Approaching Creative Expression after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution: Challenges and Possibilities for Current Scholarship

Symposium and Working Group

Saturday June 8 2019
10:30 am to 6:00 pm
New Seminar Room, St. John’s College, University of Oxford

Accounts of Egyptian creative expression written during and immediately after the 2011 revolution primarily captured the profound senses of euphoria, optimism, awe, and novelty that marked this particular extraordinary moment. As these positive sentiments quickly turned into political exhaustion and depression, the need to situate emerging creative expression not only in a current revolutionary moment but in relation to broader historical, cultural, and global conditions became more pressing. The emotional intensity of the last decade and the rapidity of its changing realities pose particular challenges for scholarship of/on the present, however. As only a few examples, Egyptian artists today may be uninterested in discussing politics or the events of the last decade, and many have left Egypt. Some artists and scholars contend that the insistence to analyse contemporary Arab art in relation to the “revolutionary” or “resistant” is a foreign (especially Western) framework imposed from outside, amounting to a “neoliberal orientalism” (Elnozahy 2018; El Zein 2016). There has likewise been some debate as to whether the revolution even began in 2011 or if it has indeed ended, with some preferring to situate it in a larger history of revolt dating back to the 19th century that is still ongoing (Fahmy 2015). Complicating the matter further are particular methodological issues. There remains a dearth of Arabic-language analysis of the contemporary creative arts, and especially those produced and disseminated outside state and other official channels, resulting in part from what Khaled Fahmy has called Egypt’s “crisis in the humanities” (2017). Scholarship is thus often dominated by that produced in/through the Western academy and not by those entrenched in the daily realities of its production and dissemination, which poses certain methodological and analytical limitations (El Khouni, Guessoumi, and Omri 2016).
In sum, forthcoming publications face particular challenges in approaching the contemporary creative arts. The events of the last decade likewise renew questions regarding the role of scholarship in highly politicized environments, and of the Western academy in limiting the discourse to certain types of analysis, methodologies, and critique. This symposium broadly asks: How can scholars best approach contemporary creative expression in Egypt in light of these issues, and especially now that some of the previous utopian “dust” of the Egyptian revolution has settled?  
This one-day interdisciplinary symposium serves as a starting point for a sustained working group that fosters critical discussion on approaching creative expression in contemporary Egypt. It includes scholars from a variety of disciplines who are currently working on substantial (book-length) publications that focus on creative expression in Egypt during the last decade. It seeks to foster long-term engagement through: (1) forming a network for exchanging publication drafts and sharing resources/sources, and (2) serving as a starting point for a larger multi-day event held at Oxford in 2020 that facilitates dialogue and collaboration among scholars, artists, activists, and cultural organizers working in the region.
The event is free and open to the public. Lunch and coffee/refreshments will be served.
Dr. Mona Abaza, American University in Cairo
Dr. Yakein Abdelmagid, University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Walter Armbrust, University of Oxford
Dr. Nesreen Hussein, Middlesex University
Dr. Yasmin Moll, University of Michigan
Dr. Laudan Nooshin, City, University of London
Dr. Mohamed-Salah Omri, University of Oxford
Dr. Nicola Pratt, University of Warwick
Dr. Dina Rezk, University of Reading
Dr. Ali Souleman, University of Oxford
Dr. Darci Sprengel, University of Oxford

Sponsored by the Faculty of Oriental Studies, the Middle East Centre, and the Faculty of Music. For further information contact Darci Sprengel on