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Araborama, panorama of the Arab worlds

Leyla Dakhli

On February 6th, the french editor Le Seuil published their latest book Araborama, does the Arab world (still) exist? in partnership with the Arab World Institute, to answer this thorny and essential question.

The title of the book is quite existential. Does the Arab world (still) exist? The text begins to chip away at the question by tracing back the origin of that “world.” 

A vast and provocative query, questioning the reader about a region whose name alone already suggests a homogeneous and undifferentiated mass. By giving the floor to several intellectuals and artists from the Arab world, the first edition of the collection of Araborama pays a tribute to a complex region from which it attempts to draw a geographical, historical, political and cultural map.

We asked Leyla Dakhli, a Tunisian researcher on the contemporary Arab world and member of the editorial board of Araborama, to share her analysis:

 

 

In the introduction of the book, you make a strong statement, referring to Wajdi Mouawad play which says: “to be Arab is to be stopped at the borders, to be limited in your movements.” You also speak of the “misfortune of being an Arab”, quoting the journalist Samir Kessir. Is the Arab experience necessarily one of suffering?

One has to be blind not to see it. We cannot ignore the context in which this book has been written. It is written in French and published in France. Recent surveys have shown that it is more difficult to find a job in the country when one has an Arabic name. It also turns out that suspicion of terrorism and association with religious extremism is unfortunately a common experience shared by many Arab people in France and elsewhere. The Arab condition in the contemporary world still carries the burden of strong stigmas and our aim was not to victimize these people, but to account for them. 

 

A large part of this book is dedicated to the Palestinian cause and its diplomacy. How do you explain that the nakba is such a fundamental element of the Arab world?

Perhaps because it is the cause that has been the most instrumentalized by the different Arab political regimes, particularly with pan-Arabism, but it is also the cause that is the most closely defended and supported by the Arab people. We know that the post-Ottoman Arab world was dismembered into states by the colonial powers. As a result, each claimed and eventually gained their independence. All except one. In the midst of this post- colonial momentum in the region, Palestine remained defeated and humiliated. It is part of an Arab experience shared by all, even though many states also contributed to this catastrophe. 

 

 

You speak of Pan-Arabism as an unfinished utopia. How do you explain the failure of Arab unification? 

I believe that the ideology of Pan-Arabism was born from an anti-imperialist context, at the end of the Ottoman Empire when young Turks were killing minorities in order to Turkify the empire. At that time, a new cultural “Arabity” and united Arabism emerged in order to get rid of imperialism. But when this context dissipated, the need for Pan-Arabism vanished with it. As the interview with Elias Sanbar in the book points out, the Arab states began focusing on their own ambitions rather than the collective one. The political will to unite didn’t last, which is understandable as all the Arab borders were made arbitrarily. 

 

Can we still see a new form of Pan-Arabism today? 

Today, Pan-Arabism cannot be found at the political level, neither in the Arab league nor in international bodies, but rather within a cultural and communitary setting. There is a great circulation of information in the Arab world through the popularisation of satellite channels. The creation of the Pan-Arab channel Al Jazeera for example, or the existence of some cultural “rendez-vous” such as the Arab Idol program, which contribute to the shared sense of belonging and transnational unity in the Arab world. The common language is a binding agent as well.