Sunday, February 13, 2011

Egypt and Tunisia: The New Arab Man

We watch cinema and televised real events in similar ways. They exist on a continuum of meaning. They impact our lives on both symbolic and material levels. News footage changed the image of the Arab male in the popular imagination after 9/11. Reflected and reinforced by numerous fictional cinematic stunts thereafter. Perhaps now, ten years later, the images of Tunisia and Egypt's uprisings will shift the dominant construction of the Arab male again? Now he is steadfast, organized, and committed to civic duty: directing traffic and cleaning graffiti without pay. We now share in his celebratory public tears while a baby sits on shoulders. Can we look forward to this principled and giving Arab male in upcoming cinematic representations?
The image of the Arab man has shifted from the post 9/11 terrorist, and now, through the images of Egypt's uprising, is replaced by the activist committed to civic duty and to celebrating with a baby on his shoulders.
All Arabs out there know that we are especially family oriented. We like to spend time and chill as a family. Arab men tend to have a particular fondness for carrying people that they like on their shoulders. You can see men and women being carried in this way during weddings and other celebrations. Many more Arab men are activists of one stripe or another than are terrorists. I personally do not know any terrorists, however, my life is full to the brim with wall to wall Arab male (and female) activists. It only makes sense that the melding of these two realities will become common as Arab politics takes a positive turn. I hope to see this image of the new Arab man become a cliche. This stereotype, like all good stereotypes has it's core in reality, so much so that I look forward to rolling my eyes as it gains currency and is repeated ad infinitum. 
The new Arab men post-Egyptian uprising.
As exciting and generally positive as the events in Tunisia and Egypt have been, I'm admittedly still cynical. There has been some over-enthusiastic positions that I find hard swallow. For a comprehensive run-down of the hard to believe slogans like 'the benevolent military' and great ways to debunk them, see MLM Mayhem's blog post.

I hope and dream that foreign interests will leave Arabs alone to run their own countries and resources, but I will need to see it to believe it. Here are some of my questions about the uprisings in the Middle East. They will likely change as events on the ground keep changing.

1) How successful will the Egyptian demonstrators be in keeping their demands on the military's agenda? What strategies will people use to safeguard the gains they have made, especially since their main goal was not the ousting of Mubarak but economic and political transformations? How will they prevent the military coup from turning sour as most historically have become repressive -- with only two exceptions of Venezuela in 2002 and Portugal in 1974?
Military men with child. She's not on their shoulders, so we can't be sure if they will betray the people after the celebration.
1b) I've heard some discussion of people's councils and the demand for inclusion of civilians in the new military transitional government. To what extent is this happening? Two days after Mubarak has stepped down, do we have enough information about what the military transition is really going to look like?

1c) After the police state has fallen, and beyond the pro-military hype: is the military nationalist or imperialist?

2) Tunisia has been able to have many political prisoners released, what impact is this having?
Flag + dad's shoulders = tallest kid in the crowd
3) What kind of combination of spontaneous uprisings and mass organizations are we seeing in Tunisia and Egypt? Will there be any linking or communicating with other revolutions, like in Nepal and India? Do they see an opportunity to learn from and share with them, as there were international links made between Arab revolutionary organizations and other international revolutionary organizations in the 60s and 70s?
Child holding on tight to her dad's chin.
4) Will Israel tolerate a democracy sharing it's border? Israel loves to call itself 'the only democracy in the middle east' and views Arab democracy as instability in the region. Assuming Israel is not changing, to what extend does this look like Obama is changing America's policy toward the region? We've seen many demonstrations end in blood baths while the international community watches powerless.

5) In Algeria and Yemen it looks like the government is trying to squash the protests. What will the domino effect look like?

6) On February 2 pro-Mubarak protesters materialized and fought against the pro-democracy protesters. A few days later it was proved that the pro-Mubarak protesters were a combination of plain clothes police and poor civilians paid by the government to incite violence. On Feb 2 and 3rd the news reports where showing violence and disunity among the Egyptian populace. What can we learn from how effectively the presence of paid uncover agent provocateurs changed the optics and the discourse? Why did they disappear as quickly as they appeared in this case? Is it that someone powerful wanted the anti Mubarak protest to be successful?

7) What are the chances of ElBaradei becoming Mubarak2 in new-more-appealing-to-Westerners clothes.
Could this father-daughter duo be members of "the coalition of revolutionary youth"? A group made up of five activist groups.
8) Is this a new era where Arabs will have national autonomy?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful post!

    What do you think about the image of the Arab woman? Do you think it has also changed in light of the rebellion in Egypt?

    I think it's interesting to make connections between this blog and the post from MLM Mayhem about the uprisings, especially his point about the situation in Egypt being good because it was peaceful. I suppose this helps Western eyes see Arab men in a more "positive" light, i.e. not as terrorists.