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Remembering Tahrir: Hope, Despair, and Nostalgia in Post-Revolutionary Media in Egypt
State media attempts to rewrite history have multiple political effects—they may to varying degrees distort collective memory, but they may also trigger nostalgic recollections of revolution and revive contentious discourses and debates. This paper analyzes the affective dynamics of state, mainstream, and independent media representations of the 2011 Egyptian uprising in popular media, including music videos, television series, novels, social media, and film. I examine depictions that center on the utopian moments of collective joy of protest, as well as more somber portrayals that challenge a romanticized view of resistance by dwelling on the defeat, despair, and devastating repercussions of the uprising. I argue that while nostalgic media can evoke both hope and hopelessness, both kinds of representations counter the state’s erasure of the revolution in public space as well as its resignification of the uprising as a criminal conspiracy in pro-regime media. The latter was most recently seen in season three of the popular Ramadan serial “The Choice,” which depicts the events of the 2013 protests and coup, and should be understood as the Sisi regime’s attempt to rewrite history by portraying the military leader as the true hero of the true revolution. However, nostalgic depictions also contribute to the construction of the revolution as an object or scene of what Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism,” in which the loss of the object is unbearable because the attachment is itself bound up with “the subject’s sense of what it means to keep on living on and to look forward to being in the world.” The nostalgia evoked in post-2011 media thus has an ambivalent political effect: on the one hand, it relegates to the revolution to the past, a moment in history that has passed and cannot be recovered. Nonetheless, despite the state’s attempt to control media production and narratives about the revolution and the coup, the enduring (nostalgic) attachment to and representation of the revolution as an authentic moment of national unity and self-determination preserves the collective memory of the revolution as a possible future basis for resistance. Discourses of nostalgia and loss are thus politically useful both for future oriented action, but also in the present as a means of acknowledging, channeling, and coping with political depression and despair. This paper draws on media analysis as well as fieldwork conducted with participants of the revolution in its aftermath.
Political Science
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