The revolution will be anglicised

One thing that’s struck me about the ‘Arab Spring’ is the amount of English being written and spoken by the people involved.

As I read the English language press and watch English language TV, it’s natural that I am more likely to see a homemade placard with English on it, or watch an interview with, say, an English speaking Egyptian in Tahrir Square or Benghazi. I am sure that even Finnish TV has been able to find a Libyan rebel who can give an account of what’s going in their viewers’ native tongue.

Tunisia aside, it’s clear that English is the language you’re most likely to see written or hear being spoken by the Arabs involved in each side of the current conflicts in the Levant.

When I first came to Dubai, it was a big surprise to find how easy it is for an English speaker to get around the Arab world without knowing much Arabic. You’ll see plenty of signs in English and if people do speak a second language, it’ll generally be English, even if it’s just a few words. I imagine many Western viewers who’ve never been to this part of the world have been surprised by the amount of English on view and being spoken by those involved in the activities of recent months.

It strikes me that this use of English in the placards and graffiti used by demonstrators, as well as the ability of people to speak to Western media in English, has meant the unrest in the region has made much more of a positive impact on how the protestors have been perceived by the rest of the world.

European viewers are used to seeing TV images of ‘angry Arab mobs’ waving banners written in an alien alphabet, or listening to an angry invective in Arabic with a voiceover dispassionately translating what’s being said. These scenes tend to come over very negatively.

This time around we’ve seen images of ‘passionate groups’ waving banners with slogans we understand – often witty ones. The ‘angry Arabic invective’ from a demonstrator has been replaced by a ‘passionate dialogue in English’ with someone protesting for freedom.

This blog is absolutely not the place to discuss the rights and wrongs of the Israel and Palestine situation. However, I have long felt that the Israelis’ ability to field a representative in a nice suit and tie who can explain the situation in clear American or British English has been a major advantage in winning the PR battle. We see unruly youths shouting slogans in Arabic and are then shown a slick representative of officialdom who speaks more on ‘our level’. Who comes across better?

The demonstrations taking place recently have been a reversal of that situation in many ways. A stilted government representative in a shabby suit is filmed speaking uneasily in Arabic, using terms that really only resonate with the people of that country or of the Arab world in general. The camera then cuts to a trendily dressed bloke on the street who explains his side of the story in language that resonates better with those outside the Arab world looking in.

To misquote Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution will be anglicised. If I wanted to crush sedition, this sort of thing is exactly what I’d be doing as well.

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