Written by Sneha Nair
Design by Yashasv Saluja
Both old and new Media have always played an interesting role in toppling authoritarian regimes. With the rise of Liberalism in MENA, Arab citizens are now advocating a culture of equity, tolerance, good governance, and the rule of law, as they work through some of the region’s largest media outlets to spread their ideals within the culture.
MENA is an acronym for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The region is typically considered to include around 19 countries, but the definition can be stretched
to include up to 24 .
The MENA was founded on 15 December 1955 as a joint stock company owned by
Egyptian press establishments. It accounts for approximately 6% of the world's population.
The region received global attention in 2011 when some of the dictatorships in these countries were overthrown in an event called
The Arab Spring.
The history of modern media in the Middle East and North Africa goes back to the early
19th century with the publication of the first Arabic newspaper in Egypt (Ayalon, 1995).
But it was really in the post-independence era of the 1960s and 1970s that mass communications came to witness their most significant developments. By the mid-1970s, all MENA countries had some form of broadcasting operations carrying a range of “developmental‟ messages that catered to all sectors of society.
Saudi Arabia allowed cinemas to reopen in 2018 after a 35-year ban. Before that,
Saudis escaped to nearby Bahrain or Dubai to go to theaters
Arab Cinema on the other hand is rooted in the crossroads of culture of the region, extending as it does between Europe and Black Africa, between the Atlantic and the Arabian Gulf, but also between a colonial past and a relatively independent present.
Unlike Western Perception, the Middle East has always dominated the industry when it comes to women representation dating back to the 1920s and 30s. Women in the Middle East have historically been active in many fields from newspaper publishing in the early 20th century to banking and politics today, but their role has often been overlooked.
During the age of silent film and with the emergence of film as a new art form, several Arab women began creating their own films. In fact, the absence of women in filmmaking meant that Arab women often started their careers by assuming every role in their projects: writing, directing, producing, and starring.
The period between the 1940s and the 1960s was 'the golden age' of Egyptian cinema-
a period of
growth, innovation, and popularity.
From the turn of the millennium onwards, Arab cinema had already been enjoying an artistic renaissance thanks both to new technology helping to reduce production costs, and the rise of the Gulf Film Festivals – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha – that presented the emerging filmmakers with a new well of money and co-production opportunities.
But these countries still faced censorship when it came to addressing certain subjects.
This would change in the aftermath of one of Egypt's biggest Revolutions.
The Rise of the Arab Springs
When the Egyptian revolution erupted in January 2011, there were many Egyptians in Tahrir Square who had never heard of Facebook before. The same could be said about other Arab countries.
But the 2019-2020 index revealed a significant jump in the reliance on the internet, which reached 73 percent of total respondents. The results show a continuing, statistically significant increase in internet penetration in the Arab region
over the last nine years.
If satellite television represented the first phase of the digital media revolution in the Middle East and North Africa, the Web has marked the new phase of that revolution. Post the 2011 Arab Spring Revolution, A wave of high-spirited, hastily-made fiction and non-fiction films were made to capitalise on the popularity of the revolutions.
Normal! (2011) by veteran filmmaker
Merzak Allouache was the only movie that tackled the insurgency, which had a weak influence and didn't crystalize into a
full-blown movement until 2019.
a handful of pictures –
My Makhzen and Me (2012);
They Are the Dogs (2013) – alluded to the sweeping force of the Arab Spring that, nonetheless, never managed to land a blow in Morocco itself.
The Reluctant Revolutionary (2012),
The Mulberry House (2013), and
The Rise of the Houthis (2015)
This indicates that despite their politicization during and after the Arab Spring uprisings,
the primary motive behind the popularity of social media remains to build social networking and maintaining connections
Since the Arab Spring, Mass media have been tools of social change, privileging news and political conflict. This picture of mass media behavior is crucial but incomplete.
A decade after the Arab Spring has seen significant changes in MENA, with some countries enjoying a more liberal media, and others facing harsher censorship. Significantly, 35 percent of the respondents in the AOI survey rely on the internet for political news, which is a sevenfold increase since 2011 as reliance on television decreased over the same period.
In Tunisia, the relapse of the calls for democratization gave birth to a highly fragmented, polarized, and stifled media landscape under authoritarian rule.
Years of war have damaged Syria’s television studios and Baghdad’s publishers. An economic collapse has left Lebanon’s art-house cinemas struggling to keep the lights on.
Egypt’s film industry, which made the country’s dialect the most widely understood Arabic, has been in artistic decline for years, and its TV shows have been hijacked by the country’s intelligence services to promote pro-government themes.
Through this, Saudi has been able to shine through with its new ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, building an entertainment industry to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Saudis are tapping their country’s oil wealth to fund homegrown productions, sponsor Saudi filmmakers to study abroad, and establish domestic training schools, soundstages, and studios.
Revenue is expected to grow by 4% CAGR to $1bn in MENA between 2019 and 2024, compared with a 2.4% decline worldwide. This is mainly due to Saudi Arabia lifting its cinema ban in 2018, which has created a sizable new market. (PwC)
Four Arabian Gulf countries are among the Top 10-ranked countries in the world in terms of the share of premium cinema screens in 2021, according to a research report by Omedia, a global consultancy, that shows the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) ranked fourth, followed by the UAE in the sixth position while Kuwait and Oman secured the eighth and 10th positions, respectively.
The Opportunities in the Media Industry of MENA are Immense.
In this new atmosphere of increased freedom and competition, Dubai has been making strenuous efforts to become the main media center for the Middle East through the Dubai Media City project.
The cinematic growth in the Middle East is spurred on by the organic development of a new market, explosion of investment, and box-office takings. Arab cinema has been largely reliant on festival exposure until now, but things are changing now in the distribution system.
Media has been at the forefront of revolution in MENA, and recent trends clearly signify a large audience, global opportunities, and untapped resources.