Panel 4h. The Role of the Media in Transitional and Authoritarian Politics

Chair: Fatima el Issawi, LSE

The media’s role in democratic transitions: Lessons from Egypt
Fatima el Issawi, LSE

The wave of uprisings that swamped the Arab world since 2010 raised the question again of the role of media in fostering – or indeed impeding – processes of democratization. While in the case of the Arab Spring the focus of research and debate was very much on the role of social media in enabling political change both during the uprisings and in their immediate aftermath, the impact of traditional national mass media and of journalism on framing this political change has been less addressed. In this article, we investigate the role of Egyptian mainstream media in shaping Egypt’s complex and fast moving political transition. Based on in-depth interviews, this article argues that the normative monitorial and facilitative role was quickly overturned in favour of the radical and collaborative role whereby Egyptian journalists tended to demonize the political adversary, transforming ‘the Other’ into the ultimate enemy, and revering the military regime. This arguably contributed to further destabilize the fragile transition to democracy. It is concluded that for democracy to succeed in an Egyptian context antagonistic political conflicts need to be transformed into agonistic ones both at the level of political culture and media culture.

The Role of Liberation Technology in the 2009 Post-election Uprising in Iran: The Twitter Revolution that Wasn’t.
Bahar Karimi, King’s College London

The mass protests following a disputed election in Iran in June 2009 resulted in the direct confrontation between Iranian citizens and the government. This protest movement, dubbed as the ‘Green Movement’, attracted huge attention from the international community, not only because the uprising was the first direct expression of opposition to the government in years but due to the heavy utilisation of the digital and social media – or ‘liberation technology’ – by the protestors, leading to some academics, journalists and analysts outside of Iran to label the protests as a ‘Twitter Revolution’. This paper asserts that the liberation technology played a dual role of organising the opposition and its activities, and operating a link which kept the international community informed of the happenings inside Iran. The fact that the liberation technology in fact strengthened the government’s capabilities in dealing with the opposition’s activities will be emphasised and the notion of a ‘Twitter Revolution’ will be dismissed, with the social networking website of Facebook being introduced as the ‘revolutionary’ tool used by the young protestors. Throughout this paper, reference will be made to Manuel Castells’ (2009) notion of a ‘network society’ and the transformation of digital social networks into trust networks.* It is concluded that the liberation technology’s role was shaped by its users, rather than the technology itself, and that the role and implications of the use of advanced technologies in protests are contextual. *Manuel Castells, 2009, Communication Power, Oxford University Press: Oxford; New York


Al sha’b yourid isqat al fassad—Strategies, tactics and digital memories of resistance in Morocco.
Miriyam Aouragh, University of Westminster

There is much debate about the need to ‘reframe media and cultural studies’ on one hand, and to ‘reassess revolutionary politics’ on the other. It is true that transnational political counter-culture strategies and activist tactics are changing. However, little is produced about Morocco—a state ruled by a stable monarchy based on a grafted politics of cooptation and run by the makhzan through a combination of consent and coercion. In the meantime the internet has provided marginalized communities as well as trade unions and of course critical online reporters a space to articulate their demands and alternatives. Previous attempts at collective resistance (1965 and 1984) are banned from history books and the violent Years of Lead under previous King Hassan 2 inserted a mental amnesia, now activists are archiving their gains and losses almost instantly. However, we cannot understand the implications of these important technological infrastructures for new forms of creative resistance and mediation without inserting these changes within a particular political moment of the country. Throughout 2011 and 2012 the country was swept by popular protests in the major cities and also smaller towns spreading across the vast space of the country, the beginning of what is popularly known as the 20 February movement. The social movements have faced many set-backs and some declared 20Feb dead. But in times of revolution the prospect of counter-revolution and all the contradictions these bring about should not be a surprise. In fact, in 2014 the country saw its first general strike in decades. These new forms of techno-social mediations offered new activists the needles to bust the demoralizing adagios and reconnect (belatedly) with their own revolutionary histories. Digital platforms store and circulate these histories but due to its multi-layered features features mix and merges today’s lives with others. Hence, these technologies are not a radical break from past practices but blur the conceptual separations between past, present, and future when for instance the recycling of previous posters or photos on digital platforms becoming part of offline contemporary resistances. Through ethnographic case studies and interviews, I will highlight how the 20Feb movement manages or rather struggles to agitate and organize.

Religious ideologies and news ethics: the case of Saudi Arabia
Noha Mellor, University of Bedfordshire, UK

This paper argues that Islamic ideologies can influence news ethics, focusing on the case of Saudi Arabia and based on interviews with a sample of Saudi editors. The discussion is also guided by references to recent controversial news reports surrounding the death of a Saudi female university student earlier this year after male paramedics were prevented by authorities from entering the women-only campus to treat her. The incident was reminiscent to another tragedy in 2002 when religious police did not allow girls to escape a fire in their school because they were not wearing headscarves. Some state media downplayed such incidents while the debate in social media and private stations beaming out of the Saudi Kingdom blamed the strict Islamic interpretation of sex segregation. The paper aims to unravel the subtle interplay between the specific religio-cultural codes and journalistic practices in Saudi Arabia.

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