im Nahen Osten zwischen Verfolgung und Selbstbehauptung”, die vom 30. November bis zum 2. Dezember 2014 in Berlin stattfand und vom Orient-Institut Beirut ausgerichtet wurde. Continue reading

Video: Wohin treibt der Nahe Osten?/Where is the Middle East Heading? (3)

Panel II: Minderheiten, Verfolgung und politische Interaktion/Minorities, persecution and political interaction

Chair: Dr. Rolf Hosfeld, Potsdam/Dr. Thomas Scheffler, Beirut


Die folgenden Vorträge waren Teil der Konferenz “Wohin treibt der Nahe Osten? Ethno-religiöse Minderheiten im Nahen Osten zwischen Verfolgung und Selbstbehauptung”, die vom 30. November bis zum 2. Dezember 2014 in Berlin stattfand und vom Orient-Institut Beirut ausgerichtet wurde.


Dr. Scheffler: “Christliche Minderheiten im Nahen Osten: Ein Störfaktor in der westlichen Geopolitik” from Max Weber Stiftung on Vimeo.


Dr. Sleiman: “Living Together, but Separately? Federalization Projects in Lebanon since 1975” from Max Weber Stiftung on Vimeo.


Dr. Nadafi: “Religious Minorities in the Middle East” from Max Weber Stiftung on Vimeo.


Dr. Seufert: “Die Situation der Kurden im Nahen Osten” from Max Weber Stiftung on Vimeo.


Prof. Dr. Abu Jaber: “Interreligious Dialogue in the Middle East: A Failed Experiment?” from Max Weber Stiftung on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: Debates on Social Media and Revolution

This presentation is two-fold: Part one is devoted to reflections on the debates about the relations between digital technology/social media and revolutionary movements, while part two is a sound performance called Discontent, made from recordings of protests, mainly in London, captured over more than 10 years. Horizontal networks of independently operating nodes, with their links to random access memory and nonlinear narratives, are seen as new models for political activism and revolutionary change, empowering the individual and avoiding the pitfalls of institutionalised power, while still enabling broad movements forsocial change to come into being.

The revolution will not be tweeted
(Gigi Ibrahim | CC BY 2.0)

Events like the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement point toward the possibilities of non-hierarchical networks, aided by technology, gathering spontaneously to mount a powerful challenge to the established order. However, after initial enthusiasm by a wide selection of the media, at least those of Europe and the US, many commentators have begun to question whether the role of new technologies has been misrepresented or overestimated. In addition, critics of Communicative Capitalism, such as Jodi Dean, assert that in the current abundance of communication individual messages are flattened to mere content, devoid of context and commodified.

What emerges from considering the tension between these opposing positions is a more complex narrative, one that is most likely non-linear and definitely open-ended. This lecture aims to open up the debate for a critical approach to the theme. Finally, the performance of Discontent is a re-interpretation of the audible matter of protests, following multiple routes and overlaps, including 2001 May Day riots, protests on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the attack on the Royal Bank of Scotland building during the G20 protests in 2009, as well as the first days of the Occupy the London Stock Exchange. The piece aims to make audible the affective links established through sound between people who fight oppression collectively, the empowering and disruptive potential of noise as a cultural form, as well as the mixture of adrenaline rush and fear that is experienced once protest goes beyond peaceful.

Debates on Social Media and Revolution from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Matthias Kispert is an electronic music composer and artist living in London. His broad range of interests includes audiovisual live performance, composition with found sound, improvisation, documentary as artistic medium, as well as the relations between artistic practice and wider cultural and social issues. As audio director of media artist collective D-Fuse, he is responsible for the sound aspect and also the conceptual development of much of the group’s work, including videos, installations and live cinema performances. He also regularly collaborates with other digital artists and designers including United Visual Artists, Quayola and Jason Bruges Studio. His work and collaborations are shown at exhibitions and festivals globally, including USC, LA MOCA, TriBeCa Film Festival and Eyebeam (USA), Itaú Cultural, FILE, Multiplicidade and Hipersonica (Brasil), Royal Festival Hall, onedotzero, ISEA, CineCity, Lovebytes, AV Festival and London Film Festival (UK), Hong Kong Arts Centre, I/O Gallery and Get It Louder (China), GaîtéLyrique and Nuit Blanche (France), EMAF (Germany), Moscow Architectural Biennial (Russia), MU, STRP, Sonic Acts, Today’s Art and Imageradio (Netherlands), NúmeroProjecta (Portugal), NABA Milan (Italy), MOD Festival (Mexico), Dis-Locate (Japan), REC Madrid and LEV (Spain), MIC ToiRerehiko (New Zealand) and others. Matthias Kispert is a lecturer in Sound Art at the University of the Arts London.

Video Inverted Worlds: Nonviolent Movements are Dictators’ Worst Nightmares

Social-economic issues are behind Occupy Wall Street, French, Greek and Spanish riots, the Arab protests wave and many other protests in the last few years around the globe. In the wake of what is known as “Arab Spring”, a wave of protests washed away the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt. Inspired by these events, demonstrators across the region stood up against and seriously challenged the strongmen of Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. The question is what the common denominator of the “Arab spring” was. The answer is People Power, the power of non-partisan youth movements. A united movement, committed to nonviolence, with a thorough plan to achieve its goals is capable of momentous achievements.

Such a strategic movement is the worst nightmare for every autocrat and can pull the pillars of support out of the government support and force the strongmen to make concessions once considered impossible. The results have been inconceivable; once ruthless rulers, the leaders of numerous Arab countries have been promising reforms, reshuffling governments, and entering into dialogues with opposition groups they once banned. Maybe the “Arab spring” actually began in Lebanon with the “Cedar revolution” after Hariri’s assassination, but unfortunately it finished the moment violence prevailed and became the leading force in the entire region. Unfortunately guns must be sold and used and everything that happened in Libya and that is happening in Syria cannot be called “Arab spring”. A better name would be “Arab tragedy”. Without labour unions in Tunisia and youth movements in Egypt changes would have been much slower and like in Libya and Syria would rely on armed groups. Therefore achievements of those people involved in changes in Tunisia and Egypt are even bigger.

Nonviolent Movements are Dictators’ Worst Nightmares from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Actively engaged in the nonviolent struggle against regimes since 1991 as a high school kid; Siniša Šikman led students at Students protest 1996/97. His networked organization Serbian Students Movement became a fundament of OTPOR! (“Resistance!”), founded in October 1998, a movement in which he was a very active member but that finished with the Milosevic era in October 2000. Siniša then worked as a freelance trainer and has been a trainer with CANVAS (Center for Applied NonViolent Actions and Strategies) for the last five years. He conducted 46 strategic nonviolent struggle trainings with 764 participants from all over the world, including participants and movements who had pivotal role in changes in Ukraine, Georgia, Maldives, Egypt, etc. His expertise unites both partisan and NGO sector skills and knowledge.

Video Inverted Worlds: Arab Hip Hop – Rhymes and Revolution

Like a scratched up 45-rpm/7” record, the purveyors of the Arab hip hop movement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been repetitive about the nature of the messaging. From Tunisia to Jordan, to Lebanon and Libya, from Syria and back to Palestine, Arab hip-hoppers have been producing for their insular fanbase(s) with lyrics that presaged the rhetoric of the so-called Arab Spring. But they developed in the shadows. They spoke more about the theft of Palestine, or the plight of the disenfranchised, and the corruption of the ruling classes rather than the idea of mass rebellion sparked by the selfimmolation of Mohamed Al-Bou’ziz in December 2010. The backbone was their reliance on the beats.

Cairo trio Arabian Knightz perform in Doha.
(Omar Chatriwala | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

And to this end, the movement’s rhythmic signposts grew from the mimicry of the Western, Afro-influenced 4×4 rhythm structure to a very homegrown distillation of the Tarab melodies and beat structures of their musical forebearers – with SP-808 sampler effects taken from the wealth of Arab records made in Egypt and Lebanon for decades prior to cassettes and CD’s. But the revolutions didn’t change the movement. If anything, the revolutions helped the movement serve notice to the West and to the corporate entities that would exploit the talent coming from the Arab hip hop movement – “they need no validation from anyone but themselves and their growing fanbase.”

Indeed, the lyrical and musical litmus tests within the Arab hip-hop movement have evolved to be “about” the social messaging, and about the innovations of homegrown sampling than about money or fame. Who are the main actors in the pan-Arab hip hop movement? Is there a Pan-Arab hip hop movement? What real impact will Arab hip hop have on the shaabi audience or the mainstream? Can it or has it affected revolution in the region? Will the next battles of free expression be fought by members of the Arab hip hop movement? These are all questions that, in the very least, deserve debate. The questions were discussed at the Inverted Worlds Congress by the cultural filmmaker and writer Jackson Allers.

He has spent the last 6-years documenting the alternative and independent musical trends in the Arab world for outlets like The National, Rolling Stone ME, National Public Radio, Red Bull Music Academy Magazine and primarily on his blog Beats and Breath. His work on Arab hip hop in the region has been cited frequently as a reference point in numerous academic settings. His 29-min radio documentary – Rhyme and Revolution – about the Arab hip-hop movement and the revolutions has travelled to three continents and aired on over 200 radio stations worldwide, and his short documentary about the young Palestinian hip hop group I-Voice (Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp) and their search for a back-up generator for their camp studio has been cited by critics as a “non-polemic” look at the legacy of the Palestinian conflict. He is writing a book on the rise of Arab hip hop in the region and Diaspora, and is also helping to document the making of the Arab hip hop compilation “Khat Thaleth” – produced by the Stronghold Sound record label.

Arab Hip Hop – Rhymes and Revolution from Orient Institut Beirut on Vimeo.

Video Inverted Worlds: Keynote Address by Elias Khoury

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. The Keynote Address was given by the journalist, literary critic, novelist and dramaturge Elias Khoury. Khoury was born in Beirut in 1948 and studied history and sociology at the Lebanese University in Beirut and in Paris.

He supported the interests and rights of Palestinians and worked at the PLO Research Center in Beirut in the 1970s and published Shu’un filastiniya (Palestinian Affairs) together with the Palestinian lyric poet Mahmud Darwish. In 1979, as editor for literature, he switched to the daily paper As-Safir, where he worked until 1991. Since 1992 Khoury has been publisher and editor-in-chief of the culture and literary supplement to Beirut’s daily paper An-Nahar.

Elias Khoury
(Suz, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Elias Khoury is considered one of the leading contemporary Arabic intellectuals and writers. His literary work includes eight novels, including al-Jabal al-Saghir (1977), Rahlat Gandhi al-Saghir (1991), and Abwab al-Madinah (1993). The novel The Kingdom of Strangers (1996) shows the Lebanese capital as the scene of warring historical and political powers, as the scene of the Israeli-Lebanese war, which breaks apart at the seams of its various ethic groups, languages, and religions during the civil war.

His novel Bab Al-Shams (1998) was translated into Hebrew and received the Palestine Prize. It was named Best Book of the Year by Le Monde Diplomatique, The Christian Science Monitor, and The San Francisco Chronicle, and a Notable Book by The New York Times and The Kansas City Star. A novel was thereby honoured that told of the Palestinian exodus and the life of the Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese camps. In 2004 the novel was turned into a film by Yousry Nasrallah.

Khoury’s novels have been translated into numerous languages. His recently released As Though She Were Sleeping was shortlisted for the Guardian’s 2011 Book of the Year. He also is the author of numerous plays, which have been performed, among other places, in Beirut, Cairo, Paris, and Vienna. Since 2001, Elias Khoury is global distinguished professor at New York University (NYU), and since 2011 he is the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies.

During his Keynote at the Inverted Worlds Congress, Khoury made the point that the Arab Revolutions are still in the forming and that the Arab World is in the midst of a change, what oblies people like him to be humble. The Keynote Adress was filmed and can be watched here:

Congress “Inverted Worlds”: Keynote Address by Elias Khoury, October 4, 2012 from maxweberstiftung on Vimeo.

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.