Team Arab: al-Jazeera and the flagging of everyday Arabism during the 2008 Beijing Olympics

A new academic article published in NAtions and NAtionalism (July 2012), By Christopher Phillips


The linking of living rooms across state borders by al-Jazeera and other pan-Arab satellite television channels has prompted claims that a ‘new Arabism’ that undermines state nationalism is emerging. Until now, analysts have mostly focused on the ‘hot’ Arabism in the news coverage of politicised events such as the Israel–Palestine conflict. This article offers a new dimension by suggesting that as important to satellite television’s construction and reproduction of Arab identity is the everyday discourse found in less overtly political programmes such as sport. To demonstrate this, it offers an analysis of al-Jazeera’s coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics showing how the broadcasts address viewers as a common Arab audience who are simultaneously encouraged to be nationalistic towards their separate nation-states within a given ‘Arab arena’ of states with whom they should primarily compete. This suggests that new Arabism should in fact be considered a ‘supranationalism’, not a revived Arab nationalism as it simultaneously promotes Arab and state identities in tandem. Finally, it aims to expand our understanding of ‘everyday nationalism’ by adapting Michael Billig’s theory and methodology of ‘banal nationalism’ in British newspapers to facilitate the study of sport on supranational Arab identity on satellite television.

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