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What do we need to know about the MENA region today?

Maymanah Farhat
1 June 2011

When initially presented with the task of summing up the nearly two-dozen nations that are lumped together under this peculiar acronym, my immediate impulse was to emphasize that it is impossible to describe such a vast region in less than 200 words. Even the few commonalities that do exist among these modern states are not so easily compartmentalized. The era of colonialism, the Arabic language, the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – each narrative is significant and synonymous with the region, but what then of the legacy of the Umayyad Empire, Farsi, and lesser-known but equally important religious communities such as the Druze? Essentially, the list of possible details is endless. With the existence of continuous civilization for millennia, what basic information can possibly do justice to such histories?

As I write this, North Africa and the Middle East are amidst revolution, steeped in the pursuit of finally breaking free from the autocrats who will become just that – history. Perhaps what can be said about MENA is that culture has been essential to these long-simmering struggles. Artists, intellectuals, literary figures and cultural practitioners have all actively pursued the free societies that their nations are now so close to collectively obtaining.

Maymanah Farhat

is an art historian specialising in modern and contemporary Arab art. She is based in New York.

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A platform is a space for speaking in public. It is an opportunity to express ideas and thoughts. It also suggests the formal declaration of a stance or position on any given subject.

Unique to Ibraaz is a 'platform', a question put to writers, thinkers and artists about an issue relevant to the MENA region. This platform is sent to respondents both within and beyond the MENA region and contributions will be archived every 12 months.