Narrating Social Change in the Arab World – The Outpost, A Magazine of Possibilities

The Middle East has dominated the news for several years now, the conflicts and overall precariousness that have long characterised it serving as constant fodder for media organisations. This has, expectedly, painted a rather grim picture of life in the region.

But the Middle East, while burdened and troubled, is distinguished by much more than the dictatorships, wars, corruption and other tragedies and misfortunes that have come to be associated with it. It is also home to substantial communities of engaged citizens and civil society actors who have been productively provoked by the difficulties enveloping them into conceptualising creative solutions to rampant problems. Such individuals, from artists to environmental activists, journalists to public health researchers, have dedicated themselves to imagining and attempting to realise alternatives to their inadequate presents, refusing to acquiesce to the status quo.

On October 28th, Ertegun House hosted one such “change-maker” from Lebanon. Ibrahim Nehme, editor-in-chief of The Outpost – a “magazine of possibilities” – spoke about his trans-regional English language publication and its ambitious aspirations.

Launched in September of 2012, The Outpost “identifies, understands and analyses the conflicts, morals, energies and opportunities of a changing Arab world and lays down possible futures. It aims to ignite a socio-cultural renaissance in the Arab world through inspiring its readers to explore a world of possibilities.” The print magazine, which gathers contributions from all over the Middle East, is produced in Beirut, published biannually and distributed globally, its issues featuring in the stacks of independent bookstores from Berlin to Marrakech, Hong Kong, New York, London and much more. The magazine has drawn the attention and acclaim of many in the international, independent publishing scene, and was even crowned “a successor to The Economist” by The Guardian.

Its sixth and most recent issue, “The Possibilities of Our Body”, highlighted “systematic attempts to crush and numb our body and turn it into a paralysed, helpless, powerless, and insignificant entity”, featuring narratives about individuals in the Arab world who are confronting these hindrances, and arguing that “the revolution starts from inside our body.”  I myself contributed to this issue, profiling the inspiring Hussein Ghandour who, as a child, lost an arm and a leg to a cluster bomb. Hussein now works as a prosthetics technician at the Nabih Berri Rehabilitation Compound in southern Lebanon, where he has dedicated his life to helping other persons with disabilities overcome their injuries.

Previous issues of The Outpost have included “The Possibility of Moving Forward”, centred on transport and movement, and “The Possibility of Getting Lost”, for which contributors were invited to invent “new tools to manoeuvre through life”.

From printing and distributing a cheque book from the invented Banque of Happiness & Peace, to structuring one of their issues around an imagined, Pan-Arab radio station and redrawing the regional map, The Outpost pushes both its readers and contributors to think outside the geographical, political and socio-cultural boundaries of the Middle East and beyond the many negatives that stifle life within it, towards more mobile, stimulating and unifying futures.

Sophie Chamas