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Digital Technologies and the Transition in Arab Media and Arab Cultural Debates

Panel I-15, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
This panel will focus on the transformational impact of new communication technologies, including social media and other Internet-enabled communications media, in facilitating the pace of political and social change in the Arab world. While this optimistic narrative has often exaggerated the “transformational” impact of new media, empirical evidence from media research suggests that the media and other communication technologies have always had a complex role in social and political change. This panel features competitive proposals that investigate traditional and new media in the political and social transformations taking place in the Arab world. Some related questions we hope to address include, but are not limited to: How have new communication technologies empowered Arab social movements? What role, if any, have both new and traditional media played in various political and social “transitions”? How do Arab press texts mediate and construct the history of public space(s) in the Arab culture and heritage? What implications does the web have on Arab youth citizenship and cultures? How do new media practices and spaces shape the political subjectivities of the young Arab citizens and socio-political transformations? How do the media engage in reversioning (and revising) of historical memory and what processes facilitate the persistent normalization and legitimization of (authoritarian) State power? How do new communication platforms shape Arab identity politics? How do these new media tools and platforms help deconstruct dominant identity discourses of the self and the other? How do cultural stereotypes further social iniquities including gender, racial and ethnic disparties? How have Arab news constructed terrorism and how do historical, social and political contexts in which Arab journalists and news organizations operate shape news coverage of terrorism? These broad questions illustrate how news media and other communication technologies have been in the midst of social and political change.
  • Dr. Sahar M. Khamis -- Presenter
  • Eid Mohamed -- Organizer, Presenter, Chair
  • Dr. Mai Zaki -- Presenter
  • Mustafa Menshawy -- Presenter
  • Eid Mohamed
    In this moment of political turmoil, readers confront a glut of increasingly polarized and virulent news media. While many of these developments are global, the challenges of which stories secure reporting and traction are particularly contested in the Arab world, where press institutions navigate the challenges of publishing transnationally, in numerous languages, as well as strictures on the freedom of press. In addition to concerns of censorship, social media has produced a tension between expertise and authority, in which editorial priorities (or expertise) do not necessarily coincide with those of the public – or the regime’s. This paper uses computational analysis to identify the competing centers of authority demonstrated in the Egyptian press, by considering the differential emphasis placed on a range of topics in a traditional print newspaper, social media, as well as official state organs. Analyzing gaps among these various outlets identifies the limits of what can and cannot be said in various realms, from the sciences and social sciences to public intellectuals writing on the state of the nation and world. In sum, considering the numerous publics articulated by this analysis provides insight into the production of numerous “realities,” “truths,” and visions for the future. The advantage of using metadata in this paper is that most of it can be collected automatically with very high precision. In the case where this may not be feasible, some human intervention may be useful, although this should be relatively rare. The metadata also makes search much easier and more accurate. The paper aims at offering alternative narratives to mapping the development of concepts and events in the Arab world. It will dig into the corpus of thousands of journal articles to define the public places and public space where Arab writers developed their terms with less manual work. How do systematic readings highlight the history of public space(s) in the Arab culture? The hitherto untapped press sources will offer new insights into the social, cultural and political chronological history of the Arab world and its heritage.
  • Dr. Mai Zaki
    This research paper explores the rise of Arab influencers and the impact of new forms of digital social media on Arab society. In recent years, Arab influencers have gained prominence as a new cultural phenomenon with far-reaching social, cultural, and linguistic implications. The study draws on data from influencers in six Arab countries and explores how their rise is reshaping the media landscape, cultural norms, and linguistic practices in the region. The paper sheds light on the various factors that have contributed to the rise of Arab influencers, such as increased access to social media platforms, changing consumer behavior, and the growing desire for relatable and authentic content. One of the key findings of the study is that Arab influencers are creating a new cultural and linguistic identity that reflects the unique and diverse experiences of the region. Furthermore, the study highlights the social and linguistic implications of the rise of Arab influencers as mediators of change. Social media has created a new space for Arab youth to express themselves and connect with global trends. This has led to the development of a new Arab digital vernacular that reflects the fusion of Arabic and English languages and the cultural/linguistic struggles of the “glocal” dilemma. A careful analysis of language choices and characteristics of communication on various social media platforms sheds more light on similarities as well as idiosyncratic styles of multi-modal content produced by Arab influencers. The analysis takes into consideration various levels, including content analysis of the main themes and linguistic analysis of the corpus (text, use of emojis, use of hashtags, etc.) The study aims to provide a more nuanced understanding of the culture and language of Arab influencers and a greater recognition of their role in representing Arab identity in cyberspace.
  • Mustafa Menshawy
    The paper explores and problematizes the war discourse regarding Egypt's victory in the 1973 War. It traces the process through which this discourse was constructed and reconstructed by the state throughout the periods of President Anwar Sadat, his successor Hosni Mubarak, and current President Abdelfatah el-Sisi. It uses strategic narrative/discourse analysis of key texts such as newspaper articles of al-Ahram newspaper, taken as the mouthpiece of the regime. Key findings are that the war is fixably portrayed as a massive and unquestioned Egyptian victory, thus eclipsing, downplaying or hiding less ‘victorious’ moments in the war. The war discourse also takes each leader as war personified, where the war and the leader are inseparably connected as part of reification which expands any criticism of one side as correspondingly applied to the other. Combined with interviews of the discourse makers, the paper also studies the socio-political milieu related to personal authoritarianism and the state’s intricate relations with the army, the press and Islamists. the paper can help us unravel the current dynamics of power and control on basis of instrumentalizing the war and canalising the event as still-relevent part of the political landscape in a biased and favorably controlled manner.
  • Dr. Sahar M. Khamis
    When the Arab Spring uprisings erupted in 2011, the high hopes for democratization in the Arab region were accompanied by an equally high confidence in the liberating potentials of new media. However, twelve years later, just like the Arab Spring uprisings resulted in unexpected backlashes, there were equally disheartening reversals in the role of social media from tools for liberation by freedom-fighters to tools for repression by autocratic regimes. One of the outcomes of this new phase of political repression, and the accompanying tide of digital authoritarianism, has been the escalating phenomenon of Arab resistance in the diaspora. This paper investigates the deployment of new tools of communication by some Arab activists in the diaspora to resist their autocratic regimes at home and pays special attention to the various potentials and limitations of this complex phenomenon and its varied implications. Providing examples from different Arab resistance communities in the diaspora, this paper illustrates the similarities and differences in their deployment of social media tools and the discourses they spread through them for the purpose of political resistance. It examines how some diasporic Arab communities contributed to the struggles against their dictatorial regimes through deploying new communication technologies to disrupt, expose, and resist authoritarianism back home. It also explains why, and how, some of these efforts have been more successful than others in achieving these goals. In analyzing the ongoing tug-of-war between Arab authoritarian rulers and their diasporic critics, these factors are investigated through contextualizing them in the post-Arab Spring era’s political, cultural, and communication environments to unpack the potentials, limitations, and future prospects of the phenomenon of online resistance, as it reveals itself through these exiled activists and critics’ voices and discourses. Through investigating the shifting role of digital activism as practiced by diverse groups of Arab activists and critics in the diaspora, representing different countries, genders, political orientations, and professional affiliations, this paper aims to unpack the complexity, and oftentimes the ambiguity and ambivalence, of the phenomenon of Arab resistance in the diaspora, and the potentials and limitations of the deployment of digital tools by Arab diasporic communities to resist autocratic regimes. In analyzing the rising phenomenon of digital authoritarianism and its varied implications, the paper unpacks the overlaps and divergences between different Arab resistance communities’ mediated discourses in response to it and provides examples illustrating them.