– Autumn/Winter 2015

Insurgency and Circumspection: The Legacies of Pan-Arabism

Andrew Stefan Weiner

Samah Hijawi, Where are the Arabs?, 2009. Performance view, Mango Market, Amman. Photograph: Ali Saadi. Courtesy the artist

A group of men sit in a darkened cafe in Amman, Jordan. As they drink and talk, a woman appears on the television mounted to the wall. Dressed in a plain shirt with
her hair uncovered, she begins to deliver a speech. The motives behind this address are unclear, as are its style and content. The speaker begins by invoking the United Arab Republic (UAR), a federation between Egypt and Syria that existed only between 1958 and 1961. While her diction is formal and lofty, the speech is oddly repetitive, almost seeming to double back on itself; she invokes terms such as ‘unity’, ‘freedom’, ‘solidarity’, ‘duty’, ‘struggle’ and ‘brotherhood’ as if they were interchangeable, to the point that they begin to erode in meaning. If the cafe’s patrons are paying any attention to this broadcast, and there is no guarantee they are, they are likely wondering why this woman is carrying on in such an anachronistic way about ‘the call of Arab Nationalism’.

This scene describes one presentation of the public performance projectWhere are the Arabs?, which was staged by the artist Samah Hijawi in 2009 in Jordan and occupied Palestine at various locations, including cafes, public markets and city streets.

  1. This description is based on project documentation and on correspondence with the artist, beginning in June 2013.

  2. As some critics have noted, the idea of an 'Arab Spring' displays certain liabilities. Not only was the term inapplicable to related contemporaneous uprisings in non-Arab Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Turkey, it projected a sense of unity and progress onto highly diverse and contested developments, many of which have since devolved into stasis or repression.

  3. For a useful overview of this history, see Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991, pp.401—33. For more focussed analysis, see Adeed Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005; and Michael Scott Doran, Pan-Arabism Before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

  4. Some measure of the transnational impact of pan-Arabism can be gained from articles such as Laura Bier, 'Feminism, Solidarity, and Identity in the Age of Bandung: Third World Women in the Egyptian Women's Press', and James R. Brennan, 'Radio Cairo and the Decolonization of East Africa, 1953—64', both published in Christopher J. Lee (ed.), Making a World After Empire: The Bandung Moment and its Political Afterlives, Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010.

  5. Malik Mufti provides an account of Ba'athist pan-Arabism in his study Sovereign Creations: Pan-Arabism and Political Order in Syria and Iraq, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996. For an analysis of the links between Syrian Ba'athism and the emergence of ISIS, see Hugh Roberts, 'The Hijackers', London Review of Books, vol.37, no.14, 16 July 2015, pp.5—10.

  6. Gilles Kepel links the rise of petro-Islam to the crisis of Arab nationalism in his study Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

  7. The obsolescence of pan-Arabism was perhaps most definitively proclaimed in Fouad Ajami, 'The End of Pan-Arabism', Foreign Affairs, vol.57, no.2, Winter 1978, pp.355—73. An example of the recent renewal of interest in pan-Arabism among journalists is Lamis Andoni, 'The Resurrection of Pan- Arabism', Al Jazeera, 11 February 2011, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/ 2011/02/201121115231647934.html (last accessed on 28 July 2015); for an example of academic research, see Youssef Mohamed Sawani, 'The "End of pan-Arabism" Revisited: Reflections on the Arab Spring', Contemporary Arab Affairs, vol.5, no.3, July—September 2012, pp.382—97.

  8. See, for example, Negar Azimi, 'Radical Bleak', frieze, issue 144, January—February 2012, available online at http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/radical-bleak/; and Omar Kholeif, 'The Social Impulse: Politics, Media and Art After the Arab Uprisings', Art & Education, 5 November 2012, available at http://www.artandeducation.net/paper/the-social-impulse-politics-media-and-art-after-the-arab- uprisings/ (both last accessed on 28 July 2015).

  9. For a useful overview of this problematic, see Nasser Rabbat, 'The Arab Revolution Takes Back the Public Space', Critical Inquiry, vol.39, no.1, Autumn 2012, pp.198—208.

  10. Video documentation of the piece has been shown in venues including Abu Dhabi Art and MoMA PS1 in New York.

  11. The reference to Nasser would have also invoked his role as a privileged object of popular veneration. For discussion of Egyptian nationalism and vernacular memory, see Mériam Belli, An Incurable Past: Nasser's Egypt Then and Now, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2013.

  12. Hijawi outlines this concept in her text 'Performativity and Public Space: Interventions as Performative Gestures For Political Engagement in Jordan', Ibraaz [online journal], 28 May 2015, available at http://www.ibraaz.org/essays/129 (last accessed on 28 July 2015).

  13. Ibid.

  14. For discussion of the politics of representation at Tahrir, see W.J.T. Mitchell, 'Image, Space, Revolution: The Arts of Occupation', Critical Inquiry, vol. 39, no.1, Autumn 2012, pp.8—32. For analysis of the temporal dimension of this politics, see Massimiliano Tomba, 'Clash of Temporalities: Capital, Democracy, and Squares', The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol.113, no.2, Spring 2014, pp.353—66. For a philosophical elaboration of embodiment and solidarity, see Judith Butler, 'Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street', Transversal, October 2011, available at http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/ 1011/butler/en (last accessed on 28 July 2015).

  15. Joel Beinin criticises liberal and technologically deterministic accounts of the popular mobilisations in Egypt; see J. Beinin, 'Civil Society, NGOs, and Egypt's 2011 Popular Uprising', The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol.113, no.2, Spring 2014, pp.396—406. For a more nuanced discussion of the interrelation of new media, activism and aesthetics in this context, see 'Platform for Discussion 004', Ibraaz [online journal], available at http://www.ibraaz.org/platforms/4 (last accessed on 28 July 2015).

  16. Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme in conversation with Tom Holert, 'The Archival Multitude', Journal of Visual Culture, vol.12, no.3, December 2013, pp.353—54.

  17. See Samir Amin, The People's Spring: The Future of the Arab Revolution, Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2012, pp.156—78.

  18. Cairo's importance is evident in a series of conferences it hosted during the Nasser era, including the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Conference (1957), the All-African People's Conference (1961) and the Afro-Asian Women's Conference (1961).

  19. Arsanios explains these problems in more detail in 'Accumulative Processes: Marwa Arsanios in conversation with Fawz Kabra', Ibraaz [online journal], 28 May 2015, available at http://www.ibraaz.org/interviews/164 (last accessed on 28 July 2015).

  20. My account of Issa's process is derived from email correspondence and personal conversations with the artist in June 2015.

  21. Issa used this phrase in an interview with Brian Boucher: 'Memorial "Material"', Art in America, 29 September 2011, available at http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/interviews/ iman-issa/ (last accessed on 28 July 2015).

  22. For more on the spatial politics of memorials, see Sandy Isenstadt and Kishwar Rizvi (ed.), Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and Politics in the Twentieth Century, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.

  23. Quoted in Morgan Cooper, 'Incidental Insurgents: An Interview with Ruanne Abou-Rahme', Biography, vol.37, no.2, Spring 2014, p.508.

  24. Extracts from an interview with Abu Jildeh's grandson are available in the e-book Adania Shibli (ed.), A Journey of Ideas Across: In Dialog with Edward Said, Berlin: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2013, available at http://journeyofideasacross.hkw.de/resisting-colonialism-old-and-new/basel-abbas- und-ruanne-abou-rahme.html (last accessed on 28 July 2015).