This article is an in depth analysis of three public relations (PR) campaigns in the Arab region that promote the slogans of “Hope,”“Life,” and “Optimism.” These PR campaigns are the most visible manifestations of a broader set of social and economic reform programs that have been launched throughout the Arab world during the post-9/11 era. The article argues that all these PR campaigns and the broader reform projects to which they are linked are shaped by a hegemonic culturalist way of thinking about the Arab world, not only in the West but among transnational Arab elites as well. Culturalism is an ideology that sees the world’s population as being divided into discrete and homogeneous “cultures,” which are determinative of individual thought and action, as well as broader social, economic, and political structures and processes. In these PR campaigns and in key policy reform documents such as the Arab Human Development Report and the Alexandria Charter, the problems of the Arab world are construed primarily as matters of culture. The Arab world and the West are constructed in terms of a stereotyped and Orientalist opposition, and solutions to contemporary problems in the region are presented as involving a key set of cultural reforms. Not coincidentally, these cultural reforms both facilitate and legitimate a simultaneous set of neoliberal economic, political, and legal reforms.
The Hope Crusades: Culturalism and Reform in the Arab World
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