Esther Schoorel | Challenging the State Narrative: Transnational Online Memory Activism After Lebanon’s 2019 ‘October Revolution’

Esther Schoorel | Challenging the State Narrative: Transnational Online Memory Activism After Lebanon’s 2019 ‘October Revolution’ | Amsterdam School for Regional and Transnational Studies (ARTES), University of Amsterdam | Promotor(es); supervisor(s): Dr. Robbert Woltering (UvA) and Dr. Dalia Abdelhady (Lund University) | 01 September 2020 – 01 September 2025 | e.schoorel[at]uva.nl

In the wake of the Arab Uprisings, a vibrant debate among scholars of Middle Eastern Studies emerged about the impact of the digital sphere on political activism in the region. Twitter, Facebook and blogs played a vital role in these uprisings, specifically when it came to organizing protests on the ground and connecting people in- and across societies. Since 2011, the internet has only grown in importance and activists have become increasingly skilled and creative at using digital spaces. This development raises new questions about the ways digital activism affects contentious politics in the Middle East. One underexplored, yet highly salient, type of digital activism is ‘online memory activism’. Memory activists aim at recording contested memories, which would otherwise be denied or erased by authoritarian powers. In this way, they challenge the ways in which contentious episodes are remembered in societies. Moreover, as anyone can narrate history on the internet, online memory activism is highly interactive and dynamic and is not confined to the borders of the nation state.

My projects investigates the phenomenon of online memory activism in the Lebanese context. During and after the so-called ‘October Revolution’ of 2019, a range of new online citizen initiatives emerged, among which several online archives. These archives, although diverse in nature and content, share the common objective of writing what they understood as the true history of events as they unfolded. A history which would otherwise be hidden or misrepresented by the national media and the political elite. Moreover, these initiatives were part of a truly transnational effort as Lebanon’s diasporic communities played an important role in the creation of many of them. By employing a method of digital ethnography, my research will seek to understand if transnational online memory activism facilitates the emergence of an alternative memory discourse that poses a serious challenge to hegemonic narratives of contentious Lebanese politics.