Clément Steuer : "Partisan onomastics in Egypt. The case of Wasat”Friday 20th November 2009
(Traduction : Fiona Simpkins, MCF Civilisation britannique,
Speaker : Clément Steuer, UMR CNRS 5206 Triangle, University of Lyon, Institut d’études politiques.
The case of Wasat shows that Arabic onomastics can bring light to contemporary political phenomena. This budding organism, created by dissident Muslim Brothers and that never obtained the authorization necessary for its legal constitution as a party, has indeed managed to impose itself as Al Wasat (i.e. “the middle”, “the centre”). This paper wishes to examine how this antonomasia was created. This study is based on two corpuses : the first is composed of four political programmes published by Wasat since 1996, and the second of transcriptions of interviews conducted in the spring of 2008 with activists from the Egyptian opposition.
The semantic study of the word wasat first of all shows its extreme polysemia. If one is to focus on the meaning that the actors themselves give to the expression, it appears that it is correlated to notions of justice, moderation and religion. The word wasat sends back to the Koran, that presents Islam as the religion of the centre, thus correcting the symmetrical excesses of Judaism and Christianity. Therefore, it does not only refer to the centre of the political spectrum but sends back to a whole world of pre-existing references. The successful antonomasia of this term in favour of a political party is indeed founded on a previous work of conceptualisation made during the 1980s by a group of Arab intellectuals who initiated a global reform movement called Wasatiya, of which Wasat only represents the political side.
Keywords : antonomasia, Egypt, semantic cloud, political onomastics, Wasat.