Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ban on movies (almost) lift in Saudia

Is the KAS (Kingdom of Arabie Saudia) ready to go for movies? Since a few months, at least last march, the answer seems to be yes. Before long, the local movie fans will not be obliged to travel a thousand miles away to satisfy their passion as cinemas could open in their country. (Or let’s say reopen, as the ban on the movies has been established “only” in the 1970s.)

Some days ago, "Menahi", a Saudi comedy, was distributed in two cinemas in Jeddah and Taef (not far from Mekkah). Al-Hayat, one of the leading Arab newspapers, found the information important enough to publish it - on the web edition – on the first page. Nothing to be surprised in fact, as the movie has been produced by Rotana, the leading producer/distributor of Arabic music and film in the world, owned by prince Waleed ben Talal, also owner of Al-Hayat (among many other things, for sure !)

A success for the Saudi liberals who did not celebrate too ostensibly their victory. On the contrary they insist in saying that “It was a great experience and hopefully the next films we make will just get better," to quote Al-Maliki the most popular Saudi actor.

Even if the screenings have stopped in Taef a few days later, after violent critics from various well-known religious clerics, for many people in the country this is be just the beginning of more to come.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wandering Jewish Arabic Voices in Israel

We don’t hear very much about Antun Shammas, a Palestinian that many specialists considered as one of the best writers in Hebrew. But who has never heard about Samir Naqqash (سمير نقاش), an Israeli Jew writing in Arabic?

His family arrived in Israel when he was 13 years old, like many other Jewish families signing away their Iraki citizenship in order to emigrate to Israel, after bombings in Bagdag that could have been done by some sionist organisations willing to “encourage” the millenarian Jewish community in Irak to flee to Israel.

Samir Naqqash spent his whole life in search of a “better” exile, crossing the Lebanese border when he was 15 years old, then looking hopelessly for a more appropriate homeland in Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt after the Camp David agreements…

He died in 2004, after half of a century in his new homeland where he refused to give up his first language, the colloquial Arabic spoken by the Jewish people of Bagdad. His last novel, Shlomo the Kurd, myself and time, has been published by al-Jamal, an Arabic publishing house in Germany, a good summary of the literary destiny of an Israeli Jewish author writing in Arabic facing the Arab policy toward the Arab Jews and the contempt of the sionist state for the Arabic culture.

But not all the Iraki Jews living in Israel stuck to their native language. On the contrary, most of them use Hebrew, sometimes as a way to promote the Arabic culture through translations. Born in Irak in 1926, friend of the great Palestinian writer Emile Habibi, Sami Mikhail (سامي ميخائيل) has translated into Hebrew Nagib Mahfouz’s famous Trilogy.

His latest book, The pigeons of Trafalgar, offers a rather unusual dialogue with the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, assassinated in Beirut by the Mossad in the beginning of the 1970’ and author of the world-acclaimed Returning to Haifa. In his own novel, Sami Mikhail suggests another ending to this story of a couple of Palestinians going back to Haifa in order to enquire about the son they had lost there because of the war in 1948. After the death of her husband in a military operation, the mother of Khaldun/Dov – the Palestinian boy raised as an Israeli – refuses to abandon none of her children and tries to gather them around her in Cyprus.

Not surprisingly, some people have been upset by what they have called the “spoliation” (see previous post) of a Palestinian work but others were obviously interested to see how two voices, doomed to live in two different endless exiles, could, nonetheless, hold such a literary dialogue.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"The Invasion," but not on the Arab screens

The first awards in the “telenovela” category given by the Emmy Awards Academy went to The Invasion, a real surprise as the serials are about the fights in the Palestinian camp of Jenin in 2002, a touchy issue which is tackled from a pro-Arab perspective.

As usual with this kind of work which has been filmed in the Palestinian camps south of Damascus, Arab Tele Media Productions (ATP), the Jordanian production house, has gathered professionals from various countries: Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians actors, a Syrian screenwriter from a Palestinian family and the successful Tunisian filmmaker, Shawqi Majiri.

ATP, one of the major private production houses in the Arab world, had previously distributed many works to various Arab channels. Among them, Road to Kabul, a serials aired by Qatar TV and other major Arab TVs, whose showing was brutally ended without very clear explanations.

On ATP site, various trailers (see below) give a rather clear idea of the serials, obviously well done and edited according to the best ruling standards for that kind of TV productions. The scenario, based on real facts, follows the destinies of some major characters, with the inescapable love story between Mustafa the Palestinian man and Yael, the Israeli.

Even if the Arab press and Talal al-Awamleh, the owner of ATP, seem more inclined to explain it for political reasons, this Israeli-palestinian love affair could be the real motive behind the fact that The Invasion has been only aired by the Lebanese LBC during Ramadan 2007 (and the Libyan TV later on). And it could also explain why The Invasion won over the juries ot the Emmy awards academy.

Apparently, the multiplication of the TV channels in the Arab world does not mean the same diversification in the programs. But now it has been distinguished by a prestigious international prize, The Invasion will probably make its way to the Arab audiences.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French. You'll find in the "comments" of the French post a link to screen the whole serials on the internet.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Again, the boycott and its many questions

Again the boycott issue, with its difficult questions already tackled in previous posts, like that one about two movies, an Israeli one, The Band’s visit, and another, Egyptian, Salata Baladi (Salade maison).

This time the discussion concerns a book, Madinah, City Stories from the Middle East. This collection of short stories edited by the Lebanese writer Joumana Haddad gathers ten texts written by various Arab writers, by a Turkish one and… by the Israeli writer Yitzhak Laor with a text about Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish started the whole discussion in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar asking how Arab writers could have accepted to participate in a project which presents Tel Aviv side to side with the other Arab towns, as a figuration of the New Middle East map…

Because of such reactions, the English publisher published on his site a declaration mentioning among other things that “the request to include an Israeli story was the publisher's” and that the editor “was initially very much against it (…) until the name of writer Yitzhak Laor was eventually suggested”, an idea “highly supported by the Palestinian contributor to the book, Ala Hlehel.”

Hlelel, a Palestinian living in Acco, had already expressed his point of view in Al-Akhbar saying that Yitzhak Laor, as a radical opponent to the Sionist state, was perfectly entitled to participate in such a book, even with a story about Tel Aviv, a city built on the ruins of the Palestinian villages.

Later on, Al-Akhbar published Laor Yitzhak’s answer. His text begins with an interrogation about the wijdân¸a word used by Najwan Darwish and for which there is no easy translation in other languages. Then, Yitzhak Laor goes on saying that Darwish’s attitude means in fact that when an Arab public discourse speaks of secularism, democracy and so on, another one, like in Darwish’s article, denies any right for a Jewish presence in the Middle East.

Of course, explains Yitzhak Laor, nobody is asked to forget on which ground Tel Aviv has been built but, at the same time, somebody like Najwan Darwish should learn that all the people who live in that city are not the same. Something the reading of his text, which describes Tel Aviv as a huge and frightening military camp, makes quite obvious…

Pierre Abi Saab, the editor of Al-Akhbar cultural section, comments on Yitzhak Laor’s position. He regrets that the Israeli writer sees Najwan Darwish’s position as racist when it is just the denial of a policy which aims at making the Jewish occupation like something natural (tabî‘î, a key word very closed to the Arabic tatbî‘ for “boycott” "normalization" [see comments]).

Of course, the dispute is much more elaborated than said in this short summary. But it has to be mentioned that it was published in Al-Akhbar, a daily supposed to be very close to the Lebanese Hizbollah, and thus to Al-Manar. A TV station that Germany has recently banned on grounds that it violates the country's constitution!

Just to make things more complicated, another boycott issue was raised by the same Al-Akhbar with the possible coming to Beirut of the West-Eastern Divan. Founded by Daniel Baremboim and the Palestinian Edward Said, the orchestra has played only once in an Arab country. It was in Ramallah, some three years ago. Knowing that the players come from various Arab countries, from Spain and from…Israel, should the visit be boycotted?

As usual, here are the links to the more developed posts in French, about Al-Madinah and the West-Eastern Divan.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Occidentalism : the other face of Orientalism

In Beirut, two galleries run an exhibition of art works by the well-known Lebanese film director Jocelyne Saab. In the first one, called Soft Architecture, pictures of abstract patterns taken from the local traditions are displayed at the Agial gallery. In the second one, Sense, Icons and Sensitivity, the artist uses neo-pop art icons objects of mass production and of popular culture like Barbie dolls to express the hidden thinking of Arab society towards changes in cultural taste and habits due to globalization.

Some of those last works have been deemed unsuitable by Solidere, the company which which owns the venue where the exhibition opened. Among the most controversial pictures was a photo entitled "American-Israeli playground" where Christ is on a crucifix surrounded by images of Nasrallah and two Barbie dolls in the background. “French Can Can in Bagdad,” with Barbie dolls wrapped in Iraqi currency bearing the image of former dictator Saddam Hussein has not been very much welcomed too!

Even if the Agial gallery has agreed to host, not in a too noticeable place, the pictures expressing “the popular anger in the face of Israeli-Lebanese conflict,” Jocelyne Saab’s last exhibition shows how politics and religion remain two very sensitive issues.

As usual, links to articles in Arabic or English with the more developed post in French.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Taxis in Egypt and in Palestine

Are the old Cairene taxis due to disappear? According to the new regulation, cars over 20 years will not be used for taxi cabs anymore and new authorisations will not be delivered to cars over ten years. Before long, the eternal Nasr 1300 should not be seen in Cairo streets.

In Khaled Al Khamissi’s view, the author of the unexpected best-seller Taxi, it would also be the end for the typical “osta”, the classical local taxi driver. Around 100.000 copies of his little book, largely written in colloquial Egyptian arabic (and translated into English, Italian and very soon French), have been sold, probably as much as there are taxicabs in the streets of the capital of Egypt! An indication, according to the writer, of the new cultural climate made possible by the absolute failure of the actual regime.

Less famous abroad than film directors like Michel Khleifi (Wedding in Galilee, 1987) and Elia Suleiman (Divine Intervention, 2002), Rashid Mashharawi (رشيد المشهراوي), born in Gaza in 1962, has just finished Laila's Birthday, the story of a juge obliged to work as a cab driver but still fighting in order to enforce the law on his fellow citizens in a country tore to pieces by the Israeli occupation.

Mohammed Bakri, probably the more praised Palestinian actor, plays the main character who compels his clients to fasten their seatbelt in a taxi with a sticker on the windshield which says: Forbidden to people bearing arms!

Things are changing, and artworks are not anymore the narrow-minded expression of an ideology. For those two Arab writer and film maker, the taxi is thus a way to stay in line with a definition of art which commands the artist to be a careful commentator of the social reality, but paying attention not to the great historical narratives but to the many little stories of everyday life.

Here is Laila's Birthday trailer and as usual, the link to the more developed post in French.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Made in KSA: the Saudi hip-hop

Hip-hop music has become popular in the Arab world since a few years in places like Palestine, Morocco, Egypt… But today, it is also a reality in the supposedly less flashy country of the whole area, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Qusay, a Saudi-born musician who has lived a few years in the USA before he came back to the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), is the leader of a band called The Legend of Jeddah (a reminiscence of Star wars Legend of the Jeddai?). Their last CD has been an unexpected success.

Obviously, rap music in KSA does not come from the ghetto. Performing in places like the economic forum of Jeddah and adopted by the prestigious MTV Arabia, the Legend of Jeddah has nothing to do with "gangsta rap" music.

On the contrary, its clean hip-hop music can be seen as a perfect advertising for a modern KSA, far away from the clichés of islamic radicalism and moral rigor, something Qusay himself explains in great detail in his various interviews for the Arabic press.

Still, the Legend of Jeddah rappers make clear that things are changing in the KSA. For instance, their greatest hit, the Wedding, is a slightly ironic parody of the local traditions, with a wedding party which almost becomes postmodernist when Qusay starts singing, nicely mixing modern rhythms with traditional tunes.

Have a look to their 5’ minutes clip which should calm down the advocates of the so called “clash of civilizations” !

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French. Illustration from

Saturday, October 25, 2008

2008 : Women’s Year in Saudi Arabia?

Saqi, the UK’s largest publisher on Middle Eastern and Arabic titles made another success with one more “scandalous Saudi writer”. Although her short book (77 pages) has not being received as a masterpiece, Samar al-Muqrin’s Nisâ’ al-munkar (something like "Reprobate Women": the title alludes in Arabic to the famous local moral police) has become a best-seller in the Arab world.

Another success story which is obviously linked to the fact that the novel, like Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh before (see previous post), tackles important issues for many Arab women (and men).

Various decisions have been taken during the last months in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in support of the women’s rights like the opening in Riyadh of a hotel reserved to women, something which makes travelling easier for them. Going alone to an academic library has also become easier for female Saudi students.

In Western eyes, those little “victories” could even be misunderstood. For instance, the right for Saudi women to give finger prints instead of photography for their ID could be interpreted as another step back in order to comply with outdated traditions. But in fact the new regulation aims at helping women’s right especially in courts.

It is the same thing with the highly discussed legislation which asks every owner of a shop specialised in lingerie to hire female employees, a step toward larger job opportunities for women which is backed by local women associations which has raised the idea of boycotting the shops not compelling with the new regulation.

Recently, new professions have been opened to Saudi women in various professional fields. In fact, such a move from the authorities has become almost a necessity since the young Saudis women are more and more educated. In fact, many of them are already turning to neighbouring countries, like Kuwait and Bahrein, in order to find jobs in line with their professional skills.

Following the path opened by the first pioneers who have already taken high positions in some Gulf governments and administration, the Saudi women seem to be ready to “leave the man’s abayya” (the traditional masculine coat).

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French. Illustration from, a very interesting site dedicated to literature (in arabic).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Local salad and identity spoliation

Wikipedia reminds us that the famous “Israeli salad” is also named sometimes an “Arabic salad”! Indeed, the borders of gastronomy do not always fit with the political frontiers and the (famous) Kefraya wine, from the Lebanese Bekaa, could become, according to this article (arabic) in al-Akhbar, an Israeli brand in the US States!

Obviously enough, people in the Middle East are quite upset to see that the recently born Israeli state has a tendency to phagocyte anything it could. For instance, air hostesses on El Al Israeli aircraft carriers wear a so-called “national dress” whith embroideries, a tradition which can be traced back to the Kanaan people who have been expelled from their original land by the Hebrew tribes according to the Bible.

During the last Olympic games, the Israeli state participated in the Beijing international garden by a symbolic donation: a “gazelle horn” -- as this flower has been referred to in Arabic for centuries – and, even more offensiveg, an olive tree, although thousands of them have been uprooted by the caterpillars of its alleged “Defense army”!

Not so long before, the publication of “Palestinian Art,” a book by Gannit Ancori became a sort of scandal when famous Palestinian artist and Art historian Kamal Boullata complained about the plagiarism of his own works and ideas by the author, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

However, Bilal al-Shubaki, professor of Political sciences in the West bank is probably right when he understands (article in arabic) the spoliation of the Palestinian memory as a consequence of Israel lack of national identity.

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French. Photo : Mémoire de soie, costumes et parures de Palestine et de Jordanie, Paris, IMA-EDIFRA, 1988, from the Widad Kawar's collection.

Enough with the "Arab street"!

In an article (arabic) published by the daily Al-Quds al-‘arabi (2008/09/02), famous Lebanese writer Elias Khoury comments on the use by the actual media of the expression “the Arab street”.

Compared with “the Arab masses” (al-jamahîr al-‘arabiyya) of the 50’s and 60’s, the “Arab street” reflects, in Khoury’s mind, the actual situation of the Arab word and media, dominated by the Gulf States.

According to him, the “Arab street” is an expression which conveys the idea that no political mobilization is possible in today’s Arab world. The lack of reaction of the “Arab street” during the second intifada is a reality which can not be denied, although every major Arab TV station gave an extensive coverage of the tragic events in Palestine.

Financed by Gulf investors, most of the Arab media are obviously not interested in promoting nationalist ideas. For a while, the mainstream Arab media thought they could find a solution playing on the islamist cord but it only lead to more contradictions.

The Turkish soap operas recently aired by other Arab TVs gives another illustration of the lack of a public expression in this so-called “Arab street”. As a perfect illustration of mass consumption products marketed by cultural industries, they are no more than a cheap “relief valve” for “veiled societies” unable to make a collective move toward the future.

The “Arab street” is full of poor and desperate people, only able to look, on their TV screen, for an individual solution to their endless problems.

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nasser is back: a Series

Among the most commented TV series of Ramadan 08, Esmahan and Nasser, two classical productions based on a winning combination: a pan-Arab production based on historical facts appealing to a pan-Arab audience.

After the highly contested series about king Faruk’s life last year, the launching for this Ramadan season of a TV series dedicated to the great Egyptian leader was due to be a succession of passionate episodes.

In fact, the first protest started as soon the project for a TV series about Nasser was announced. Angry comments were made at that time, about the pro-nasserite ideas of the script writer or the Syrian nationality of the film maker.

Choosing the actor for the main character was also a problem, as was shooting various episodes in Egypt. And new troubles came about when the series was achieved, as no major pan-Arab TV station seemed to be interested by a product althought it was very similar to the highly acclaimed King Faruk of the previous Ramadan! At the last time, even the official Egyptian TV decided not to air the series, giving as a pretext that the holy month of Ramadan was not a time for “serious” TV programs!

For many commentators of the Arab press, such a decision was obviously political since the actual political leaders of the country were not interested in comparisons between their popularity and that of Nasser.

Finally, Nasser’s saga ended, at least temporarily, with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood complaining bitterly about the way the series described the role played by the organisation in the 40’ and 50’ in Palestine.

Nothing new in fact as the negative painting of the political Islam is as old as the first “political soap operas” on the Egyptian TV, namely the very famous Hilmiyya Nights’ at the end of the 80’.

As usual, the link to the more elaborated post in French. About "Layali hilmiyya", The Politics of Television in Egypt, par Lila Abu-Lughod (University of Chicago Press 2004)is a must, but also look at "New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond (University of California Press, 2000), by Walter Ambrust.

Watching the reference moovie, Nasser 56, is possible on the Net following that link.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Slave Market: War, Prostitution and Creation

Sundus Abdul Hadi is a Iraqi-Canadian artist who lives in Canada. She draws her inspiration from Ancient Sumerian art and the early Islamic aesthetic and, in her own words, her work is “a commentary on the media, history, politics and social issues as related to being an Arab woman in today's world”.

Shortly after the US press did so, the online daily Elaph mentioned a few days ago one of her works, called “Inanna in Damascus” (Inanna is the Sumerian goddess for sexuality and war). As she explain in her blog, she wants, with this reinterpretation of Jean-Léon Gérôme, a French Orientalist painter, to “expose the sex industry that is currently running rampant in Middle East due to the consequences of the 2003 war in Iraq and the resulting exodus of refugees”. She sees that “these same connections of pimp and client, the soldier and the politician, and the Arab businessman [already] existed in the 19th century and today.”

To fully understand the strength of Sundus Abdul Hadi’s work(s), one has to remember how important the Iraqi school has been for modern Arab plastic expression, especially in the 50’s with the foundation of a local form of abstraction based on the use of the Arabic alphabet (a school called hurûfiyya in Arabic: see previous post.

Memories of such a fertile experience make the present time particularly bitter to the Arabs artists and intellectuals. The exodus of the Iraqi artists, which started in the 90’, is now so important that it is said that more than three quarters of them live abroad.

Thus, those who stayed in the country deserve a warm tribute, as does Artiquea, a gallery in London which has done its first exhibition with works done by twenty-three artists “who still live and work in Iraq”.

As usual, the link to the more elaborated post in French.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fatwas as a Ramadan Ritual

After the TV soap operas of Ramadan, a new ritual seems to be adopted in the Arab countries: the Ramadan fatwa. It is inevitable that the habits of the Holy month, like traditional Christian celebrations, reveal the contradiction between pre-modern religious rituals and the practices of the post-modern consumer society.

Saudi Arabia, a country with a large and rich population and a strict religious oriented regime, is probably the place where such contradictions are to be felt causing a real clash, not between civilizations but between extremely different ways of living a same religion--Islam.

After many calls by religious authorities against the too successful Turkish soap opera “Noor”, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, the most senior juge in the kingdom, has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes.

Such a condemnation is a real provocation as most of the major Arab TV channels are own by people very close to the ruling family. So, it is no surprise that Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan toned down his fatwa a few days later.

In spite of all the comments about such a strange fatwa, this new battle gives the impression that the traditional components of the Saudi society are doomed to lose ground at the advantage of the liberal ones.

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Divas and Politicians: the Dialectic of Body and Power

For a change, the subject of all conversations in the Arab world during the holy month of Ramadan was not the countless TV soap-operas aired at that time of the year, but the serialized novel of the murder of a well-known Lebanese singer, Suzanne Tamim.

Her body was found in her flat in Dubai and, a few days later, the police arrested the murderer, a former Egyptian cop. But, the real scandal came when it became obvious that Hishma Talaat, a famous Egyptian billionaire, leading member of the ruling Party and close friend of President Mubarak’s family, was charged with arranging the murder.

The Arab press (see this article in Elaph) has suggested many scenarios to explain the somehow unusual promptness of the Egyptian justice: rivalries among the ruling elite, the necessity of restoring the Egyptian Department of Justice reputation after various disputed decisions, the desire of calming things down considering the popular reaction, and also bearing in mind the fact that the Emirates authorities were urging for a quick and efficient elucidation of the case.

It is certainly not the first example, and the last one, of the "dialectic of power and body", to use Adnan Abuzeed's nice way to put it. After all, the famous Jahiz wrote in the IXth century his famous eulogy to the qiyans, a kind of Arabic variation of the famous Japanese geisha. Obviously, there is some sexual activity in the (supposedly) puritanical Arab world.

As another evidence of the many connections between sexual fame and politics, mention could be made to the famous Haifa Wehbe (see previous post). When she mentions, as she did more than one time, how fascinated she is by shaykh Hassan Nasrallah’s personality, we must ask ourselves if we are always right in using opposed categories like securalism and liberated sexuality on one side, and religiosity and moral uprightness on the other.

As usual, the link to the more developed post in French.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Palestinian Hip-Hoppers: Jackie Salloum’s "Slingshot Hip Hop"

Rap music in Palestine began as an “Israeli phenomenon”, with young Jewish and Arab rebels coming from the poor industrial suburbs of Israel sharing the same rage against their living conditions.

A short-lived artistic coexistence as the Palestinian hip-hoppers went their own way with the Second Intifada (2000) and the adoption a more nationalist political discourse by artists like Dam, while Israeli rappers like Subliminal became more and more extremist.

Today, rap music has been adopted by the young Palestinians as a way to express their (political) identity and musicians perform regularly in Israel, as well as in the so-called “Autonomous Territories” or in the Palestinian camps of the surrounding Arab states.

Thus, after Ramallah and Jenine in June, Jackie Salloum was in the Palestinian camps of Lebanon in August to show her first “real” movie, Slingshot Hip Hop. Listening to the soundtrack was a real shock for the young Palestinian raised in Lebanon: certainly not because of the music but because they were amazed to discover that Arabic and Hebrew could be used by “Israeli Palestinian” rappers.

As they explained in an interview given some time ago to the Moroccan weekly Telquel, the three members of Dam are eager to be heard, especially by an Israeli society upset by their national claims.

Under Slingshot Hip-Hop trailer...

... a link to the more elaborated post in French and to Jackie Salloum's website where two shorter moovies could be seen: a must !

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oriental Fantasies on video: Haifa Wehbe

Since Edward Said’s seminal book, Orientalism, some forty years ago, it is well known that fantasies about the Orient exist. But what about fantasies of the Oriental people themselves? For Arab women, the Turkish TV opera soap “Noor” (see previous post), featuring the handsome Muhannad, provides may be an answer. And for the men, there is Haifa Wehbe, the “hottest” sex icon of the many videos aired on Arab TV satellites.

Being the target of so many Arab male fantasies at a time of public dispute about the right moral behaviour, Haifa Wehbe becomes, willing or not, a subject of political debates. Regularly, people protest again her coming to their country. It happened in Algeria, in Egypt and, recently, in Bahrein when the pop singer was invited for the celebration of the workers festival (!).

After very “lively” discussion at the Chamber of Deputies (dominated by “islamist” parties), a compromise has been reached: Haifa would come and give her performance, but dressed in a decent (محتشم) way (see pictures). In a rather smart move, the Lebanese singer paid a visit during her stay in Bahrein to some institution for disabled children, a “perverse” way to shut up critics by shifting her public image from the scandalous and glamorous sex icon to the untouchable one of the pitiful mother of sorrow and all pain, a strategy already used in a very successful way with her very ambiguous hit “Boss al-wawa” (with lyrics like "see the owie, kiss the owie, make the owie get better. When you kissed the owie, you made the owie go away. Hide me close to you, cover me and make me warm. Without you I am so cold aahhhh", etc.)

Following that link to the French post, you’ll find a translation to French of an article published in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir by Ahmad Moghrabi. He comments in a very interesting way on Haifa’s latest video which is there for you to… enjoy it!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ziad Rahbani: the beating heart of Arabism

There is no way to present Ziad Rahabni, son of Assi Rahbani and Lebanese Diva Fayrouz, in a few lines. The wiz kid published his poems at the age of 13 and shortly thereafter became a comedian, a playwright, a songwriter, a composer, a singer, a radio host, before he turned more recently to jazz music.

And it is the jazz composer and player who has been officially invited to perform in Damascus, for the first time is his whole career. Two hours before the beginning of the show, the audience was already there, clapping hands and singing by heart the most famous hits of the Lebanese composer and singer.

Thus, a real event, at the musical and the political levels, since Ziad Rahbani is a major icon of the Arab left wing. Indeed, his coming to Damascus, within the official frame of the (very successful) celebrations of “Damascus, Capital of the Arabic Culture”, means that things are changing in the country, at least at some level and even if Fayrouz’s son is not anymore the trouble maker he was.

It means also that the relationship between Lebanon and Syria is certainly more complex and deep-rooted that what we usually read in the main-stream media.

The text of the original post in french (with other links) and a video by a fan.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish Is Gone: Death of a Nation

The “Palestinian Authority” and a number of Arab intellectuals have asked Israel for Mahmoud Darwish to rest in his homeland, close to Akka. The answer was no, and the poet will be buried in Ramallah. Obviously, the Israeli state could not grant such a request. During
his whole life in exile (since 1970), the poet got a permit for a short stay in his homeland only three times, the last one being last year, for a lecture in Haifa (see previous post).

Mahmoud Darwish always asked to be heard as an artist, and not as the spokesman for the Palestinians. The world's reaction to his death shows that he succeeded in becoming recognized as the great poet he was. But he died before he could see any success on the other side of his life struggle, a real solution for the Palestinians, including for them the right to return, even after their death, where they were born.

The link to the original (and a bit different) post in french and a excerpt from Notre musique, a movie by Jean-Luc Godard which shows Darwish discussing with a Jewish student.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pepsi vs Coca : the mother of all Arab stars

Boycotted until the beginning of the 90’, Coca is still running behind Pepsi in the Middle East with only 35% of the market shares. Although the area is priceless for soft drink producers, with a terrific demography of (presumably) non-alcoholic young drinkers, Pepsi should keep leading the run.

A few days ago, Pepsi launched its last advertising campaign for the area. Sea of stars (بحر النجوم), the first promotional full-length arab movie, has been released, simultaneously in many arab countries. Not a great event on the artistic side, the movie could be nonetheless a hit thanks to the participation of five famous stars of Arab pop music.

At a time US policy in the area does not use anymore the expression anymore but, instead, new concepts like “the Muslim world” (what could it be !!!) or “the New Middle East’, it is interesting to note that Pepsi advertising campaign focuses on something called the “Arab world”.

Otherwise, what could be the explanation of a such a casting gathering, around the leading sexy Lebanese trio (Haifa Wehbe, Carole Samaha and Wael Kfoury), an “oriental” singer (Ruwaida Al Mahrooqi) and another one (Ahmed El Cherif) from Maghreb (meaning "Occident" in arabic) ?

A remark which leads to another reading of the movie pitch : indeed, the forgotten island which needs a new impulse for its future, it is, of course, the Arab world. United, this world will be able to face up to its destiny. Of course under Pepsi umbrella!

The more elaborated post in French following that link and the moovie trailer

Friday, July 25, 2008

Egyptian movies: Hassan & Morcos, without Cohen

“Leader” (zaïm, his nickname) of the Egyptian (and the Arabian) stage for more than three decades, why should Adel Imam care to pledge allegiance to his national authorities? The fact is that the young actor who claimed formerly to be an “artist for the people” is now firmly committing himself for Jamal, putative heir of his father Hosni Mubarak (see previous post).

Hassan & Morcos is already one of last summer blockbusters in Egypt. Co-starring Adel Imam and Omar Sharif, it is the story of two men, a Copt and a Muslim, who have to change their identity in order to get away from religious fanatics. The Coptic thinker (Omar Sharif) pretends to be an imam and the Muslim guy (Adel Imam), a Christian priest.

The comedy, in the usual Adel Imam style, is obviously aiming at delivering a political message, that of the national unity jeopardized by religious extremism, from all sides.

The movie is successful and the public seems to approve the political lesson given by the two Egyptian main stars. Nonetheless, voices have raised, especially on the net, calling to a boycott of the “Christian(ised) Adel Imam”.

Today, movies play a major role in shaping the “national collective memory”. Thus it is striking to notice that Hassan & Morcos refers to a well-known movie from the 50’ called Hassan, Morcos & Cohen.

As in Fatma, Marika and Rachel, another movie of that time, the plot gathers a “trio” of Egyptian main confessions : the Muslim one, the Christian and the Jewish.

Sixty years after the birth of the Israeli state, Cohen has disappeared from the screen. And in the “New Middle East”, calls to National unity seem to be necessary in order to keep Morcos and Hassan side to side…

The more elaborated post in French following that link and the moovie trailer

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Arab Alternatie Music (5) : Morocco

World music is a story which started long ago in Morocco. Just after World War2 to be precise, when Paul Bowles and the Beat generation came to Tanger, followed by musicians looking for their (imagined) roots: guitar player Brian Jones for sure, but also free jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman or Archie Shepp among many others. Without forgetting the very first of all, the great pianist Randy Weston.

And almost every time, the beating heart of those encounters was the musical tradition of the gnawas. A tradition revisited by two bands still very active on the Moroccan stage, three decades after they appeared : Nass el-Ghiwane (see previous post) and Jil Jilala.

But like the previous countries already visited, there is a new impulse for alternative music mixing world traditions. In Morocco, the starting point for this phenomena is the L’Boulevard festival, organised in Casablanca since 1998.

Dragging hundreds of thousands young Moroccans, l’Boulevard festival became a kind of social event, giving the opportunity for a part of the Moroccan youth to express its own way of life, encapsulated by a funny moto: H’mar wa bkheer (I’m a donkey, and I’m proud of it!).

Meaning more or less “having a great time”, nayda is another Moroccan expression which expresses this counter-culture in which hip-hop music plays a leading role. But with the growing success of “dirty” rap singers like Taoufik Hazeb “Al-Khasser” (the “rude”), there is a growing risk of commercial and political hijacking.

Recently, a liberal publication like Telquel has expressed openly its satisfaction after king Mohamed VI declaration in favour of financial support to some “good” local rap musicians. A good news for the liberal wing as many Islamic circles are criticizing everything which has to do with alternative music. But not necessarily a good news for the music itself…

With the link to the more elaborated post in French, links to publications (in French too) dealing with alternative music in Morocco :
Nextline, Raptiviste, Rap-bladi and Marock magazine (actually off-line).

And the very interesting trailer of a documentary about the Nayda phenomenon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (4): Syria

One does not need more than a quick look to its musical production to understand that Syria is not anymore an isolated country living under particular conditions. Some ten years ago, like in the surrounding countries, a new generation of musicians has appeared, opening the classical repertoire to the last trends in world music. With a very few exceptions like Al-Theatro, a popular venue opened by actress May Skaf, well trained musicians lack places to perform.

The turning point for the alternative music came with a band called Kulna Sawa (كلنا سوى : All together) by the mid 90’s. Thanks to its production, the Syrian audience has learnt how to appreciate a kind of “oriental fusion,” meaning the mixing of Oriental musical traditions with rhythms and melodic lines coming from other cultures.

For many people, Hiwar (حوار : dialogue), founded in 2003 by Kinan Azmeh and Issam Rafea, is today the leading band for this kind of music in today Middle-East.

“Oriental jazz” is a trend represented in Syria by Lina Shamamian (لينا شماميان) who sings with local saxophone and trumpet player Basel Rajoub. Their first record in 2006 was a audacious interpretation of various local traditional songs, something which raised a new and interesting issue for today’s Syrian culture, that of the intellectual property of the classical repertoire when “remixed” by contemporary players.

Of course, there is also rock or folk music in Syria, distributed by Incognito, the Lebanese producer of alternative music, along with another interesting group founded in 2004 by Issam Refat (also playing with Hiwar). Playing in a more classical mood, the band is called Twais (طويس), a tribute to the first singer of the Islamic era who, according to tradition, was born in Madina and who died in Bosra (south Syria).

A way to make clear that alternative music aims at a real revival of the tradition.

Follow that link to read the original post in French.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (3): Lebanon

It would have been impossible to give an idea of the alternative musical scene in Lebanon without the help of some Internet sites.

Four of them deserve a very special mention:
- Incognito, founded very recently by Tony Sfeir in order to settle a kind of regional network for Arab alternative musicians (and artists as Incognito also offers a selection of DVD, books and comics).
- Forward Production founded in 2001 by film maker Carole Mansour and player Ghazi Abdel Baki with the idea of “pooling together the cooperative efforts of young artists in the Middle East” and aiming “to encourage new and creative trends in the musical
- Al-Maslakh (the Slaughterhouse) is an UFO says the group of
musicians who launched that new label some five years ago, in order to “document the nascent scene” which was emerging at that time, largely thanks to Irtijal, a festival they organise since 2000, dedicated to (experimental) improvisation.
- The last one, Those kids must choke, goes more or less on the same experimental tracks.

Following the previous posts, some remarks about “Oriental Jazz”, an expression made popular in the mid 80’s by Ziad Rahbani who does not like it anymore. Mention must be made to musicians like the oud player Charbel Rouhana or the singer Rima Kcheich.

In a less jazzy mood, you may enjoy Ziad Sahhab work with his band Shahhadeen Ya Baladna.

Fans of musical experimentation will listen to the works of the Irtijal (Improvisation) Festival, Bechir Saade, Raed Yassin and Mazen Kerbaj (author of the picture used for this post).

Here to read the original post in French.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (2): Egypt

Many years (31) after his death, Abdel Halim Hafez’s fame did not lessen. According to daily Al-Hayat , the “Brown nightingale” still smashes the sales records.

Along the old fashion music, a new style has been adopted by the new generation long ago. Since the 90’, the new generation has its own music, precisely called jeel music (jeel meaning generation in Arabic).

Deeply entangled with globalisation and consumption, Arab pop music has been adopted by large and popular audiences, a trend which is not easily accepted by conservative circles.

Nonetheless, pop singers –men and women – do pay their tribute and make “pious recording” when necessary (see previous post). Even religious music comes closer to the new global musical standards (see previous post).

But since a few years, more and more artists gave up the commercial rules of the game. Today, a rich and fertile alternative music has made a real break-out in the musical landscape.

Follow the links to get more information, and musical excerpts : they deserve it!

Wust el Balad (وسط البلد – Center City) and Massar Egbari (مسار إجباري – One Way Street) gather together musicians from all parts of the country, including descents of Nubian immigrants to Cairo, the real melting-pot of the new music.

Thus, mixing jazz sounds and African roots to the Arabic tradition is a characteristic, something which is illustrated by the famous Fathy Salama, founder of Sharkiat band and winner of a Grammy award with Senegalese singer Youssou N’dour.

Egyptian musician do participate in the elaboration of the so-called "Oriental jazz". Listen for instance to Bakash , El-dor el-awel (First Floor), Masar (مسار – Trajectory : oud solo by his leader, Hazem Shahine on this video) and Eftekasat (افتكاسات- Innovations).

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Arab Alternative Music (1): Jordan

As if musical stereotypes have to be associated with visual ones, almost all the (western) images of the Arab world that we see are illustrated by the same clichés : a vibrant nay (flute) solo or, more often, the call to the prayer.

Nevertheless, it is easy to hear and appreciate Arab alternative music and to understand, even without knowing the language, that something interesting is occurring in that particular field.

Zade Dirani (زيد ديراني), a 25 year old pianist and composer, is the great name of the Jordanian musical scene. His majesty mentioned him as “one of the six achievers that are leading the country into its new era” in recognition of his work in order to foster a better understanding between people, a necessity Zade Dirani get aware of it as he was living in the States at the time of the 9/11 events.

The performance given a few days ago by the young composer at the Roman theatre of Amman, with the London Philarmonic Orchestra and a English famous choir, has been attended, among many others, by Zade’s friend, princess Haya, daughter of king Hussein and wife of cheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the Arab Emirates.

Viewing that vidéo, in which the young Jordan composer explains his project, one feels that the Western taste, in this musical cooking, is obviously stronger than the Oriental one.

A blending which is also used by Rum, a band founded in 1998 and whose international fame comes to some extend from the music written by its leader, Tareq Al Nasser (طارق الناصر), for films and TV serials (see their Web site). But proportions are different with Rum as the Oriental spices exceed the Western ingredients.

In fact, every musician has his own way of mixing Western and Oriental influences, the last ones prevailing in Yazan Al Rousan’s (يزن الروسان) folk songs or Aziz Maraka’s (عزيز مرقة), Maccadi Nahhas’ (مكادي نحّاس) and Ruba Saqr’s interpretations.

All of them are from a generation in its thirty now, all of them using to some extend jazzy ingredients in their music. Referring to jazz, and especially what is called “Oriental jazz” mention has to be made to guitar player Kamal Musallam (كمال مسلم), to a new band called Sign of Thyme (زمن الزعتر) and to the very strange interpretations given by Ayman Tayseer of famous classical Egyptian songs of the 50’s (Jazz Abdul Wahab).

For rock fans, listen to Akheer Zapheer or Tyrant Throne , two local bands who give an idea of the vitality of the Jordanian musical scene.

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French, for which I am deeply endepted to Ruba Saqr, for her blog The Musical Thoughts of Ruba Saqr and to Khobbeizeh, another very interesting blog about music, especially in Jordan.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Culture of Politics: a Roadmap to Unesco!

Is Faruk Hosny’s name famous? At least, the recordman minister of Culture of the Arab Republic of Egypt (21 years in office!) has got a rather good fame locally as somebody who played a leading role in putting his country back to the limelight on the arab cultural stage.

His next challenge is to run for the coming election at the head of the Unesco, and to become the first Arab in charge of this international institution.

Head of the Egyptian cultural policy for such a long time, Faruk Hosny does not have only friends in his country! Indeed, the “minister of crises” as he is often called in the Arab press has survived many problems, thanks to his ability to get rid of some of his best friends at hard times, and to the backing of some powerful people like Mrs Mubarak.

Regarding the freedom of expression, M. Hosny’s file is so-so: yes, he acted rather strongly against hard-line Muslim during May 2000 crisis about the publication in Egypt of a novel by Syrian writer Haydar Haydar (حيدر حيدر), no, he did not show the same strength during other attacks, one year later for instance when works by the famous Iraki poet of the 8th century Abu Nuwas were burnt for “immorality”!

Faruk Hosny’s main trick has been to “bribe” a helpless intellectual class who “stayed in the sheep-fold”, to put it in the Egyptian minister's words.

It is not an easy job to be elected at the head of the Unesco, especially if you are an Arab may be… Thus, Faruk Hosny needs some extra backing.

This could explain why he announced, in November 2007, that he was working on the project of a museum dedicated to the history of Jews in Egypt.

Certainly a “positive gesture” but not a definitive one as the key issue is probably the “normalisation” of the cultural relations with Israel, something the Egyptian intellectuals and artists strongly resist since Camp David agreements.

Nonetheless, a step toward “the good direction” was recently done when the cultural attaché at the Israeli embassy in Cairo was invited to atend a performance at the National Theater.

Halas! Sometime ago, the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave some publicity to a declaration given by the Egyptian cultural minister saying to some local politician that there was no Israeli books in his the national libraries and that “he would burn Israeli books himself if found in Egyptian libraries”. Of course, the Israeli authorities officially protested to such a declaration.

Apparently, Faruk Hosny knows what he has to do if he wants to succeed in his project and he has recently tried to correct his image saying that (cultural) normalisation with Israel was “a dream”.

All the more, such a dream should not be broken by foolish decisions. Thus, complete normalisation would be the result of a peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Knowing the difficulties of the famous “roadmap” for peace between the two nations, the road to the Unesco offices in Paris could also be a long one!

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Arab Conscience: (re)Birth of a Nation ?

The expression “Arab World” was almost never used before the birth, around the last quarter of the 19th century, of the Arab nationalism. An arab nationalism which was obviously very much linked to the spread of the printing facilities and other IT facilities developed at that time (telegraph, new maritime roads…)

Thus, a challenging hypothesis is to bet on the re-birth of Arab nationalism, with the coming in age of a new IT revolution in the area (satellite TV’s, internet…)

A way to test such an hypothesis is to have a look at two multi-stars videos, produced by Ahmad Al Aryan who recently launched his second opus, “The Arab Conscience”, after the tremendous success of “The Arab Dream”, released in 1998 (see previous post).

With the collaboration of many famous singers, from all parts of the Arab World, “The Arab Conscience” tells in pictures the painful story of the Arab countries and populations since the release of “The Arab Dream”.

The main message is repeated again and again: People hearts are dead, our love and love to each others is dead, we probably forgot that all Arab been a family once upon a day…

The video has just been released and it is probably too soon to know if it will be as successful as the previous one ten years ago.

But it is easy to see that “The Arab Conscience” has been aired by 15 major Arab TV’s only and that all (pro)Saudi channels did not participate in the promotion of the video (when “The Arab Dream” had the backing of Al-Waleed Ibn Talal, the famous Saudi tycoon)…

Indeed, such a split in the “Arab TV consensus” gives a fair picture of what Ahmad Al Aryan and his Arab friends wanted to say: the worrying state of the “Arab Conscience”.

Here to read the original and more detailed post in French, and there for "The Arab Conscience" video, with English subtitles.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Crossing the borders : movies and music from Palestine

The Salt of this Land, a Palestinian movie, will be presented at the International film festival in Cannes (France). The film is about Emad, a young Palestian who tries desesparately to live in homeland, and Soraya, a third generation emigrant to the states travelling to her parents’ country looking for her roots.

A story which has something to do with the film maker’s one, Annemarie Jacir (آن ماري جاسر), born in Nazareth, raised in Saudi Arabia then in the USA. Since a few years, she lives now in the Occupied Territories or, better, she used to live as the Israeli authorites did not allow her to come back to her home in Ramallah, in spite of her American passport (something which helps usually).

Thus, the movie was finished not in Palestine but in… Marseille (south of France). Anyhow, Annemarie Jacir remains happy with that: with her movie, she will be able to express her ideas about the most sensitive issue, that of the right for the Palestinians to return to their homeland.

Rim Banna’s story, a singer from Nazareth, is about the same issue: how a Palestinian (artist) could make his/her voice heard across borders?

Since her beginning in the mid 80’s, Rim Banna has become a leading figure of the new Arab song which mixes traditional pieces with modern music and rythms. But, having an Israeli passport, she has more opportunities to meet her audience in the western countries than in the Arab ones.

For instance, she was invited some months ago to give a show in Damascus but she never got her visa to leave. Thus she decided to have a “virtual show” with her fans listening to her in an Internet coffee shop in Damascus, something she did also with for the Jordan, Lebanaese and Gazawis audiences.

To be fair, the Israelis authorities are not the only ones which make her travels to Arab countries almost impossible. Even if there are agreements between Israel and some Arab governments, the boycott issue, a difficult and painful one LINK, adds to the difficulties.

Nonetheless, Rim Banna was happy enough to meet some days ago her Arab audience, for the very first time, in Abu Dhabi. She had brought with her a little stone, taken from the ruins of a church in Saffuriyyeh, a little village close to Nazareth where it is said that Jesus’s mother was born.

It remains almost nothing of that village whose inhabitants live now in Nazareth or even in the Palestinian camp of Ain Heloue (Lebanon).

Is has been destroyed by the Israeli forces during the war.

Just 60 years ago.

Links to some videos and articles with the original post, in French.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lebanon : Worlds against Forgetfulness

The works of the Lebanese artists are more necessary than never when the specter of the civil war comes closer and closer. And it is the reason why they should not be gagged.

It could have been the case in August 2007 with “How Nancy wished it was just an April fool joke”, Rabih Mroueh’s last work. The play, which was said to fuel confessional divisions, has not been banned, thanks to the intervention of Lebanon minister of Culture, Mr Tarek Mitri (whose help was useful later against the ban of Persepolis, a French cartoon about the life of a young Iranian girl).

Under changing posters inspired by Zina Maasri’s work on the graphic use of such posters by political parties during the civil war, four “witnesses” tell the story of Lebanon, from the very beginnings during the mid 70’s, to the end of the play which ends, not in the beginning of the 90’s with the Taef agreements but with the last (at that time) events of the 25 January 2007, when fights in Beirut were close to send the country toward a new war. Just like now…

One could read Mroueh’s title as a way to wish, with the Nancy mentioned in the title, that nothing never happened and that all those events were just a “joke”. Nothing serious happened.

But it is just the contrary: with many other Lebanese writers and artists, Mroueh reminds us that - to put it in Mahmud Darwish’s words - Memory is necessary for forgetfulness (more or less the title of Darwish’s famous book about the siege of Beirut in 1982).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

May08: Happy Birthday Mr Preisdent!

May 4 was president Mubarak’s birthday, and an opportunity for the Egyptian oppositional movements to call for a second day of protestation.

Among many other reasons for that, the cost of living, the lack of job opportunities. And the recent agreement for the exportation of Egyptian gas production to Israel when Gaza population is in lack of everything because of the Israeli embargo.

The call for the strike has not been a great success, even after the Muslim Brotherhood joined the movement. An explanation could be the threats exerted by the Egyptian authorities who asked for instance the private phone companies to cancel some 250 000 lines whose owners were not very well known.

Indeed, those lines have been used in order to call strike. Thus, the real meaning of the last events may lay in the rising importance of IT facilities in public mobilization. In spite of the arrest of a rather large number of well-known political bloggers, calls for the strike spread on the web through new outlets like Facebook groups for instance.

IT facilities, like other artefacts of globalization, are already part of day-to-day culture of the Arab youth who are inventing new forms of social protestation and demonstration: wearing black garments for instance, writing on banknotes and, of course, playing protest rap songs like that one.

A short translation of the lyrics with the original post in French.
And more songs following that link.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A stop to Metro: more banished pictures in Egypt!

Policemen paid a visit to Malameh Publishing house in Cairo last April 15th. It did not bother very much Mr Al-Sharkawi, the owner. He is already in jail because he is among those who called in the Internet for 15th April general strike (another one is programmed for Husni Mubarak’s birthday, the 4th of May).

The policemen targeted the remaining stock of Metro, a book published a year ago. According to the Egyptian law, an honest citizen had complained against an outrageous publication (using dirty colloquial words says more or less the accusation).

Metro is not an ordinary book. It is the first “graphic novel” in Arabic. Magdy El Shafee (محمد الشرقاوي) spent five years working on that detective story whose main character, Shihab, is a young Egyptian IT engineer who decides to rob a bank. The money being hidden in the subway, the real problem is to find the way out…

A question that many Egyptian ask themselves nowadays.

Little chance to find Metro now that the book has been confiscated! But some pages have been published (translated into English) on the Internet, and some other drawings.
Magdy El Shafee has a web site, and he wrote a post (in English) on his blog when his book has been confiscated.
He also links to Lebanese musician and artist Mazen Kerbaj work, who also writes a blog.
For articles (Arabic and English) about Magdy El Shafee’s, see links on the original post in French.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Poetry and TV in the Arab Gulf: a question of “geopoetics”

“The Millions Poet” has been shown on Abu Dhabi TV for the second year. Until the finals, the great poetry contest was a very successful operation but it could turn into a political and even an economical fiasco after the victory of the Qatari contestant.

In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott can be heard as a revenge for this unbearable conspiracy against the Saudi poet Nasir al-Fara’ina, the expected winner (a proof of this being, among others, that competitors were asked to improvise upon two verses composed by a poet from the Saudi rival Al Racheed family).

For some Saudi commentators, the Emirates are duplicating with “The Millions Poet” a game already experimented by Qatar with Al-Jazeera: putting the pressure on a powerfull neighbour using the asymmetric weapon of the media.

But there is a true lesson in those “geopoetics”: passion for poetry and games could be strong enough to shake the Saudi Kingdom born less than one century ago.

Apparently, the Saudis were beaten at the “Millions Poet” competition because they did not agree on one national competitor but split their votes between two poets according to tribal rivalries!

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French.
And click on that link for a video giving an idea of "The Millions Poet" competition.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Good and Bad: Two Faces of the Arab Modernity

Dancing with the Saudi flag, on which coranic verses are written, is not something to be done, especially when you have already been seen drunken on a stage in Dubai. All the worst if you have been the partner of the outrageous Dina whose belly dance was close to set fire to the Cairene street in October 2006 when an hysterical crowd of young men started to harass every passing-by woman. (An information which was mainly reported by the local bloggers whose importance began to be clear with that event.)

Thus, Saad al-Saghir (سعد الصغير) had many reasons to “repent” as many others did before him recording religious songs (see previous post). A contribution which raises some interrogations among the lovers of the high tradition of nasheed.

Nonetheless, others see nothing problematic with that modernization of the nasheed which can be heard on Arab TV’s among other (non religious) musicals songs.

With the success of Sami Yusuf’s songs, the modern nasheed has given up the old fashion style. Thanks to digitalization, the ban of musical instruments is no more a problem. Singers like Kuwaiti Alafassy make clear that today religious songs may deal with new issues like ecology. Even relations between men and women may be tackled in a musical genre strictly restricted before to divine love.

One could suspect, or even make fun of such a quick shift from shameless behaviour to a so pious one. But the coming back to virtuous behaviours is a complex phenomenon. For some singers, TV and movie stars probably, but certainly for most of the Arab youth who admire them and watch them, the “bad” cheeky fruit seller dancing in an outrageous way and the “good” devout young muslim singing his love to God are in fact two inseparable sides of the Arab modernity.

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French.

And to whach an almost "satanic" dance by Saad al-Saghir follow this link and then shift to the pious singer with that video of Ahmidu rabba-na

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Mari": A Syrian All Women Symphonic Orchestra

Born in Irak, raised in Damascus before he went to the famous Victoria College in Alexandria, then to London at the Royal Academy of Music, Solhi al-Wadi’s life is a nice example of a Middle-Eastern sophisticated cosmopolitanism better known in the West through Edward Said’s works and life.

Like the great maestro Solhi al-Wadi who died a few months ago, Ra‘ad Khalaf is from an Iraqi origin. Famous violinist, inspired in his works by thousand-year old heritage of the Syrian civilization, he founded at the end of year 2006 the first all women symphonic orchestra in the area.

Conductor Ra‘ad Khalaf got the idea of this orchestra by year 2006 in order to help its 62 players and 39 singers, trained in Syria or abroad, in finding good opportunities to perform in concerts, as the orchestra did in Dubai with great success, some days ago.

Obviously, the project is also to give a different picture of the Syrian culture and of the situation of women in this country. Let us hope that Professor Bernard Lewis will hear about Mari Orchestra: he could give up some of his arrogant ideas about culture in general and music in particular, in the Arab World!

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French. And to discover the more cultural than political blog ot the official Syrian "visitor" to the USA, this link to a very intreresting and (apparently) more cultural and personnal than political blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Songs & Politics : “I hate Israel”

Some years ago, Egyptian singer Abdel-Rahim “Shaabula” Shaaban” became incredibly popular with a song which plainly says “I hate Israel.”

Surfing on every major political event in the Arab world (Irak, Palestine, Lebanon, Darfur…), Shaabula also deals with local politics. I don’t like chairs, one of his most famous songs is a clear allusion to Egyptian “chair-man” Husni Mubarak and the Kefaya movement used it for one of its political campaigns.

Today, Shaabula gives a new version of his very first hit with new lyrics dedicated to US President Georges Bush, whose election was such “a black day” (for Arabs…)

The fact that he was hired by both Egyptian authorities (for a preventing campaign against the bird flu) and muslim preacher Amr Khaled (in a campaign against drug addiction) reveals how popular the former mekwagi (a man who irons shirts and throusers) remains.

Heir of a long and rich tradition of Arab protest singers (see previous posts 1 and 2), Shaabula has a popular and comic touch that makes him similar to great names of the past like Shaykh Imam. But he is also the product of a radically different cultural era, dominated by media and mass production of cultural artefacts.

An era in which the raising of stars like Shaabula sometimes may be seen like a kind of revenge: the revenge of “low” classes which have been living too long under the cultural patronage of cultural elites.

Follow that link to read the original and more detailed post in French.
To wath Shaabula in one of his most famous hits, 'Ammi 'araby, (with English subtitles), this video from Walter Ambrust's study, Bravely Stating the Obvious: Egyptian humor and the anti-American consensus

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Fate of the Picture in Saudi Arabia: Ads and Movies

According to the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, pictures of “living beings” are normally forbidden in Saudi Arabia although TV exists in the country since the 60’. There are also numerous illustrated newspapers and all the digital facilities in particular since the opening of the Internet in January 99.

Because of those regulations which, according to the local professionals, remain unformal, ads along the roads and main streets of the Kingdom have to accept the forbidding of human representations.

Thus, using tricks invented long ago in Islamic art, today graphic designers often use in their illustrations different aliasing effects as the shape of a face or a body remains “licit” if there is no “manifestation of life” given by the human look,.
It explains why so many (male) figures represented on the billboards wear sun glasses!

Billboards which remain, when they are electric and animated, the only public screens Arabia as there are no movie houses in Saudi Arabia.

A reality presented in one of the very first local movies filmed by Abdallah al-‘Ayyaf in 2005. “Next Moovie House: 500kms,” a documentary, is about the trip, between Riyadh and Manama (Bahrain), of a Saudi movie fan who wants to go to the “real” movie...

The same year saw the not-so-private screening of another local made documentary. “Women without shadow,” a film, by Haifa Mansur, made a big fuss when the well-known Muslim preacher, Aaidh Algarne, retracted the statement he gave in the movie about the question of veiling.

The very first local fiction movie was to be released in 2006 but the main Saudi participation to the realization of “Kayfa al-hâl” (How are you?) was that of its producer, the Arab tycoon Waleed Bin Talal and his Rotana company! Thus, the “title” of the first local movie could rather go to “Shadows of Silence,” released almost at the same time by Abdullah al-Muhaiseen.

Since that time, various movies have been produced and cinema festivals are more and more openly organized.

One century after the first screening of a movie in the Arab world, in Egypt, picture has finally got some legitimacy in the Saudi kingdom. Even in the legal courts of the country which accepts, since 2005 too, pictures as legal evidences.

A decision which raises many issues in the time of the digital picture but it is another question!

Follow those links 1 and 2 to read the original and more detailed posts in French.

And to watch an interesting video where a Saudi activist shows, thanks to the camera, that a woman, yes, can drive, follow this link