Protest Speech: Analytical Study of the Civil Movement Slogans

19 March, 2018

Nader Srage's book Protest Speech: Analytical Study of the Civil Movement Slogans, published by the ACRPS in March of 2018, comes as part of a wider effort to systematically approach the contemporary transformations in Arabic language. Relying on the case study of the Lebanese civil society movement demanding action on the country's waste disposal crisis (beginning in 2015), the book explores the rhetorical repertoire available in the Arabic language and how the language can be used to express political dissent.

The 368-page looks at how a newly restive public was able to enunciate a new political reality and public realm and promote it through the advancement of its own slogans. The book employs an integrative linguistic approach to the study of the Arabic slogans deployed as part of the protest movement opposed to the failure of the Lebanese government to deal with the refuse problem.

Srage settled on his topic because of his desire to examine the phenomenon of youth protest, which was sparked in Lebanon by an urgent environmental crisis that ravaged the country for two years. The book is rooted by four themes. Firstly, it presents a linguistic study of slogans, bridging the gap between theoretical linguistics and their practical applications. It then turns its attention to the ideology of public protest sites, and the rhetorical and semiotic study of slogans.

In the first section, the author looks at linguistic tools as a key to understanding protest discourse and political communication. Srage studied the slogan as a communicative and rhetorical pattern in crises and moments of social rift, and uses a mix of linguistics and cultural studies as an interpretive rubric for understanding the production of poetic protest rhetoric. He argues that the contents of the popular protest discourse have contributed to an environmental awareness and advanced citizenry in the public.

The author goes on in the next section to provide a detailed timeline of events as they unfolded in Lebanon during the waste management crisis and collects the various slogans and chants that protestors created. He also looks at the persuasive power of slogans in the media. In the third section, Srage provides a more detailed linguistic analysis of the levels of Arabic language used, and the use of populist language and local dialects to amplify the concepts of "I" and "we", reflecting a youthful atmosphere. Srage also delves into the use of graffiti as an alternative, non-textual medium for communication.

Srage then goes on to look at public urban spaces as a source of mobility. He studies the ideological implications of rallying a political audience in a square or field, and the functions of public spaces in public polarization, paying close attention to "loyalist" and "dissident" spaces in the Lebanese context. He delves deeper into rhetorical articulation and semiotics and then the place identity and the social codes conveyed by slogans. The author then looked at the wall built to prevent protestors reaching government buildings, and the comparisons drawn by protestors to Berlin, the West Bank and Fatima Gate. He says, "The comparison of the concrete wall that was created to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the government headquarters to the border wall between Lebanon and Israel is a citizen's expression of sensing the desperate attempt of the ruling authority to stifle public space and expression"

The appendices to the book include a list and description of the most prominent groups active in the Beirut unrest of 2015. The second appendix is a linguistic catalogue of slogans and analytical tables of the slogan formations and artistic contributions selected from the civil society campaign. Finally he attaches images of banners raised in protests and graffiti painted on the walls in the Lebanese capital. 

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