Review: Demanding Dignity – Young Voices From the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions

I remember in early 2011 sitting here in California, reading through Twitter updates about all the protests going on in Egypt. When Hosni Mubarak was ousted on February 11th, I was in awe that I was a witness to a an event like that, albeit a witness from halfway across the world. I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like to be there and be part of the movement that made it all possible.

In the latest addition to the I Speak for Myself series published by White Cloud Press, Demanding Dignity – Young Voices From the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions captures the struggles that many went through while on these front lines during the tumultuous period known as the Arab Spring, which included aforementioned protests in Egypt. The narratives go beyond Tahrir Square though. Editors Maytha Alhassen and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin included representation from countries like Yemen, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, and even Morocco. 

There are tales of narrowly missed gunshots, of teargas, abductions, and torture, stories of people defying their governments to stand up for what is right. The craziest thing  about these stories? These narratives aren’t written by spies, secret agents, what have you. They are citizens and they toppled governments.

However, as the reader notes the dates in some of these stories, it’s quite evident that once there is a change in regime, work still needs to be done. Bringing down an oppressive ruler is merely the first step. But, as Yasmin Haloui writes in her essay about Yemen in A Journey to Activism: “The revolution had transformed a nation from silent observers and objects of oppression into active subjects of change.”

One notable detail from these stories is the role social media played in these revolutions. A few of the writers would gather and mobilize based on information received through Facebook or Twitter, for example. One of the other writers would live tweet speeches and events, gaining many followers who wanted to find out what was going on. One of the girls would upload video commentary/rants on YouTube. The internet played a huge part in the Arab Spring, making one wonder if all this would have been possible, at this rate at least, without these tools. I knew that social media played a part but until I read these essays I honestly didn’t realize the full extent of the reach and influence of this media.

There are a couple of essays though that feel like they don’t quite belong to this collection, however. For example, the narrative written by the boy in Palestine about bringing a Model UN to his school felt out of place, especially since he wrote of watching what was going on in Egypt in the news and on the internet, which does not exactly constitute as being on the front lines. The sentiment is there though, that what was going on in many of these countries was inspiring to those who could only hope for it one day in their own homeland. 

Other than that, Demanding Dignity – Young Voices From the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions is definitely a necessary addition to the I Speak for Myself series. This set of essays enlightens the reader with first person narratives of a momentous period of time. Many of us weren’t there and beyond reading articles here and there, can’t really know what it was like to be part of the Arab Spring. This is our chance to read and be inspired.

7 thoughts

  1. Without reading the above – grrrr LOL, I’m still reading the previous book in the series (you’re too fast :p ) – and haven’t been able to read it since I’m away from home, but I”ll be back once I’ve read both.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I take public transportation to work so I have time to read going to and from work :) Thanks for stopping by at least!

  2. Oh my gosh, Sr. Bushra – I’m soooooo sorry, I thought I was commenting on another blog, where there was a review of the previous book – as I got the link to this post from that blog author – my apologies!!! But now just realized this was not her blog of course :)

    Nonetheless, I will come back to read this as I said above.

    Again, so very sorry, wasn’t being careful :(

  3. Salaam Sr. Bushra! I’m back lol. Finally finished the book (just in the last few minutes).

    In general I thoroughly enjoyed reading it…it felt so amazing to read about events that we witnessed to an extent, albeit through Al Jazeera’s live feed or those many tweets, etc. I think that is what gave reading this book that extra umph or excitement, for me at least.

    As you said, it was great to get further insight into how much social media played in connecting people and getting the word out to those of us in the West, sitting on our couches or with our faces glued to our computer screens.

    I especially appreciated the contribution from Adel Abdel Ghafar, with his stories of getting supplies into Libya and that feeling of connection between Egypt’s recent triumph (of at least ousting Mubarak) and the ongoing conflict in Libya…felt a bit more connected to his story since I’m in the medical field myself.

    Further, another essay that really hit me was Atiaf Alwazir’s account of the conflict in Yemen and the tasks that she was able to do, despite the gore and suffering she saw before her eyes.

    And omA, I totally agree, the essay from the young Palestinian boy did seem out of place, though of course, I did appreciate hearing his point of view.

    But overall, a great job by Ahmed and Maytha in putting this together and from the further details they provided in the Afterword, we can see how much went into arranging the contributors and how dangerous it could have been for some who ended up not contributing in the end.

    Anyways, great review. I hope those of haven’t read it yet put it on their list soon. Definitely a great book to have as a piece of contemporary history in our home libraries.

    1. Salaam, thanks for coming back and posting your thoughts on the book! Glad you liked it and funny you agreed with me about that one particular essay :)

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