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

Pryle Behrman
1 June 2011

In an email dialogue between Beirut-based architect Tony Chakar and critic Stephen Wright (published in the catalogue for Out of Beirut at Modern Art Oxford in 2006), Chakar takes Wright to task for his habitual use of the label 'Middle East':

'The more I thought about it the more it didn't make any sense. What does it mean that I'm from the "Middle East"? ... In fact, the region itself doesn't exist. We might talk about it as much as you want but it's still not there... Do you think I might be able to understand what it means to live under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship or to be "liberated" by the Americans? Or would I be able to understand what it means to be living under the constant threat of being "transferred" from Ramallah to Jordan? Or would I be able to understand what it means to live in a megalopolis of 20 million people like Cairo?'

The anti-government protests that have swept the MENA region at the time of writing (March 2011) suggest to me that, contrary to Chakar's assertion, there is indeed a shared sense of identity across the area. However the different ways that events have unfolded in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya show the sagacity of his belief that local differences remain crucially important as well.

Pryle Behrman

is the Reviews Editor of The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ).

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