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Cyber-Orientalisms and the Counterpublic Record: Arabic Digital Archives of Sexual Rights after the 2011 Uprisings

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This dissertation critically investigates the literary and artistic production that shapes and is shaped by the global movement for sexual rights throughout its iterations in the Arabic language across Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA). I argue that the digital magazine produced by sexual rights activists in the wake of the 2011 popular uprisings was expressly concerned with what it means to be “Arab” and fall outside of heteronormative society. These magazines function as nerve centers for queer Arabic counterpublics, and their digital nature facilitates transnational networks across precarious conduits while leaving traces of a counter-archive in cyberspace. This archive ultimately documents a historical moment of the coming together of three processes wherein contemporary forms of sexual knowledge, Arabness, and cybernetics mutually constitute each other. Following a brief introduction to the project’s historical and critical framework, the first chapter interrogates the development of an Arabic vocabulary of gender and sexuality in translation by situating the term queer (kwīr) and its variants as a concept that not only travels from the Western sexual rights milieu, but across heterogenous geopolitical contexts of SWANA and within “Arabic” itself. By looking at counterpublic approaches to translating terminology, including Lebanon Support’s bilingual Qāmūs al-Jindir and Nisreen Mazzawi’s criticism of queer theory, the chapter elaborates the networked debate around forming a lexicon. Chapter Two builds on the Arabization of queerness and vice versa by investigating the production and circulation of a queer turāth. The chapter focuses on surveys of literature and historical figure profiles to examine counterpublic conceptions of Arabo-Islamic history and their attempts to recuperate or contrive a gay or lesbian subject. The chapter elaborates how sexual nonconformity is Arabized through the figure of literary heritage, resulting in a political tool that simultaneously authenticates the intersections of Arabness and queerness while diminishing the scope of both sexuality and heritage. The final chapter turns to examine the space of circulation for the digital kwīr magazine as a realm where the distinction between physical and cyberspace is blurred. The chapter specifically takes up the concept of data privacy in Morocco, Syria, and Egypt, to understand how the digital magazine navigates cyberspace both as a facilitator of counterpublic networks and as evidence of violating codified sexual norms. In highlighting the porous nature of physical and cyberspace, the chapter reveals how state power and dissident networks virtually coexist and shape each other. By taking as its focal point the Arabic digital magazine in a wider movement for sexual rights, this study sheds light on how Orientalism continues to shape ostensibly new media forms that only appear to be dislodged from geopolitics, calling for a reconsideration of current models for archival and digital literary analysis.

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This item is under embargo until December 5, 2024.