Panel 11

Panel 11: Arts and Literature: Diaries and Performance of the MENA Uprisings
Rebekah Maggor

Title: “These People Need a Doomsday to Bring Them Down”: The Revolution in Contemporary Egyptian Theatre

Abstract: The occupation of Tahrir Square in 2011 unleashed a surge of creative energy among Egyptian theatre artists. During the first waves of protest, they rallied at the heart of the demonstrations and improvised sardonic sketches about the failure of the Mubarak regime. After Mubarak’s resignation, theatre artists directed their satirical ire at the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and private corporate interests. In returning to their rehearsal halls and stages, they wrote more formal and introspective plays that engaged with the successes and disappointments of the revolutionary movement. This paper will discuss the wave of new theatre and performance as a lens onto the radically democratic political imagination of the revolutionaries. It will provide an unmediated and mostly uncensored perspective on the events from the viewpoint of ordinary participants. The performances and dramas discussed explore themes such as the role of the military in economic life, the voice of women beyond the protests, the failure of the left-wing and liberal movements in the face of immensely resilient power structures, and connections between the protest movement in Egypt and events happening outside the Middle East.

Bio: Rebekah Maggor is a theatre director, translator, performer and scholar. She is co-editor of the forthcoming anthologyTahrir Plays and Performance Texts from the Egyptian Revolution (Seagull Books/ University of Chicago Press). She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Theatre Communications Group, the Fulbright Middle East and North Africa Regional Research Program, and the Doris Duke Foundation. Maggor has taught at Vanderbilt University, and Rowan University (Department of Theatre and Dance). She is currently an affiliated scholar at the Warren Centre at Harvard University and will join the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University as Assistant Professor in 2016.

Safaneh Mohaghegh Neyshabouri

Title: Life Writing as a Democratic Force in Iran

Abstract: Have Iranian women been effectively silenced since the election protests of 2009? Prior to the controversial elections that were followed by a nationwide clamp down on opposition movements and human rights activists, women’s right activism in post-1979 revolution Iran had begun to flourish. After a landmark demonstration in Haft-e-Tir Square on June 12, 2005 which in turn gave rise to the “One Million Signatures” campaign, by 2009 women activists had enlisted the participation of a diverse array of women from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and were thus considered a prominent force as part of the reformist opposition movement (AKA the Green Movement). But the fallout from the election is deemed by many to have largely silenced the women’s movement along with other opposition forces, with some calling for new strategies to pursue women’s issues in the new environment. I argue that life writing by Iranian women outside and inside Iran has been a primary outlet for this pursuit that subverts the state’s attempts at suppressing women’s voice. In 1990 Iranian- American scholar, Farzaneh Milani observed how in Iranian culture, with its strong Sufi traditions that prohibits self-celebration, writing an autobiography was traditionally considered immodest. For women who were expected to be silent and patient, writing and autobiography was especially considered a shameless act of revealing the private (“Veiled Voices: Women’s Autobiographies in Iran” 1-16). In this sense I argue that life writing as a genre is a democratic force that provides an alternative to official narratives of the state about contemporary history. Thus the case of Iranian women demonstrates how life writing as a genre, can be literature with a political pull, albeit sometimes in subtle ways.

Bio: Safaneh Mohaghegh Neyshabouri is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. She is a published translator; an associate editor at the Parsagon Review; and a recipient of the Houtan Foundation scholarship. Her dissertation focuses on the life writing of Iranian women as a socio-political force. She received her Master’s degree in English Language and Literature from Iran. Her research interests include life writing studies, women and gender studies and Middle Eastern studies.