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As young people in the Arab world counteracted repression through social media, pop culture – Middle East



The observers of the "Arab Spring" of Egypt 2011 usually point to social networks as the queue that united opposition to former President Hosni Mubarak. Young protesters took the internet to accelerate a level of dissent that finally overthrew their reign for decades.

They used Facebook and other platforms to organize demonstrations and extend the impetus of the revolution to the outside – from Cairo Tahrir Square to other Egyptian cities, causing similar chants of riots throughout the region.

While the social networking tools of the time provided many new voices, a forum for debate and an organizational mechanism, governments made progress in suppressing this potentially disturbing power.

Hisham Fageeh, a comedian and actor in Saudi Arabia, is best known for a viral YouTube video he produced several years ago. Playing a Saudi Conservative, he made a parody of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," calling it "Non Woman, No Drive."
This was before the government last year changed its long-decade prohibitions on female drivers, a reversal implemented by young Prince Herder Mohammad bin Salman.

"Popular culture was strongly centralized, controlled by specific cultural characters, especially in the Gulf," said Fageeh The multimedia line.

"What the new media has done has been to decentralize it. People have become very optimistic about technology. They believed that this would be the saving grace but this vision was certainly naïve or pre-mature because what happened was that the very powerful institutions took control of social networks and imitated the old dynamics. "

Others still believe that the ability of governments to slow the lightning speed is that technological change and control of digital trends are escaping.

Joe F. Khalil, associate professor of communication at the Qatar campus of the Northwest University and expert in Arab media, mentioned the recent case of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Saudi teenager who has made global headlines after taking desperate measures to escape his family .

Fearing that the relatives finished killing it by resigning to Islam, al-Qunun fled while on vacation with them in Kuwait and boarded a flight to Thailand.

After his arrival in Bangkok, he was welcomed by an unidentified man who was a Saudi embassy official. He informed him that he needed his passport to help him obtain a Thai visa. He handed it over but the man never came back. When Thai immigration officials came in and tried to deport them back to the Middle East, she was barricaded within a hotel room at the airport and started asking for help on Twitter.

"It is precisely how these technologies took discussions that used to go through closed doors and that used to be forms that involved a lot of suffering and violence and gave them a different life," said Khalil The multimedia line.

The reaction of the Saudi diplomats involved in the case of Al Qunun was saying, explained Khalil. "It was quoted saying:" I wish we had eliminated your phone, not your passport. "The implications of these cases are now huge."

Eventually, the teenager fled to Canada who granted her refugee status.

While social media can be used for humanitarian purposes, Khalil warned not to underestimate the economic motives behind his rise.

"YouTube has been one of the platforms that helped generate revenue for many prominent people. Therefore, it's not just a matter of expression per se and activism, it's also a platform to make money."

The popularity of Twitter as a means of text is evident in many areas, manifested in religious and political debates for more mundane issues like celebrities, but there is also growth when it comes to Instagram, Khalil concluded.

Pamela Chrabieh, a writer and activist based in Beirut, said The multimedia line That young people in the Arab world use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and Snapchat at an ever faster rate despite government controls and restrictions.

"Several studies conducted in the last decade have shown that popular culture and social networks have helped young Arabs express and promote speeches and alternative political and social practices for" officials, policy makers and institutions, "he said.
Although social networks offer opportunities for creative expression and interaction, Chrabieh explained, there are many young people who must use these means while constantly negotiating complex and stratified pressures to maintain online identities that meet the expectations of their societies, especially in the Gulf region .

"The work of Fageeh [generating online videos, for example] It is one of the many initiatives in the Arab world that addresses social and political issues. In fact, there has been an explosion of artistic and cultural productions since the 2000s in forms of music, poetry, theater, graffiti, movies, etc. "said Dr. Chrabieh.

"Of course, there are cultural icons or" heads of figures "but we are witnessing the increase and proliferation of cultural democratization and transnational cultures [global cultures], especially when it comes to street art, videos and digital expression. "

The popular culture in the Arab world should not be seen as a by-product of the Arab Spring, he explained. Even before the rises, he played an important role in the creation of social and political transformations in response to what he called "Ottoman and European colonization."

"Finally, it is difficult to characterize Arab pop culture as a category given to the various political institutions, regional history and the many discourses about identity. However, popular culture can help to make sense of this complexity."

(Dima Abumaria contributed to this report)

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