Hanadial Samman / Arabic

The Arab Spring Blossoms at UVa

After decades of apparent political stagnation, the Arab world saw the first glimmers of democratic change in January 2011 when, inspired by the self- immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Tunisians rose up and ousted their dictator, Zine El-Abidine Ali. Protests quickly spread across the region, from Morocco to Bahrain. The “Arab Spring” was a remarkable outpouring of pent-up political frustration and economic grievances, mostly manifested in non-violent passive resistance and popular demonstrations for democracy and economic opportunity.  The same revolutionary spirit toppled the authoritarian regimes of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Moammar al-Qaddafi, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and is currently hard at toppling the oppressive regime of Syria’s Bashar al- Assad.  Lessons learned from these revolutions have inspired other global grass- roots movements such as the “Occupy Wall Street” and even our very own UVa faculty, students, and alumni rallies last June after the sudden ouster of President Teresa Sullivan.

My dream idea is to explore with the students of my Spring/2013 course “MEST

2270/5270 Contemporary Culture and Society of the Contemporary Arab

Middle East” the historical roots of the concept of democratic change and its manifestations in contemporary film and literature.  I also want to introduce the students to a number of Arab-American grass-roots organizations, based in Washington D.C., that are augmenting the democratic ideals of the Arab Spring within the Arab world and beyond. My course introduces students to the Arab Middle East through an interdisciplinary tour in Arab history, politics, socio- cultural engagements, and literature with a special focus on regional similarities and differences.  I propose a series of eight cultural nights during which we focus on a separate Arab country, which has either completed or still undergoing its revolution. During the course of the evening we will view a film from that particular region, interview citizens from that country, and enjoy its food.  The diversity of the Arabic Charlottesville community will ensure hosting guests from all over the Arab World.  The Kaleidoscope Lounge in Newcomb Hall will be an ideal place for movie screenings and follow up discussions. The information gained from these cultural nights will be integrated into students own group presentations and country reports throughout the semester.  My goal is for students to experience first-hand visual and oral contemporary narratives that counter prevalent stereotypes that confine Arab people and politics in fixed and fabricated molds.  The semester will culminate in a field trip to Washington D.C. where we will attend a screening of the movie 18 Days, a documentary chronicling the

Egyptian revolution showcased as part of the Arabian Sights Film Festival and engages in a conversation with the young activist directors.  During that trip, we will also visit the Freer Gallery of Art which houses the Arts of the Islamic World collection.  The collection’s rich assortments of the three components of artistic expression in the Islamic world: architecture, the arts of book making (calligraphy, illustration, illumination, and bookbinding), and the arts of the object (ceramics, metal, glass, and textiles), will bring to life the historical component of our course, and the manuscripts of early Arab philosophers who argued for revolutionary change.  Also, we will visit the American Arab Institute and KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights quarters in Washington D.C. to learn about the efforts of these organizations in supporting the democratic process of the Arab Spring, and in fostering a wider understanding of what is at stake for Arab and Arab-American citizens in the challenging years to come. The trip will end with a traditional Middle Eastern dinner and poetry reading at the famous Lebanese Taverna restaurant.  I am grateful for the Mead Endowment for availing me and my students of this unique opportunity to take our class on the road, in a true Jeffersonian fashion, to learn through cross-cultural exploration and student- teacher non-traditional interaction.

Cost: The cost of the weekly cultural nights (movies + food) is $ 800 at $100 per event to cover food and refreshments for 20 students.  Attending the Arabian Sights Film Festival is $220 at $11 a ticket per student.  We will need $1200 to cover the cost of chartering a bus for the round trip to Washington D.C., and another $800 to cover lunch and the poetry reading dinner at Lebanese Taverna’s restaurant.