LSU Scholars Explore the Arab Spring through Public Events and Lectures
By Maggie Heyn Richardson
BATON ROUGE – A powerful wave of protests took place throughout the Middle East during the spring of 2011, forcing out rulers in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen and creating the possibility of pluralism after decades of autocracy. But one year later, what can be learned about the Arab Spring’s impact not only on political systems, but on cultural ones as well?
The College of Humanities & Social Sciences International Studies Program marked the first anniversary of the Arab Spring with a series of lectures and discussions intended to explore the event’s political and social repercussions. There was strong turnout from both LSU students and the public, according to Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies Director Leonard Ray.
“Global events happen regularly, but this was a particularly dramatic episode and a unique opportunity for us as a community to examine it more fully,” Ray said. “These are very complex events, and there is a lot more happening under the surface than what’s being covered in the news.”
The series was held in March and April and included a lecture from one of the country’s leading scholars in U.S. Middle East policy. Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, spoke about the role of nonviolence in the Arab revolution to a gathering of about 75 people, and appeared later on the WRKF public radio news program, “The Jim Engster Show,” which can be found archived at http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-jim-engster-show/id507537136.
Organizers of the commemoration felt strongly the events should also look closely at culture, particularly the role of poetry.
“Poetry has an immediate quality in revolutions,” said Associate Professor of English Pallavi Rastogi, international studies assistant director. “Historically, it’s the thing that’s read in the public square.”
On March 15 in Nicholson Hall, LSU Assistant Professor of Arabic Mark Wagner explored poems on the revolt in Yemen written by satirist and poet Abd al-Karim al-Razihi, who is considered by some to be the poet of the new Yemeni Revolution. Wagner’s lecture, “A Satirist’s View of the Uprisings in Yemen,” examined poems by Razihi’s that were disseminated exclusively on Facebook, and how these works fit into the wider context of Razihi’s other poetry, short stories and satirical newspaper columns.
New Orleans-based poet Andy Young read from her new book “The People is Singular” on March 22 at the College of Design. The collection was written in response to the Egyptian Revolution and includes photographs by Egyptian photographer Salwa Rashad, who took part in the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Young co-edits Meena, a bilingual Arabic-English literary journal and teaches at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
“This gave us a chance to show how small the world is,” said Rastogi. “Within this global event we found linkages with a regional poet.”
In an April 26 group lecture called “Revolutionary Renditions,” faculty throughout the College of the Humanities & Social Sciences shared their favorite revolutionary texts and discussed each one’s aesthetic and political impact. Presenters featured a range of literary and cinematic work on the theme of revolution, including poems, novels, short stories, political speeches, songs and film clips. Among them was the famed barroom scene in “Casablanca” in which French citizens defiantly sing “La Marseillaise” over the sound of German officers singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.”
“The pieces selected were from a number of different time periods and regions,” said Rastogi. “The event provoked good discussion about how culture can impact revolution and how culture itself can be an agent of revolution.”
For more information on the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences, visit http://hss.lsu.edu/.