On 10 June 1967, the deep, commanding inflections of that voice, which made listeners’ hair stand on end and hearts flutter with pride, fell silent. Ahmed Said, the iconic fourteen-year host of the Arab world’s first major anti-imperial experiment in radio broadcasting, had mesmerized audiences from Marrakesh to Mosul. With transistor radios, millions tuned in to Sawt al-‘Arab (Voice of the Arabs) radio station. That June day, Said saw his illustrious career come to a screeching halt. He had spent the previous few days narrating epic stories of unparalleled victory for the Arab armies against their Israeli adversary. When it became evident that defeat for the Arab armies was inevitable and irreversible, the tragedy of learning that the reality was the absolute opposite of Said’s story was too cataclysmic to bear. His career was decimated and the anti-imperial station left in ruins.
The demise of Sawt al-‘Arab was an allegory for the collapse of the state as the once-legitimate source of revolutionary anti-colonial politics. It also marked the beginning of popular disillusionment with centralized media production across the Arab world. Today, half a century later, the state’s opacity in broadcasting has officially been consecrated. Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera hide behind false firewalls to conceal their statist agendas. The proliferation of private and corporate broadcasting run by regime-loyal moguls camouflages the state, leaving it unaccountable for transgressions, defamations, falsification, and disgrace.
Despite the fall of Sawt al-‘Arab, the popular appeal of revolutionary and anti-imperial politics remained a barometer of public interest and trust in media production. To survive the post-1967 milieu of collective disparagement and decline of a pan-Arab imaginary, Arab states replaced Sawt al-‘Arab with aggressively territorial nationalist media. These were operated by centralized institutions that ran contrary to humanist impulses. They manufactured consent through divisive identity politics that pit a once-united region against one another across national borders. The collapse of a common vernacular that could articulate communal ambitions, a coherent project, and unified purpose remains part of the legacy of 1967. Individuation and destitution replaced the notion of common destiny as a presumptive underpinning to imaginations of an Arab future.