Pan-Arab News TV Station al-Mayadeen
The New Regressive Leftist Media
Drawing on a wide variety of programmes from the station’s first four years and on interviews with staff members, the book captures how a TV station can play a role in the production of ideology through e.g. its composition of programmes, collaborations, events, iconization of cultural figures, choice of aesthetics, as well as through its recycling of cultural heritage and already existing ideological concepts. Overall, four ideological core concepts emerges, namely: the support of the resistance, the rejection of Sunni Islamism, the acceptance of authoritarianism, and the challenging of neoliberalism. Taking seriously a media outlet such as al-Mayadeen and the worldview driving an ideological discourse such as The New Regressive Left seems more acute than ever if we want to grasp the developments in a post-2011 Arab world.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Transliteration and Translation
- The New Regressive Left
- Theoretical Frame – My Point of Departure
- Producing Ideology through Practices and Performances
- Methodological Approach
- 1. Exploring Ideoscapes Surrounding The New Regressive Left
- The Formative Years
- The Ba‘ath Party
- Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP)
- Hizbollah – the Islamism of the Left
- Iran and the Export of Authoritarianism
- Disagreements and Core Ideological Concepts in the Post-2011 Arab Left
- 2. Exploring Mediascapes Surrounding al-Mayadeen
- The al-Jazeera Era
- Religious Broadcasting in a Secular Space?
- Arab Mediascape Post-2011
- Introducing al-Mayadeen
- Financial and Political Connections
- The People at al-Mayadeen
- The Audience – Who, Where and How Many?
- 3. The Creation of an Icon: The Case of Jamila Bouhired
- The Concept of the Secular Icon
- The Framing of the Icon
- The Worshipping of Bouhired
- Celebrating the Female Fighter
- Celebrating the Golden Age
- Why Jamila Bouhired? Connecting the Past to the Present
- Changing Readings of an Icon – Ethical Dilemmas and Moral Discrepancies
- 4. Celebrating the Muqawama through Words, Images and Songs: The Case of Palestine
- From Hero to Victim – and Back Again
- Culture as Muqawama
- The Promotion of Militant Muqawama through Art
- Ṣumud – You Have to Be a Victim, in Order to Resist
- The Bigger Picture
- 5. Re-launching Iltizam through Leftist Cultural Figures: The Case of the Cultural Talk Show Bayt al-Qasid
- Bayt al-Qasid – a Cultural Show
- The Notion of Iltizam – an Historical Overview
- Iltizam in Bayt al-Qasid
- Patriotism – the Space for Emotions and Personal Sorrows
- The Progressive Ideals: Personal Dilemmas and Ideological Ambivalences
- 6. Walking a Tightrope: The Role of Religion
- Religious Broadcasting at al-Mayadeen – the Shows and the Hosts
- Harrir Aqlak and the Legacy of al-Nahda
- Religious Pluralism versus Sectarianism and the Case of Ajras al-Mashreq
- Two Sides of the Same Coin – and the Problem of Saudi Arabia
- Change or Stability?
- 7. The Re-launch of Third Worldism: The Voice of the Global South and the Cooperation with TeleSUR
- Third Worldism – Past and Present
- The Revolutionary South, Imperialism and the Concept of “Soft War”
- Fighting a Media War
- Which Left?
- Al-Mayadeen in the Arab Media and Ideoscapes 188
- Progressive or Regressive?
- The New Regressive Left
This book is drawn from research funded by the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen, as part of its PhD scholarship programme. I am thankful for the opportunity I was given. Likewise, I am thankful to the Danish Institute in Damascus for awarding me travel grants that made my travels to and stays in Beirut possible.
First and foremost, I would like to thank Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen for his role as supervisor, his belief in the project, insightful comments and continued constructive encouragement. I thank Christa Salamandra for her engagement as co-supervisor, for inspiring discussions and for reminding me of the importance of the project when I, at times, started to doubt. Furthermore, I would like to thank Sune Haugbølle, both for sparking in me the idea to write a PhD in the first place, and for supporting me throughout the process when it became a reality.
I am grateful for the time spent at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen. The department has offered academic inducements, professional challenges and personal friendships. I am in debt to many, but would especially like to thank Andreas Bandak, my neighbour opposite, for being such a generous source of inspiration and advices. Thanks to Ehab Galal for always keeping ‘a considerate eye’ on me and to Saer El-Jaichi for productive conversations. I also thank all my PhD colleagues without whom it would not have been as edifying and joyful. A special thanks to Nikolaos Olma for your friendship and for always helping me out when needed the most.
Furthermore, I would like to thank Nina Grønlykke Mollerup, Manni Crone, Sidsel Nelund and Katrine Mørkeberg for reading and commenting on drafts at various stages and for providing moral support and much-appreciated encouragement. Thanks to Sawsan Kassab for precious help with transcriptions of broadcasts and much more – I treasured our meetings during busy work weeks. Also a warm thanks to Ninette Jallov Assentoft and Camilla Maya Dam who at different times joined me in Beirut to take care of my two children, while I was working.
This project would not have been the same without the staff members at al-Mayadeen and others in Beirut who took the time to meet with me. I hope I did justice to their voices, even though our views may differ on some of my arguments.
Finally, thanks to my parents who both in different ways have been – and still are – an invaluable support; and to Rita and Isak, for joining me in Beirut and for reminding me every day that there is more to life than academic endeavours.
I primarily transliterate Arabic words and titles in accordance with the system adopted by the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (INJMES). In the cases of central concepts, I have chosen to use a transliteration of the Arabic word throughout the book to underscore the exact Arabic concept. These words are:
• Iltizam [commitment]
• Multazim [committed]
• Muqawama [resistance] / al-muqawama [the resistance]
• Mumana‘a [literally ‘opposition’ or ‘resistance’ but used as a term for Arab regimes rejecting the US hegemony in the region]
• Ṣumud [steadfastness]
• Taqaddumi [progressive]
• Munaḍil(a) [a struggler]
• Bilad ash-Sham [literally ‘The land of Damascus’ or ‘the land of the North’, in English ‘the Levant’]
Arabic words which have found their way into the English language will be written in accordance with the conventional English spelling. Likewise, I report the names of people in the conventional way that they are referred to in English (e.g., Gamal Abdel Nasser or Hizbollah), or in the way they present themselves (e.g., on a business card or Facebook page).
The translations of broadcasts and interviews are my own.
In the Arab world, 2012 was a time of hope, ambitions, uncertainty, division, violence, disappointment and growing frustration. It was also a time characterised by expectations that politics and everyday life were changing for something fundamentally different than pre-2011 conditions. While in 2011, the public uprisings had seemed to unite Arab populations both nationally and regionally, in 2012 the fragmentation over opposing political interests and alliances divided the Arab world to a disruptive level. It was in this time of ambivalence and conflict, on June 11, 2012, that a new pan-Arab satellite news TV station saw the light.
In 2013, when I started working on this project, I was curious to understand some of the ideological and media developments that had been stirred by the public uprisings that took place across the Arab world in 2011. I was interested to hear the more silent voices, the voices of the parts of the Arab population, which did not represent or identify with either the hope and vision of the young progressive activists initiating the uprisings, or the strategy and ambition of the growing Islamist movements, whether in political life (e.g., the election of Mursi in Egypt), on the battlefield (e.g., the militarisation and Islamisation of the uprising in Syria) or in the media (e.g., Islamic State’s online media campaign). I was – and still am – convinced of the importance of investigating alternative worldviews to the ones that had first caught the attention of Western media and academia alike. When ←1 | 2→the pan-Arab satellite TV station al-Mayadeen was launched, I knew that this could become an outlet for exactly that.
My initial interest in al-Mayadeen was sparked by the station’s pan-Arab rhetoric and heavy use of nostalgic symbols from the heydays of Arab nationalism, which I know so well from my stays in the region since 2001. Thus, while invoking the bygone golden era of Abdel Nasser as a unifying sentiment or shared frame of reference is a well-known phenomenon in the Arab world –– in 2012, at first I thought it most of all seemed like a resurrected dinosaur from the past. Through changing times, Nasser has remained a symbol in the Arab world of “hope, unity, national purpose, social stability, and achievement” (Gordon 2000). He has functioned as an icon in the Arab public memory as well as an important figure in popular culture, used to represent the Arab dream of unity and social justice (Haugbølle 2013a). Yet, I was puzzled by al-Mayadeen’s revival of nostalgic Nasser-sentiments in a time marked by public uprisings and where new heroes had been born. What role was this nostalgic attitude to play in a post-2011 Arab world? Why invoke old ideological slogans, in a time where other voices and agendas were dominating Arab media? Al-Mayadeen was obviously neither propagating the visions of the young activist on the street nor of the Islamists on the political scene or in the battlefield. Rather it was rejecting both, while it seemed to rewind time and undo the uprisings. Thus, I set out to investigate this alternative voice as I believed it represented an important but overlooked ideological current in this crucial time of Arab history.
My intentions with this project have been two-fold. I wanted to investigate both the TV station al-Mayadeen, an important representative of post-2011 Arab mediascapes, and the growing political trend and ideological discourse in Arab ideoscapes, which I call The New Regressive Left – two phenomena that are interlinked and that are feeding into each other. In other words, this is a book about a media that was born out of the political developments triggered by the Arab uprisings, but also a book that investigates the formation of a new ideological discourse, that builds on leftist progressive values and a nostalgic longing for a pre-2011 state of (authoritarian) Arab politics.
I propose that a media outlet can serve as an obvious and informative arena for investigating ideological developments in the contemporary Arab world – not merely as a mediator of already existing ideology, but equally as a producer of ideology. Thus, rather than understanding ideology as a coherent set of thoughts, carefully developed and finalised, I understand ideology as thought practices that are developing, adapting and taking shape – in this case in interaction between leftist ideological heritage, political strategies and agendas, and popular culture in the shape of a TV station. Or, to borrow the words of Lina Khatib, “often there is ←2 | 3→no longer a distinction between the cultural and the political spheres; it is not just that popular culture and politics feed off each other – very often, popular culture is politics” (Khatib 2013, 3). Thus, I understand ideology as existing and developing in our everyday life, in a cultural production, in an aesthetic experience, in an icon – or in a media outlet. As Lisa Wedeen argued in her ground-breaking book Ambiguities of Domination (Wedeen 1999), “politics is not merely about material interests but also about contests over the symbolic world, over the management and appropriation of meanings” (Wedeen 1999, 30). It is this “contest over the symbolic world” unfolding in the media sphere, which I explore, in order to render visible a contemporary political ideological phenomenon, The New Regressive Left.
I draw on a wide variety of selected al-Mayadeen broadcasts, from the station’s first four years on air accompanied by my interviews with central actors at and around al-Mayadeen. I use the empirical material to investigate how ideology was produced at al-Mayadeen through broadcasts, practices and aesthetic experiences – how the re-composition of already existing ideological discourses established a new and significant ideological stream in contemporary Arab political life, what I call, The New Regressive Left. Through an analysis of this material, I trace the contours of four central ideological pillars, namely: the struggle against imperialism, the rejection of Sunni Islamism, the acceptance of authoritarianism, and the challenge of neoliberalism.
I believe this book demonstrates how ideology can be produced and performed in contemporary Arab public life. The image of a politically and philosophically enlightened person, who sits alone in his study formulating new ideologies in the shape of political manifestos and dogmatic theories, seems long outdated, if indeed it ever was a reality. So where and how do new ideological transformations take place? I use the case of al-Mayadeen to illustrate how a TV station is not only a platform for the dissemination of already established political ideologies, or for the promotion of existing worldviews; it can equally be a forum where new ideological trends are brought into existence. Thus, in a mediatised world, a TV station can serve as a forum – or even an agent – for the development of ideological discourses.
I argue that through the composition of hosts, journalists, types of programming and political topics and through the use of images, songs, cultural icons, emotions, symbols, and discourses, ideological concepts can be rearranged and reinterpreted and together engender new ideologies. I engage with these different elements in order to understand the creation of a shared ideological cosmos, through which certain political views come to make sense. It is an exploration of the ideological ambivalence of the station’s self-image as the protector of modernity, political progressiveness and civilised patriotism – and not least culture in general and committed art in particular – while its translation of these values into ←3 | 4→contemporary realpolitik results in the defence of undemocratic and oppressive political systems. More concretely, I investigate how The New Regressive Left was taking form at al-Mayadeen, while reflecting upon how this ideological discourse challenges our conception of progressive and regressive values.
In the following sections, I briefly introduce al-Mayadeen and The New Regressive Left before I move on to outline my theoretical framework and methodological approach.
- XIV, 216
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2021 (January)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XIV, 216 pp.