Academic journal article Global Media Journal

The Arab Spring and the U.S. Response: American and Middle Eastern Students Speak Out

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

The Arab Spring and the U.S. Response: American and Middle Eastern Students Speak Out

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The "Arab Spring" galvanized global media attention on political upheaval in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Observers around the world felt the rising tension and tumult of change, especially among the young people of the region, and yet the gulf between cultures continues to threaten understanding and peace. In an era when social networking rivals TV news coverage and when mobile text messages substitute for interpersonal channels of communication, the views held by U.S. and Middle Eastern college students can either unite or divide the cultures. In order to understand how young people view media and current events that frame the conflict, this study uses survey data as a comparative indicator of the level of conflict between students of MENA and the United States. This study examines communication activities and political views on college campuses in Doha, Qatar, Dubai, and Cairo, Egypt, and in Peoria, Illinois and Lafayette, Louisiana. The results show a higher level of engagement in news and public affairs among Middle Eastern students and a contrast in opinion regarding political issues and events.

Keywords: Arab Spring, American Students, Middle Eastern Students, Social Media, Political Opinion

INTRODUCTION

This study is based on the observation that ongoing unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region involving threats of terrorism raise important communication issues worthy of continuing investigation. Understanding issues concerning media uses, political views, and cross-cultural attitudes among American and Middle Eastern young people are part of the solution. This comparative study examines key issues from the special vantage point of college students of both regions informed by their online participation on college campuses. Viewpoints expressed by these undergraduate students in Louisiana and Illinois are compared with students in Dubai, UAE, Cairo, Egypt, and Doha, Qatar during the recent season of Arab uprisings. Support for this research came in part from a grant through the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) first articulated by the U.S. State Department in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and this paper was researched and written with support from this government sponsored program.

New Generation, New Media

College students, whether living in the Middle East or United States typically have a high need for orientation or NFO. This NFO is provoked when young people confront issues and ideas of personal relevance and uncertainty to their understanding of the political world around them, including regional news coverage that involves acts of terrorism. Perhaps what is leading contemporary college students to diverge in their multitasking use of traditional and new media and the manner in which their channels shape personal views of important events? New media traits of convergence, ubiquity, interactivity, and transferability are considered important in intercultural communication habits in the context of young people's lives, especially in terms of global news events.

In gauging political news awareness, Weinstock and Boudreau (2006) interviewed 429 American college students and discovered only 19% actually went online to search for news about the War in Iraq despite the fact that an overwhelming majority considered such news to be of high interest. Compare that level of student activity to the response received by Hussein and Hassanien (2006) at the American University in Cairo, where two-thirds of the students polled were searching online to find news about the War in Iraq. The AUC students preferred the Internet not only to find news of the war, but also to discuss it with others, sign petitions, and offer prayers for its resolution (Hussein & Hassanien, p. 263).

The reliance of a young person's particular media choices and personal orientation suggests other cultural differences between Middle Eastern and Western students. …

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