Showing posts with label Essay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Essay. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Essay about the Music of the Arab Spring by Kristina Abyad

This essay was written by Kristina Abyad, a Junior at the Orange County School of the Arts, for her  AP Language and Composition class in 2019.  Published here with her permission.

How Music Contributed to the Arab Spring

By Kristina Abyad

Beginning in the spring of 2010 and ending approximately one year later, the Arab Spring was a series of political revolts clustered among the nations of the Middle East and North Africa. These revolts were organized and enacted by Arab citizens who were protesting against their corrupt governments and leaders of a multitude of countries throughout the region. Although these titular events officially began in Tunisia, North Africa, political unrest had already been present for many years prior. Governmental corruption, censorship of free speech, and suppression of human rights encouraged Middle Eastern citizens to rise up against their inhumane leaders, and music was the medium through which they were encouraged and emboldened to finally take action.

Tunisia specifically commenced the chain reaction of revolutions with one of its own: the Tunisian Revolution. Beginning on December 18, 2010, this series of events drew in a wide and appalled audience from around the world because of its first contender, Mohamed Bouazizi. A 26-year-old Tunisian street fruit vendor with a family of eight, Bouazizi was confronted by government officials who subsequently took away his unlicensed cart, fined him, and physically assaulted him. Wanting justice for the harassment and humiliation he had encountered at the hands of the government, he “complained to the local municipality officials, but his request was denied” (Karthikeyan). In order to get his message of utter frustration with the government across, his manifestation of protest consisted of self-immolation for all of the world to see (Skalli). His actions consequently sparked a nation-wide movement to overthrow the corrupt Tunisian leader at the time, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in an action that was deemed the “Jasmine Revolution” by many local and international news organizations at the time. Months after his overthrow, Ali and his wife “were found guilty in absentia by a Tunisian court for embezzlement and misuse of public funds. They were then sentenced to 35 years in prison” (“Profile: Zine”). His dethroning as a result of citizen revolts and protests inspired successive dissent in other Middle Eastern countries, most notably in Egypt, Yemen, and Libya.

One of the leading contributors to the start of the Arab Spring throughout the region was Arabic political music. This style of song came in a variety of musical forms, such as hip hop, rap, and pop, and was centered on lyrics that called out the corrupt Middle Eastern leaders and dictators for their egregious actions. The widespread popularity of these songs became a significant medium through which the events of the Arab Spring were shared with the world. One of the most prominent figures of the Arab Spring was a Tunisian rapper named Hamada Ben Amor, a man better known as El General. His famed song “Rais Lebled (President of the Country)” quickly gained traction, as it desperately implored President Ali to focus his attention on the suffering youth in Tunisia (Salti). Although Tunisian rapper El General certainly did not begin the Tunisian Revolution, his music played a major role in inspiring the people of Tunisia to revolt. His choice to speak freely about the government in this song led to him being detained and questioned by Tunisian authorities for three full days (Hebblethwaite). He bravely and blatantly spoke of the corruption and poverty that was rampant in the nation. After only a few days after its release on YouTube along with a simple video, it had gone viral and was omnipresent on the lips of every Tunisian citizen for months. The popularity of politically-charged music in the Middle East during the time of the Arab Spring was able to bring to the attention of other nations just how dire the situations were in the MENA region. When the news was ignored, their voices were heard.

Music was similarly used as a way to mobilize and empower Arab citizens throughout the course of the Arab Spring. Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi wrote a wide array of political anthems for Tunisia during this period of time that gained traction beyond just the MENA world. She was invited to perform one of her most popular ones, “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)” at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway (Curiel). Like the majority of her songs, this political anthem was sung in Arabic and accompanied with Middle Eastern instrumentals, celebrating her nation’s culture and history. In her performance, Mathlouthi chose not to put translations up for the audience; she just wanted them to listen. Although her music was barred from playing in her home country, Mathlouthi was still able to communicate with her people through her music via social media. Tunisia attempted to ban her music as a result of the lyrics in her songs, but she prevailed in spreading the word to her country’s people and inspiring them to protest against their unjust government.

Outside of Tunisia, political strife was likewise brewing. Egyptian singer Ramy Essam turned popular anti-government chants, yelled out by his fellow Egyptians during protests, into the form of song. One in particular was called “Irhal (Leave),” which was about the then-President Hosni Mubarak (Inskeep). Mubarak had succeeded the last Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, after his assassination by Islamic extremists. This had occurred directly after Sadat had signed a peace treaty with Israel, angering pro-Palestinians across the nation. Thus, Mubarak was elected in a time of chaos, and he felt pressured to legitimize his presidency in any way he could; often, this was via the Egyptian Army. He arrested Islamists unabashedly, but released secular prisoners that Sadat had previously jailed (Kenyon). As a result of his extreme, anti-Islamic actions and rhetoric, the vast majority of Egyptians wanted Mubarak gone.

Essam then performed “Irhal” in Tahrir Square, Cairo, and his voice was accompanied by thousands of other impassioned Egyptians. Many of them recorded his performance and posted it to YouTube, and the rest became history. Essam was, and often still is, considered to be the voice of the Egyptian Revolution. Because of the actions of Essam and other Egyptian citizens in the process of an eighteen-day revolt against the government, Mubarak, who had ruled since 1981 (during close to five, six-year terms in total), was forced out of his position of power (Knell). Just like the overthrow of Tunisian President Ali, there was not a single drop of blood shed; change was enacted just by the sheer will and determination of the Egyptian people.

As a result of all of the change that had been incited by political Arabic music throughout the Arab Spring, short-term change was finally enacted within many countries across the MENA region. For one, it was now apparent to Middle Eastern leaders and dictators alike that, like Tunisian President Ali and Egyptian President Mubarak, they could be overthrown by the unadulterated perseverance and anger of their people; no military coup was required. All across MENA, citizens were inspired to fight for their rights, and “by the end of 2011, the governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen were swept away by popular revolts in an unprecedented show of people power” (Manfreda). Tunisia arguably benefitted the most from the Arab Spring: “it adopted a new modernist constitution and held parliamentary elections in 2014. Thus, it’s no surprise that The Economist designated Tunisia as the 2014 Country of the Year” (Karthikeyan). However, in the long run, many consider Tunisia to be the only true success story of the Arab Spring.

Despite these short-lived apparent successes, failure still loomed on the horizon. In Egypt, even though ex-President Mubarak had been forcibly ousted from his position, the current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is arguably much worse. Not only does the military have a tendency to play an over-inflated role in daily citizen life, but with his vehement “repression of students, journalists, activists, and foreigners, [...] Sisi’s Egypt is not that different from the Egypt of earlier eras,” inclining many to argue that the Arab Spring did little to change the lives of Egyptians, despite its best effort (Cook). Mubarak and his corruption may be gone, but Sisi has failed to continue the change that the platform of the Arab Spring had aimed to enact.

In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced out of his regime after having controlled the nation for over thirty years. Many Yemeni citizens had expected that following his departure, democracy would ensue; however, this was not the case. “Instead[,] an armed uprising and foreign military intervention began a spiral into a brutal, often forgotten, civil war” (Graham-Harrison). The country also endured the worst cholera outbreak in history, starting in 2016 and still continuing today, leading to numerous deaths and extreme famine. Thousands have also been slaughtered by bombs and mines, including a group of young students who were killed after being hit with a missile (Graham-Harrison). Democracy has yet to come to Yemen, and it seems it is still too ludicrous a dream.

In a similarly-dire situation resides Libya. Unlike the aforementioned peaceful and non-violent revolts, the Libyan ex-President Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown, ruthlessly murdered, and his body propped on display (Graham-Harrison). The dissident rebels who had so passionately attacked him then turned to attack one another, splitting up the country even further. Gangs in the nation still hold public slave auctions to this day, and the government makes no real attempt to reduce violent crime. The overthrow of Gaddafi served as a minor stepping stone to the path of freedom and democracy, but these goals became wholly unattainable once the now-President Khalifa Haftar came into power. The country is now still engaging in the Second Libyan Civil War as of 2014, and its military officer president possesses no plans to end it any time soon.

Overall, although these revolts failed to enact any long-standing changes in most of the countries within the MENA region, the way in which these countries were able to use their political music to encourage their citizens to fight for their rights and for what they believed in established the noteworthy position of the events of the Arab Spring in world history. It thoroughly served its purpose of challenging the previously-established ways of the past and helped to usher in new leaders, some of whom were more favorable and successful than others. Regardless of its impact, Arabic political music was the beacon for governmental and social change, encouraging Arab citizens to fight for what is right no matter who disagrees.

This essay was written by Kristina Abyad, a Junior at the Orange County School of the Arts, for her  AP Language and Composition class in 2019.  Published here with her permission.

Works Cited

Cook, Steven A. “Sisi Isn't Mubarak. He's Much Worse.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 19

Dec. 2018.

Curiel, Jonathan. “Beyond 'Protest Music' in the Arab World... and Beyond.” KQED, 13 Dec.

2016.

Graham-Harrison, Emma. “Beyond Syria: the Arab Spring's Aftermath.” The Guardian,

Guardian News and Media, 30 Dec. 2018,

Hebblethwaite, Cordelia. “Is Hip Hop Driving the Arab Spring?” BBC, BBC News, 24 July.

2011.

Inskeep, Steve. “Ramy Essam: The Singer Of The Egyptian Revolution.” NPR, 15 Mar. 2011.

Karthikeyan, Badri. “Arab Spring Brings Success, Failures.” The Triangle, 27 Feb. 2015.

Kenyon, Peter. “Egypt's Mubarak: A Cautious, Heavy-Handed Ruler.” NPR, NPR, 11 Feb. 2011.

Knell, Yolande. “The Complicated Legacy of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.” BBC, BBC News, 25

Jan. 2013.

Manfreda, Primoz. “6 Ways Arab Spring Impacted the Middle East.” ThoughtCo, 26 June 2018.

“Profile: Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali.” BBC News, BBC, 20 June 2011.

Salti, Ramzi. Islamic Voices: Music of the Arab Spring, Stanford Live, 20 Sept. 2016.

Skalli, Loubna Hanna. “Youth, Media and the Art of Protest in North Africa.” Jadaliyya.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Essay about Censorship by Lily Harries

The following piece was sent to us by Lili Harries.  All expressed thoughts and opinions are that of the author.

Censorship - A Hot Topic, But Is It Relevant?
Censorship is one of the hottest topics in Arabic media– and a controversial one, at that. Saudi Arabian censorship laws routinely come under fire from international freedom advocacy groups, while Western films are routinely banned in Arabic-speaking nations due to content deemed inappropriate for Arabic audiences. Many argue that this stifles speech and artistic truth – if things like nudity, cursing, and drug-taking cannot be shown in all their tawdry glory, how can the truth of human existence possibly be portrayed? However, the issue is far more complex than this.

Personal Offence
Personal offence must be taken into account in any debate regarding the censorship of the media. Citizens of Arabic nations are largely in favor of media censorship, with 70% even calling for tighter regulations and controls upon ‘violent and romantic’ content. This 70% finds depictions of such things upsetting, disturbing, and offensive, and would thus prefer not to have themselves or their children exposed to them. The counter-argument, of course, is that the media is driven by the will of the people – if people did not want to see such things, they would not watch them, and thus filmmakers would avoid depicting them in order to save their profits. Indeed, many Arabic censorship customs are self-imposed in just such a manner. The problem arrives when media made under such government-and-self-censorship conditions are exported to the Arabic diaspora worldwide. People of Arabic descent living in parts of the world where censorship is less rife almost sometimes find the cultural productions of their homelands to be confusing and possibly even inferior to those offered by their adopted homes, largely due to the restricted amount of content and stories which can be touched upon due to censorship. Meanwhile, Arabic filmmakers living abroad are dismayed to discover that their productions cannot reach their intended audience due to political and cultural taboos regarding that which can and cannot be shown upon a screen. 

Freedom of Expression
The position of many European and American commentators upon the topic is that Saudi-Arabian style censorship is a curtailment of freedoms and artistic expression which naturally stifles the end result. Commentators from the US cite the First Amendment, and condemn nations with strict censorship practices accordingly. However, many of these Western anti-censorship voices miss one essential point – that censorship is by no means a phenomenon restricted to Arabic and Islamic nations. In the UK, the British Board of Film Classification applies an age-related category to each and every film released in the UK. This, they state, is to protect children from viewing ‘unsuitable’ content at a young age. The production teams of films frequently remove scenes in order to gain a lower age rating for their feature, which in effect acts as a form of self-censorship. The US operates a body known as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to vet the media and remove content deemed morally damaging or unsuitable. State and local authorities are also allowed to apply their own guidelines and regulations upon film content. In addition, several US television networks have strict rules governing their shows, which effectively allow them to prevent the expression of that which does not fit their own viewpoints and opinions. Much of the resultant censorship has been contradictory and confusing. For example, the Fox Broadcasting Company has a notoriously hardline attitude towards swearing, nudity, and the exposure of liberal views on their shows. They famously censored ‘The Simpsons’ on a variety of occasions – much to the frustration of the writers. However, they appear to have no problem with broadcasting features depicting gory murders, rapes, and even a live suicide.

Independent Thought vs Moral Corruption
Interestingly, the debate regarding censorship within the West reveals a number of contradictions which cut to the heart of the issue as it present in Arabic as much as in Western media. In the USA, the same groups who vociferously advocate American-style ‘freedoms’ and condemn the ‘nannying’ tactics of the liberal faction are – hypocritically – the groups most likely to demand censorship (although they may not phrase it as such) upon moral grounds. It is not uncommon for right-wing groups in America to demand absolute freedom of speech and a lack of government interference with one breath, and announce that something must be done about declining moral standards in the media with the next. Conflict regarding artistic ‘truth’ and expression vs protecting the moral standards of the nation is rife worldwide. In all nations, the more intellectual side of the debate revolves around how much people are influenced by what they see in the media. Some argue that depictions of activities like drug taking in the media ‘normalize’ such things, thus making the plunge into addiction much less daunting. Others argue that genuine art tells the truth and that, as the truth of things like drug-taking is invariably bad, it will act as a deterrent rather than a goad. Still others claim that the best way to prevent adverse effects is to encourage independence of thought and a willingness to question that which is seen rather than take its ‘lessons’ for granted – something which cannot occur if that which people see is strictly policed. Certainly the censorship of drug-taking depictions in Saudi Arabia appears to have done nothing to halt the spread of illegal drugs in the country - indeed, there are those who argue that the spread of drugs within nations with strict censorship is a problem precisely because people are unaware of the serious problems which drugs can cause, and how hard it can be to recover from addiction.

Artistic Expression
Anti-censorship crusaders are of the opinion that censorship stifles artistic expression – and there is certainly something in that. It is also a shame that a great many Arabic cinematic works made in non-Arabic speaking nations cannot be shown in the lands from which their makers hail due to local censorship laws. Nonetheless, there is something to be said for the ingenuity and artistic integrity of media-makers working within these conditions. It must be remembered that working around conditions imposed from on high has produced some of the greatest and most ingenious forms of art known to humanity. British satire, for example, now famed around the world as a comedic genre and honed to a fine art, grew out of a need to make political statements within a climate hostile to such views. Satire – which takes the mores of a system and hyper-emphasises them in a straight-faced yet comedic manner in order to highlight its failings – could not be condemned as explicit criticism, yet made its point clearly and memorably nonetheless. On a less antagonistic level, the prohibition against aniconism in Islamic art has led to the development of some of the most beautiful and intricate artistic patterns, designs, and disciplines known to humanity. To state that censorship stifles art may not, therefore, be entirely accurate – an artist clever and subtle enough will find a way to make their point, often in a beautiful and fully integrated manner.

A Redundant Topic?
The censorship debate rages back and forth, and it seems that there will never be a resolution. While the censorship and self-censorship mores within some Arabic-speaking countries are extreme, there are those who argue that this promotes a style of filmmaking with much more moral and artistic validity than that of the West, where ‘shock’ value is often used in place of art, and drawing in money-spending crowds is frequently considered more important than the integrity of the piece itself. On the other hand, the intense restrictions have led many budding filmmakers and stars to leave their homelands and head abroad, where they feel that their voices can be heard more freely and that they will be allowed to express themselves with fewer restrictions – thus doing their vision greater justice and reaching a wider audience. Whatever the pros and cons of the case, one thing is clear: that an Arabic filmmaker with something important to say, a vision worth promoting, and an artistic passion which burns strongly will find a way to make that statement, no matter what. In this age of the internet and cross-cultural communication, it is becoming harder and harder to restrict what people see and hear. Saudi Arabia – whose censorship laws are famed and derided throughout the world – has a population who are among the most avid consumers of social media on the planet. Much of the populace gains its news this way, and extrapolates the true situation by cross referencing that which they find on the internet by that which they see and hear from approved news vendors, and drawing their own conclusions. Whatever the moral and political truth of the matter, therefore, censorship may very soon become a redundant topic – impossible to apply, and even more impossible to enforce.

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