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Arab Spring: Let Freedom Rap

Williams Covington | , Nnpa | 7/12/2012, 3:45 p.m.

Music has always had the power to incite the masses, both in celebratory joy and in conflict.

Examples abound--the walls of Jericho fell as Israel marched around the ancient city following the trumpeters; African warrior Shaka Zulu incited his warriors with praise songs as they sat around the fires before a battle, the French rallied to the song "La Marseillaise" as volunteers marched into Paris to support the French Revolution.

African American spirits were shored up by the refrains of such songs as "We Shall Overcome" during the Civil Rights Movement. Music has always shown the power to aid the overthrow of regimes, and such is the case of the pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring, where repressive governments have been falling almost like dominoes.

Oddly, music from the streets of America's inner city has played a key part in the Islamic revolution. According to Johnny West, author of the book, "Karama! Journeys through the Arab Spring," rap is a double import from the French Arabs who themselves imported it from African Americans in the 1990s. It has various sub-forms. Its anger, however, is framed in an Islamic get-back-to-our-roots sentiment as opposed to the African American rappers who sing about oppression and being robbed of their roots.

As in other countries, the youth of the Middle East and North Africa have been motivated by music in their campaigns for revolution. From the adhans, or a summons for mandatory prayer, recited regularly in mosques to the impromptu songs of the troubadours in places such as Tahrir Square, music has had both a motivational and a unifying effect on those who support the movement of the Arab Spring.

In this modern age, however, there is a need for a musical genre that not only mobilizes activists in the struggle for democracy in those countries, but also unifies the youth living in the Middle East and North Africa with their cultural counterparts living elsewhere in the world, according to Alexandra Dunn, program development officer at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

In particular, she said, the musical genres of rap and its Hip Hop culture encourage activists in the Middle East and North Africa to work towards the pro-democracy movements. Although each artist has their own unique style, they share certain recurring themes, such as solidarity in basic human rights and protests against corrupt regimes.

For example, Khaled M., a rapper and the son of a Libyan dissident, is well known for his single, "Can't Take Our Freedom." Khaled M. utilized the theme of common humanity among the Arab peoples to undermine the Gaddafi regime. He also wrote the song as an open letter from Libyans within and outside the country to the Gaddafi regime, asserting that such a government has no place in the modern world. Another possible factor to Khaled M.'s success in spreading the message of his song is his dual identity.

The Libyans who opposed the Gaddafi regime may have been mobilized and motivated by the song because it resonated so strongly with them. However, it resonated just as powerfully with Libyans who had fled to other countries for various reasons. Even if they had never set foot in Libya, they had the chance to change history in the country that belonged to their ancestors. Arab observers believe the fact that Khaled M. is Libyan-American was cause enough for his works to be accepted and adopted by Libyan communities around the world.