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Arab Awakening is now North Africa West Asia (NAWA)

The Arab Awakening section on openDemocracy will now be called North Africa West Asia (NAWA) a name that better reflects the scope of our coverage and the diversity of this region.

Since 2011 the Arab Awakening page on openDemocracy has tried to capture the emerging plurality in social views, political positions, economic approaches, social and national identities and frames of reference that the uprisings in the region have inspired - in an attempt to help read a rapidly changing world.

The mass protests that toppled longstanding Arab dictators in 2011 were a sensational moment whose repercussions continue to be felt and acted. A whole generation of people were active, inspired, disappointed, motivated, and continue to struggle for a better present and future. How will this generation meet the myriad socio-economic challenges they face on a daily basis across the region?

The Arab Awakening page was launched to answer some of these questions and to provide a platform for analysis, debate, and expression from and about an ever changing region.

However, Arab Awakening has been a name that provoked many debates among readers, but also within openDemocracy, and on the website itself. 

Both terms ‘Arab’ and ‘Awakening’ can be problematic, especially for a page that covers a region with a large diversity of languages, ethnicities, and peoples, and one that has a long history of political and social movements.

This is why, though it is long overdue, Arab Awakening is changing its name. 

Since its launch the page has evolved to cover issues that pertain to a region that is socially, culturally, linguistically and politically diverse. To speak of an Arab event effaces the various levels of interconnection between different peoples, countries, cultures, and societies that the region in question encompasses and whose fate is increasingly interconnected. 

In this sense, ‘Arab’ excludes the various linguistic, ethnic and cultural identities that constitute the region we are covering: Amazigh, Kurdish, Armenian, Turkish, Persian, to name but a few. 

Furthermore, ‘Awakening’ is also a contentious term. After all, awakening implies a previous slumber, thus an erroneous assumption that these peoples were passive until the wave of protests started in 2010-11. In fact, there is a long history of protest and political action that is erased by the term ‘Awakening’. 

It was not an easy task to find an appropriate name for the page. Should we choose a term that would express a particular theme that the page focuses on? And if so, would this not limit our scope to that particular theme? And if the focus of the page is to give an in-depth coverage of issues pertaining or relating to a particular geographical location, how can we call this location? 

That region that spans from Iran in the east to Mauritania in the west, is often designated by terms carrying a heavy colonial history: Near East, Middle East, the Orient, Middle East, North Africa, etc. We have chosen to underline our choice to break with the colonial terminology, and instead choose a geographical term that is both descriptive and still relatively open. This choice is North Africa, West Asia, or NAWA in short. In Arabic, NAWA is cores, centres, kernels, but it is also to aim at, to intend, and to have a destination. It is a place that we hope will host debates, analysis, and voices that reflect the diversity of this wide region and its peoples.. It also aims to highlight the interconnections, the relations, and the shared struggles between the peoples of this wide and ever changing area. 

About the author

Walid el Houri is a researcher, journalist, and filmmaker living between Berlin and Beirut. He is lead editor of the North Africa West Asia (NAWA) section at openDemocracy, and an affiliated fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin. He completed his PhD in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. His research deals with protest movements and the question of failure in politics.

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