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Salafism as a student subculture in Yemen
Laurent Bonnefoy

We need to demystify Salafism and understand its development and diversity by looking at concrete practices, the interactions and leisure activities of those who claim to be Salafis, rather than at texts written by great ‘scholars’ and theologians. Broadly speaking, Salafism can be defined by the desire to return to the original practice of Islam, to purify it by eliminating all those elements that its followers consider to be human innovations which corrupt its original perfection. There are a number of different currents, some more marginal than others, with a range of attitudes towards political engagement and violence. This chapter explores the daily lives of male Salafi students in Yemen, the ways in which they relate to their surroundings as well as their relationships with others who do not necessarily share their beliefs. Yemen, by virtue of its particular history and because of the image it holds in the Muslim imaginary, offers a fascinating case study. I seek to explain how these students, in the heart of a circumscribed group of young Yemenis (belonging to the apolitical, so-called ‘quietist’ branch of Salafism, distinct from jihadism and the ‘political’ current) shaped their own distinct identity and created a subculture that does not represent a political or social threat but, prior to the 2011 uprisings, embodied much of the questions that erupted with the Yemeni Spring and still bear meaning after this experience failed, leading to war.

in Arab youths
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Leisure, culture and politics from Morocco to Yemen

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.

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Constructing oneself
Laurent Bonnefoy
and
Myriam Catusse

The weight of the past and inherited identities is not the only factor of creativity as the previous texts might suggest. Tensions are clearly manifested between individual aspirations and the group, but also between the pursuit of privacy and the need to express one’s personality on the one hand and strong social constraints on the other. In this sense, it would be overly simplistic to observe leisure activities only through the prism of the group phenomena and mass cultures in which they are involved. The following texts examine mechanisms of self-construction in the face of a variety of powerful constraints, whether familial and personal or political, economic and social. Although Arab societies do not appear to be specific in this regard, this third part nevertheless highlights the difficulty of ‘building the self’, or more precisely the self-sufficient individual, in one’s spare time in societies that remain marked by powerful social determinism, even though they are constantly changing.

in Arab youths
Deconstructing stereotypes – interwoven trajectories of young Arabs
Laurent Bonnefoy
and
Myriam Catusse

During the 2011 overthrow of four aged autocrats, ‘young Arabs’ became the modern heroes of ‘malcontents’ the world over. To a large extent, a decade later, their figure has also come to symbolise the failed promises of political uprisings and also, to some extent, of the path to democracy. Occupying the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Sanaa or Manama, they were then to be seen demonstrating under colourful banners, becoming Internet activists and, in some instances, taking up arms. Their mobilisation became a structuring generational moment, highlighting social trends and fault lines that still bear meaning now. These young men and women embodied the revolt of ‘peoples’ on the move behind the ideals of freedom and justice. Faced with this waltz of images, mixing the metaphor of ‘awakening’ with reference to a radical and violent habitus, the idea for this book germinated out of a desire to speak of young Arabs differently from conventional discourses. Ten years after the project was first imagined, this ambition remains more relevant than ever. This publication produced a series of snapshots, well ordered and meaningful, that continue to help us understand contemporary societies in the Middle East and North Africa. They could be completed with portraits of the new generation.

in Arab youths
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Living in the present
Laurent Bonnefoy
and
Myriam Catusse

Neither timeless nor detached from practices that have become increasingly transnational, the leisure activities of young Arabs presented in the first part of this book are firmly anchored in specific social contexts. Influenced by specific fashions and technological developments, they reflect changes in young people’s relation to time, space, social norms and body politics. This part focuses on ten different youth cultures through the lens of their leisure activities. In the collective imagination, these activities encapsulate much of what is specific to the lives and identities of young Arabs who were at the forefront of the revolutionary uprisings of 2011. Through their real or imagined novelty, these cultures reflect ongoing social change. Sometimes stereotyped, yet deeply rooted in contemporary reality, they seem like allegories of social and cultural practices. Some social norms are still evolving, while others have already loosened. And new freedoms are starting to emerge in many places, albeit in different ways. Fifteen years ago, the joyrider, the hittist, the buya, the Salafist, the Internet user or ‘Generation Y’ – to name just a few examples from the following pages – did not exist in their present forms. Almost ten years later, they still appear relevant

in Arab youths
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Speaking out
Laurent Bonnefoy
and
Myriam Catusse

The fourth part looks at the relationship between Arab youth’s leisure time and the act of speaking out and being engaged, whether ephemeral like the insurrectionary and revolutionary events in 2011, or more established over the long term. Until recently, any interest in movements in the region was generally articulated around two main ideas, a result of the repression carried out by authoritarian regimes in the Arab world until the 2011 uprisings. The first was that Arab societies, and their youth in particular, were politically passive, subjugated by regimes that wielded the carrot and stick or more subtle forms of domination, or were discouraged by the exorbitant cost of protest action in such contexts (from one country to another, there have been countless numbers of missing persons, political prisoners, people tortured, exiled or subjected to various modes of oppression). The second idea described the political field in a binary way, contrasting ageing regimes heir to nationalist ideologies with Islamist or identity-based movements that have significant dissident potential. While these two assertions are unquestionably based on major trends that characterise Arab societies, they may however have overlooked a string of other, more complex relationships to public affairs.

in Arab youths
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Young people in search of ‘normality’
Zahra Ali
and
Laurent Bonnefoy

The breakdown of social bonds and the militarisation of Baghdad are compounded by the destruction caused by aerial bombardment during the war and local bomb attacks, as well as the collapse of street cleaning and waste disposal. The Iraqi capital looks both chaotic and neglected. Despite this, young people in Baghdad, just like those in neighbouring Arab countries, enjoy squares and green spaces, as well as an extremely rich historical and architectural heritage. The city’s youth make the most of the few existing places, like the main streets in the Al Mansour and Karada districts – where cafés are still open to all denominations but are only accessible to the very wealthy – to cope as best they can with the situation and enjoy a few moments of respite. Since 2011, echoing the upsurge of resistance elsewhere in the Arab world, a number of initiatives led by young Baghdadis have sought to escape political and community divisions by taking to the streets to fight for a unified city. Through campaigns organised in public spaces, students, artists and activists have expressed their desire for unity and their resistance to the violence that marks everyday life in a city they often equate to a ‘paradise lost’.

in Arab youths
Mahfoud Amara
and
Laurent Bonnefoy

Without a doubt football is the male leisure activity par excellence in the Arab world. Boys play it, young men often watch it – or rather try to watch it, because viewing matches on television sometimes proves quite a challenge. Whereas domestic leagues were the main attraction until the 1990s in many Arab countries, European matches and international competitions have gradually grown in popularity. Interest in the big Arab clubs – including the most renowned, Al Ahly and Zamalek in Cairo, Espérance Sportive in Tunis and Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie in Algeria – has waned somewhat, although it still survives in some groups of ‘ultras’ inspired by the European ‘hooligans’ of the 1980s. With the liberalisation of the Arab satellite space in the first decade of the twenty-first century and the emergence of a number of paid TV channels, the majority of viewers in Arab countries lost access to their favourite football leagues, particularly those in Spain, England and Italy. In the competition for broadcasting rights for major events, free national channels lost out to pan-Arab channels, primarily Al Jazeera Sport and the Saudi private capital consortia MBC and ART. This liberalisation of media space tipped the balance of sources of information and televised entertainment in favour of the Gulf countries and introduced fierce competition between channels.

in Arab youths
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Rooting the future
Laurent Bonnefoy
and
Myriam Catusse

While youth is commonly perceived as a time conducive to building one’s future (through studies, the quest to ‘marry well’, build capital, etc.), the texts in this second part also remind us that the future does not come out of nowhere. Inherited conflicts, wounded identities and ‘lost paradises’ have affected the leisure time of young Arabs across social, geographical and cultural differences. How young people perceive the past is a fascinating subject. As we saw in the previous part, the leisure practices of young Arabs attest to the development of particular subcultures. They also reveal the paradigms through which younger generations reproduce family customs and appropriate the norms that have been transmitted to them, even when these are reshaped by cutting-edge technologies or changing contexts. As many observers have pointed out, the 2011 revolutions cannot be seen as an ‘immaculate contestation’ without a past or premise. Similarly, leisure activities must be understood within historical trajectories, made of breaking with the past and passing it on. The shaping of social, ‘ethnic’, political, gender-based and generational ‘echo chambers’ reproduces identities, inequalities and forms of domination and submission that are often internalised, and sometimes co-opted. Beyond the need to be entertained, to keep busy or even to ‘fill the void’ while waiting for ‘youth to pass’, the leisure activities of young Arabs reflect the social divisions and many other fault lines that run through Arab societies.

in Arab youths