Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sex & the Arab City: Arab winds of change.

Reading the countless comments in the press and on the Internet about the arrest and judgment of the “Saudi Casanova” who boasted his sexual exploits on the panarab LBC channel, gives the feeling that Arab sexuality is really an interesting topic (in the “West” at least).

More recently, female pop singers have moved once again the sexual issue to the top of the chart. In Egypt, first, when an Egyptian MP, close to the Muslim Brotherhood, protested against the coming of Beyonce, a symbol of depravation and immorality, to the rich and fancy Red Sea Resort.

Different characters but more or less the same story in Morocco after Haifa Wehbe performed at Agadir tolerance concert. Although a large number of the (masculine) audience was obviously fascinated by the "aura" of the Lebanese icon, wearing an offensive négligé, comments in the local press, for instance in the daily Al-Tajdid, close to the religious opposition, opposed violently what the perceived as a pitiful picture of a South ripping off clothes and dignity.

Such polemics are nothing new of course (see for instance this previous post) but it gives us the opportunity to mention an interesting discussion on a related topic between Brian Whitaker, the Guardian’s Middle East Editor and As’ad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese born professor of political science at California State University.

Under the title Arab Winds of Change, Whitaker underscores what he sees the real challenges in the region: “If asked where change is likely to come from in the Arab countries, I would not put much faith in "reformist" politicians and opposition parties – they're mostly no-hopers – but I would definitely put feminists, gay men, lesbians and bloggers very high on my list”.

Why? Because “In these highly stratified societies, people are discriminated for and against largely according to accidents of birth: by gender, by family, by tribe, by sect. Women, as the largest disadvantaged group, can play a major role in overcoming this and helping smaller disadvantaged groups to do the same. Once the equality principle is accepted for women it becomes easier to apply it to others. Contrary to popular opinion, most human rights abuses in the Arab countries are perpetrated by society rather than regimes. Yes, ordinary people are oppressed by their rulers, but they are also participants themselves in a system of oppression that includes systematic denial of rights on a grand scale”.

An explanation which infuriates the Angry Arab (As’ad Abu Khalil’s blog title) who denounces a “pathetic” analysis, “an insult to the people of the region.” (see his comment here, and Whitaker’s answer there.

Whatever opinion you choose, it is worth to note that discussion, for once, is not limited to the classical topics but embraces unusual topics.

Indeed, a bit like As’ad Abu Khalil’s blog, which focuses, as mentionned in the subtitle, on “politics, war, the Middle East, Arabic poetry, and art”!

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

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Last Iraqi Communist Comes to Heaven

“Change with the Red” (غيّر بالأحمر), is today’s slogan of the Lebanese Communist Party for its 85th anniversary, a good opportunity to recall the very significant role of the various Marxist parties in the intellectual and cultural life of the modern Arab world. A good example is Iraq where the “Red menace” is still rearing its ugly head in the literary field after democracy has been generously “given” to its native people!

Around the middle of the 20th century, various young Iraqi poets conduced the Arabic poetic revolution. Among them, Badr Shakir Sayyab (بدر شاكر السياب). Born in a modest family from the southern part of the country, Sayyab joined the (then) powerful communist party during his studies in Bagdad. Later, he publicly moved away from his former “comrades” with a collection of articles first published in the Iraqi daily Al-Hurriya, then collected in a book in Beirut under the title “I was a communist”. (The book has been recently reissued by Al-Jamal, an Arabic Publishing house in Germany.)

Also coming from the south of the country, Saadi Youssef (سعدي يوسف) may be the last « great Arab poet » after Mahmud Darwish’s death. Faithfully following the poetic innovations of the 1950’, Saadi Youssef carries on his writing year after year. Two years ago, he has published a new collection: The Last Communist Comes to Heaven. A telling title for somebody grown up in the feverish atmosphere of the communist militants a mid-century ago and now established in London when his country is occupied by foreign troops.

As the inexorable decline of poetry in Arab literature is balanced by the irresistible rise of prose fiction, the formally Iraqi poet Ali Badr will be our third example. After his first novel, Papa Sartre, which gives an ironic description of the leftist intellectual life in the Bagdag of the sixties (the book has been translated into English), Ali Badr has written other books such as Chasing the wolves (الركض وراء الذئاب), a brilliant story which relates the fate of various Iraqi communists in Africa, where they fled the Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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