Sociology

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Autopsy of a suicide in Kabylia
Kamel Chachoua

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’.

in Arab youths
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Subverting gender norms in Saudi Arabia
Amélie Le Renard

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.

in Arab youths
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A place for ‘revolutionary’ emancipation in Libya
Arthur Quesnay

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.

in Arab youths
Marine Poirier

Rooted in long-standing social traditions, qat consumption became widespread in Yemen from the 1960s onwards, to the point of becoming a national ‘institution’. Beyond the question of its disastrous health and economic effects, everyone agreed it enhanced social and political ‘fluidity’ and was a strong socialisation agent. This ‘symbol of being Yemeni’ acts as a powerful agent of socialisation and politicisation, especially among youth. The places where qat is consumed may also be seen as gateways to protests since they are also where information is exchanged, opinions are formed and decisions are made. During the 2000s, however, the deepening economic and social crisis disrupted traditional qat-related practices, particularly among youth. Whereas it used to signal a break or the completion of the working day, it seemed in the last decade to compensate for the absence of paid work, or even replace it. Some youngsters have begun chewing alone. Particularly among students, there has been an individualisation of qat consumption during exam periods since studying is structured around the ingestion of the stimulant. Often idle, at times confronted with the increasingly anonymous nature of big cities, young people are changing their habits as their consumption takes on a new, less recreational and collective meaning. But by ‘chewing alone’ more and more frequently, like Americans ‘bowling alone’, are these young people normalising the drug, transforming it into a mere narcotic whose effects in terms of socialisation are dulled by the promise of a few hours of escape?

in Arab youths
Laure Assaf

This chapter explores the social and leisure practices of young adults in and around coffee shops in Abu Dhabi in the early 2010s. In the multilingual context of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the English name ‘coffee shop’ refers to upmarket cafés – often franchises of international brands like Starbucks, Costa and others – with cosmopolitan menus. A part of the urban landscape of the UAE since the turn of the millennium, they offer a new kind of sociability to the generations who have grown up alongside these urban transformations. The ethnographic study from which this text is drawn focused on young adults, Emiratis and Arab expatriates, who grew up in Abu Dhabi and came of age in the first decades of the twenty-first century. They are mostly students and young professionals and belong to what could be considered the middle class. The various ways in which these young adults appropriate the space of the coffee shop reflect their lifestyles, aspirations and contradictions. Halfway between leisure activity and youth subculture, visiting coffee shops offers a degree of emancipation from the family and opens up a space of relative autonomy for the youth. Simultaneously, the consumerist space of the coffee shop fosters the emergence of new sets of norms and practices specific to this generation.

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
Perrine Lachenal

Every Tuesday evening, the El Sawy Culture Wheel, a famous cultural centre in the Zamalek district of western Cairo, offers self-defence classes exclusively for young women. I have come as an observer to carry out fieldwork that will examine certain dynamics that are prevalent in Egyptian society today. What interests me is the context that has enabled this practice in Egypt and in this particular cultural centre and made it visible. Learning to defend themselves helps young women to formulate new ways of ‘being a girl’ that challenge conventional models of femininity. By listening to these young women who have come here to learn how to fight, or rather to fight back, I will explore what learning these combat skills means to them.

in Arab youths
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Youthful nostalgia in Beirut?
Nicolas Dot-Pouillard

The history of Hamra Street in west Beirut is linked to the distinctive sociability of its cafés. It has supplanted the legendary Rue Monnot in the eastern part of the city, which was the centre of Lebanese nightlife in the 1990s but is now deserted. Theatres and cinemas (al-Medina, Metro), small venues catering to a new, alternative Lebanese music scene (Democratic Republic of Music), bookshops (Orientale, Antoine), publishing houses and daily papers (as-Safir) link back to the pre–civil war period, when Hamra was one of the epicentres of the city’s political and cultural life. Business people and office workers rub shoulders with the ‘wretched of the earth’. The young crowd seems more political: the close-knit alternative scene of Lebanon’s artists exists next to that of young activists of the radical left and of the Lebanese Communist Party, of young Palestinians working for various NGOs, and, more recently, certain Syrian oppositionists. Yet these different spaces are not completely isolated from each other. Ways of appropriating the street’s cafés are based on a form of imitation. Hamra remains the symbolic centre for those young people who see themselves as the political heirs of earlier generations. They may be members of one of the many left-wing organisations, or intellectuals involved in the voluntary sector or the media. The café space facilitates unusual networks in which the familial and the partisan can easily coexist. Anti-globalist and far-left Europeans and North Americans, who either visit the city or live there, are also drawn to Hamra.

in Arab youths
Mohand Akli Hadibi

Lejnan, one of the villages of the AthWaghli tribe, lies a mile and a quarter from Chemini, the administrative centre of the district. In the heart of Kabylia (Algeria), it is some thirty-five miles to the south-west of the coastal city of Béjaïa. Anthropologists and sociologists might describe its population as being organised into nine broad lineages, each descending from a common ancestor. Three of these mainly occupy the lower part of the village. Claiming descent from a local holy marabout, these mrabtin rather unusually share their mosque, fountain and assembly in the village. Their entwined histories have cemented the links between the different lineages, religious or otherwise, almost irreversibly: marriage alliances formed and re-formed between them render the social fabric particularly dense and interlinked. Games and activities, linked to the natural environment, were once part of the daily life of the inhabitants. They are increasingly threatened and consequently need to be remembered.

in Arab youths
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