When Tunisian bloggers took on Internet censorship
An old, balding civil servant, bespectacled, frustrated, devoid of charisma and with no social life, often equipped with a pair of scissors: this was how many imagined ‘Ammar’, a character invented by Tunisian Internet users to personify Internet censorship in the era of Ben Ali. Ammar was symbolic of the link forged on the Tunisian web throughout the 2000s between leisure and politics: as well as being entertaining and an inexhaustible source of jokes, he was also an expression of discontent with regard to the repeated attacks on freedom of the Tunisian Internet, the freedom to express an opinion about public affairs, but also simply how to spend one’s free time. Operation Nhar 3la 3ammar (‘Bad Day for Ammar’) was launched in May 2010 by Tunisian bloggers in order to organise demonstrations abroad and especially in Tunis against Internet censorship in Tunisia and is particularly interesting in this respect. Barely six months before the revolution, it was led by actors who, although they did not cling to the portrayal of ‘symbols’ and ‘leaders’ in the media, would play an important role during the revolutionary uprising, by updating their (cyber)activist networks and their methods of protesting. This was a new project in the history of Tunisian cyberactivism, taking a ‘virtual’ protest out into the streets, which illustrated two types of connection between leisure and politics that have existed throughout the history of Tunisian Internet usage.
‘Rajjala ‘alihum’: the expression seems paradoxical. The literal meaning is ‘she is more of a man than the men’, or more precisely, ‘she has more masculine qualities than them’. In the Tunisian dialect, rajjal means someone who has courage, but also honour and integrity. The expression, which refers to exclusively ‘masculine’ qualities, those of the trustworthy man, proves to be ambivalent since it is applied to Halima, a courageous young woman from a working-class area of Gafsa, the capital of the eponymous region, located some 350 kilometres south-west of Tunis, and home to about a hundred thousand inhabitants. This chapter is a portrait of this woman who played a role at the local level during the uprisings of 2011.
In the Arab world, the ‘right’ to privacy within the home faces obstacles that are economic and political, handed down by tradition and linked to the history of each society. Nevertheless, teenagers all over the Arab world now seem to be creating their own private space. Of course this still involves access to a ‘room of one’s own’, full of symbolic meanings and promises of personalisation, but today young people’s private sphere is more likely to be virtual. Privacy has shifted from the bedroom to the Internet. A teenager’s home, life and intimate thoughts are all contained in their camera, mobile phone and computer, safely hidden behind a password.
Trajectories of Egyptian musicians from alternative milieux to the revolution
Youssef El Chazli
It has been widely accepted in research on contemporary Egypt that the decade between 2000 and 2010 witnessed a number of ‘openings’, of which economic liberalisation (begun in the 1990s) and political liberalisation were representative. In cultural circles, transformations were also felt. New institutions appeared and stirred the stagnant waters of artistic production. These new places were rapidly taken over by more or less homogeneous social groups. A number of music groups emerged from these circles and took part in a variety of activities. They were particularly interested in Western music (metal, rock), and by the middle of the decade some metal bands had acquired local reputations through their covers of songs by groups like Metallica or Megadeth. These bands slowly began to compose their own original music, immersed in the dark and angst-ridden worlds of metal (heavy, black, speed, death, etc.). Nonetheless, these mixes of genres remained fairly marginal in musical circles. The ‘Western’ music scene thus appeared as merely a passing hobby, of interest only to a fraction of the population, and consequently reproduced a class division where the equipment used (guitars, amplifiers, etc.) were bigger marks of distinction than the more traditional ones linked to the field of music as a whole (virtuosity, grasp of musical theory, technique, musical culture, etc.). But with the proliferation of groups and festivals, a diversification of repertoires became apparent. It stemmed either from reflections by musicians on the meaning of their work or simply from a wish to stand out in this burgeoning microcosm. These imported musical genres were hybridised and merged.
This book offers a unique look at the young generations in the wake of the Arab Spring a decade ago. It is a calm, lively and sometimes disconcerting look that moves away from clichés. Young Arabs cannot be reduced to the figures of the potential terrorist, the eternal migrant or the exotic icon of the ‘revolution’. Coming from both sides of the Mediterranean and sharing the daily life of this generation, the researchers who wrote this book decided to go off the beaten track by telling how young Arabs spend their free time: a time of freedom and leisure where one can reflect, grow and build oneself – this ‘empty’ time too, where one can sometimes drift, get lost and break. From Morocco to Yemen, from Algeria to Syria, from Tunisia to Lebanon, via Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, these specialists draw up with sensitivity, humour and concern an exceptional portrait of a generation that is much talked about but too rarely listened to. This book gives a voice to young men and women who, heirs of plural traditions, animated by new ideas and influenced by various cultural movements, started inventing the future of societies in the midst of radical change.
Dozens participate every two years in one of the flagship events of the Palestinian art scene, the Young Artist of the Year Award – YAYA for those in the know – organised since 2000 by the philanthropic family-run Qattan Foundation, one of the few institutions promoting culture in Palestine. Offering resources to rather precarious Palestinian artistic infrastructures, the YAYA has become an unmissable event in the cultural calendar. Open to any artist between twenty-two and thirty, the award is targeted at all young Palestinians from ‘historical Palestine and its diaspora’, regardless of their place of residence. It offers artists from the West Bank as well as from Gaza, Jerusalem, Haifa, London or Berlin a public platform where they can come together to compete for a visual art award that is unique in the region. The YAYA is a rare opportunity for Palestinian artists to produce work outside the many constraints they normally face: the obvious political problems, a cultural scene mainly confined to Ramallah and the fact that the support they receive from the private sector and a handful of international organisations is very limited.
For a decade, young women in school uniforms (in Morocco, schoolgirls in elementary, middle and high school wear pink or white uniforms and boys wear blue or white uniforms) were scrutinised. Since the status of pupils allows for a certain freedom of movement, schoolgirls could contribute to the depravity that characterises current urban Morocco. This image of the schoolgirl resonated with the accounts that young prostitutes can tell about their adolescence and their schooling. These young women give an important place to the themes of self-discovery and fun in their stories, in a departure from a sociological discourse that only highlights poverty, deprivation, violence, ignorance, rape or incest to describe their situation. The telling of these ‘wild nights’ or ‘tkehkih’ in Moroccan allows us to see these young girls for who they are, i.e. youths, adolescents and girls, but also reveals the processes at play when engaging in romantic relationships in which men’s financial help matters. In these accounts, occasional prostitution or entry into sex work starts in the context of leisure activities. Even if ‘youth’, ‘adolescence’ and ‘fun’ seem to go together, it is rare that we talk about these terms when we broach the subject of monetised sexuality in general and sex work in Morocco more specifically. However, it is by looking at these phenomena together that we can understand the complexities of the journey of a youth caught between expectations of marriage and migration that are hard to come by, a sense of humiliation triggered by the experience of working in key sectors of unskilled female work (industry, cleaning), and committing to a career of sex worker.
So it was on 2 July 2012, that Brahim committed suicide. On that day, like every summer, the young people in the village of Taza, sitting on a cement bench inside the vast mosque, sheltered from the sun and close to the djama’a, are indulging in their favourite pastime – dominoes for the less educated, scrabble for the more ‘refined’. Brahim doesn’t take part in the games; his reputation as a young man ‘going crazy’ relegates him to the status of a mere spectator. Around noon, at lunchtime, the place empties and only livens up again later, when everyone returns from their family home to give their parents a little rest, whether they like it or not. Like them, Brahim goes off at midday. But he doesn’t come back in the afternoon. After finishing his lunch, he goes – by pure chance or in a determined gesture? – to take a rope from the small storeroom at the back of the courtyard where his mother stores her tools and her supplies of wood and hay. At this hour, his mother has already found refuge in a nap, a moment of rest and dozing, but above all a private time to brood over her sorrows and worries and to take a break from reality. Still, as she will remember later, she heard Brahim say to her: ‘You know, mom, I’m going to hang myself.’ But she thought he was only ‘joking’.
Various minority ‘styles’ have sprung up in Saudi Arabia campuses. The neologism buyat comes from the English ‘boy’, to which the Arabic suffix of feminisation -a (plural -at) has been added. In many countries of the Arabian Peninsula, and notably Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Kuwait, the term is applied to people assigned female who wear clothes considered ‘masculine’. They may avoid figure-hugging outfits, replacing them with men’s shirts, football jerseys and other loose-fitting tops, and occasionally a band or binder to flatten their chests. This is markedly different from the ‘Islamic’ form of dress intended to conceal what are considered to be female physical attributes, but without casting doubt on gender classifications. Whereas some press articles and debates treat the ‘phenomenon’ as pathological, using the term ‘masculinisation’ (istirjal), and often associate it with ‘affective relationships between girls’, the Saudi students I met more often describe it as a ‘style’. It is thus interpreted as a fashion or subculture. The public performances of buyat, and their interpretation in terms of ‘style’, reveal the struggles and negotiations around gender norms that are played out in the spaces shared by young urban Saudi women. Following an ethnographic approach based on observation of the campus and discussions with students, I analyse the meanings attached to the buya style within the Saudi context and its characterisation by those who adopt it – as well as by others. Even though transgressive styles and sexual categories circulate transnationally, globally and regionally, they are charged with local values and meanings.
Among the first to rise up in rebellion in 2011, the residents of the town of Jadu, a small rural community in the Djebel Nafusa region of north-western Libya, discovered new forms of sociability and leisure early on. Those had only become possible after Muammar Gaddafi’s regime’s forces had been expelled in February 2011. For many, the desire to reconquer a public space, closed down by forty-two years of dictatorship, was a driving force of the mobilisation. Far from the turmoil of battle and political struggles, the Jadu Café in the middle of town had become a central space of sociability for the shabab (young people) – a place of leisure that retained, frozen in time, the atmosphere of what had been a moment of revolution. It wa an ideal spot to slip into the world of the young Libyan revolutionaries in the midst of questioning their future and a political process which they had sometimes based on armed struggle and which now seemed to elude them.