The ongoing uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East require that we reassess the national and regional paradigms that still prevail in Maghreb and Mashreq studies. Taking the double anniversaries of Algerian independence and of the Arab uprisings as my starting point, I analyze a transcolonial identification that continues to capture Maghrebi and Mashreqi imaginaries today: the figure of Palestine. Focusing on a 1971 play by the Algerian writer Kateb Yacine and the popular theater troupe Workers’ Cultural Action, Mohamed Take Your Suitcase, I argue that this play co-opts a figure central to Algerian state discourse, Palestine, in popular languages (Algerian Arabic and Berber) and forms in order to effect a double critique. On the one hand, it ridicules the discourse of fraternity deployed by the state, and its exploitation of the memory of the Algerian war and popular solidarity with Palestine. Far from constituting a manifesto for pan-Arab or pan-Islamic solidarity along identitarian lines, Kateb’s play gives shape to a postcolonial imaginary of emancipation that foreshadows ongoing prodemocracy struggles. Yet it also reactivates anticolonial discourse, exposing the persistence of colonial racism in contemporary France, where metaphors of hospitality have effaced the fraught history of (post)colonial immigration. Placing Mohamed Take Your Suitcase in the context of post-1967 Maghrebi and Franco-Maghrebi pro-Palestinian activism, my reading shows that Franco-Algerian as well as Maghreb-Mashreq relations are intricately connected to the question of Palestine, raising the question of the limits and potential of transcolonial politics.
Research Article|September 01 2012
Olivia C. Harrison; Staging Palestine in France-Algeria: Popular Theater and the Politics of Transcolonial Comparison. Social Text 1 September 2012; 30 (3 (112)): 27–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-1597323
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