The Network of Arab Alternative Screens (NAAS) was established through a series of meetings between 2007 and 2009 among programmers and directors of alternative cinema screens around the Arab region. These meetings assessed the opportunities, difficulties, and needs of the sector and put forth the idea of a network as a sustainable entity. Some common needs included facilitating the circulation of films, sharing packaged film programs, building a network for distributing Arab films, and subtitling.
To overcome the isolation that each screen faced, they banded together to create NAAS, a structure to share knowledge and expertise as well as tools for development and fundraising.
In 2009, the New York-based arts nonprofit ArteEast officially began to incubate NAAS, providing strategic guidance, promoting the network, and assisting with professional training. Prior, ArteEast had been accompanying the Network informally since its initial meeting in 2007. Its role as incubator concludes in 2017.
Initial members of the Network included Metropolis Cinema (Beirut, Lebanon), Al Balad Theater (Amman, Jordan), Cinémathèque de Tanger (Tangier, Morocco), Yabous Cultural Centre (Jerusalem, Palestine), and Dox Box (Damascus, Syria).
In 2013, new members joined the network through a formal application process. These members were CineMadart (Tunis, Tunisia), Sudan Film Factory (Khartoum, Sudan), and Cimatheque (Cairo, Egypt).
Zawya (Cairo, Egypt) became a member in 2015, and Wekalet Behna (Alexandria, Egypt) as well as FilmLab Palestine (Ramallah, Palestine) also joined the network in 2016.
In 2016, the organization changed its name from Network of Arab Arthouse Screens to Network of Arab Alternative Screens, or «شبكة الشاشات العربية المستقلة» to «شبكة الشاشات العربية البديلة», and it was officially registered as a non-profit organization in Beirut, Lebanon.
That same year, NAAS’s Executive Director, Mohammad Shawky Hassan, who had overseen the development of the organization since 2011, was replaced by Jowe Harfouche.