Elias Khoury on Looking at the Arab Spring Through the Eyes of Children

Mohga Hassib, who recently interviewed Elias Khoury for ArabLit, also attended his talk at the American University in Cairo. At the talk, he spoke about the value of seeing things afresh, through children’s eyes:

By Mohga Hassib

Elias Khoury, Lebanese literary genius and critic, discussed the notion of children in art as a tool to reflect the “profound crisis” that our society has reached and to re-see the world through their eyes.

Speaking at a lecture at the American University in Cairo on Sep. 17 under the title of “Towards an Intellectual-Ethical Code in the Time of the Arab Revolutions,” Khoury decided to conduct the lecture in Arabic because it is “more decent to speak about the Arabic revolution in the language of the Arabic revolution.”

Khoury’s used the idea of children’s innocence being violated as a link to the Arab Spring is to make us look at the world from a fresh standpoint.

Khoury commenced his lecture by talking about the role of children in the state. He mentioned the image of Iranian Cinema and the revolutionary stance taken by filmmakers as the ones who ousted the authoritarian regime. In analyzing the film “Where Is My Friend’s House” (1987), the traditional reading harks back to the symbolic meaning of the dictatorial regime, while the general reading of it points to witnessing a reality that could not be found except through the eyes of children. Rediscovering a universe using the eyes of a child also carries the weight of fierceness.

He went on to say life opens up in the eyes of a child who tries to discover a world without masks and free from a dominating discourse. But it’s also an expression of the political, cultural and social representations that reached their peak.

Khoury further discussed how children occupied the political scene in 1986-1987 during the intifada of the children of the stones. It took place four years after the Shatila Camp violations in 1982.

The Palestinian children caused an upheaval by throwing their stones. “It is not the responsibility of the children, but a natural development when the Palestenian officials fail to take political stance,” Khoury said.

He added that “[Palestine] is an exiled society because it is denied its existence.” Its existence is denied and its name is erased, which is what caused its exile. Negation became exile, and in the midst of an obstruction of politics and intellect the “Children of the Stones” intifada was born. The children formulated a cinematic vision that is in search for the language of speech.

He moved on to discuss the power of the marginalized and minorities who led to the ousting of rulers in 2011 and 2012. The Bahranian and Syrian coup from marginalization without leadership was unanticipated.   In Tunisia, it was the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi , and in Egypt it was the death of Khaled Said “until we became all Khaled Said … until the infection spread to the neighboring countries,” said Khoury.

He mentioned that the surprise of the success of this explosion needs to be examined with new tools. “It was a revolution to restore dignity” a dignity that was lost along with its identity in the age of globalization that “erased all values”.

Khoury later mentioned the military institutions obliterated the state at the expense of the regime. The structure of the dictatorship marginalized the military for the sake of rule by inheritance. He added that the struggle continues after the removal of the dictator or the winning of President Morsi.

The Syrian nation protested for the sake of its children who revolted against the system, and its children write on the walls “the people want the removal of the regime”. The children’s acts carry a humanitarian weight, but we cannot call it a children’s revolution.

He later spoke about how each country adopts a different approach for its dictator, and how the Arab nations have a unified goal. “The revolution lead the Arabs to discover their unity and difference. And that they need awareness on the meaning of democracy.”

Resistance culture was further addressed by Khoury. He calls it the “magic word of conspiracy” and that there is “no conspiracy except for its promoters”. He further said that the Islamists’ rise to power is not a conspiracy, the neo-liberal approach is not a conspiracy with the west and that charity works are a vision for development and social justice.

“The biggest challenge that faces the Arab revolution is the ethical challenge … and fill the vacuum created by tyranny.” But this does not mean the total exclusion of religion. Khoury urged that the civil society frees its mind from the fanaticism and get rid of the dominance of planners and activists.

Thus, Khoury closed his lecture stating: “Religion is for God, and the Homeland is for all.”  This lecture is one of the series of lectures titled “Aesthetics and Politics: Counter-Narratives, New Publics, and the Role of Dissent in the Arab World” which will take place at the American University in Cairo from Sep. 16-27.