The Politics of Arab Pop: Arab Pop Music, Popular Culture, and Gender Norms in Lebanon

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Saleh, Lena




On October 17, 2019, thousands of Lebanese flooded the streets to protest governmental corruption. Soon after, issues of gender inequality were added to the list of grievances and women began leading marches to oppose the socio-political and economic burdens faced by women. Rage quickly consumed the whole of Lebanon, including - perhaps surprisingly - many of the country's biggest pop music stars. They marched in the streets, sung nationalistic songs, and participated in the feminized re-writing of the national anthem. Using the case of pop music in Lebanon, this dissertation examines how forms of popular culture intersect with gender politics. More specifically, I argue that pop music is deeply connected to politics and that many pop music celebrities actively work to promote changes in (and awareness of) gender and sexuality norms in Lebanon. I also problematize cases where artists' actions actually reinforce and reproduce restrictive gender norms. In making these claims, however, I endeavour to remain mindful of the socio-political realities of the Lebanese context that work to impede efforts to promote and secure gender-based reforms. I am also attentive to my own heritage as a student researcher of Lebanese descent and reflect on how this 'insider' identity has come to shape my work. To guide my analysis, I rely on the insights of (feminist) intersectionality and highlight the need for nuanced understandings of power and agency. Given the seriousness of Lebanon's current political and economic crisis, I also discuss how popular music celebrities have been eager participants in the 'Lebanese Revolution' since its outset. Finally, I discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut Port explosion, arguing that some pop stars' social media posts work to reproduce harmful gendered discourses, while others worked to give voice to the feelings of frustrated Lebanese desperately seeking accountability from their government.


Political Science




Carleton University

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Political Science

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Theses and Dissertations

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