No political freedom in the Arab world? Blame diglossia.

Before we encountered technical difficulties over the weekend, I'd been planning to link to this article in the Al Ahram Weekly about Egyptian psychoanalyst Moustapha Safouan's book "Why Are the Arabs Not Free? The Politics of Writing," recently translated into English. Safouan argues that diglossia--the difference between the Classical Arabic used in literature and formal discourse and the Colloquial Arabic actually spoken by all Arabs--is a factor in the lack of democracy in the Middle East, since public discourse is linguistically off-limits to those who only speak the dialect. 

It's an interesting theory, although of course other non-linguistic factors must be considered in an analysis of authoritarianism (also, Egypt's modern rulers have often purposely spoken in very colloquial ways, starting with Nasser). It reminds me of my sense that Bourdieu's "Language and Symbolic Power"--whose thesis, to simplify scandalously, is that societies assign value to a certain correct/educated/literary language whose command is then limited to an elite that uses it to intimidate and exclude the rest--is very relevant the Arab world.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.