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The Arab Street: Tracking a Political Metaphor

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Understanding Arab public opinion is central to the search for sustainable political solutions in the Middle East. The way Westerners think about Arab public opinion may be affected by how it is referred to in their news media. Here, we show that Arab public opinion is rarely referred to as such in the US media. Instead, it is usually referred to as the Arab street, a metaphor that casts Arab public opinion as irrational and volatile. We trace the origins of this metaphor to similar expressions in both English and Arabic, and note similarities and important differences between the English and Arabic usages. Ultimately, we argue that the Arab street metaphor misrepresents the Arab public, and invites dismissal of rather than engagement with Arab public opinion.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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