Politics are brimming with metaphoric references to games – be it the famous “Great Game” as the diplomatic confrontation of great powers in Asia at the beginning of the 20th century was referred to, the understanding of strategic moves in a region as a “chess board,” war “theatres” or references to the “players,” the strong of them framed as “actors,” the weak as “pawns”, or the crazy ones behaving like “wild cards.”
In fact, governments like to boast about their political games but get uncomfortable when citizens don’t accept the passive role they have been assigned, and start speaking truth to power by telling jokes in the face of power. Oppressors get particularly dead serious as soon as they are challenged by citizens’ creative resistance and artistic play, well aware of how powerful these tools are for activists in garnering support by exposing their tricks.
This is why we decided to look at where the playful and the serious overlap, where politics seem like games, serving as a show off and at the same time a distraction to keep citizens from engaging in them.
Jorn De Cock details how the Beirut Hippodrome’s horse races are far from an elitist “Ascot of the Middle East,” and after the civil war emerged as a rare common ground for people of the most different confessional and social backgrounds to meet. Mahdi Abdel Jawad from Tunisia delves into childhood memories and games overcoming societal borders.
Dr Danyel Reiche looks into Lebanese politics and major sport events, matched by Salma Belkebir’s take on the public event culture in Morocco and the state policies regarding culture and state decisions on strategically funding it. Lea Baroudi, director of Lebanon’s MARCH organisation illustrates how theatre is a way of overcoming social and political divisions. Similarly, at the Circus School of Bir Zeit, performance provides a social benefit, as detailed by Hazar Azzeh. Football, followed passionately during World Cups and a popular game played by the youth in Palestine, is hampered by political and military means for Palestinian clubs and the national team, as explained by Dr. Yara Hawari. Inga Hofmann shows the rise of the queer and drag scene in Lebanon as a deeply political act, claiming the rights of the communities to be recognized.
Coming to the virtual world, Tanite Chahwan takes us into the gaming scene in Lebanon. Ana Maria Luca analyses the use of computer games as a tool for recruitment for the Lebanese Hezbollah as well as for the so called Islamic State. Finally, Professor Rami el Ali looks into the future, where reality blends with virtual reality; and into the evolving debate in the Arab world on the opportunities, risks and ethical questions this blend will present.
In this sense: ready – steady – go!
Dr Bente Scheller, Bauke Baumann, Dr Bettina Marx, Dr Heike Löschmann