Imagining the Future: The Arab World in the Aftermath of Revolution

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference “Imagining the Future: The Arab World in the Aftermath of Revolution”. The Forum is organized by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) in the framework of its Arab European Creative Platform (AECP), and in cooperation with EUME and the Archive Kabinett. It takes place at the Archive Kabinett in Berlin-Wedding. For the program brochure, please click here.

Khaled Saghieh. Photo: private

Our interview partner Khaled Saghieh is the curator of the conference. Khaled is a journalist and began his career at the Lebanese daily As-Safir. He was the deputy Editor-in-Chief of the daily Al-Akhbar until 2011. Between 2012 and 2015, Saghieh worked as Editor-in-Chief of the news department at the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI). Saghieh received his MA in Economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is currently an instructor at the Media Studies program at the American University of Beirut. He was a EUME Fellow in 2016-17.

 

Why did you organize this forum, and what are you hoping to achieve?

Previous conceptions of the future that have dominated our imagination for decades, particularly those articulated by the Arab Enlightenment and postcolonial intellectuals, fall short of answering questions about the Arab present. From our contemporary perspective of wars, coups, and failed revolutions, such conceptions of the future seem unattainable, almost obsolete.

This forum invites artists, writers, and scholars to discuss how the Arab future has been imagined in the wake of decisive political junctures. It asks participants to think about ways in which the future may still be conceived and whether or not it still offers fertile ground to think the Arab world in times of transformation and upheaval.

How would you describe the intellectual afterlife of the Arab revolutions and why would you like to discuss imaginations of the future in this context?

The intertwinement of past hopes and present tragedies becomes a moment to think of Arab ideologies of emancipation and confront them with the question: What went wrong? From these pending issues and intellectual openings, we draw our political inspiration for this forum.

The aftermath of Arab revolutions does not only point to the need for alternative political visions, but it also reveals the fragility of collective imaginary, a condition that is certainly not restricted to the Arab world. Indeed, while emancipatory projects have receded in the Arab world, against the backdrop of authoritarianism and fundamentalism, far-right and illiberal visions have triumphed in the rest of the world. This is why there is growing need to reflect on new ways to think the future at the intersection of tumult and prospects of emancipation.

What I find interesting in the intellectual afterlife of Arab revolutions are practices of retrospection and imagination. When the future is bleak and earlier political visions seem to have faltered, we look at the creative process as a source of alternatives. Literature, science fiction, comics, and animation articulate ongoing tensions and suggest possibilities for the future. While the watershed resulting from the uprisings suggests new ways to think the future, it also opens up the past for reconsideration. At stake are past narratives, visions, and possibilities that have been repressed and silenced.

What are the unique perspectives that the participants might gain from attending the conference?

The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, in the framework of the Arab European Creative Platform (AECP), has partnered with the Archive Kabinett and Europe in the Middle East — The Middle East in Europe (EUME) to organize this multidisciplinary, transregional forum. The fact that this event is taking place in Berlin is not surprising. In the last few years, Berlin has become an artistic and intellectual hub as well as the home of a community of Arab artists and writers who, considering the present political climate and growing restrictions on mobility, might not have the opportunity to convene elsewhere.

Speakers and participants examine the future from multidisciplinary perspectives. They discuss the ways in which it continues to be imagined between past prophecies and present dystopias. The first panel looks at how the contemporary Arab world had been imagined since the Arab Enlightenment era all through the rise of modern Arab states. Zeina G. Halabi speaks of early 20th century futurist fiction, Orwa Nyrabia addresses the futurist impulse the Syrian Omar Amiralay, while Sonja Mejcher-Atassi reads the future as imagined in Palestinian exilic autobiography.

The second panel explores the ways in which contemporary writers think the present as dystopia and a troubled future in the making. Haytham al-Wardany speaks about the validity of the future as an analytical construct while Nael el-Toukhy and Mohammad Rabie read excerpts from their novels. Following this discussion, we will screen short films by Maha Maamoun who invites us to a journey from past to future, and Mahdi Fleifel, who gives us an account of political subjectivity against the backdrop of a present in flux.

The second day of the forum begins with a panel featuring Leyla Dakhli, Judith Naeff, and Samer Frangie who reflect on how the notions of past/present/future can still help us think the Arab world in times of transformation. Refqa Abu-Remaileh explores futurist visions of the Palestinian Emile Habibi, while Wael Abdelfattah speaks about horror and the legacy of the late sci-fi novelist Ahmad Khaled Tawfic. The panel is followed by a screening of sci-fi shorts by Larissa Sansour. In the same spirit of retracing contemporary depictions of the future, Rasha Chatta speaks of Syrian comics in time of revolution while Ayman al-Zorkany and Fadi Baqi discuss the futurist visions of their animations.

The aforementioned panels and screenings are moderated by the scholars, writers, and curators Georges Khalil, Elena Chiti, and Jens Hanssen, Rasha Abbas, Rasha Salti and Rima Mismar, all of whom suggest novel ways of reading the works presented.

 

 


Citation: ”Imagining the Future: The Arab World in the Aftermath of Revolution” – Interview with Khaled Saghieh, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 07.06.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10427.


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