- Fridays of Rage: Al Jazeera, the Arab Spring, and Political Islam by Sam Cherribi
Oxford University Press, 2017. 336 Pages https://global.oup.com/academic/product/fridays-of-rage-9780199337385?cc=us&lang=en&
Sam Cherribi's Fridays of Rage tells us a story of the Arab Spring from an unusual perspective. Its analysis puts Qatari satellite network Al Jazeera at the center, situating both the network and the Arab Spring in a larger historical context. At its core, the book is about the role of Al Jazeera in shaping political discourse in the Middle East. The central claim of the book is that the symbolic power that Al Jazeera has built up since its creation has allowed the network to have a significant impact on political discourse—and through this, on political change—in the Middle East. Cherribi argues that Al Jazeera's primary impact has been to empower the oppressed of the Arab world by providing them with an alternative to secular Westernized governments: a political Islam that liberates Arabs from their oppressors, both domestic and foreign, while it unifies them. However, at the same time, Cherribi argues that Al Jazeera has used these revolutions both to enhance its own symbolic power and to push for its own brand of political Islam—one that has reconciled its differences with civil society—across the Arab world.
Fridays of Rage is divided into two parts: the first explores Al Jazeera's contributions to unifying discourses in the Arab world, and the second its contributions to dividing discourses. Cherribi's analysis is based on an extensive content analysis of Al Jazeera's programming, targeting both influential shows—with a special emphasis on those of mufti al-Qaradawi—and coverage around pivotal events, issues, and actors.
The first part of the book examines the symbolic world that Al Jazeera has created for its Arab publics. Cherribi argues that central to Al Jazeera's symbolic world is the idea of oppression, and that the Arab world is oppressed by both secular Arab and Western governments. Al Jazeera used this theme of shared oppression to develop a new pan-Arabism was based around both Islam and democratization. This symbolic world, combined with Al Jazeera's presentation of itself as a neutral platform offering "the opinion and the other opinion," enables the network to wield tremendous symbolic power. This has allowed Al Jazeera to cultivate a "habitus of the oppressed" in its Arab publics, providing them with a source of unity based around shared oppression and religion.
During the Arab Spring, Cherribi argued that Al Jazeera made a crucial contribution to revolutionary success in Tunisia and Egypt: it incorporated the raw images and stories gathered on social media into its powerful oppression frame, enhancing the unity of opponents of secular regimes and providing a compelling narrative for revolutionaries. Al Jazeera thus enabled the movements that toppled Ben Ali and Mubarak, but also impacted how the revolutions developed. In particular, Al Jazeera's commitment to an explicitly Islamic pan-Arabism—promoted primarily by al-Qaradawi, whose shows were a powerful source of Al Jazeera's religious legitimacy—empowered Islamic parties in both places.
The second half of the book explains how Al Jazeera's frames contributed to divisions in the Middle East and the world. In particular, Al Jazeera's commitment to political Islam exacerbated political polarization between Islamists and their opponents in Egypt, and its competition with Saudi Arabia for religious authority contributed to rising tensions in the Middle East. Globally, Al Jazeera's coverage of Western critiques of Islam—such as the banning of the veil in France—encouraged and legitimated rage against the West, driving a wedge between Arab Muslims and the Western world.
The biggest strength of Fridays of Rage is its rich empirical analysis. Cherribi paints a clear and detailed picture of Al Jazeera's symbolic world through his indepth discussion of compelling examples that illustrate the concrete ways in which Al Jazeera constructed this world through its coverage of events in Gaza, Egypt, Tunisia, and Europe. His analysis of the ways in...