Panel 4d Rethinking Islamist Movements in the Middle East; Mediating Cultures; Resistance and Power

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Chair: Dr Dina Matar, Senior Lecturer in Arab Media and Political Communication, SOAS

Paper 1: Power, Language and Culture: A Socio-historical Perspective of the Forging of Hassan Nasrallah’s Mediated Charisma  
Dr Dina Matar, Senior Lecturer in Arab Media and Political Communication, SOAS

This paper explores the evolution of Hizbullah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah into the Arab and Muslim worlds’ foremost charismatic leader in the digitalized media age. It pays attention to the ways in which his persona was mediated, validated and institutionalized through a structured and intentional political communication strategy rooted in culture. At the symbolic level, this strategy is located in a ‘culture of communication’– referring to the compendium of religious, historical, literary and mythological linguistic and symbolic references used and communicated by any community, state or organization as valid tropes for all times. At the instrumental level, this strategy is underpinned by Hizbullah’s organizational structures that have been crucial in establishing and promoting Nasrallah as a key signifier of mass popular culture, and as a charismatic ideologue whose populist ‘oppositional’ politics have been central to the party’s success in the domestic Shiite-specific sphere and beyond. In taking this approach, the paper shows how Hizbullah and Nasrallah put at work ideology and culture to summon collective subjectivities in particular historical contexts.

Paper 2: The Poetry of Hizbullah
Dr Atef Alshaer, Post-doctoral Fellow in Political Communication, Centre for Film and Media Studies, SOAS

Over the years, since its founding in 1982, Hezbollah has distinguished itself from other groups in the Arab world in its confrontation and fierce fighting with Israel. Hezbollah’s allies are varied and with diverse cultural practices: It is rooted in its Arab environment, yet firmly connected to Iran with its distinct literary and  cultural tradition, providing it with an intricate web of cultural and political output in terms of literature and discourse. This paper aims to draw on Hezbollah’s poetry in order to interpret the underlying ideological aspects and affiliations embedded and conveyed through it. In this context, Hezbollah’s poetry is broadly defined as that which is authored by poets, writers, supporters and sympathisers with Hezbollah as well as people who simply interacted poetically with events in which Hezbollah was a central player. The paper will also draw on the popular songs of Hezbollah, as forms of expression which serve political mobilisation with reinforcing sentimental associations.

Paper 3: Ikhwan Online: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its Communication Strategies under Mubarak
Paolo D’Urbano, PhD candidate and Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Film and Media Studies, SOAS

Since the mid-2000s, digital technologies such as blogging and social networking have entered the Egyptian media system. Activists started to use these media as political tools to organize events and mobilize people. The Muslim Brotherhood is among those who adopted such technologies, establishing a wide range of online presences. What led a purportedly backward-looking organization to enthusiastically embrace the latest products of Western technological industry? How can we rethink the study of Islamist movements and their communication practices? This paper discusses how digital technologies provide new spaces where tactics of negotiation, resistance and accommodation are performed on a daily basis. The Muslim Brotherhood has been successful in channelling and mobilising these new forms of communication for its political agenda.. However, these same media have also provided a space where internal differences can emerge and alternative players become more vocal and visible.

Paper 4: Islamists and Media in the Egyptian Elections
Dr Said Shehata, BBC

This paper will discuss various approaches which Islamists use to draw members and votes before and during elections with a focus on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt. In particular, the presentation will look at the major tools used by the party to win more than 40 percent of the Lower House’s (People Assembly) in Egypt including religious services, advertisements and slogans.  >> download the paper

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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