Drawing attention to the impact of the Arab revolts on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Socotra, NYUAD Assistant Professor of Arab Crossroads Studies Nathalie Peutz's article in the Middle East Report discusses the transformative nature of the Arab Spring on these Yemeni islands, located in what Peutz considers "one of the most far-flung and 'peripheral' regions of the Arab world."
As Peutz — a cultural anthropologist — said, "Looking at the Arab revolts both from and within Socotra gives us greater information on just how transformative these events have been — not only in terms of political change on a national level, but also in terms of various marginalized peoples' realization and expression of their human dignity. In Socotra, moreover, much of this political expression has been accompanied by urgent calls for a 'cultural revolution' — one in which Socotran culture, heritage, and especially the Suqutri language gain greater prominence."
Where political discontent long found expression in ruminations on a pastoral past, today it is articulated in contending verses on the prospects for Socotran sovereignty.
Part of the Middle East Report's Summer 2012 issue, which examines the cultural politics that have emerged in the wake of the uprisings, Peutz's article cites Socotra's five-day poetry festival — the island's largest cultural event of the year — to demonstrate how revolutionary notions of heritage can be. Indeed, the most recent festival "featured poem after poem, in the islanders' native Suqutri tongue, reflecting on the Arab revolts, the turmoil on the mainland and the fate of the archipelago," she wrote. "Where political discontent long found expression in ruminations on a pastoral past, today it is articulated in contending verses on the prospects for Socotran sovereignty."
Peutz, who first visited Socotra in 2003 and conducted ethnographic fieldwork there from 2004 to 2006, was drawn to the archipelago because "it seemed so 'remote' and distant from mainland Yemen, where I had been studying Arabic, but yet was also in the process of being nominated as a natural World Heritage Site [which it became in 2008]," she explained. "I was interested in the environmental politics behind this nomination (and the integrated conservation and development project that spearheaded it), but started working more on the cultural politics of heritage that animated the Socotrans I knew." Peutz is currently completing a manuscript on the politics of heritage, conservation, and development in Socotra.
The Middle East Report is a publication of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), which provides critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles, and the implications of US and international policy for the region.