Mass Media, the Middle East, and the Arab Spring

Andrew Simon (Dartmouth College)

How might mass media assist us in rethinking the making of the modern Middle East? What is the future of popular culture as an avenue of academic inquiry? And in what ways can scholars counter the attempts of local authorities to monopolize the past in the present? In this talk, I will navigate a few different themes, from the construction of narratives and counternarratives to the circulation of information to the promise and power of media technologies – all ideas that we tend to associate with a single mass medium: the internet. The tendency to tie these ideas to the internet is readily evident in Middle East studies, where scholars have written at length on social media and its significance in relation to the mass uprisings that rocked the Middle East eleven years ago. Although offering key insights into activism, authoritarianism, and contemporary politics, this body of work lends the impression that only the most recent media matter in Middle East studies. In Egypt, however, audiocassettes decentralized state-controlled media and enabled an unprecedented number of people to create culture, circulate content, and challenge ruling regimes decades before the advent of the internet. In the spirit of elucidating these largely forgotten developments, I will explore the writing and rewriting of a single historical event: Richard Nixon’s visit to Cairo in the summer of 1974. In the course of covering this occasion, I wish to consider what insights may be offered by it into the Arab Spring and who will write its history.