The State of Labor and Labor for the State: Syrian and Egyptian Cinema beyond the 2011 Uprisings

Article excerpt

On April 8, 2011, swifton the heels of several Arab insurrections and very much in the midst of others, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued an economic assessment of the region. Given the prior "strong overall growth" of countries like Egypt and Tunisia, the or ga ni za tion confessed it had been caught somewhat unawares by this turn of events. Wealth, it admitted, could no longer be judged at averaged- out mathematical face value: "The IMF should have paid more attention to the distribution of income, not just aggregate results ... [it will] begin incorporating more data on unemployment and in e qual ity into its analysis."1 The eyes of leftist observers might roll here; some "told you so's" over the inadequacy and callousness of neoliberal doctrines of accounting would not be unwarranted. But, beyond such easy, reactive rejoinders, the fact remains that work and wealth allocation have strongly affected the contours of each Arab community's commitments to revolutionary change, and will continue to do so. Their diverse responses to "unemployment and in e qual ity," the kinds that have been negligently sidelined within the IMF's factorings, will serve as a starting point for the following argument.

The media industries lie firmly implanted within the lived experience of the uprisings and their provocations. Furthermore, as most commentators observe, the media have proven pivotal to the demands for change, certainly by transmitting recorded incitements to and distributable documents of protest, but also, as I argue here, because as places of work, the media are vigorously shaped by the very same figurings of financial and labor inegality to which the IMF belatedly alert us. A thorough understanding of these relationships, I contest, must tackle the tight po liti cal and economic bonds between the state and the media industries in the Arab world. The fight for fair employment rights (class struggle, ultimately) has long been waged in front of the camera and behind it; revolution is far from an unfamiliar concept in these spaces, although previous definitions may not conform to today's incarnations.

Darting between Syrian and Egyptian history, this article assumes a comparative demeanor in order to highlight, sometimes through jarring juxtaposition, the repercussions of these countries' dissimilar labor policies. More particularly, a to- and- fro between their very different national movie industries allows for a tracing out of the relativity of antigovernmental rebellions. Doing so can also unearth paradigms for circumventing some of the insufferable conditions that prompted them and that the IMF has so damagingly overlooked. I have specifically selected these two nation- states because they once shared a commitment to Arab socialism and now unite in outwardly similar antiautocratic revolution. However, their routes from the former to the latter markedly digress due to divergent choices over economic governance that raise an abundance of questions about, and perhaps even answers to how, "unemployment and in e qual ity" might best be abated. The analysis below concentrates more lingeringly on Syria, precisely because Syria has sought to spurn the types of economic dogma insisted upon by the IMF. My prioritization therefore allows for a prolonged engagement with Syria's conceptualizations of labor, wealth, value, and freedom. Such postulates have much to offer a critique of the capitalist actualities that dominate throughout the world, including in Egypt- a country that has been unsuccessfully attempting to make good through IMF structural adjustment programs since 1991.

There is one fundamental disparity: Egypt's unrest in 2011 sprung dramatically from a groundswell of labor activism; Syria's not so declaredly. Syrians have pitted themselves much more singularly against their entrenched ruling dictatorship. Undoubtedly, as the Western press have euphorically reported (and its humanities academics eagerly absorbed), Egypt's upper middle classes were mobilized via social media like Twitter and Facebook. …