2016 Roundtable

Five Years Rising: Martyrs, Memories, and Materiality in the Wake of the ‘Arab Spring’

Saturday, March 5, 2016, 11:00 AM

Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall

Since 2010, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have provided the world with both inspiration—new constitutions, politicians, and parties—and desperation—protracted violence, corruption, and economic depression. During protracted cycles of violence and cooperation in Tunisia and Egypt over the past five years, individuals must continue with their personal lives, livelihoods, learning, and leisure. Although such community struggles are not often visible to international audiences, they are salient aspects of political discourse, policy, and action. In this roundtable, we discuss the possibilities that arise from widely distributed representations of autonomy, independence, and social mobility, negotiated from the ‘glocal’ to the global scale.

Invited guests include: Nada El Kouny (Rutgers University) whose work focuses on infrastructure, mobility, violence, inter-generational disjuncture and political contention in rural Egypt; Joel Rozen (Princeton University), who examines how formal and informal approaches to entrepreneurship education have endeavored to stabilize the Tunisian economy; Aziz Fatnassi (Indiana University) whose work focuses on migration, cultural violence, human rights, and social justice through the vantage point of Euro-Mediterranean NGO cooperatives; and Lindsey Pullum (Indiana University) who will extend the focus of our discussion toward the effects of the North African uprisings on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. All are anthropologists working on how community, local-glocal relations are impacting day-to-day social constructions of Muslim, Arab, and MENA region youth. The panel will focus on their respective interests in the construction of the new MENA youth in both local and extralocal forums.

Following these case studies our goal will be to frame the potential ways that events such as the 2010 uprisings illustrate the importance of documentation, and how through documentation, individuals demonstrated a dominion of ‘revolutionary’ symbolism. We will also interrogate concepts of secularism, democracy, and social action in post 2010 MENA environments. We ask six guiding questions:

  • Has direct violence overtaken structural violence in the 5th anniversary of the ‘Arab Spring’?
  • Do media portrayals of Arabs, Muslims, Migrants, and Militants support political regimes, with regard to discourse, legislation, or physical actions?
  • What do local organizations have to say about the influence of external forces on the balance of power in the post-revolutionary environment?
  • How is documentary filmmaking (including new media practices of digital transfer and exhibition) increasing awareness of local movements, in what ways does it obscure these movements?
  • What are the relationships between representation and reality in your field sites; how are actions constrained, or enabled by heightened sociality?
  • Can documentary film aid in ‘refocusing’ the 2010-2015 revolutions?



The “Youth’s Revoluton”, Nada El Kouny (Rutgers University)

The “Youth’s Revolution” was one of the main labels of the Egyptian uprisings in 2011, as spearheaded by local and international media. I seek to more closely interrogate this statement of the “youth” to more seriously investigate the generational disjuncture to political action by following Karl Mannheim’s (1982[1928]) and David Scott’s (2013) understandings of temporal cohorts versus age groups. My paper will argue for a need of a temporal understanding of generations, specifically as political generations to understand in what ways violence is generative. I seek to do so through the vantage point of a sovereignty movement initiated in rural Egypt in 2012, a year following the January 25 Revolution. The movement that emerged after a decade of complaints by the community members of state neglect as a result of the state’s lack of provision of a road, school, medical unit, and mosque, and thus representing state neglect and a break of the social contract (a la Rousseau) to the community. I seek to highlight the village-municipal level-city-and transnational movements of village’s migrant labor youth and their aspirational push for self-worth. Yet just as importantly, how they rechanneled their expertise and newly emergent political and ethical sensibilities back into the village. In my talk, I will highlight both the destructive and generative aspects of structural violence and the burden of memory, by focusing on the affective vehicles for the village community’s aspiration, specifically through the framework of generationally generated subjectivities. This is especially pertinent at a time when El-Shabab “the youth” have been the main targets of detentions and forced disappearances in a vicious campaign carried out by Egypt’s state authorities to ‘correct the wrongs’ of Egypt’s ‘rebellious’ youth.

Nada El Kouny (Rutgers University, Department of Anthropology) focuses on the role of the rural-urban interconnections in political action, generational disjunctures, and sovereignty making through infrastructure. Nada obtained her B.A in Political Science and Anthropology from the American University in Cairo. Following which, she worked as a journalist for the English language news website, Ahram Online from in Cairo from 2011-2013.

The Afterlife of Mohamed Bouazizi, Joel Rozen (Princeton University)

Often credited with triggering the 2011 revolution that kicked off the ‘Arab Spring’, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia once served as a unifying trope of citizen discontent with the state. Today however, many locals harbor ambivalent feelings towards Bouazizi’s martyr status. This paper explores revolution-era deaths as they live on in Tunisia’s current state history curricula. With the uprising not yet fully codified in state-sanctioned narratives of national history (yet indirectly encouraged), teachers are divided over how revolutionary events should be taught: many favor suspicion and informal contestation, instead of the foundational ‘death narratives’ they encounter, as vehicles for forging a collective sense of national belonging. This talk highlights the heteroglossic interplay between the informal mechanics of contention and the formal structures of the classroom, and locates suspicion as a vector for theorizing the imagined communities that emerge from sites of disagreement.

Joel Rozen (Princeton University, Department of Anthropology) is a former journalist whose doctoral research considers entrepreneurship and matters of neoliberalism, hybridity, and development in post-revolutionary Tunisia. More peripherally, his interests include parallel economies, visual media, subalternity, historiography, and French colonialism. He is currently at work on an article on entrepreneurship education following the Tunisian uprising.

Kaak ma ytayar jou3:Cake that doesn’t remove hunger, Aziz Fatnassi, Ph.D. (Indiana University)

My discussion focuses on the post-revolutionary retraining of Tunisian-Mediterranean civil society, including human rights conferences, workshops, and meetings where novice activists are introduced to the multimodal literacies, registers, and personae of effective intercultural negotiation. I examine self-as-product and self-as-project among this cohort, illuminating how young activists employ ‘aspirations’ to enhance and extend human rights discourse. Similarly, I focus on the uncertainty and accompanying psychosocial stress that these youth are subjected to as a result of the Tunisian revolution and transnational, global identities and lifestyles on the one hand, with cultural violence and local expectations and regulations on the other. Through synchronous and asynchronous means, youth clandestinely and overtly mobilize aspirant identities to form hierarchical networks of social support, resist the violence of everyday life as internally displaced citizens, and access social capital not readily available in their local communities.

Aziz Fatnassi (Indiana University, Department of Anthropology) is a research associate in the Department of Anthropology and serves as Communication Director for the In Light Human Rights Film Festival. His research focuses on the intersections of mimesis, digitization, and social revolution in emergent youth cultures.

“…but you still don’t have anything to worry about”: The impact of the Arab Spring In Israel/Palestine, Lindsey Pullum (Indiana University)

My contribution to this discussion focuses mostly on the impact of the Arab Spring to Israel/Palestine from the perspective of Israeli-Arabs living in Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank. Why didn’t we see an Arab Spring in the West Bank or Gaza? I address issues and ideas about whether or not we are witnessing a 3rd Intifada and, if so, what the relationship is between a 3rd Intifada and the Arab Spring. Thinking about Palestinian political agency and uprising, I use tourism as a window to compare Arab identities between Israel and Palestine and performative notions of “national intelligibility”. My research from a series of sources ranging from interactions with Israeli Druze, Bedouin villages in the south, Palestinian-Israeli writer Sayed Kashua, and Palestinian tourist destinations.

Lindsey Pullum (Indiana University, Department of Anthropology) is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology with minors in Jewish Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Her research focuses on media, multilingualism, and tourism in Israel, specifically with non-Jewish populations.

Sponsored by IU School of Global and International Studies