Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa: A Postcolonial Outlook 0415509726, 9780415509725

This book explores the body and the production process of popular culture in, and on, the Middle East and North Africa,

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Table of contents :
Front Cover
Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa: A Postcolonial Outlook
Copyright Page
List of Figures
Introduction: Popular Culture—A Site of Resistance: Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman
Part I: Popular Culture and the Aesthetics of Political Resistance
1. Palestinian Rap: Against the Struggle Paradigm: Ted Swedenburg
2. Music Sans Frontières? Documentaries on Hip-Hop in the Holy Land and DIY Democracy: Caroline Rooney
3. Rai: North Africa’s Music of the Working Class: John A. Shoup
Part II: Gender Politics, the Popular, Social Resistance
4. Masculinity and Fatherhood
within a Lebanese Muslim Community: Assad Fouladkar’s When Maryam Spoke Out: Dalia Said Mostafa
5. Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil: Photography and the Inscription of Subjectivity on the Female Body: Walid El Khachab
6. Dancing Without My Body: Cultural Integration in the Middle East: Nadra Majeed Assaf
Part III: Tradition and the Popular: New Forms and Trends
7. Satellite Piety: Contemporary TV Islamic Programs in Egypt: Omaima Abou-Bakr
8. Büşra:
The Veiled Protagonist of a Comic Serial: Iren Ozgur
9. The Yacoubian Building and Its Sisters: Reflections on Readership and Written Culture in Modern Egypt: Richard Jacquemond
10. Tradition and Modernity: The Globalization of Sufi Music in Egypt: Michael Frishkopf
Part IV: Cultural Hegemony: Popular Representations of the Middle East and the US
11. American Orientalism after Said: John Carlos Rowe
12. Barbaric Space: Portrayal of Arab Lands in Hollywood Films: Hania A. M. Nashef
13. Alternating Images: Simulacra of Ideology in Egyptian Advertisements: Maha El Said
Part V: Popular Culture
and Revolution The Voice of Dissent
14. The Role of New Media in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011:
Visuality as an Agent of Change: Randa Aboubakr
15. The Aesthetics of Revolution: Popular Creativity and the Egyptian Spring: Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman
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Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa

This book explores the body and the production process of popular culture in, and on, the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey, and Iran in the fi rst decade of the 21st century, and up to the current historical moment. Essays consider gender, racial, political, and cultural issues in fi lm, cartoons, music, dance, photo-tattoos, graphic novels, fiction, and advertisements. Contributors to the volume span an array of specializations ranging across literary, postcolonial, gender, media, and Middle Eastern studies and contextualize their views within a larger historical and political moment, analyzing the emergence of a popular expression in the Middle East and North Africa region in recent years, and drawing conclusions pertaining to the direction of popular culture within a geopolitical context. The importance of this book lies in presenting a fresh perspective on popular culture, combining media that are not often combined and offering a topical examination of recent popular production, aiming to counter stereotypical representations of Islamophobia and otherness by bringing together the perspectives of scholars from different cultural backgrounds and disciplines. The collection shows that popular culture can effect changes and alter perceptions and stereotypes, constituting an area where people of different ethnicities, genders, and orientations can fi nd common grounds for expression and connection. Walid El Hamamsy is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Cairo University, Egypt. Mounira Soliman is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Cairo University, Egypt.

ROUTLEDGE RESEARCH IN POSTCOLONIAL LITERATURES Edited in collaboration with the Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, University of Kent at Canterbury, this series presents a wide range of research into postcolonial literatures by specialists in the field. Volumes will concentrate on writers and writing originating in previously (or presently) colonized areas, and will include material from non-anglophone as well as anglophone colonies and literatures. Series editors: Donna Landry and Caroline Rooney. 1. Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye by Brenda Cooper 2. The Postcolonial Jane Austen edited by You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan 3. Contemporary Caribbean Women’s Poetry: Making Style by Denisede Caires Narain 4. African Literature, Animism and Politics by Caroline Rooney 5. Caribbean–English Passages: Intertextuality in a Postcolonial Tradition by Tobias Döring 6. Islands in History and Representation edited by Rod Edmond and Vanessa Smith 7. Civility and Empire: Literature and Culture in British India, 1822–1922 by Anindyo Roy 8. Women Writing the West Indies, 1804–1939: ‘A Hot Place, Belonging To Us’ by Evelyn O’Callaghan 9. Postcolonial Pacific Writing: Representations of the body by Michelle Keown 10. Writing Woman, Writing Place: Contemporary Australian and South African Fiction by Sue Kossew 11. Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence by Priyamvada Gopal 12. Postcolonial Conrad: Paradoxes of Empire by Terry Collits 13. American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination by Paul Lyons 14. Decolonizing Culture in the Pacific: Reading History and Trauma in Contemporary Fiction by Susan Y. Najita 15. Writing Sri Lanka: Literature, Resistance and the Politics of Place by Minoli Salgado 16. Literature of the Indian Diaspora: Theorizing the Diasporic Imaginary by Vijay Mishra 17. Secularism in the Postcolonial Indian Novel: National and Cosmopolitan Narratives in English by Neelam Srivastava 18. English Writing and India, 1600–1920: Colonizing Aesthetics by Pramod K. Nayar 19. Decolonising Gender: Literature, Enlightenment and the Feminine Real by Caroline Rooney 20. Postcolonial Theory and Autobiography by David Huddart 21. Contemporary Arab Women Writers by Anastasia Valassopoulos 22. Postcolonialism, Psychoanalysis and Burton: Power Play of Empire by Ben Grant 24 Land and Nationalism in Fictions from Southern Africa by James Graham 25. Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden by Sharae Deckard 26. The Idea of the Antipodes: Place, People, and Voices by Matthew Boyd Goldie 27. Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives: Violence and Violation edited by Sorcha Gunne and Zoë Brigley Thompson 28. Locating Transnational Ideals edited by Walter Goebel and Saskia Schabio 29. Transnational Negotiations in Caribbean Diasporic Literature: Remitting the Text by Kezia Page 30. Representing Mixed Race in Jamaica and England from the Abolition Era to the Present by Sara Salih 31. Postcolonial Nostalgias: Writing, Representation and Memory by Dennis Walder 32. Publishing the Postcolonial: Anglophone West African and Caribbean Writing in the UK 1948– 1968 by Gail Low 33. Postcolonial Tourism: Literature, Culture, and Environment by Anthony Carrigan 34. The Postcolonial City and its Subjects: London, Nairobi, Bombay by Rashmi Varma 35. Terrorism and Insurgency in Indian-English Literature: Writing Violence and Empire by Alex Tickell 36. The Postcolonial Gramsci edited by Neelam Srivastava and Baidik Bhattacharya 37. Postcolonial Audiences: Readers, Viewers and Reception edited by Bethan Benwell, James Procter and Gemma Robinson

38. Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing, edited by Rehana Ahmed, Peter Morey, and Amina Yaqin 39. Edward Said’s Translocations: Essays in Secular Criticism, edited by Tobias Döring and Mark Stein 40. Postcolonial Memoir in the Middle East: Rethinking the Liminal in Mashriqi Writing by Norbert Bugeja 41. Critical Perspectives on Indo-Caribbean Women’s Literature edited by Joy Mahabir and Mariam Pirbhai 42. Palestinian Literature and Film in Postcolonial Feminist Perspective by Anna Ball 43. Locating Postcolonial Narrative Genres edited by Walter Goebel and Saskia Schabio 44. Resistance in Contemporary Middle Eastern Cultures: Literature, Cinema and Music, edited by Karima Laachir and Saeed Talajooy 45. The Postsecular Imagination: Postcolonialism, Religion, and Literature by Manav Ratti 46. Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa: A Postcolonial Outlook, edited by Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman Related Titles: Postcolonial Life-Writing: Culture, Politics, and Self-Representation by Bart Moore-Gilbert

Popular Culture in the Middle East and North Africa A Postcolonial Outlook

Edited by Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman


First published 2013 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

© 2013 Taylor & Francis The right of Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Popular culture in the Middle East and North Africa : a postcolonial outlook / edited by Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman. p. cm. — (Routledge research in postcolonial literatures ; 46) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Popular culture—Middle East. 2. Popular culture—Africa, North. 3. Middle East— Civilization—21st century. 4. Africa, North—Civilization—21st century. I. El Hamamsy, Walid, 1970– II. Soliman, Mounira, 1967– DS57.P66 2012 306.0956--dc23 2012033466 ISBN13: 978-0-415-50972-5 (hbk) ISBN13: 978-0-203-09865-3 (ebk) Typeset in Baskerville by IBT Global.

Printed and bound in the United States of America on sustainably sourced paper by IBT Global.

This book is dedicated to the memory of Professor Malak Hashem with fondness and gratitude.


List of Figures Acknowledgments Introduction: Popular Culture—A Site of Resistance

xiii xv 1


PART I Popular Culture and the Aesthetics of Political Resistance 1

Palestinian Rap: Against the Struggle Paradigm




Music Sans Frontières? Documentaries on Hip-Hop in the Holy Land and DIY Democracy




Rai: North Africa’s Music of the Working Class



PART II Gender Politics, the Popular, Social Resistance 4

Masculinity and Fatherhood within a Lebanese Muslim Community: Assad Fouladkar’s When Maryam Spoke Out DALIA SAID MOSTAFA





Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil: Photography and the Inscription of Subjectivity on the Female Body




Dancing Without My Body: Cultural Integration in the Middle East



PART III Tradition and the Popular: New Forms and Trends 7

Satellite Piety: Contemporary TV Islamic Programs in Egypt




Büşra: The Veiled Protagonist of a Comic Serial




The Yacoubian Building and Its Sisters: Reflections on Readership and Written Culture in Modern Egypt



10 Tradition and Modernity: The Globalization of Sufi Music in Egypt



PART IV Cultural Hegemony: Popular Representations of the Middle East and the US 11 American Orientalism after Said



12 Barbaric Space: Portrayal of Arab Lands in Hollywood Films



13 Alternating Images: Simulacra of Ideology in Egyptian Advertisements MAHA EL SAID




PART V Popular Culture and Revolution: The Voice of Dissent 14 The Role of New Media in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011: Visuality as an Agent of Change



15 The Aesthetics of Revolution: Popular Creativity and the Egyptian Spring



Contributors Index

261 267


6.1 6.2 10.1 10.2 10.3 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4

Dancer performing on fi rst night. Audience on fi rst night. Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami, c. 1996. Temporal structure of a typical Shaykh Yasin layla (1/17/1994, Ezbit al-Mansi). Temporal structure of “Qalbi yuhaddithuni” (Al-Tuhami, 1998). Photo by author. © Tarek Nour Americana. Photo by author. © Book House Publishing.

102 103 167 168 171 216 218 223 225


The compilation of this volume has been a long journey that would not have been possible without the help of many extended hands along the way. We are genuinely grateful to Caroline Rooney for her constant and unfaltering intellectual and moral support at every stage of the preparation of this book, from inception to completion. We are thankful to Liz Levine, commissioning editor at Routledge, for her patient guidance and serene assistance throughout the process. Our deep appreciation goes to all contributors, whose interest and scholarship on popular culture in the Middle East and North Africa made this volume possible. We thank them for their unwavering commitment, obliging flexibility, and bearing with many a demanding suggestion and impossible deadline. We are especially indebted to the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful remarks and suggestions, particularly the addition of a section on revolution to this book, conceived before the eruption of long-awaited revolutions in the region. Last but not least, we are deeply obliged to our families for their unswerving support and encouragement, for being the rocks we lean on.

Introduction Popular Culture—A Site of Resistance Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

Popular Culture: A Contested Field The status of popular culture as a lower form of cultural production is most clearly pronounced in the Middle East and North Africa. Produced and consumed by the masses, associated with mass media and dissemination, it is viewed as consumerist, superficial, and lacking substance. It is almost always locked in a binary opposition with ‘high culture’ wherein the latter occupies the position of numerator between the pair, the more valued, respected, and canonized form of cultural production. Popular culture, on the other hand, is viewed as the less respected, more commercial, and less representative form of cultural production. And the twain cannot meet. Proponents of this view see the two types of culture as separate, divorced from each other, and diametrically opposed. ‘Intellectuals’ do not produce, engage with, or consume popular culture. In fact, they look down upon it. Popular culture in this schema does not require the proper attention, creativity, or marketing strategies that ‘high culture’ does. It is a form of haphazard and arbitrary expression by the masses. And popular culture’s positive attributes as a genuine expression of people’s thoughts, beliefs, and values, its immediacy and accessibility, its direct affi nity and connection with the everyday and the quotidian, are misconstrued as negative features of this form of cultural production—features that should be avoided at all costs if one is to be truly respectful of the aesthetics of ‘true’ art. And the consumers of both types of culture are also expected to be intrinsically different. The assumption is that the same person cannot appreciate canonized literature and equally enjoy reading a comics book on the subway. This binarism translates into a controversy over ‘tradition’ versus ‘modernity’—a debate many Middle Eastern and North African intellectuals are engaged in, especially in light of a long history of colonialism. For modernity is often associated with the “importation” of ideologies and cultural concepts from the West. In its use of new media and technologies, popular culture is thus most readily associated with Western cultures. It becomes suspect in the eyes of many as an ‘alien’ form of cultural production that does not


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

suit Middle Eastern and North African tastes, values, or ‘traditions’. In this way, rap and hip-hop—popular forms associated with the Western and the modern—become vilified and scorned in comparison to Um Kulthoum—the epitome of ‘traditional’ singing, ‘authenticity’, and refi ned taste. What such views ignore is the fact of popular culture itself, the presence, production, and consumption of rap and hip-hop in reality. What they equally ignore is that Um Kulthoum herself at one point in her career underwent a transformation geared toward more proximity to the masses by collaborating with composer and musician Mohammed Abdel Wahab—then perceived as a ‘Westernized’ and modernized innovator experimenting with new musical forms and instruments, now valorized as a ‘classical’ icon. Instead of such narrow and exclusivist categorizations, we argue that much border crossing can and does occur between mainstream and popular culture. For despite individual differences and levels of educational sophistication, social background, and artistic habituation, reality shows that many consumers of so-called ‘high culture’ equally consume and enjoy forms of popular culture that allegedly fall in a lesser position on the cultural ladder. And it is precisely this border crossing that belies the falsity of the assumption, the inapplicability of the branding of one form of cultural production as positive, the other negative. Hence, these assumptions need to be questioned, examined, and revised if a better understanding of popular culture in the Middle East and North Africa is to be achieved. Similar dichotomies between high and popular culture have existed in the West. And Stuart Hall’s work on the defi nition of the ‘popular’ helps deconstruct them by precisely focusing on notions of border crossing. Stuart Hall: The Dialectic of Cultural Struggle Hall delineates the relationship between the popular and power structures— social, cultural, and economic apparati that dictate what becomes normalized and what becomes marginalized—as one of “containment” and “resistance” (443). As he puts it, ‘Cultural change’ is a polite euphemism for the process by which some cultural forms and practices are driven out of the centre of popular life, actively marginalised. Rather than simply ‘falling into disuse’ through the Long March of modernisation, things are actively pushed aside so that something else can take their place. (443) Hall here is adopting a neo-Gramscian approach wherein prevalent hegemonic power structures propagate a certain world order through the dissemination of certain ideologies that end up forming new power blocs that impede counter-attempts at border crossing. Such power blocs are in turn met with resistance by excluded popular forms in a constant attempt



to make themselves visible and create a space for their voice within that structure. This is a process akin to Bill Ashcroft’s “interpolation” whereby marginalized subjects effect a certain insertion of themselves within a system that hegemonically subjugates and alienates them, thereby subverting that system and reshaping it on their own terms. Yet, this reshaping process is not a purely “cultural” one. For the study of culture cannot be divorced from other factors that are not readily conceived as cultural in nature but which constitute forms of hegemony that directly influence the meaning, production, and consumption of culture as well as the processes of inclusion and exclusion that defi ne what is high and what is low. Such factors can be ideologically, socio-economically, or politically determined. It is precisely in the interplay among these factors that struggle lies, a “continuous and necessarily uneven and unequal struggle, by the dominant culture, constantly to disorganize and reorganize popular culture” (Hall 447). The outcome of the struggle, according to Hall, can be in favor of either dominant or popular culture depending on how the different forces play themselves out at any given moment, rather than on these cultural forms’ intrinsic qualities. By extension, one could argue that geopolitical and historical factors can play an equal role in this process of containment and resistance and its antecedent: border crossing across different historical periods as well. Thus, what is dominant at one point can be superseded by a more popular form at another, and vice versa, because of such factors. Containment—the foil of resistance in that dialectic relationship—in particular, depends to a great extent on a process of indoctrination and manipulation wherein mainstream/dominant culture tries to ‘neutralize’ popular culture: “This year’s radical symbol or slogan will be neutralised into next year’s fashion; the year after, it will be the object of a profound cultural nostalgia” (Hall 449). This is an approach to the study of culture that has at its core a conception of cultural production as a fluid process. Rather than a view of mainstream and popular culture that sees both and the relations between them as fi xed, this is an outlook that perceives these forms of cultural production as more malleable and flexible. It is this malleability and flexibility that the different factors—economic, political, historical, etc.—capitalize on in designating certain forms of cultural production as ‘elitist’, others as less so. Consequently, and because of that fluidity, cultural production is in a state of ongoing flux, border crossing occurring and recurring all the time and constantly reinventing itself. For in their perpetual struggle against dominant culture, new and subordinate forms of cultural production simultaneously effect loopholes, punctures in the otherwise solid and inaccessible fabric, that end up, even if gradually, reshaping ‘tradition’ itself. This struggle can thus be seen as one whereby popular culture is constantly attempting to cross that border imposed and protected by mainstream culture, to seep into a more legitimate area wherein


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

it can gain more recognition and validity. This is precisely the resistance that popular culture represents. Middle Eastern and North African Popular Culture and the Academy The perceived bias against popular culture in the West has also manifested itself in the initial scarcity of academic attention given to popular culture. A similar process of containment and resistance thus characterized scholarship on dominant versus popular culture. But for the Birmingham School, which deconstructed the binarism between high and low cultures and out of which Stuart Hall’s work emerged, little academic analysis of popular culture would have seen the light. It is telling that up until the present moment—five decades after its foundation—the school still remains a scholarly cornerstone for cultural studies and popular culture critics. If the Birmingham School gained some ground for the analysis of popular culture in the West, no such equivalent has emerged in the Middle East and North Africa where there continues to be a perceived gap in the study of popular culture produced in the region.1 In fact, popular culture is even looked down upon much more strongly in this part of the world. And the distinction in the Academy between what is high and what is low, what is worthy of academic study and what is not, is much more rigid than in the West. Certain types of cultural production (novels, classical poetry, and painting, for instance) are deemed ‘intellectual’, refi ned, and sophisticated, while others (graphic novels, vernacular poetry, and graffiti) are seen as less worthy of academic consideration and more suited for the layperson. This strict stratification can even occur within the same genre. And academes and scholars in the Middle East and North Africa still engage in debates related to the worthiness of, say, colloquial poetry as opposed to classical, and free-verse poetry as opposed to metrical composition.2 Clearly, if these debates still occur, this relegates popular culture to a yet more derogatory position. This belittling view even extends to cover what constitutes and what eludes popular culture. In Egypt, for instance, the term is most often equated with folklore. And any reference to popular culture would evoke in the listener’s mind associations with this one limited aspect. Other forms of popular culture are excluded. Rebecca Stein and Ted Swedenburg have argued, though in a different context, that popular culture is often undermined as a field of study vis-à-vis the ongoing political struggle in Palestine/Israel (1–2). This is typical of attitudes prevalent in different parts of the Middle East and North Africa, where the ‘popular’ is seen as a lesser form. The danger of this lies in the fact that such strategies and attitudes do not foster a culture that encourages the study of popular culture. Thus, there is a genuine gap in cultural studies in our part of the world. Note, for instance, the absence of a cultural studies program/department at most universities in the region. Because of



this lack, much of the already limited scholarly work in the field of cultural studies is produced by scholars affi liated with language departments familiar with the critical and theoretical trends of Western academia. There are three obvious consequences to this lack. The fi rst of these is the fact that most of the cultural studies and popular culture scholarship conducted by researchers from the region is done sporadically. As such, it is not sustained. And work done by one scholar remains an individual work that is, in most cases, not built upon. Second, because most of the research in this field is done in language departments (English, French, German, etc.), it is more often than not heavily dependent on Western critical theory that does not always factor in regional/local contexts that have their own specificities. Moreover, the application of Western critical paradigms to non-Western cultures can also end up recreating hegemonic power structures. Gayatri Spivak, drawing on the work of Ranajit Guha, speaks of “native informants,” mouthpieces for fi rst-world intellectuals interested in the voice of the other (26). When a Middle Eastern or North African intellectual applies Western theory to their culture, they run the risk of becoming such “native informants.” Third, the majority of research done on the Middle East and North Africa is produced by Western scholars. As such, much of this work is characterized by a certain degree of voyeurism that objectifies the producers of such forms of cultural expression and ends up propagating self-serving stereotypes and hegemonies (see Said). This is in great part the result of concerns over Western power and Western “representational practices” which have and continue to overshadow attempts at self-representation by non-Western cultures (Armbrust ix–x). Moreover, despite the fact that some of the research done by Westerners can be perceptive and sensitive to the culture, and can create a voice for an otherwise marginalized culture, there is always the risk of the West maintaining its grip on the production of knowledge. Hence the need for more research and theory produced from within the culture. This is what the current volume partly hopes to redress. The Geopolitics of Popular Culture This book was conceived out of a felt need to examine, analyze, and contextualize the flourishing corpus of popular cultural production in the Middle East and North Africa in the last decade. This decade in particular has witnessed the resurgence of considerable interest in Middle Eastern and North African cultures. Globally, the events of September 11, 2001, have given rise to a political and critical debate on perceptions of ‘Islamic’/Arab culture(s) concerning notions of identity, religion, self/other representation, and the politics of cultural hegemony. Cultures previously colonized in the last century, beginning to allegedly maintain forms of political and cultural co-existence with Western cultures (their previous colonizers), now found themselves once again the objects of a Western gaze, at worst demonizing them, at best


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

lumping them together as one indistinguishable whole.3 Though this antagonism was best represented by the US-led war on ‘terrorism’ and notions of ‘the axis of evil’, which in themselves created further rifts, other forms of cultural hostility in the West at large cannot be ignored. Take, for instance, France’s banning of the veil in public schools, the Danish cartoons contemptuously representing Prophet Muhammad, or the Swiss government’s ban on the construction of minarets—all examples that have simultaneously further ‘othered’ “Muslims,” “Arabs,” “Middle Easterners,” as well as instigated the latter’s—sometimes hostile, sometimes defensive—reactions. Locally, this historical moment cannot be separated from the ongoing Palestinian–Israeli confl ict and the injustice felt by peoples in the region as a result of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and brutal policies against its people, as well as the unconditional support that the US has consistently shown to Israel and Western passivity in the face of continued Israeli aggression. This political oppression was further complicated by the fact that most of the peoples in the region found themselves struggling under autocratic regimes that repressed, exploited, and deprived them of basic human needs and necessities. Clearly, such oppressive political turbulence combined with peoples’ lack of a voice representative of their needs either locally or globally naturally led to a reemergence of popular cultural production—the seeds of which had always been there but which had never crystallized and manifested itself as explicitly as in the current moment. Applying Hall’s paradigm of containment/resistance to popular production in the Middle East and North Africa, it is possible to see dominant culture’s attempts at containment as a process of constructing cultural icons. Roland Barthes has demonstrated most aptly how cultural myths are formed through the construction and propagation of seemingly innocent icons (see Barthes). The fi rst decade of the new millennium saw the creation and dissemination of several such icons whose hidden aim was containment and conditioning through indoctrination. To exemplify, the repeatedly aired image on American media of the destruction of the twin towers in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 coupled with images of Palestinians dancing jubilantly—allegedly in reaction to the attacks—had the direct effect of demonizing Arabs as heartless, ruthless enemies in the eyes of many Westerners. That it transpired later that the images of celebration were in fact not related to the attacks at all shows the extent of mainstream media’s manipulation of reality. This is an example of containment through stereotyping.4 By emphasizing that one monolithic representation of Arabs to the exclusion of others, mainstream media simultaneously draw the lines of what is acceptable and what is not. At the same time, an image like this legitimizes Israeli attacks and brutalities on those ‘heartless’, ‘ruthless’ Palestinians—a modern rendering of the old colonial ‘savage’/’savior’ binary using the same processes of manipulative misrepresentation of reality. Moreover, seen in this light, it becomes easier to justify the ‘crusade against ‘terror’, another containment process



masquerading Western interests and hegemonic encroaches on the region. It also becomes possible to make of George W. Bush an icon representing a well-intentioned president whose main goal is to protect his country’s and Israel’s ‘national security’. And for this icon to produce its desired effect, it has to collaborate with other icons in the region: fatherly, benevolent, peaceloving presidents who equally want to protect their country’s and the region’s national security and peaceful coexistence. The creation of the Mubarak icon in Arab media as this ‘fatherly, benevolent, peace-loving’ leader serves precisely this purpose while all the time masking Mubarak’s self-serving economic and political interactions with the West (see El Hamamsy and Soliman in this volume). What these various icons share in common is the perpetuation of a mainstream ideology that interpellates the masses—in the Althusserian sense. It is significant that popular reaction to such processes of interpellation should see through and resist them by presenting its own version of reality. Take, for example, Shaaban Abdel Rahim’s popular (in both senses of the word) song “Ana bakrah Isra’il” (I hate Israel) which in very unpretentious and unsophisticated terms spells out the true sentiments of the lay people directly and unequivocally (Abdel Rahim). What is perceived by many as Shaaban Abdel Rahim’s crudeness and vulgarity have made of him the butt of censure by the elite, disregarding his immense popularity among the majority of—mostly underprivileged—Egyptians. However, it is easy to see in him a popular cultural icon who is of the masses and speaks their language. The song is an embodiment of the power dynamic between dominant and subordinate cultures, especially the latter’s constant attempts to gain a foothold on the cultural map. That many people who would not normally consume this kind of culture welcomed Abdel Rahim’s song as representative of their views as well is but evidence of the fluidity of the relationship between the two types of culture. Popular Culture: The Voice from Within This book looks at popular culture in the Middle East and North Africa as a form of cultural resistance against different forms of global and local domination. Popular culture is particularly suited to this kind of research as a manifestation of people’s feelings and responses to what is taking place around them, which makes it more accessible to lay people than other forms of cultural production. It is also precisely in popular culture that people of different ethnicities, genders, orientations, etc. can fi nd common grounds for expression and connection that transcend such differences and focus on what is common among them. As such, it is the true voice of the people. Given the above discussed gap in cultural studies in the region in general, and in the field of popular culture in particular, it was felt important to both highlight this proliferation of popular cultural production as well as emphasize the need for further exploration and examination. It was


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

felt equally important that this research should be initiated by editors from the culture who are aware of the kinds of production burgeoning around them, familiar with Western critical writing on it, as well as conscious of the lack of scholarship coming out of the region. Such awareness and knowledge informed our choices with regard to the different geographical locations to cover, the various media to examine, and the choice of contributors to the volume. The book aims to present a fresh perspective on popular culture, combining media that are not often combined in one volume. The reader will thus encounter in the pages of this volume research on as varied media as Lebanese and Hollywood fi lm; Sufi, Rai, and hip hop music; documentary fi lm and satellite TV programs; dance/theatrical productions and advertisements; photographed body tattoos and cartoons; and bestselling fiction, digital media, and street art. Its different studies are selectively representative of various areas in the Middle East and North Africa. Chapters cover popular production in different parts of the region—from Egypt to Lebanon, Palestine to Algeria, Morocco to Bahrain, Turkey to Iran. Though varied, this is by no means an exhaustive representation of all different countries in the region. Contributors to this volume are mostly scholars from the region, residing in it or abroad. We also found it equally important to include the perspectives of a number of Western scholars familiar with the region and well versed in its cultural production and history. Though the majority of chapters in this volume cover popular culture production from the region, a few selected chapters offer a hybrid perspective on how Middle Eastern representations are constructed through popular culture in the West. These choices and combinations were instigated by a wish to offer the reader a fresh and interesting reading experience as well as generate further much-needed research on popular culture, theoretically and empirically. At the core of this book is a vision of popular culture as a form of cultural resistance and intervention. The reaction to processes of containment in their different manifestations is an act of resistance by the people and through the different forms of their cultural production. The current historical moment in the Middle East and North Africa shows clearly this relationship of tension between domination and subordination—politically, socially, economically, etc.—reflected in the equally troubled relationship between the mainstream and the fringe of cultural production. Hall perceives this relationship between power and different forms of cultural resistance as one between “the people” and the “power bloc.” He elaborates, The term ‘popular’ . . . refers to [the] alliance of classes and forces which constitute the ‘popular classes’. The culture of the oppressed, the excluded classes: this is the area to which the term ‘popular’ refers us. And the opposite side to that—the side with the cultural power to decide what belongs and what does not—is, by defi nition, not another ‘whole’ class,



but that other alliance of classes, strata, and social forces which constitute what is not ‘the people’ and not the ‘popular classes’: the culture of the power bloc. . . . Popular culture . . . is the arena of consent and resistance. (452 –53) The last decade has witnessed the construction of several ‘power blocs’ in the Middle East and North Africa and in their relationship to other parts of the world. These power blocs have taken the form of political autocracy and totalitarianism, neo-imperialist hegemony and occupation, gender inequality, economic exploitation and neo-liberal commercialization, religious fundamentalism, among others. In every single case, ‘the people’ have formed their own alliances, coming together as the voice of dissent. It is such voices that the current volume highlights and analyzes. The book is divided into five sections, each of which tackles resistance to a certain type of dominance. As used here, the term ‘resistance’ is taken in its broadest sense; some of the chapters address resistance in form, others in content—in some cases, the phenomenon tackled is resistant, in others, the intervention of the author itself constitutes resistance. John Shoup’s chapter on Algerian Rai offers an overview of the history and development of this North African musical phenomenon, tracing its connection and interaction with the Western market. It emphasizes the resistant quality of Rai as the voice of the marginalized—in this case, the working classes. Shoup exposes Algerian government’s self-serving manipulation of that form of cultural production, fi rst cracking down on it when it posed a threat to its stability, then exploiting it to counter religious fundamentalism when it suited its purpose. Shoup touches on the diasporic experience of many Algerian Rai artists who were forced to flee their homeland and continue their resistance abroad, a twofold struggle, given the French reaction and attempts at assimilation vis-à-vis these artists. The same struggle to claim a space for oneself amid cultural rejection is shown in Ted Swedenburg’s chapter on Palestinian/Israeli hip-hop and Caroline Rooney’s tackling of the same phenomenon through documentary fi lms about its artists. Here the struggle is of the Palestinian artist against Israeli rejection that masks itself as artistic collaboration, made all the more troubled by the fact of the lived reality of Israeli occupation and aggression. Swedenburg concludes that a true appreciation of Palestinian rap must focus on the phenomenon itself which often gets sidelined by foregrounding the political situation. Whereas Swedenburg emphasizes forms of social and linguistic resistance, Rooney highlights the impact of everyday tension and political struggle for self-assertion on the oral and the aural aspects and the vocalization and visualization of hip-hop’s transmission. All three articles, in the section on political struggle, examine different forms of artistic resistance and, among them, constitute a dialogue on the different manifestations of this resistance.


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

Visualization becomes a means of resistance to yet another type of domination in Walid El Khachab’s chapter—here, the objectification by the male gaze of the female body. He examines photo-tattoos, combined with calligraphy, in the work of two American artists of Moroccan and Iranian origins. The author offers an alternative view of female subjectivity where the artist’s sense of identity is achieved through the enactment of the performance itself, rather than a conscious activist message. The two other chapters in the section on gender resistance address two other kinds of oppression related to the body, in fi lm and dance-theater performance. Maryam, the protagonist of Assad Fouladkar’s Lamma hikyet Maryam (When Maryam Spoke Out), is an embodiment of traditional Lebanese society’s imposition of a specific gender role on women in a fi lm that simultaneously unsettles notions of masculinity and fatherhood (see Mostafa in this volume). The fi lm is shown to be an example of social indoctrination whereby both men and women are conditioned into internalizing their prescribed gender roles. Nadra Assaf’s chapter, on the other hand, tackles another form of oppression that coincided with the reception of the Lebanese dance performance Majnoon Layla in Bahrain. The chapter analyzes controversies related to the body as forbidden site, censorship, and state control of artistic expression. Through an overview of Bahraini press coverage of the performance and interviews with members of the dance troupe, the author analyzes the performance as an instance of state repression exemplified in the government’s wish to enforce norms of cultural acceptability, which the masses are shown to resist as evidenced by the huge turn up of audiences during the performance and their obvious enjoyment of it. The three contributors in this section depart from the exploration of gender conditioning to explore wider and more pervasive forms of sexual, social, and state repression. The pull and tug between traditional and modern forms and technologies of cultural production is at the heart of cultural resistance. As a new generation emerges and seeks to create a space for itself, it simultaneously revamps and revolutionizes traditional ‘discourses’ into new forms and media that would guarantee this generation a place in the world without forsaking cultural identity. The exposure of this younger generation to global youth culture thus introduces new media, discourses, and technologies into Middle Eastern and North African cultural production and consumption. Richard Jacquemond and Omaima Abou Bakr tackle the impact of commercialization and market values on the Egyptian publishing market and religious discourse, respectively, exploring new cultural phenomena that emanate from the exposure of the old to the new. Iren Ozgur similarly analyzes the medium of the cartoon book, an example of youth culture and consumption, to reflect on the confl ict between secularism and Islamism in modern Turkish society, through the example of Büşra, the veiled Muslim cartoon protagonist who defies stereotypical representation and seeks to carve a niche for herself as a citizen of the ‘world’. Michael Frishkopf similarly focuses on the production



and consumption of ‘world’ music through the exploration of Sufi music, a form—in his words—which “is often received as the purest expression of a premodern ‘tradition’” and which he shows to be “in fact, constructed through thoroughly modern, global musical processes.” The relationship between the local and the global is at the heart of popular cultural production as resistance in the Middle East and North Africa, and all four contributors in this section implicitly speak to the ongoing controversy over cultural identity/ specificity versus cultural hegemony. The workings of cultural hegemony have been expounded well in Edward Said’s work (e.g., Culture and Imperialism and Orientalism). Said shows how imperialist powers exploit culture to mask self-serving ideologies. John Carlos Rowe, in turn, examines the state of American Orientalism after Said through exploring the phenomenon of the incorporation of the local into the global—in this case represented by American culture—showing how the latter ‘internalizes’ Middle Eastern popular cultural production “to consolidate and legitimate the new [American] nation.” While Rowe explores the notion of neutralization of Middle Eastern cultures in the US, Maha El Said follows a similar trajectory in the opposite direction by analyzing simulacra of American culture and their incorporation and neutralization into Egyptian popular culture. Both expose the pervasive and often unnoticed processes of infi ltration that neo-imperialist, neo-liberal cultures use to mask their exploitative projects. Such pervasive ideologies extend to include other forms of cultural production which depend on the proliferation of heavy forms of commercialization. Hania Nashef explores one such form of commercial and ideological hegemony through her analysis of the representation of Arab space in Hollywood cinema. The variety shown above demonstrates the different levels of resistance popular culture has engaged with in the last decade. It is a testimony to the different ‘fronts’ and struggles that the Middle Eastern and North African citizen had to contend with at the turn of a new millennium. The contributions in this volume explore the different voices of popular dissent resonating in the region and together constitute a contrapuntal dialogue of divergences and convergences, reflecting a similar dialogue among people on the ground that culminated in revolution all across the Middle East and North Africa and which found expression and consolidation of their dissent precisely in popular culture expression. Popular Culture in a New Decade: Revolution and Beyond Since December 2010, the Middle East and North Africa have witnessed the eruption of revolutions against deep-seated autocratic regimes. From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya to Yemen, Syria to Bahrain, and fi nally, at the time of this writing, Sudan, people have been rebelling against different forms of political, social, and economic repression. What has been described as


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

the ‘domino effect’ continues still—to various degrees—in Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other countries in the region. These revolutions have exhibited different degrees of success, completion, and confrontation with brutal states. Though it is hard to think of them in their totality as one whole—since each of these cases unfolded in its own specific way and expressed its own specific, though similar, demands—they nevertheless share a historical moment that is reshaping the geopolitics of the region, the intra-relations among its different countries, and its inter-relations with the rest of the world. These revolutions have not materialized out of thin air; the masses that took to the different streets and squares had been there for some time voicing their dissent—albeit to a smaller and more scattered degree. Egypt, for instance, has been undergoing political turmoil, most clearly manifested since 2004. From workers’ demonstrations, to university sit-ins, to social and political movements such as Kefaya (Enough) and April 6 Youth Movement, 5 Egyptian society has been exercising different forms of dissent against not only political and economic repression but also human rights violations and the citizen’s sense of dignity, self-worth, and agency. It is precisely these values that people hoped to achieve through revolution. Witnessing people’s agency and ability to overthrow a dictator in Tunisia certainly made it all the more feasible in the eyes of people in other parts of the region to entertain hopes of similar gains and realizations. What these revolutions did for people was to break the barrier of fear and act as sites of solidarity that empowered citizens and gave them perseverance to continue the struggle. Alongside the political dynamism brewing in different areas of the region, parallel forms of cultural production surfaced to reflect what was happening on the political level. As many observers have noted, what is currently taking place in the region is not only a political revolution; it is also and equally forcefully a social and cultural revolution. And the seeds of this cultural revolution could be gleaned through different forms of artistic production prior to 2010. Whether books, fi lms, or soap operas, different artistic media have been expressing a dismal and bleak reality explicitly reflecting people’s suffering and dissatisfaction. A common ending in a number of Egyptian fi lms before the revolution was the literal explosion of an otherwise seemingly contained place (see El Hamamsy and Soliman in this volume). It is no coincidence that the fi rst ‘spark’ of revolution came from a Tunisian street vendor—Mohamed Bouazizi—who literally set himself on fi re, an act of despair later emulated by other citizens in other parts of the world. Similarly, the political corruption of the ruling elite, their abuse of power, and the marriage between business and politics were clearly reflected in a number of books and soap operas.6 Such scattered instances of politicized cultural production culminated in a mass of unprecedented popular cultural production. Dismayed by media that did not represent them or their needs, before or during revolutions, people sought to express themselves through



cultural production that truly spoke for them—an example of political agency reflected culturally. The avalanche of popular cultural production that emerged hand in hand with revolutions in the region is unprecedented in volume. What distinguishes it from earlier forms of cultural production during the few years that led to revolutions is its close connection with the street, its immediate reflection of people’s sentiments on the ground as they unfold. Thus, media have been seen changing form and content to reflect new realities and new events as they evolve. Moreover, many of the cultural forms emerging are closely connected to youth culture, production, and consumption. As such, they utilize new media and means of dissemination, in addition to introducing new artistic forms not previously used.7 The Egyptian April 6 Youth Movement, for instance, started as a Facebook page. And it is no coincidence that the Egyptian revolution was fi rst described as a “digital”/ “electronic” revolution. This innovation in form is in keeping with youth dynamics and needs. And what characterizes it most clearly is its ‘activist’, participatory nature which ensures the sustenance of the revolution (see Randa Aboubakr in this volume). It is an instance of culture resisting the violence of regimes constantly trying to contain it and the revolutionary spirit behind it. It is art where the boundaries are blurred between producer and consumer, art that is constantly pushing boundaries and reshaping the map of cultural production. In their versatility, innovation, variety, and volume, these instances of popular cultural production are an embodiment of the process of border crossing that occurs between mainstream and popular culture which Hall describes. The influential presence of these new forms of popular culture and their widespread use testify to the fluidity of the relationship between the dominant and the subordinate. Born of revolutions that are yet in the making, such productions are equally in a constant process of evolvement. And herein precisely lies the moment of dislocation by one cultural form of another. And it is this moment, in its current and future manifestations, that calls for investigation and theorization by popular culture and cultural studies critics in and of the Middle East and North Africa. Notes 1. It must be mentioned here that when we talk about scholarship on popular culture in the Middle East and North Africa, our knowledge is limited to work written in English and Arabic and translated into these languages. Because of our lack of familiarity with such languages as Turkish and Farsi, for instance, we cannot pronounce on the types of scholarship produced in these languages in these areas. 2. There is a distinction in Arabic between classical Arabic, a written variety of Arabic considered standard and widely understood across the Arab world, and colloquial Arabic, local variants of dialects spoken in each country and understood among its people. Though classical Arabic is the official language used in



4. 5.



Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman all written transactions and official documents, many do not perceive it as their mother tongue—a language they do not acquire before school age and upon whose acquisition they do not use in their daily lives. In his book Popular Culture in the Arab World, Andrew Hammond elaborates on that monolithic vision of the Arab world which he relates to Western Orientalism and the influence of globalization on cultures in the region (see Hammond). For further discussion on the demonization and stereotypical representations of Arabs in Western media, particularly fi lm, see Shaheen and Khatib. A social and political movement whose emergence coincided with a general strike by textile factory workers in the Egyptian governorate of Mahalla. The group’s name marks the date on which the strikes started in 2008. For more, see http://shabab6april.wordpress.com/about/shabab-6-april-youth-movementabout-us-in-english/. See, for instance, director Mohammed Ali’s Ahl Kairo (People of Cairo; script by political writer Bilal Fadl) broadcast on a number of satellite channels a few months before the Egyptian revolution—a soap opera that shows precisely this intermingling of power, politics, and business and different forms of abuse and corruption around it. The emergence of street art forms such as graffiti, for instance, is a new phenomenon that resulted from the revolution. This is particularly the case in Egypt with which we are most familiar but the rise of new forms of cultural expression in other parts of the region needs to be explored.

Works Cited Abdel Rahim, Shaaban. “Ana bakrah Isra’il [I Hate Israel].” YouTube. http://www. youtube.com/watch?v= 6PSTC73RKQo. Armbrust, Walter. “Preface.” Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond. Ed. Walter Armbrust. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000. ix-x. Ashcroft, Bill. Post-Colonial Transformation. London: Routledge, 2001. Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Hall, Stuart. “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular.’” Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. Ed John Storey. Hempstead, UK: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 1998. 442–53. Hammond, Andrew. Popular Culture in the Arab World. Cairo: The American U in Cairo P, 2007. Khatib, Lina. Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1994. . Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1978. Shaheen, Jack. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. New York: Olive Branch P, 2001. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffi n. London: Routledge, 1995. 24–28. Stein, Rebecca L., and Ted Swedenburg. “Introduction: Popular Culture, Transnationality, and Radical History.” Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture. Ed. Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005. 1–23.

Part I

Popular Culture and the Aesthetics of Political Resistance


Palestinian Rap Against the Struggle Paradigm


Ted Swedenburg

Since the early aughts, numerous US and European mainstream media outlets, including music magazines, have published sympathetic reports about Palestinian hip-hop.2 New York director Jackie Salloum’s documentary about Palestinian rap, Slingshot Hip Hop, screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and aired on the Sundance TV channel, is now available on DVD (2009).3 Rap music has also become a commonplace at Palestine solidarity events in the US, and rappers from Palestine are frequently featured. Arguably, Palestinian rap has received far more attention in the West to date than any other musical genre from Palestine. Much of this media interest at fi rst seemed prompted by Palestinian rap’s apparent strangeness or novelty. It was strange for Western reporters unfamiliar with the scene to fi nd Palestinians, stereotypically known for terrorism and violence, doing something so familiar, so ‘normal’ as rapping. As journalist Richard Poplak observed, “[H]ip-hop in Palestine seemed, at least on the surface, like a freakish pop-cultural glitch” (207). Political activists for their part appear to have embraced Palestinian rap, at least in part, as a vehicle for bringing the question of Palestine to the US public in an appealing manner. Some scholars seem similarly motivated. Mark Levine, professor of history at University of California-Irvine, observed, for instance, “It’s so hard to get through the reality of Palestinians’ day-to-day life to an American audience. But how you can do it is through the back door. And the easiest back door because of its cultural importance is hiphop. So if Palestinians can do hip-hop and sound so good at it maybe they are a bit like us. And so maybe we should listen to their story” (“Protest Rap from Gaza”). Sympathetic academic (as well as some media) accounts of Palestinian rap for their part have been guided, in large part, by what might be called the struggle, or resistance, paradigm, the model that has informed most approaches to popular culture in Palestine/Israel (Stein and Swedenburg). According to this influential line of thinking, the battle for Palestinian rights is so pressing that to devote research energies to something so seemingly irrelevant or frivolous as popular culture would be downright


Ted Swedenburg

irresponsible. The paradigm dovetails with still-prevalent disciplinary models that regard popular culture as epiphenomenal, as an effect of more fundamental and significant forces—economic, political, military, diplomatic, and so on. Finally, because popular culture is mostly market based, profit oriented, and linked to global economic and cultural forces, Palestine scholars and activists have tended to regard pop cultural manifestations as corrupted, inauthentic, foreign, and even as manifestations of disloyalty to the cause. So the study of Palestinian expressive culture has mostly focused on either high culture or folklore, both considered to be more serious and genuine and uncompromised by commodification and globalization. It might appear, at fi rst glance, that by paying serious attention to rap, today’s Palestine activists and scholars are, at last, deviating from the resistance paradigm logic. But, on closer inspection, it turns out that is not the case. Only aspects of Palestinian rap that promote the cause of Palestine are deemed worthy of attention and promotion, and therefore sympathetic accounts focus almost exclusively on rap’s role in the struggle for Palestinian liberation. The title of a recent article in The Electronic Intifada about Ramallah rapper boikutt (discussed below) is symptomatic of this tendency: “Music as Resistance Inside the Ramallah Bubble” (Smith). My concern here is to highlight what might be overlooked or occluded by this narrow approach to Palestinian rap that is especially endemic among progressive scholars and activists, who tend to regard the Palestinian as synonymous with the counter-hegemonic (Stein 99). The Palestinian rap artists I discuss below certainly do write rhymes that comment on the extraordinary and difficult conditions under which they live. When asked to comment on what their music is about, moreover, these artists take care to insist that their aims are political. But they also have other purposes and aspirations that tend to be ignored or downplayed in the rush to promote the issue of Palestine. They desire to be appreciated as artists, and in particular, as rap artists who participate in a global cultural movement. In order to convey their messages effectively, moreover, it is incumbent upon them to do so in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and sensible to listeners. Mark Levine (cited above) argues that, in order to convey the on-the-ground reality to foreign listeners, Palestinian rap must sound “good.” By this logic, then, for Palestinian hip-hop to be politically effective, it cannot only be about ‘the message’. Rap simply cannot be appealing if it only involves chanting slogans whose meanings are transparent. In order to win over audiences, both local and foreign, Palestinian rappers must necessarily be concerned with aesthetics, with the production of ‘good art’. Besides attending to such questions, I also want to complicate the rap-equals-struggle approach in other ways. I argue for going beyond a single-minded focus on rap lyrics, typically understood as conveyors of

Palestinian Rap


self-evident meanings, and in favor of considering the possibility that the words of Palestinian rap songs might have polyvalent meanings. I suggest that the audiences for this music are heterogeneous, including Palestinians of many varieties, international sympathizers, open-minded as well as potentially empathetic Israeli Jews, and so on. I approach Palestinian hip-hop therefore as relatively autonomous of the resistance struggle rather than as derivative of or subordinate to political movements or economic trajectories. By widening the analysis of Palestinian hip-hop beyond politics, narrowly construed, we might expand our understandings and appreciation of what Palestinian rap is all about, as well as our conceptions of resistance itself. My approach here is meant to be suggestive and not defi nitive. I do not attempt to survey Palestinian rap, but opt instead to focus on three rap groups, whose work I, and other fans, consider to be ‘good’. DAM: Not One Revolver against a Plate of Beans I start with DAM, the best-known Palestinian rap ensemble, who hail from the ‘mixed’ ( Jewish-Arab) city of Lod in Israel and are often regarded as the quintessential Palestinian resistance band. (The ‘fi rst’ Palestinian rap group was MWR, a group from the ‘mixed’ Israeli city of Acre, which has since disbanded.) The more well-known DAM has become, particularly in solidarity circles, the more hegemonic and insistent have become claims about the group’s political significance. The band’s very name, however, suggests something more. In Arabic, DAM (d¯am) stands for “enduring” or “everlasting.” But by the band’s own account, DAM also stands for “blood” in Hebrew (dam, ‫ )דאם‬and for “Da Arabian MC’s” in English. That is, the band’s denomination reflects its origins in a country where Hebrew is the hegemonic language, as well as its goal of communicating with Hebrew speakers and not merely speakers of Arabic. The English name, moreover, positions DAM within a global hip-hop network. DAM, furthermore, did not emerge fully formed as a ‘Palestinian’ band that ‘represents’ the crime- and drug-ridden Arab neighborhoods of Lod (El-Asmar) and Palestinian citizens of Israel more generally. Its origins, in fact, are in the Jewish-Israeli rap scene. DAM’s leader Tamer Nafar began his rap career in 1998, performing as a protégé of well-known Jewish-Israeli rapper Subliminal (Ya’akov “Kobi” Shimoni), who is of middle-class Tunisian-Iranian background (Korat). Nafar formed his own group DAM with his brother Suheil and their friend Muhammad Jrere in 1999, but as late as 2000 the trio still performed in concerts with Subliminal and other Jewish-Israeli rappers, typically as guests invited onstage toward the end of a show to perform a few songs, mostly in Hebrew. DAM released several of its own songs online, starting with numbers in Hebrew and English and, somewhat later, in Arabic, and put out a self-produced, limited edition


Ted Swedenburg

CD, called Stop Selling Drugs (Allen 113). DAM’s early raps focused on issues like the narcotics and the dealers infesting their community, and not on ‘politics’. According to Tamer, the group stressed such local issues because he wanted to succeed in the Israeli scene (Forrest 73). This avoidance of ‘politics’ may also have been connected to the group’s close ties to Subliminal and his posse. A scene in the documentary Channels of Rage, which examines the tearing apart of Tamer and Subliminal’s relationship, is revelatory in this regard. Tamer is shown on stage supporting Subliminal in spring 2000, rapping alongside his patron as the latter declaims right-wing, nationalist rhymes that express disdain for the ‘peace process’ and include the following: “[T]he country’s still dangling like a cigarette in Arafat’s mouth.” DAM’s relation to ‘politics’ shifted dramatically after the second intifada erupted in the Occupied Territories on September 28, 2000. On October 1, large numbers of Palestinian citizens of Israel went out to demonstrate in support of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians and were met by fierce Israeli police repression, which resulted in the deaths of thirteen protesters. DAM’s raps became more militant and nationalistic. Shortly after the events, DAM released “Mīn Irhābī?” (Who’s a terrorist?) on the Internet. It remains their most celebrated song, a crowd-pleasing anthem whose call-and-response chorus invites enthusiastic audience participation: “Mīn irhābī? Inta al-irhābī! Ma’kalnī wa ‘ānā ‘ayish fī bilādī” (Who’s a terrorist? You’re the terrorist! You’ve taken all I own while I’m living in my homeland). The song deploys powerfully condensed and angry lyrics to fl ip the charges of terrorism, so typically aimed at Palestinians, back in the face of the Israeli state. The song’s form of address is also significant, however, although not usually remarked upon. DAM does not describe the actions and ideology of the Israeli state in the third person but addresses Zionists directly, in the second person: “[Y ]ou are the terrorists.” As second-class citizens of the Jewish state, the band’s members are positioned in dialogue with it, and so their raps typically work to subvert hegemonic Zionist logic from within, even as they have increasingly also located themselves within the framework of the Palestinian national struggle. Subliminal’s response to the second intifada, meanwhile, was to move further to the right, and so the once amicable relations between DAM and their Jewish-Israeli rap colleagues deteriorated. But the transformation, as detailed in Channels of Rage, was gradual rather than immediate, as the group continued to record songs in Hebrew and to play for Jewish-Israeli audiences. DAM played, for instance, at Hishguzim Night, an Israeli hiphop festival, in summer 2001, shortly after the Palestinian terror attack at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv in June that killed twenty-one Jewish teenagers. Performing before a mostly Jewish audience, the group opted not to do “Mīn Irhābī?” or their new Hebrew song, “Posha’im Chafim M’pesha” (Innocent criminals). They did release the latter on the Internet in fall

Palestinian Rap


2002. Progressive Jewish-Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen came across it, and it so moved him that he penned another verse and put up the money for the production of a high-quality video clip of “Innocent Criminals” in which he and DAM appeared. “Innocent Criminals” protested against depictions of Palestinian-Israelis in mainstream Israeli discourse in the wake of the October 2000 events, appealed for better understanding, and urged Israelis to see Palestinian-Israelis as if they were inside their shoes: You say we are criminals and barbarians, we aren’t But just in case we are, this is what the government has done to us (McDonald 331–32)

The video clip was broadcast on prime-time Israeli television, and the new version of the song was heavily downloaded (Avidan). “Innocent Criminals” therefore gained DAM much publicity and notoriety in Israel, but it received no radio airplay and earned them no recording contract. Relations with Geffen cooled after Tamer Nafar made appearance alongside the rock star on Israeli TV and stated that he could understand the motivations of Palestinian suicide bombers even though he did not justify their actions, and also asserted that there was no difference between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian suicide bomber because both killed indiscriminately (McDonald 335; Halachmi). McDonald observes that, at a time when suicide bombings (“martyrdom operations” in the Palestinian lexicon) were at their apex and when political positions had hardened on both sides, circumstances pushed DAM to now focus on Arab audiences (330–36). But DAM still were active in Israel’s cultural-political scene and continued to engage with Israeli-Jewish audiences. Their song “Nghayyer Bukra,” or “Change Tomorrow,” from the album Ihdā’ (Dedication), is the theme to the hit comedy show “Avoda Aravit” (Arab labor), the fi rst program featuring Palestinians speaking Arabic to air on prime-time Israeli television, and DAM’s song “Mali Hurriya” (I don’t have freedom) is heard on Season One’s “No Seatbelt” episode (2007). For instance, David McDonald gives an account of a 2005 summer concert in Lod, sponsored by an Israeli NGO, where DAM headlined before a ‘mixed’ crowd of Arabs and Jews, taking the stage after some Jewish rappers performed. McDonald notes that the left-leaning Jews were the ones in the crowd who were familiar with DAM’s repertoire (both the Arabic and the Hebrew songs) and danced along to the music, whereas local Palestinians in the audience were mostly not similarly engaged. Only when DAM sang a wellknown intifada song (not a rap number) did locals become enthusiastic (McDonald forthcoming). Accounts of DAM, whether media or scholarly, tend (with the exception of McDonald) to overlook the group’s early connections to the Jewish-Israeli rap scene, its recordings in Hebrew, and its interactions with


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Jewish-Israeli audiences. There has been almost no analysis of DAM’s Hebrew songs, and little effort has been made to account for the specificities of the group’s positioning in Israel—other than to underscore the rough conditions that prevail in Lod, conditions which happen to resonate with the urban ghettos that have produced much US rap. A ‘resistance’ narrative simply does not capture the complicated political and cultural engagements in which DAM is involved in Israel, and the multiple audiences to whom the group speaks. An examination of the song “Min ‘ālif ‘ilā yā’” (From aleph to ya’), whose video the group posted on YouTube in 2009, provides another illustration of the limits of a ‘struggle’ perspective on DAM. Performed by Muhammad Jrere, the song consists of a series of words that (mostly) begin with each letter of the Arabic alphabet, starting with the fi rst letter, Aleph, and ending with Ya’, the last letter. The video set is simple, yet clever and effective. It features an antique brass Arabic coffeepot, a brazier (kanūn, the traditional means of warming a house or a coffeepot), and an elaborate brazier lid, set on the floor. There is also a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, a turntable, and a DHD speaker. We see the lower half of a man (but not his face) seated behind the tape recorder. His hand gestures complement the music, and he occasionally holds up a sign with the Arabic letter that the song has arrived at, in the style of Bob Dylan in his celebrated “Subterranean Homesick Blues” clip from D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back. Tamer Nafar, garbed in a baseball cap and a keffiyeh, and Suheil Nafar make brief appearances, to simulate ‘scratching’ on the turntable. On either side of the set are two TV monitors, one atop the brazier, the other on the speaker. The screen on the right shows Jrere rapping. The other screen broadcasts a flow of images: Palestine’s landscape, boxer Muhammad Ali, Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Guantanamo prisoners, Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, Albert Einstein, DAM, Lebanese singer Marcel Khalife, Bruce Lee, Harry Potter, and so on. In their notes for the YouTube post, DAM state that the song is a “good Arabic lesson.” It could also be regarded as an expression of nationalistic pride. Many of the song’s words and phrases have political connotations, and some are mainstays of Palestinian discourse. Examples include balad (country), mish hārib (not running away), tahrīr (liberation), haddar hisār (prepare a siege), khatīr (dangerous), sha‘b sāmid (steadfast people), sārim (fi rm), ghadabī tāfih (my anger is overflowing), qadir an akūn qātil (able to be a killer), and kul walda wadda‘it walad (every mother who said goodbye to her child). But more remarkable than the words’ ‘political’ connotations is how Jrere stitches the words together and how he delivers them. Consider these lines: Jīm—jāhid, jarrib, jayyish, jaysh jāmid kal-jidār Jīb jīl jadīd jaddī jarī’ jādir/Jamma‘ al-quwāt

Palestinian Rap


‘J’—struggle, experiment, cry, an army as solid as the wall Bring a new generation, serious, daring, worthy/Gather the forces

What strikes one here is not the political meanings but how Jrere so ably shows off his skills as a microphone fiend. He spits out words with amazing rapidity and paces himself effectively, using techniques like stuttering or extending syllables. His ‘text’ exemplifies the lyrical craftsmanship, clever wordplay, and humor (the use of odd formulations like “not one revolver against a plate of foul beans” [‘ābil fūl mā fek fek]) of the sort that rappers around the world aspire to. The video is equally clever, its images often serving as witty counterpoints to the lyrics, as well as engaging with global culture. The set combines ‘traditional’ Palestinian cultural artifacts (the coffeepot and the brazier) with advanced as well as not-so-modern technologies (the reel-to-reel tape recorder), suggesting a combined allegiance to local custom, the modern, and ‘old-school’ rap traditions. Another line speaks to Jrere’s, and DAM’s, aesthetic pretensions: Babnī bayt, bazabtūh, bazūqūh bi-tashbihātī (I build a line of poetry, I tidy it up, I decorate it with similes). The line, which refers to DAM’s poetry making, is also an adroit play on words, since bayt means both “house” and “a line of a poem.” That is, DAM is building a home with language. The struggle over Palestinian house-building has been a fraught one ever since 1948. The Israeli government has made it very difficult for Palestinians, both inside Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to obtain housing permits, and so many Palestinians must build ‘illegal’ housing to satisfy their needs. The Israeli Committee against Housing Demolition estimates that, since June 1967, the Israeli government has demolished nearly 25,000 houses in the Occupied Territories (“Statistics”). Palestinian-Israelis often face similar difficulties in securing permits and many of their ‘illegal’ houses have been destroyed. Palestinians, DAM suggests, can also resort to language and poetry, to build homes, to assert their presence. “From Aleph to Ya’” displays DAM’s mastery and indigenization of the tools and protocols of global hip-hop. In addition to ‘representing’ Palestine and Lod, they also simply ‘represent’, and represent very well, as artists. Ramallah Underground: From the Cave Rap group Ramallah Underground (RU) was formed in 2003 by three teenagers residing in the Palestinian Authority’s de facto capital. For the fi rst few years of its existence the group was known chiefly by virtue of its Internet presence. (RU posted its early recordings at ramallahundergound. com, which was later taken down.) Its fi rst releases were instrumental tracks, in the underground, ‘mindful’ vein of hip-hop, some containing samples of Arabic instruments or Arabic singing plus random street


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sounds (for instance, “Al-Zalam” [Darkness] and “Ta’al Shoof” [Come see]), while others were more electronica or ‘downtempo’ than hip-hop (for instance, “Mish Beinatna [Not between us]—B Dub Remix”). (Most of RU’s recorded output can now be found on YouTube.) In general, RU’s instrumental tracks tend more toward the contemplative, atmospheric, moody and jumpy than the funky or angry. Some MC’s from outside of Palestine (England, Spain, etc.) eventually got hold of some of these tracks, rapped over them, often to express solidarity with Palestine, and sent them back to RU, who then posted them on their website. Eventually two of RU’s members, boikutt (muqāta‘a) and stormtrap (‘āsifa), started to rap, and both quickly became quite accomplished at versifying and spitting rhymes. RU’s raps are “protest” songs if you will, and RU typically described their music as politically engaged, as a “weapon” (Poplak 226). But RU also continued to release instrumental tracks which resist being categorized as resistance music and instead demand to be judged as hiphop or electronica sound compositions. One guesses it was the sound of RU, not the lyrical messages, that appealed to David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet when he came across RU’s Myspace page, and that this is what motivated him to ask the group to compose a number for Kronos. The resulting composition, “Tashweesh” (Interference), appears on the quartet’s 2009 album, Floodplain, and is arranged by composer-arranger Jacob Garchik. It features the string quartet playing, percussively and melodically, over, against, and in complement to a scratchy electronic track from RU that in turn “interferes” with and intersects with the sounds from the quartet. Avant-garde yet approachable, Oriental-flavored yet not ‘exotic’ or traditional sounding, “Tashweesh” demands to be apprehended on the basis of its formal qualities, even if it might be viewed as a ‘sound allegory’ for Palestinian conditions under occupation. It is certainly worth celebrating the fact that Kronos, considered by many critics as “probably the most famous ‘new music’ group in the world” (McCalla 259), commissioned a piece from these twenty-something Palestinians, for this does bring a certain prestige to ‘Palestine’. But this should not detract from the artistic merits of “Tashweesh,” which can be appreciated without reference to Palestine. RU’s members have achieved other sorts of international recognition as well. In June 2009 RU’s ‘sound engineer’ aswatt (Basel Abbas) and Palestinian fi lmmaker Ruanne Abou-Rahme (who started performing with RU in 2009) collaborated as ‘sound artists’ for the Ramallah Syndrome project, which was featured in the Palestine Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious art exhibitions. Aswatt and Abou-Rahme were also selected to be artists-in-residence at the Delfi na Foundation in London in spring 2009. There they produced a creative sound/video installation called “Collapse,” which explores “memory, frustration and loss in the context of the confl ict in Palestine,” and which subsequently screened

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at the 2009 Cambridge Film Festival (Ramchurn; “Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas”). It could also be argued that RU’s overtly political rap songs deserve to be treated as something more than messages of resistance. Take, for instance, RU’s song “Min al-kahf” (From the cave). The instrumental track is propelled by something that sounds like an alarm, ringing over and over, and conveys a sense of urgency and emergency; the track is occasionally punctuated by sounds of rifle fi re and hovering helicopters. The instrumentation seems to evoke the deadly and destructive atmosphere of the Israeli invasion of Ramallah and El Bireh in March 2002 (Rabbani). The song also samples a man speaking Lebanese Arabic who repeats three times, “They want to starve the community [ahālī], and when people [ahālī] are hungry they will not be able to think of resistance.” The sample is from the 1967 fi lm Safar Barlak (dir. Henry Barakat), starring Lebanese singer Fairouz, and about a Lebanese village resisting Ottoman rule in 1914 (stormtrap, October 22, 2011). Stormtrap and boikutt split the rapping, fi ring off lyrics that are all about struggle. A verse from boikutt, for instance, describes how “they” are trying to wipe “us” out, with bombing and missiles, but we’ll go down to the shelters and never be pushed out. But in the chorus that ends the song, as the percussive beat drops out but the disturbing electronic alarm still drones insistently, stormtrap raps, Bahāwil untush bass al-siyāsa bitshidnī; ba’ūlhā aflatī mā biddī Bit’ūlī ‘ānā jizi’ min hayātak; mish ha-ti’dar timshī didī I try to ignore it, but politics keeps pulling at me; I tell it, Go away, I don’t wanna It tells me, I’m a part of your life; you can’t resist me

Stormtrap repeats the last line, raising his voice: “You can’t resist me!” (Mish ḥa-ti’dar timshī didī). The percussion returns, along with some scratching, and stormtrap repeats the line twice more, with boikutt joining in for emphasis.4 The song concludes in a furious maelstrom of scratching (the distinctive sounds made by a DJ forcing a record back and forth on a turntable). I believe we should take seriously the complicated sentiments expressed here. No doubt the song is political, a vivid dramatization of what it’s like to live under siege and an expression of Palestinians’ determination to take cover and to persist. Yet the chorus also suggests the vocalist’s regret that he has no choice but to shoulder the burden that ‘politics’ imposes. These lines might be understood as conveying, obliquely, RU’s feelings that they’d prefer to lead normal, unoccupied (militarily and otherwise) lives. That they would like to pursue, without


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encountering so many everyday obstacles, more opportunities like those offered by the Kronos Quartet and the Venice Biennale. To represent Palestinian rap as being simply about ‘resistance’ obscures such aspirations and sentiments. RU split up in late 2009. Boikutt, the only RU alumnus now living in Palestine, continues on occasion to perform as a solo act in Palestine, and to work in a new entity called Tashweesh together with aswatt and Ruanne Abou-rahme. (One can view their remarkable short video at tashweesh.com.) Stormtrap, based in Vienna, continues to produce and release his own tracks (available at soundcloud.com/stormtrap) and to perform as a solo act. One gets the impression that in the mid-aughts there were more opportunities than today to perform live shows in the Ramallah area, in concerts and occasionally in clubs, where young Palestinian patrons dressed in global youth styles (do-rags, baggy shorts, sharp sneakers), drank beer (or even smoked chronic), and bumped and grinded with hip-hop dance moves one might see anywhere on the world rap scene (Carr; Levine 112). But boikutt has recently complained that performance opportunities are now quite limited in Palestine, and states that it is easier for him to perform in Europe than at home (Smith). G-town: Al-chil bi-al-chil The fi nal rap group I discuss hails from the refugee camp of Shu‘fat. Located on the north side of so-called Greater Jerusalem, annexed (illegally) by Israel in 1967, Shu‘fat is considered a tough area by West Bank Palestinians. Non-refugees tend to regard young male camp residents (mukhayyamjīyīn) as thugs and ruffi ans, due in part to the high levels of crime and the drug use that plague many refugee camps. The Israeli state for its part considers Shu‘fat Palestinians to be particularly defi ant, and so has extended a section of the massive separation wall to entirely surround the 35,000 residents of the camp and Shu‘fat village. In addition, the state provides Shu‘fat no services or security. A single checkpoint, manned by Israeli soldiers, allows residents in and out (Greenberg). Most of Shu‘fat’s residents have Jerusalem residency status, but those without it cannot exit their community. The group’s name, G-town, short for “ghetto town,” accurately reflects Shu’fat’s condition. G-town is the only rap outfit discussed here that I was able to meet, and see in concert, during my brief stay in Palestine/ Israel in June 2008. G-town are accomplished composers and performers who, like DAM and RU, rap about national political issues as well as local ones. But in many respects they too are more than simply about ‘resistance’. One example is the group’s commitment to true hip-hop. Recall that hiphop, in its origins, consisted of four essential elements: rapping (dropping rhymes), DJing (working turntables), breakdancing, and tagging or

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graffiti (Chang). As US hip-hop enjoyed crossover success and became big business, rapping emerged as the central activity and chief source of corporate profits. While the other three elements continue to be practiced around the globe today, they are considerably much less important and prominent than rhyming, which has come to stand for ‘hip-hop’ in conventional usage. For reasons unclear to me, G-town have embraced hip-hop’s four dimensions. They have not much developed their DJing skills, although they do own turntables. But they have made a serious effort to learn and practice tagging, and have decorated sections of the massive ‘separation barrier’ that incarcerates their community with their graffiti art. Their tags include inscriptions of the names of the band and of three members (B-Boy, Giant M, and Dr. E), peace signs, slogans like “Stop War,” drawings of the Palestinian fl ag and Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali’s character Handala, and so on. 5 G-town’s route to breakdancing has been through capoeira, the Brazilian martial arts. The group’s leader B-Boy (Muhammad Mughrabi) took capoeira classes in West Jerusalem, Israel, from an Israeli-Jewish teacher, alongside mostly Israeli-Jewish students, and in turn taught capoeira to young boys in the camp. Eventually, the group incorporated breakdancing into its live shows. A YouTube video shows one G-town member doing hand hops, a basic breakdancing move, in performance at the 2009 annual Octoberfest in Tayibeh village—an annual event sponsored by Palestine’s sole beer producer, the Tayibeh brewery, and advertised as “peaceful resistance to the occupation” (Zecchini). As for element four, G-town have even learned the old-school hip-hop art of beatboxing, which involves producing the typical percussive sounds of rap—drum beats, electronic rhythms, and scratching—with one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice. (A YouTube video features B-Boy beatboxing alongside British-Iraqi rapper Lowkey at al-Quds University in East Jerusalem in 2009.) But it is their rapping and rhyming that are particularly effective. Take their song “Turuq” (Roads), for instance, with its powerful messages and simple, economical, repeatable and trenchant rhymes. Here is the anthemic chorus: Bikafināshi hamm, bikafināshi damm, kamān jībilnā samm Shabāb ‘alayh biltam, wa fish had muhtamm, walak rūḥ inkham Don’t we have enough worry? Don’t we have enough bloodshed? They’re bringing us poison too For our youth to gather around, and no one cares, no souls get upset

But rap, they say, is the way (“road”) for us to express our problems. The song brims with bare, graphic images: “bintīr zayy al-‘asāfīr bi-’ajnihtnā” (we


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fly like birds without wings); “al-samm mughriqnā” (poison is drowning us); “al-madīna al-maskīna” (the sad city); “atala‘ bi-‘aynayn mushalaḥāt/mish bass bi-naẓarāt” (look with naked eyes/not just with shades); “ḥayātī zay sīgārā/ dukhkhān tala‘ minha kul yawm bi-al-mudāri‘” (my life is like a cigarette/smoke rising from it every day, for real); “mā huwwa ghudār muhlis ya khaybtū” ([the future] is a back-stabbing bastard); “al-sīgārā khalasat biddha tatghī/bass mish lā’qī wala mutakki” (the cigarette’s about fi nished, it wants to be put out/but I can’t fi nd an ashtray). The stark images convey a grim assessment of life in the sad/miserable city of Jerusalem, and especially in G-town’s corner of it, where “poison” (drugs) is a constant menace, where life and the future look bleak, and rap seems the only outlet of self-expression, the only promising “road.” Such metaphors are integral to the relaying of the ‘political’ messages of “Roads.” G-town’s skills are also much in evidence in their YouTube video “Khalīna Ndū’ak” (Let us taste you). (The title’s meaning is somewhat obscure, as one would not normally say this in Palestinian Arabic, and perhaps it simply evokes the song the group samples, “Flava in Ya Ear.”) Shot in very sharp, professional-looking black and white, the video shows four of G-town’s members (only three of whom rap) dancing, hamming it up, throwing ‘gang signs’, and looking very hip-hop in their T-shirts, hoodies, baseball caps, closely cropped hair, and big chains. The chorus goes, “We chill man yeah we chill” (three times), in English, and then, “hala ihna al-chil bi-al-chil” (now we’re the best around). The chorus’ humor revolves around a clever pun on the word “chill.” Using the English idiom, G-town demonstrate familiarity with the youth vernacular of hegemonic (US) hip-hop. Using the Arabic homophone, G-town position themselves as ‘authentic’, camp-dwelling (mukhayyamjī ), subaltern Palestinians. In rural Palestinian dialect, the ‘k’ sound (the letter kāf ) is pronounced “ch.” Rather than al-chil bi-al-chil, an urban Palestinian would say, al-kul bi-alkul. Despite their multiple displacements, as ghetto/camp dwellers, children of refugees, or ‘thugs’, here G-town manage to assert both their ‘real’ hip-hop, and their ‘real’, ‘homeboy’, Palestinian status. “Khalīna Ndū’ak” is set to beats sampled from Craig Mack’s classic 1994 rap tune, “Flava in Ya Ear,” and is a kind of ‘party rhyme’, in the old-school US tradition, as well as a ‘boast rhyme’ that pumps up the reputation of G-town at the expense of everyone else. The put-downs could be read as directed at all other potential (male) competitors in the ‘hood’ of Shu‘fat, and they could also be interpreted as aimed at the Israeli occupiers. These lines from Muhammad Mughrabi (B-Boy) are typical of the song’s fl avor: Sakkir timmak lama ahkī ‘ashān ‘ānā biddī a’ūlak kilmeh Bta’darsh bitwa’if ‘uddāmi wala shahta walak ṭala‘a ‘alayī balbus al-hatta

Palestinian Rap


Shut up when I talk, because I want to tell you You won’t last for a second in front of me, fool, look at how I wear the keffiyeh

B-Boy goes on to describe himself, in English, as a “motherfucking terrorist.” Such lines could be interpreted as menacing, verging on ‘gangsta’. But the fact that B-Boy mugs and grins and occasionally laughs on screen as he delivers the lyrics undercuts any sense that the terrorist threat is ‘real’. As Mughrabi told me ( June 21, 2008), “We want, we need to have fun. We have some songs just for fun.”6 And the song is indeed great fun, an eminently catchy dance number. The band’s delivery and the mood of the video work seamlessly with the class rap sample, into which the band also insert, at moments, the distinctive Arabic percussive beats of the derbakkeh. Yet, in the end, ‘politics’ do, almost inevitably, make an appearance. When the video is over, we hear the fi nal words, spoken, not rapped: “AlQuds muhāsara” ( Jerusalem is under siege). G-town, too, represent something more than ‘resistance culture’. They remain active till today and have gained a measure of international renown. In August 2010, they were awarded the MTV Latin America Chiuku prize, in recognition of their commitment to the UNiTE to End Violence against Women, a UN-sponsored project. They have also been involved in a number of events sponsored by UNIFEM (part of UN Women) in the Occupied Territories (WAFA). Conclusion Let me make clear, by way of conclusion, that my point has not been to dismiss all the work done to date on Palestinian hip-hop. Much of it, both academic and journalistic, has performed a valuable service in exposing a wider audience both to urgent Palestinian issues and to Palestinian hip-hop. It is of course worth celebrating the fact that Palestinian rap has received so much international attention. But what I want to argue is that doing justice to Palestinian rap and what it means in Palestinian life more broadly, requires attending to more than the issues of struggle and politics. By expanding our focus, I believe that we can gain a greater appreciation for Palestinian rap music itself, as well as achieve a deeper understanding of the very local complexities of the Palestinian experience, and of the aspirations and dreams of Palestinian youth. We might even enrich our conceptions of the ‘struggle’ itself. Palestinian rap appeals to many diverse audiences, and its meanings are not always straightforward and are frequently open to many interpretations. I write in the hope that others will investigate further the artfulness of Palestinian rap, its words, its sound, its performance, its institutions, its fans. By using means


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such as those I have suggested, I believe we will also be better situated to understand Palestinian rap’s wide appeal and popularity. Notes 1. Thanks to Asaad Al-Saleh and Mira Dabet for help transcribing and translating song lyrics, and to Elliott Colla and Nadine Sinno for other translation advice. 2. In the mainstream press: Espiner, Hakim, Jaafar, Keyser, Le Bars, Morin, Thomas, and Winder; in the music press: Allen, Forrest, and Khazoom. 3. Another documentary about Palestinian rap is Saz: The Palestinian Rapper for Change. 4. For the translation, I consulted the blog, Arabic Song Lyrics and Translation (http://www.arabicmusictranslation.com/2009/ 09/ramallah-underground-featlethal-skillz.html). 5. Photos of G-town and their graffiti are at http://www.fl ickr.com/search/?q= g-town&w=10664293%40N00. 6. Asef Bayat recently underscored the importance of attending to this mostly ignored aspect of Middle East life.

Works Cited Print Allen, Harry. “Straight Outta Palestine.” Vibe. March 2008: 110–13. Avidan, Igal. “Geffen Puts Himself in Their Heavy and Dirty Shoes.” The Jerusalem Report. May 5, 2003: 43. Bayat, Asef. “The Politics of Fun.” Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010. 137–60. Carr, Joe. “East Meets West in Ramallah.” Citizens for Justice in the Middle East. August 27, 2005. http://backup.cjme.org/speakers/joecarr/joe-05aug27.htm. Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: Picador, 2005. El-Asmar, Fouzi. To Be an Arab in Israel. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1978. Espiner, Mark. “Hip-hop on the Frontline.” The Guardian. October 26, 2004. Forrest, Brett. “Beats, Rhymes and Strife.” Complex (October/November 2004): 70–74. Greenberg, Ela. “‘The King of the Streets’: Hip Hop and the Reclaiming of Masculinity in Jerusalem’s Shu‘afat Refugee Camp.” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 2 (2009): 231–50. Hakim, Danny. “Drawing a Rap Refrain from a UN Resolution.” New York Times. July 8, 2004. Jaafar, Ali. “The DAM Breaks: Hip-Hop Meets the Intifada.” Variety. December 8–14, 2003: 10. Kahf, Usama. “Arabic Hip Hop: Claims of Authenticity and Identity of a New Genre.” Journal of Popular Music Studies 19.4 (2007): 359–85. Keyser, Jason. “Arabs Voice Protest in Rap Music.” Associated Press. July 13, 2002. http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2002/Arabs-Voice-Protest-in-Rap-Music/id-0f7f5b1d422a1ded6b9c208710c4d632. Khazoom, Loolwa. “Hip-Hop Thrives in Israel.” Rolling Stone. July 28, 2003.

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Korat, Yael. “Israeli Hip Hop as a Democratic Platform: Zionism, Anti-Zionism, and Post-Zionism.” Anamesa 5.1 (2007): 45. Le Bars, Stéphanie. “Les juifs on pris mon pays et ma liberté, et maintenant ils m’accuse d’être terroriste.” Le Monde. January 15, 2003. Levine, Mark. Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam. New York: Three Rivers P, 2008. Maira, Sunaina. “‘We Ain’t Missing’: Palestinian Hip Hop—a Transnational Youth Movement.” CR: The New Centennial Review 8.2 (2008): 161–92. Massad, Joseph. “Liberating Songs: Palestine Put to Music.” Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture. Ed. Rebecca Stein and Ted Swedenburg. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005. 175–201. McCalla, James. Twentieth-Century Chamber Music (Routledge Studies in Musical Genres). London: Routledge, 2003. McDonald, David. My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance. Diss., Musicology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2006. . My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance. Durham, NC: Duke UP, forthcoming. Morin, Richard. “Yo, Word Up, Arabz.” Washington Post. April 20, 2006: A02. “Palestinian Hip-Hop Band G-Town Awarded by MTV Latin.” Palestine News & Information Agency—WAFA. September 14, 2010. http://www.highbeam.com/ doc/1G1–237090489.html. Poplak, Richard. The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop Culture in the Muslim World. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. “Protest Rap from Gaza.” Playlist, Series 2, Episode 8, Part 1. Al-Jazeera English. May 4, 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fttSMm87y8w. Rabbani, Mouin. “Sharon’s Journey of Colors.” Middle East Report Online. March 15, 2002. http://www.merip.org/mero/mero031502. Ramchurn, Rakesh. “‘Collapse—an Installation Exploring Memory and Loss in Palestine.” Global Arab Network. July 29, 2009. http://www.english.globalarabnetwork. com/200907291958/Culture/collapse-an-installation-exploring-memory-a-loss-inpalestine.html?format=pdf. “Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas on Collapse.” APEngine. October 2009. http://www.apengine.org/2009/10/ruanne-abou-rahme-and-basel-abbas-on-collapse/. Schept, Judah. “‘I Broke the Law? No, the Law Broke Me!’ Palestinian Hip-Hop and the Semiotics of Occupation.” Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control. Vol. 14. Ed. Mathieu Deflem. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing, 2010. 91–119. Smith, Ray. “Music as Resistance Inside the Ramallah Bubble.” The Electronic Intifada. May 16, 2011. http://electronicintifada.net/content/music-resistance-insideramallah-bubble/9967. “Statistics.” The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. http://www.icahd.org/. Stein, Rebecca. Itineraries in Conflict: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Political Lives of Tourism. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2008. , and Ted Swedenburg. “Popular Culture and the Question of Power: Towards a Rethinking of Palestine and Israel.” Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture. Ed. Rebecca Stein and Ted Swedenburg. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005. 1–23. Thomas, Amelia. “Israeli-Arab Rap: An Outlet for Youth Protest.” Christian Science Monitor. July 21, 2005. Winder, Rob. “Rival Rappers Reflect Mid-East Confl ict.” BBC News. November 26, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4039399.stm. Zecchini, Laurent. “Fête de la bière . . . en Palestine.” Le Monde. October 6, 2009. 3.


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DVD Halachmi, Anat, dr. Channels of Rage. Ruth Diskin, 2003. Karni, Gil, dir. Saz: The Palestinian Rapper for Change. Choices Video, 2006. Salloum, Jackie, dir. Slingshot Hip Hop. Fresh Booza, 2009.

CD DAM. Ihda’ [Dedication]. EMI Arabia, 2006.


Music Sans Frontières? Documentaries on Hip-Hop in the Holy Land and DIY Democracy Caroline Rooney

God seals the hearts of those who refuse to hear. (Quran 7:100) Kobi, talk decent, have a word with your homie. (Tamer Nafar, Channels of Rage)

This chapter aims to consider the ways in which popular music in the Middle East, specifically hip-hop, engages with pro-democracy aspirations and liberation struggles. It will do so with particular respect to documentaries that focus on the ethical and political interventions of hip-hop in the Israel– Palestine confl ict. Anat Halachmi’s Channels of Rage will fi rst be analyzed with regard to the way in which it serves to reveal the performativity of nationalist ideology, a case of the literalization of hegemonic scripts and the commodification of identities to political ends. In contradistinction to this, Jackie Reem Salloum’s Slingshot Hip Hop, inspired by Udi Aloni’s Local Angel, will be shown to align itself with participatory popular culture in order to bring a critical consciousness to bear on ideological foreclosures of reality. This chapter concentrates on the fi lmic framing and mediation of Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop because the documentaries in question enable attention to be paid not only to the orality of hip-hop but also to its aurality—an aurality that pertains to cross-frontier receptions. What is also at stake is the relation between vocalization and visualization in the mediated social contexts of hip-hop’s transmission. Hip-hop, together with its use of YouTube, constitutes one strand among others of a global youth cultural phenomenon, the forms of which obviously also include blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and related versions of social and activist networking. While reasonably much is made of the virtual Internet media deployed by young writers, singers, and activists, what tends to be overlooked is that the virtuality of such media is accompanied by a certain contemporary aesthetics and politics of orality and aurality. For instance, in hip-hop and blogging there is the desire to speak the word from the street


Caroline Rooney

and to do so in a way that would be minimally mediated by authority and as immediate as possible in the speed of address and reception, overcoming the distances that separate both individuals and communities. Regarding the above, it would be useful to resist a simple alignment of hiphop with secular modernity, given its late capitalist African-American provenance, in a polarization against the Islamic revival in areas of the Middle East. In fact, it is possible to maintain that certain expressions and practices of hip-hop share aspects of the ethical soundscape of the cassette sermon, a soundscape compellingly elaborated by Charles Hirshkind in his anthropological study of cassette sermons and Islamic counter-publics in Egypt. Hirshkind argues that while the Western Enlightenment privileges the eye in its spectatorial detachment from the object, this is not the case as regards both the tradition of Islam and its modernity-focused transformations. He writes, From early in the development of Islam, sermon audition has been identified as essential to the cultivation of the sensitive heart that allows one to hear and embody in practice the ethical sensibilities undergirding moral action. . . . According to the sermon listeners I lived and worked with [in contemporary Cairo], tapes allow a relaxed attentiveness from which one can nonetheless expect an ethical therapeutics. (9–10) Although there are obvious differences between the content and style of the cassette sermon and hip-hop albums or downloads, hip-hop can be understood to be preoccupied in its own way with an ethics of listening: one that is critical of state corruption (as cassette sermons quite often are), serving to counter such with an emphasis on authenticity—in hip-hop, the frequent injunction is to ‘keep it real’—where this is a matter of collectively practiced re-attunements achieved not merely through the recognition of the sincere or committed message but through the affective effects of sonic communication and live reception. In the context of the Israel–Palestine struggle, there has been a striking recourse to music as a means of ethico-political therapy, entailing the assumption that musical experiences of coexistence through the inter-subjectivity of performance and listening might prepare the way toward dismantling the wall of miscommunication and non-negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. While the West-Eastern Divan orchestra of Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim is a high cultural version of such, it is a political therapeutics of hip-hop that has been turned to on the level of popular culture. I will now selectively discuss three very different fi lms that attempt to document this. Channels of Rage and Israeli Pride Halachmi’s Channels of Rage is a documentary that charts the temporary collaboration of Jewish Israeli rapper Kobi Shimoni, whose performance name

Music Sans Frontières?


is Subliminal, and Arab Israeli rapper Tamer Nafar. It does so from the perspective of this collaboration being foredoomed since the opening miseen-scènes are actually of the bitter demise of their tentative working friendship. The rest of the fi lm is therefore to be viewed as an account of why the relationship fails. The fi lm’s director has a professional background in working for television, and the style of her fi lm is that of reportage, entailing both concert footage and special access to backstage vignettes and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the lives of the rap stars. The fi lm shows Shimoni and Nafar performing together as well as separately, while they are also invited to speak their respective views to the camera. In this, there would seem to be a degree of even-handed objectivity and a certain ‘hands-off’ approach on the part of the director whose interventions are minimal. The parallelism of the aesthetic framing supports to some extent a sense of a symmetrical struggle in which Israeli and Palestinian youth have to contend with an inherited confl ict, or history as a nightmare that they are both trying to shake off. And just as hiphop in its African-American formations facilitated a shift from the violence of gang warfare to the performative rivalries of rap battles, it is turned to in the Arab and Jewish Israeli context as a means of cathartic expression and mutual self-presentation. That said, it soon becomes apparent that the symmetry of the rappers’ predicaments is superficial and that their parallel lives are revealed to us as lines that will never meet. It gradually becomes clear that Shimoni and Nafar are using hip-hop at counter purposes. For Shimoni or Subliminal, hip-hop appears to be a means of controlling the world around him. For instance, he raps of his fans, “I control them like joysticks,” while he later states, “The crowd will accept whatever I decide.” He is shown performing a self-defi ning song about his band a couple of times in the fi lm, repeating the lines “in Hebrew, I still control the mic,” “controlling everyone.” Within this hyper-controlled world, Nafar is offered a particular part scripted by Shimoni, namely, the role given to him is that of the grateful Arab, one to whom a little benevolence will be offered as long as the ‘displaced native’ does not step out of line—as long as he does not speak his mind. Nafar objects that he fi nds Shimoni’s treatment of him to be patronizing, and the viewer can see why this is so. In one of the opening scenes, which as explained prequel the demise of the relationship, the complaint on the Jewish Israeli side is that the problem is that Nafar became a “provocateur.” When soon after this we flashback to three years earlier, it is to hear Shimoni rap the rhyme, “I’m from Tel Aviv . . . provocative.” So while he boasts of being provocative, this is something Nafar is not allowed to be. Shimoni explains that he sees value in Nafar as a rapper who can exert power over an audience, intimating that he thereby seeks to manipulate Nafar into manipulating his fellow Arabs like his own docile “joysticks.” This need for control on the part of Shimoni is a matter of insisting on a certain script, policing what can and cannot be articulated. Accordingly, he


Caroline Rooney

raps that his band “represents the truth,” while he insists that the way he sees the situation is the way things are. Rap—with its aura of street credibility— seems to become, for Shimoni, a means of authenticating, and turning into a reality a particular pre-inscription of reality. Before discussing the ideological position in question, the point being made here is that hip-hop could be said to be instrumentalized by Shimoni precisely as a means to an ideological end. In terms of soundscapes, in the fi lm there is a certain blurring between the scenes of hip-hop concerts and political rallies, including of their soundscapes. The political rallies make use of music and chants; the concerts of political slogans and hectoring. Nafar’s relation to hip-hop emerges as, overall, a different one. Whereas Shimoni raps about controlling his mic and about his mic as an instrument of control, Nafar quips, “Me and the mic go together like Lewinsky and Clinton.” While Shimoni fails to acknowledge positions outside of his own, Nafar’s work makes use of humor, irony, and analogy in accordance with an awareness of working across differing positions where he raps explicitly about the ways in which Arab and Jewish Israelis have quite different experiences of living in the same place. For him, rap constitutes a means to create possibilities of cross-cultural empathy through the way in which the sound of the music and lyrics have the capacity to produce emotional attunement. When a physical fight breaks out on stage at one of his performances, he is upset because this is at odds with what he wants his music to achieve. He states that if people really listened “they’d feel the lyrics and not fight.” He also maintains, “Peace will only come to us through the heart.” Moreover, Nafar states that he “can’t stand politics”; he doesn’t rap in support of a party but rather to have his humanity recognized, asking his audience to try and put themselves in his shoes. It emerges in the fi lm that a radio station in Israel is reluctant to play Shimoni’s music because it is too right wing. From his point of view, his music carries the message of Israeli pride. While hip-hop in terms of its AfricanAmerican provenance is an art form of the underdog, and can be aligned with the wider tradition of protest poetry, its use in an Israeli context is ironic or misguided in that the Israelis are the occupiers and oppressors, and the Palestinians the underdogs. However, from Shimoni’s point of view, the Israelis are frozen (possibly traumatically) in their victimhood, and he feels the need to redeem them from their humiliation. He raps that Israel “dangles like a cigarette” from Arafat’s mouth, and he considers the pariahdom of Israelis to be a universal affair, complaining that “Europe’s gone yellow” and that Israel is “an international punching bag.” Shimoni’s position is actually psychologically analogous to the American and European heavy metal scene of right-wing youth. This music, sometimes called ‘extreme hate music’, is a platform for what could be called ‘white pride’. The lyrics of this music present young white males in a paranoid position of humiliated vulnerability in relation to ethnically different

Music Sans Frontières?


communities, seeking to ‘restore’ (as they see it) an authentic identity based on ethnicity as nationality. The mixture of self-pity and threatening menace in white pride music can also be heard in Shimoni’s music. U-Magazine comments, “Kobi Shimoni and partner Yoav Eliasi—aka Subliminal and the Shadow—seldom name their enemy, but songs like We Came to Expel the Darkness and My Land are clearly directed at the Palestinians. The rapper says he’s selling pride and a dose of reality.” (“Israel’s Eminem”). Shimoni says that his stage name can be explained in terms of his lyrics working on a between-the-lines or subliminal level. However, it is a case of a not very subtle message of racism, together with misogyny and homophobia. He boasts that in his world “there ain’t no one feminine” and he slips into his own rap the infamous “Boom bye bye” line, originally the title of Buju Banton’s reggae rap against batty (queer) boys. It is in keeping with the above that Shimoni’s audiences chant, “Death to the Arabs,” even though he tries to calm them down when this is being fi lmed. The fi lm is shot against the backdrop of the second intifada, and after a suicide bomb in Tel Aviv, we see a crowd of Israelis at a political rally also chanting “Death to the Arabs.” This is the context in which the soundscapes of hip-hop concert and political rally blend into each other. Psychoanalytically speaking, Shimoni’s stance entails a refusal of otherness. Accordingly, he exhibits an auto-empathy, or an empathy turned inward rather than toward the other. It is as if security can only be achieved by self-sufficiency together with the elimination of difference as a source of danger. Shimoni’s desire to control his audiences as well as Nafar can be understood in terms of a totalitarian desire for homogeneity: an equality of self-sameness. His clothing company, TACT (Tel Aviv City Team) sells a uniform of hoodies and baggies emblazoned with the Star of David, while Shimoni has made the Star of David into his personal logo. That is, he wears a prominent rhinestone Star of David around his neck while his record cover features a Star of David in the grasp of a muddy hand: religious identity both rescued from the dirt as well as coming from the land. Shimoni’s hip-hop could be said to constitute a commodification and cloning of religion as well as of nativist authenticity. In his song, “My Land,” Shimoni raps in Arabic that the land is his, “mine”: “Hada ardi hona biladi” (This is my land, this is my country). The not-so-subliminal ploy is that he is speaking directly to the Palestinians in their own language so they cannot fail to hear his claim. However, by using the Arabic term for homeland (biladi), obviously heard a lot within Palestinian discourse (not least the Palestinian national anthem), what Shimoni cannot control is the polysemia and irony of his gesture. As he usurps the very place of the Palestinian other, he unintentionally exposes how a Jewish Israeli who needs to speak Arabic to assert his claim of ‘mineness’ is not actually at home with himself. In spite of the gestures of inclusiveness, there is clearly no room for Nafar in Subliminal’s world. Channels of Rage, as a documentary about hip-hop,


Caroline Rooney

is able to afford us insight not only into the audience reception of hip-hop, its conditions of aurality and its context of violence in Tel Aviv, but into, in Shimoni’s words, what “a dose of reality” might actually mean as regards a recording of the Israel–Palestine confl ict. What the fi lm cannot help but reveal, what neither Shimoni nor it can control, is the perception of Nafar as sidelined, patronized, and humiliated; it is just the reality revealed by a camera turned toward an Arab Israeli. For example, we see Nafar forced to hang about as Subliminal’s groupie; we see Subliminal’s fans yelling at Nafar to “get off” the stage; we see his reflective expressions of confused emotions: the eager expression of a desire to perform battling with the hangdog expression of his ethically compromised position. And we also hear the Israeli rappers telling him to back off and shut up if he cannot say what they want to hear. U-Magazine quotes director Halachmi saying the following about her work: “They are both victims of the reality in Israel. They are children” (“Israel’s Eminem”). This explicitly reveals the fi lm’s intended even-handedness while it also points to what I wish to explain as its eventual superficiality. For a start, the fi lm moves rapidly from scene to scene, which has a certain glossing-over effect. Where you might expect some reflection on locale or history, or a pause for thought regarding controversial statements, you are moved on as if by a concerned official not wanting you to loiter in a security-sensitive area. Although there is little intifada footage in terms of violence, there is one scene which informs us of the previously mentioned suicide attack which could be taken as emblematic of the fi lm. In a panning shot at some distance and from a height, we gaze out on a cityscape of far off flashing lights which the viewer understands to be ambulances and police cars. We are then in reverse shot shown the place we are gazing from: a close up of the face of a blonde woman in profi le, and we see tears run down her cheek as she looks out toward the area of the attack. This seems possibly to summarize the perspective of the director—anguished by, yet at a remove from, the confl ict with the helplessness of a passive onlooker. The close up of the crying woman is succeeded by a second viewing of the suicide attack scene but in soft focus. The intention here may be to create the blurry effect of something seen through tears, but this soft focus melt is somewhat ill-judged in the context of the fi lm because the pastel flashing lights are an exact visual echo of the strobe lights of the clubs, violence becoming spectacle, serving to suggest that the pun in Channels of Rage—that is, rage turned into TV—conflates the meanings of ‘channeling’ in an unexamined way. The documentary purports to be showing us the reality of how things are, but this is on a certain flattened-out level of visual spectacle. Elizabeth Cowie, in writing on the insistence of the ‘real’ in documentary fi lms, states, “[O]ur apprehension of the ‘real’ is in our encounter with this contingent, ephemeral, brute reality that just keeps happening, uncaused, which while it may be named ‘fate,’ nevertheless remains unapprehendable” (122). In that respect, Halachmi’s fi lm could be typical of its genre. However, the

Music Sans Frontières?


difficulty that I have with Channels of Rage is that it naturalizes (actually literalizes) the ideological (as does Shimoni), through presenting both Jewish and Arab Israeli rappers as victims not of political histories but, in the words of Halachmi, “of reality,” an inexplicable, contingent, brute, meaningless reality. That is, the Israel–Palestine confl ict rendered in this way makes us anguished but utterly helpless spectators because it is given as ‘just the way things are’, where it becomes a spectacle because nothing can be done; all you can do is move on from one visual scene to the next. Apart from the rapid alternation of scenes, quite a lot of the footage is from moving vehicles as if you were just passing through. Regarding the naturalization/literalization of the ideological, there is one scene in which we are shown a road sign saying, “Danger: Do Not Pass. The Intersection is Cancelled.” On a certain level, it is a witty comment on the impasse of the rappers’ failed collaboration, but it serves to imply that the impasse is transposed, although by no one at all, into the very geography of the place as if it were this geography to blame for not being able to accommodate true democracy. At one point in the fi lm, Nafar’s father is shown driving through Tel Aviv uncertain of where he is because the old place names have been replaced by patriotic Israeli ones: Independence Street, Zionist Street, and so on. The visual signifiers in the fi lm are primarily Jewish Israeli so that, as with Shimoni, textual branding and scripting do not reflect but performatively produce what is seen to be reality. As we move from visual signifier to visual signifier, the frustration is not that we fail to get to some ultimate signified but that the visuality of the signifier works to silence the fi lm’s purported orality. At one point in the fi lm, Nafar is shown at an Arabic radio station trying out the sound equipment to notice: “[T]here’s no sound . . . not working.” In such a situation, you talk but the speech does not convey; it is speech without sound, a silent or purely visual text, not working. The fi lm begins with the Israeli rappers saying to Nafar, “Don’t talk to me,” and it ends with the Shadow saying that he has nothing against Nafar, “just against his mouth.” On the other hand, Nafar’s request is, “Have a word with your homie [homeboy].” In a series of interviews with Palestinian and Israeli writers, Runo Isaksen sets out to explore whether literary works might be a way of Palestinians and Israelis getting to know each other on a human level. Israeli writer Etgar Keret, one of those interviewed, has some pertinent remarks to offer. He says, “So many words . . . are supposed to describe the situation, but in fact what they do is build a wall between you and the reality” (23). He also offers a critique of Israeli society as hypertextualized: “The point is that we’ve become blind and deaf to the subtext, we live only at the level of the text. . . . You might say that it is about how ideology can prevent us from seeing the person in front of us, because he or she has been reduced to a label” (29). For Keret, this constitutes a point of distinction between Jewish culture and Israeli culture: “Jewish identity has always been more concerned with humanist ideas


Caroline Rooney

than nationalist ones, always more interested in the subtext than the text itself” (20). While he considers Israeli identity to be superficial, based on a shallow sense of belonging, he considers Jewish identity to be more profoundly “philosophical, self-critical, and cosmopolitan” (21). Local Angel, Angel , Slingshot Hip Hop Hop, and Freedom of Association Udi Aloni’s fi lm Local Angel demonstrates, in Keret’s terms, a Jewish sensibility, rather than an Israeli one, while Aloni is from Israel. His “philosophical, self-critical, and cosmopolitan” fi lm would require an extended reflective analysis; here I will refer to it mainly as a means of bridging the distance between Channels of Rage and Slingshot Hip Hop. Aloni’s fi lm is not about music in the Middle East; music is not its object. Rather, it may be said that music, including hip-hop, is one of its languages together with the sonority of language or voiced and listened to speech, while its elusive yet real object could be described as an emotional connectedness capable of transcending identity politics. Local Angel is a transgeneric documentary and could be called a philosophical essay, a fi lmic diary, an investigation into DIY activism, a biography of friendship, a poetic sequence, a talking cure, and so on. In many ways, it is a documentary sans frontières. Its narrative begins in a post–9/11 New York with Aloni explaining that when 9/11 happened he realized that the real cause of the terror attack against America had to do with the off-screen Israel–Palestine confl ict and the screening out or disavowal of it. What is at stake in this is America’s complicity with an Israel that refuses to listen. The opening shots are of New York, its iconic cityscape of skyscrapers offered to us as a glossy magazine of awesome modernity. Aloni directs our attention to gigantic billboards erected on skyscrapers featuring models advertising Gap clothing, explaining that in his work as a graphic designer he introduced these supersized adverts to the city. The New York we are shown is a spectacular one. The rest of Aloni’s fi lm gives, on the whole, greater emphasis to the ear than the eye. As he returns to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, he sets up a series of experiments in listening which consist of pre-arranged but unscripted meetings between Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals and activists, meetings in which they try to explain their perspectives to each other, together with musical performance pieces of various kinds. Regarding the latter, Israeli singers are fi lmed wandering through a Jerusalem souk singing a well-known Arab song in Arabic; Nafar’s hip-hop group DAM are fi lmed performing in both Arabic and Hebrew. Some of the stagings of the musical performances are quasi-naturalistically ‘in situ’, such as a song sung at a Tel Aviv beach party and a song sung in a disco, while others are deliberately staged against the backdrop of local scenery. Aloni’s fi lm serves to suggest that human habitation of a place brings

Music Sans Frontières?


with it certain cultural soundtracks, obviously enough, while the insistence of the fi lm is to underscore this as a cosmopolitan soundscape: Arab and Jewish, together with the influences of Euro-American modernity. In addition, Aloni uses music to convey different states of feeling. The appearance of Nafar and DAM in this fi lm is very different to Nafar’s appearance in Channels of Rage. In particular, Aloni, in sympathy with the group, sets them up—and by extension Palestinian youth—as a presence to be reckoned with. Accordingly, what is noticeable is that in Local Angel the flow of the rap has a greater confidence to it as well as benefitting from a professionalism of sound production that is lacking in the earlier fi lm. This may well be a case of better production facilities together with more rehearsed and experienced rapping, but it also may be due to the fact that DAM are allowed access to their creativity in a more relaxed performance environment, one in which they are able to appear on their own terms. Overall, Local Angel is an inspiring fi lm: not by offering a solution to the confl ict but by generating a surprising sense of fragile yet possible trust through the opening up of numerous sites of genuine dialogue. Furthermore, through the musical crossovers the fi lm offers, it may be said we are able to recognize the affective range of our common humanity. The differing forms of music—popular and religious—express a tumult of strong feelings: feelings of suffering, anger, grief, yearning, sensuous desire, love of the sacred. Avital Ronell, offering a Lacanian analysis of the fi lm, states, “I’m very interested in the fragility of the fi lm’s testimony. . . . The very dramatic and surprising interview with Arafat suddenly comes up as the political real, as the very traumatic kernel of the fi lm” (Local Angel, DVD booklet 18), where the scene with Arafat is in keeping with the fi lm’s exposure of the human being behind the enemy labels. For Ronell, the moment of the political real she speaks of resists meaning and is incomprehensible as if an encounter without ideology were unthinkable. The fact that what is being repressed here is, arguably, the reality of the enemy as a human being is something which extends to the common humanity of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. In the scene in question, Arafat speaks of his boyhood friendships with Jewish children and of Jews as his cousins. The counterpoint to this scene is a fraught scene in which Aloni raises with his mother the question of a one-state solution with the right of return. This is something she categorically refuses to discuss with him; her rejection of the possibility is absolute. It is as if this were a truly ‘traumatic kernel’, that is, if the traumatic knot/not could be understood to be the absolute impasse. Yet more precisely, these moments in the fi lm contrapuntally defi ne the communicative crisis. Jackie Reem Salloum’s fi lm on Palestinian hip-hop has Local Angel as its initial point of inspiration, acknowledged when Udi Aloni is literally invited into the fi lm on being invited into the Nafar family home. Slingshot Hip Hop differs from Channels of Rage and Local Angel in that it


Caroline Rooney shares “the poetics and praxis” (Brandes) of hip-hop itself. That is, it is stylistically a hip-hop documentary, not just a fi lm about hip-hop. This is evident in the fi lm’s aesthetic referencing of aspects of popular art in the urban environment of its own settings such as graffiti, murals, cartoons, and poster heroism. And it would seem that this is because in making the fi lm, Salloum collaborated closely with the performers who were also given cameras so that they could fi lm themselves and their points and places of reference. While Aloni includes DAM in his fi lm diary, here DAM and other rappers make their own fi lm diary with Salloum in which, as explained above, Aloni has a brief walk on part. That is to say, the whole fi lm might be considered to be a knowing reverse shot, one that inscribes the transition from being the object of the gaze to the listening and answering subject of another discourse. The hip-hop aesthetic of the fi lm could be multi-posited by the following phrase: ‘How we made it.’

First, the story is one of how Palestinian rappers came to make it as local stars and accordingly materialize a Palestinian rap scene. In particular, the voice-over by Suhell Nafar addresses the audience in a friendly and confiding manner—in English spoken with a slight American accent—to fi ll them in on the success story of DAM, but where this success story is not a ‘ragsto-riches’ one but rather one of shaking off victimhood and potential martyrdom through the dignity of standing tall and making your own way in the world—in this case, a question of defiantly resilient peaceful resistance. One of the fi lm’s messages could be construed as, ‘If we can do it, you can do it,’ bringing substance to the fantasy of the role model. For instance, we are shown how rap is taken to schools and refugee camps because the young have no youth centers, “no goals,” “no life here . . . no art,” and there is a consequent need to offer alternatives to the way the young turn to drugs or crime or violence out of despair. That rap is truly a lifeline is conveyed by many of the rappers but especially by a young woman rapper, Abeer, who has also to contend with the sexism of conservative strands in her society, Abeer stating, “I’m still recording ’cos there’s no other reason to live.” Second, along with this, Slingshot Hip Hop is also a fi lm about how rap is made, how you learn and disseminate it, and the praxis here is very much one of ‘do it yourself’. This is, of course, how hip-hop evolved. It began with the impoverished using what was ready at hand to recycle it: not so much a case of mimicry but of the ingenuity of improvising with scarce resources. For instance, if you don’t have a drum kit, you can beat box; if you don’t have a recording studio, you can DJ and remix. Slingshot Hip Hop shows that it is possible to take commodified forms or formulae—‘the success story’, ‘the rap star’—and re-authenticate them, so to speak. It does so through treating the form as a vehicle for something greater than the form; the text form is in the service of human lives rather than the other way round.

Music Sans Frontières?


Regarding this sense of authenticity, it is a case of what can be said to be heartfelt, especially in terms of solidarity with others. Nafar says of the eventual release of their first album that although it is just a round CD like any other, a humble object, that “it’s from here,” and he makes a gesture of tapping his heart. A female fan of DAM’s says after a concert, “When they rap ‘Freedom for My Sisters,’ I feel every word.” Having addressed how the authenticity in question is a matter of emotional attunement and connectedness, I would like finally to attend to this as specifically a question of free association. Slingshot Hip Hop is a film about free association on a number of levels. For a start, the main storyline in the film concerns how the 1948 Palestinian rappers, imprisoned within Israel, and their 1967 counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza fervently desire to meet up with each other. In particular, the Gaza group Palestinian Rapperz (PR) is shown attempting to meet up with DAM. While they have connected with each other via mobile phones and the Internet, posting video clips to each other, the virtual connection is felt to be insufficient. It could be said that it is insufficient for two reasons: one being the desire for personal live contact and the other being shared freedom as a question of reallife mobility. What is at stake in this is the human right of free association. Politically speaking, free association is a question of the right to congregate, a freedom of assembly that entails also the right to demonstrate and petition. The need for such can be felt to be acute in the context of Israel/Palestine in which both the movement of people and their allegiances are so tightly controlled and forcibly policed. The state of oppression (for Israelis as well as Palestinians) is that there is a whole system of obligatory connections (loyalty to the state being paramount here) and obligatory separatisms (the checkpoints and the wall constantly in evidence in Slingshot Hip Hop but not in Channels of Rage). In Slingshot Hip Hop, we are shown repeatedly how the movements of Palestinians are either being narrowly channeled, for example, by means of bottleneck checkpoints, or immobilized. Here we see how channeling pertains to the visual domain of surveillance and how it leads to the buildup of rage. As an alternative to this, the hip-hop concerts provide a stark contrast in terms of a forum in which people are free to congregate and protest, and also in terms of the uninhibited dance moves of performers and audience. The hip-hop performance style of swarming across the entire space of the stage and of emphatically mobile gestures appears exactly appropriate in this ‘in situ’. Also appropriate is that when DAM are shown fi lming a music video with activist Juliano Mer Khamis, the chosen mise-en-scène is that of a rally that literally mobilizes when the rally turns into a flowing march of its participants. As argued, hip-hop in Channels of Rage appears, in part, as an instrument of control to political ends. In Slingshot Hip Hop, hip-hop is politically used to de-instrumentalize and re-humanize through freedom of movement. While Aloni’s fi lm shows us scenes of a beautiful Israel, the reverse shot of Salloum’s fi lm is to show us many scenes of a Palestine rendered barely habitable. The political strategy appears to be one of rendering Palestinian


Caroline Rooney

existence temporary through maintaining it ‘on hold’, freeze-framing it, pausing it in the manner of creating a refugee camp lifestyle without past, present, or future, with nowhere to go. The Israelis also cause frequent electricity blackouts, which mean for the rappers sound blackouts and stopped music. PR is fi nally given a permit to connect with DAM in Ramallah, significantly arranged for them by “Youth Without Borders.” However, the fi lm ends with PR being turned away from the border, forced to go back, a crushing disappointment. After the fi nal credits, we are given a surprise postscript of DAM and PR fi nally meeting and embracing each other like long-lost brothers: a postscript coming after the end of the fi lm like the resumption of everyday life, or a foretaste of such. Suhell comments in the voice over, “There’s still good in the world, my friend,” drawing the viewer into the affective world of free association. While the fi lm is concerned with this especially as a matter for 1948 and 1967 Palestinians, we also see DAM connecting with the rap scene in America and there is in their reaching out a strong international dimension too. In fact, the connecting up of PR and DAM is one small instance of how hip-hop works to connect what may be termed ‘liberation protesters’ all over the world. When DAM speak of their influences and points of reference they name not only African-American hip-hop (Tupac, Public Enemy), not only Said and Darwish, but a number of writers from around the world, many of them women: Hanan Al-Shaykh, Nawal El Saadawi, and so on (see Rooney). The question of free association is also a prominent compositional style for hip-hop, both in terms of free-style flows and in terms of spontaneously coming up with surprising metaphors and analogies—or connections on a creative or imaginative level. Obviously what is at stake in this is a freedom of movement, of both psyche and soma, and this in turn could be understood to be a question of rhythm. Strong rhythm is or strong beats are almost defi nitive of hip-hop, and this may be because rhythm serves to generate words and images rather than the other way around (a case of the ‘unconscious’ as somatic awareness). That is, the suggestion is that the subliminal subtext—the reality hidden by the text—in this context is rhythm. What I wish to add here is the suggestion that it is rhythmic soundscapes that have a particular ethical significance because rhythm is in itself a process of empathetic response that can in turn generate empathetic responses, particularly when the rhythm is accompanied by sounds and images. The consideration of this chapter has been that music documentaries are able to demonstrate to us how engagement not only with the object of the gaze and the subject of the voice but with the object as subject of the gaze and the subject as object of the voice is important for the act of attentive reception. So, fi nally: music sans frontières? This would seem to depend on the possibility of our free associations.

Music Sans Frontières?


Works Cited Al-Barghouti, Tamim. The Umma and the Dawla: The Nation State and the Arab Middle East. London: Pluto P, 2008. Aloni, Udi, dir. Local Angel: Theological Political Fragments. ICA, 2004. Asen, Joshua. “The Rap That Sparked a Revolution.” Hip Hip Diplomacy 13 ( January 2011). www.hiphopdiplomacy.org/2011/01/31. Brandes, Blake. The Poetics and Praxis of Hip Hop. Diss., Kent University, 2011. Cowie, Elizabeth. Recording Reality, Desiring the Real. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012. El Général. “El Général: The Voice of Tunisia.” YouTube. 25 June 2011. www.youtube. com/watch?v+leGlJ7OouR0. Halachmi, Anat, dir. Channels of Rage. Anat Halachmi Productions, 2003. Hirschkind, Charles. The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. “Israel’s Eminem.” U-Magazine. June 25, 2011. www.iol.co.za/news/world/Israel-seminem-wins-fans-angers-critics-1.118308. Keret, Etgar. “What Really Matters Is the Quality of What’s In Our Heads.” Literature and War: Conversations with Israeli and Palestinian Writers. Ed. Runo Isakson. Trans. Kari Dickson. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch P, 2009. 15–39. Rooney, Caroline. “Activism and Authenticity: Palestinian Hip Hop in an International Frame.” The Arab Avant-Garde: Musical Innovation in the Middle East. Ed. Thomas Burkhalter, Kay Dickinson, and Benjamin J. Harbert. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, forthcoming. Salloum, Jackie Reem, dir. Slingshot Hip Hop. Fresh Booza Production, 2009.


Rai North Africa’s Music of the Working Class John A. Shoup

Rai music established its place not only among North African and Arab music; increasingly it is expanding its appeal to the world. It emerged in the 1980s and 1990s among the world beat sounds along with soukous (from Zaire/Congo), mbalax (from Senegal), zouk (from the Caribbean), and bhangara (from India/Pakistan) and other ‘ethno-beat’ music (Langlois 259). Rai is hard to defi ne because it is able to change and adapt to the different types of popular music around it, as well as continue to appeal to North Africans (still its fi rst audience) whether in the bled 1 (home country), among the migrants and immigrants in Europe, or increasingly with non-Arabic speaking youth in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. What makes Rai ‘Rai’ is not the music’s instruments, melodic lines, or even the singer’s voice, but the words. Rai expresses the inner soul of the North African working class. What makes Rai popular is that it can express this in Arabic, French, or Spanish (a Cuban mix of Rai and Salsa with words fully in Spanish began in the fi rst decade of the 2000s) as the center for Rai music moved from Algeria, to France, and now increasingly to Los Angeles.2 Origins and Early Period Rai began in the 1920s in the backstreets, brothels, and bars of Wahran or Oran, a bustling port city along the Mediterranean shore of western Algeria (McMurray and Swedenburg 39). Like American Blues, early Rai addressed the social and economic situation of recent rural migrants pulled into the city to fi nd jobs. Originally, Rai was performed by impromptu groups of mainly men who could play the qasbah (breathy type of reed or rosewood flute), the bendir (a large round, single-headed drum with stings on the backside of the head like a snare drum which gives it a buzzing sound), the darabukah (an hourglass-shaped drum usually made of baked clay with a single head), a smaller version of the darbukah called the gallal with a looser sound (one the instruments used by the shaykhat), and the qaraqab (iron castanets used also by Gnaoua groups3 ) (Schade-Poulsen 19; McMurray and Swedenburg 39). Women called shaykhat4 (meaning female public performers in North



Africa) would sing about the lives of working-class men and women. Some of the songs were humorous while others spoke of the bitterness of urban life, drugs, alcohol, divorce, the surprise of a woman discovering that her husband married a second wife, and the thrill/shame of extra-marital sex. Rai takes its name from the Arabic term ra’i meaning “‘a way of seeing,’ ‘an opinion,’ ‘a point of view,’ ‘advice,’ but also ‘an aim,’ ‘a plan,’ and even ‘a thought,’ ‘a judgment,’ ‘a will’” (Schade-Poulsen 14). The name grew from the oft-repeated chorus of “ya ra’i” (usually pronounced without the glottal stop of the hamza thus sounding more like rai) which served as a word fi ller not unlike “aman, aman” (meaning literally “safety”) or “ya layl” (meaning literally “oh, night”) in other types of Arabic music (Schade-Poulsen 14). According to Marc Schade-Poulsen it is closest to the Blues phrases “oh no, oh no” or “yeah, yeah” (14). Rai was the music of the “demi-monde” (McMurray and Swedenburg 39), outside of the acceptable music produced by shaykhs who sang more classical types of music, such as malhun5 or the maddahin and maddahat who sang madh or praise poems of the Prophet in classical Arabic (Schade-Poulsen 15–16). Rachid Aadnani states that Rai singers “can be viewed as symbolic descendents of a long line of wandering poets called mejdoub (in Arabic) or amdyaz (Tamazight 6 ) who have wandered from village to village for centuries, singing songs that explore problems of life, power, and love, and who have been viewed as living repositories of popular wisdom all over North Africa” (23). In the 1930s, Rai singers (both male and female) were harassed by the police not only for singing what were considered to be ‘dirty’ lyrics, but also because their songs touched on the politics of colonialism “such as imprisonment, poverty, and typhus” (McMurray and Swedenburg 39). During World War II, Rai lyrics “dealt with the black market, the Allied invasion, and rationing” (39). Rai grew in popularity and following WWII, French men also began to come to the ‘native’ bars in Wahran. Words to the music changed slightly with French being mixed in the lyrics with Arabic reflecting the changes in urban spoken Arabic in the city. Women singers became well known, such as Shaykhah Remitti al Ghilzaniyah who remained popular until her death in 2006.7 Shaykhah Remitti al Ghilzaniyah was born in Sidi Bel ‘Abbas where the French Foreign Legion had its headquarters and where there were a large number of bars and brothels for the soldiers’ leisure hours (Ewens 48), and in the discourse about Rai by Algerians in the early 1980s, such conditions produced the ‘decadence’ of crime, violence, and ‘sexual inhibition’ found in Rai lyrics (Schade-Poulsen 23). Shaykhah Remitti’s lyrics included lines such as “People adore God, but I adore beer” and “When he embraces me, he pricks me like a snake” and “Oh lover, to gaze upon you is a sin, it’s you who makes me ‘eat’ during Ramadan”8 (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 13). Remitti’s name comes from the French verb remettez or “give me another (drink)” because between performances, she worked as a bar maid, though others say that it came from requests for another song as she and her group of


John A. Shoup

musicians moved from bar to bar during a night’s work (Schade-Poulsen 226; Ewens 48). Others of her generation also took stage names that in one way or another reflected their life style such as Shaykhah Jinniyah (Djenia) or “the She-Devil,” Shaykhah Washmah or the “Tatooted,” Shaykhah Habibah Kabirah or “the Big Love (or perhaps Kiss),” and the very sexual Shaykhah Habb al-Ahmar or “the Red Button”9 (Schade-Poulsen 226). Rai music began to change from the simple, rural sound of its origins to a more urban sound with influences from what is called sha‘bi music, usually translated as “popular” music. Instrumentation expanded and bands included the more difficult to play ‘ud or lute and violin that had been part of the bands accompanying the shaykhs. The simple melodies developed into those that sounded more like ones people heard in Egyptian fi lms or on the radio. Egyptian musical fi lms starred the great Um Kulthoum and other well-known stars such as Asmahan and her brother Farid al-Atrash, Layla Murad, and Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab, and starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s, ‘Abd al-Halim Hafi z and Shadia and the local musical stars of Algeria began to imitate the Egyptians in what was styled as Wahrani by the Oran-born Rai musician Bilawi al-Hawri (Ewens 48). Despite the fact that the French authorities restricted the number of non-French fi lms that were allowed to be shown per year in French-controlled North Africa, in 1934 Cairo Radio began operation and soon was able to blanket the Arab world with Egyptian songs.10 Algerian sha‘bi singers drew on a number of local traditions as well, especially that of the Judeo-Arab urban music, and Sultanah Da’ud was among the best-known performers. She was born in 1920 in the Jewish quarter of Wahran and died in 1998 in France. Called the Reinette l’Oranaise or “The little Oranian queen,” her music blended a number of styles, and in the 1950s she moved to Algiers to work with Muhammad al-Anka at Radio Alger, but in 1962 she was forced to move to France as a result of the Algerian war of independence and official hostility to her (Mortaigne 58). Nonetheless, she and others like Dahman al-Harrashi (stage name of ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Amrani) greatly influenced Rai during the 1940s and 1950s. Both singers have recently been rediscovered by the new generation of Rai singers who have revived and updated their songs with new instrumentation (Mortaigne 67). Dahman al-Harrashi was the fi rst to make famous the song “Ya rayah” or “Oh traveler” written by ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Amrani/Dahman al-Harrashi, which was revived by Rachid Taha, one of today’s best-known Rai singers.11 Algerian Independence and Rai under Houari Boumediene In the early 1950s, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) began the Algerian fight for independence from France. Among its fi rst announcements in 1954 was the need for Algerians to clean up their own society from the fi lth and vices the FLN leadership saw as the cause of Algerians’ weaknesses.



Bars, brothels, and other locales where Rai was heard were closed down, and the FLN began its long struggle against not only the French, but also against Rai. The Algerian struggle for independence was long and costly in human lives with over a million Algerians killed. Algeria, unlike Morocco and Tunisia (both were protectorates), was part of France being declared a department in 1848. Initially, only the Mediterranean littoral, principally the cities of Algiers, Oran, and Constantine, were incorporated into France. France encouraged settlement by Europeans and opened Algeria to Maltese, Italian, and Spanish as well as French migrants, all of whom developed strong French nationalist sentiments. Native Algerians were displaced to make room for the European settlers and Algerian cities were knocked down and rebuilt on European models. Algerians were only eligible for citizenship under special conditions and few were able to obtain it. French promises of citizenship for service in the military in WWI and then again in WWII were not kept and Algerians were convinced the only route for them was complete independence. The FLN began operations in 1954 and Algeria fi nally won its independence in 1962. The FLN remained hostile to Rai, which they thought of as a symptom of the decadence the French brought to Algerian society, even though Rai singers sang in support of the struggle.12 Rai had also kept up with the musical changes in the Arab world via Radio Cairo as well as those in European music via Radio Alger and French radio stations. A new form of Rai emerged at the time of Algerian independence called Pop-Rai. Pop-Rai: Shabab and Shabbat Rai survived the Algerian Revolution, but the government remained hostile, particularly President Houari Boumediène,13 and in 1964 the government declared Andalusi as the official music of Algeria14 (Schade-Poulsen 20). Rai musicians tried to ‘clean up’ the music; no longer did shaykhat sing and instead were replaced with boys (shabab15 ) whose voices had not changed yet. Around the same time, a new sound developed based on Western pop, using electric guitars, electric organs, Western drum sets, as well as more traditional Arabic instruments. The main name connected with the change to Pop-Rai is Ballamu Mas‘ud, a trumpet player born just south of Oran in 1947 (Ewens 49). He studied music in a Spanish school and as a youth began to follow around the shaykhat. He “fused Latin and European elements” to the Wahrani mix of urban and rural Arab and Berber sounds and was discovered by a music producer who recorded three singles of the band performing with the boy singer Butalja Balqasim16 (Ewens 50). Mas‘ud became known as the “Father of Rai” and his band as the “School of Rai” due to the fact that many of the stars of the 1960s through the 1980s began performing with him (Ewens 50). Nonetheless, the Algerian government remained hostile and, in an attempt to ban Rai, even banned the importation of blank cassette tapes to block the distribution of the music.


John A. Shoup

Rai again survived with mobile recording studios recording over already used tapes, and a recording studio across the border in the Moroccan city of Oujda making many of the commercial tapes (Langlois 260). Making Rai the object of government attention created a growing interest on the part of Algerian youth, and in 1979 the song “Ma halali al-nawm” or “Sleep doesn’t come easily to me” by Shabbah Fadilah became the fi rst Rai hit song beyond the regional confi nes of Wahran17 (Schade-Poulsen 20). Also in 1979, Algerian President Houari Boumediène died and was followed in office by Shadhli bin Jadid who was far less austere and who began lifting restrictions on Rai music. As noted by Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg, “Rai emerged from the shadows and gained national popularity as its sounds, recording techniques and instrumentation was modernized” (13). Many of the best-known names emerged at that time: Khaled, Mami, Hasni, Sahrawi, Fadilah, and Zahwaniyah18 among others19 (Ewens 50). Cassette sales of both new PopRai and the older, more risqué songs of the shaykhat ‘took off’ and quickly became the music of the increasingly disaffected youth (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 13). Brief Period of a Rai Spring of the l980s Rai was still not fully accepted in government circles and there were many in Algeria who considered it decadent due to the nature of its lyrics, and government bureaucrats continued to try to block distribution of Rai as unworthy of being considered an art. They tried, in vain, to promote ‘serious’ art as an alternative by importing art fi lms and organizing exhibitions of fi ne arts through the youth wing of the FLN (Schade-Poulsen 21). The government took other actions to block Rai, and in 1985 the Algerian authorities briefly banned Shab Khaled, called “The King of Rai,” because of the explicit “sensuality and irreverence” of his compositions (Ewens 51). The Algerian authorities were equally unhappy about the songs by Shab Mami, “The Prince of Rai,” but Mami had already moved to France in 1985 and was beyond their reach (Ewens 51; Swendenburg 181). Nonetheless, brother music producers Rashid and Fathi Baba Ahmad brought Rai into the high-tech world of multi-track recording, building their own studio in Telmsen in 1980, and, as a result, Rai recordings found their way into the non-Arabic speaking markets in Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany (Ewens 50; McMurray and Swedenburg 40). Interest in Rai began in Europe, and to a degree in North America, and various labels such as Shanachie, Earthworks, Virgin, and Mango sold Rai albums, but, as noted by Swedenburg, sales in the US “slowed to a trickle” by the end of the 1990s (Swendenburg 178). Nonetheless, in North Africa and among the Franco-Maghribi community in Europe, Rai flourished, getting airtime on the radio—1982 marked the fi rst time any radio station in North Africa played Rai on the air when the French-Moroccan station Med1 began broadcasting Rai songs (Schade-Poulsen 20). In 1985, Algeria organized the



fi rst Rai music festival in Wahran as much a response to French pressure on the Algerian authorities as to that of the demands by youth (21). The French minister of culture Jack Lang—along with a former officer in the Algerian army, Colonel Sanusi—was able to convince the Algerian authorities to include Rai in the 1986 Algerian Cultural Days in Paris (McMurray and Swedenburg 41). The government allowed Rai singers to travel, returned confiscated passports, and no longer tried to block Rai for ‘lacking’ artistic merit (McMuray and Swedenburg 41). In 1987, Rai had its fi rst international hit song with “N’sel fi k” or “You are mine,” sung by the husband and wife team of Shab Sahrawi and Shabbah Fadilah. The decade of the 1980s also saw Rai become the music of France’s North African communities. Left out of much of French life, and certainly not seen as French in culture, France’s North Africans or Beur20 —French born citizens of North African heritage— adopted Rai as their own cultural expression as well as a means to deal with growing anti-Arab (and anti-Muslim) sentiments in Europe (McMurray and Swedenburg 41–42). While in Algeria, Rai “expressed a kind of disguised youth protest against the austere morality and moribund economic policies of the regime; in France it became the badge of ethnic identity in the face of intensified white racism” (42). However, the Rai ‘spring’ was short lived, and in 1988 youth riots about unemployment hit Algerian cities. The youth expressed their frustrations by adopting a Shab Khaled song called “al-Harbah wayn” or “Where to flee.” Some of the song’s lyrics say, “The rich gorge themselves . . . the Islamic charlatans show their true face/So what’s the solution?” (qtd. in Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 16). The youth riots were more about the economic austerity measures adopted to deal with low government income as a result of record low gas and oil prices and the fact that many of Algeria’s youth had little or no prospects for work. The words of the song seemed to speak to their conditions, though Khaled and other Rai singers quickly tried to distance themselves from the riots following various claims that Rai had helped ‘incite’ the youth to rebel, and that left 500 dead (McMurray and Swedenburg 42). Nonetheless, the Algerian government fi rmly blamed Rai for the discontent of Algeria’s youth and the rioters were dubbed “the Rai generation”21 (42). Even if the singers did not promote the riots, their music spoke directly to the disgruntled youth of Algeria (and other Maghribi states) the same way that the Moroccan group Nass al-Ghiwan during the same time period spoke to the important issues of Moroccan youth, 22 and as Rai singers also began to address the issues of the Beur in France (Aadnani 25). Rachid Aadnani, a Moroccan scholar working in the US, fits Rai fi rmly within what he terms protest music and poetry and, for him, it is a déjà-vu of past forms of popular protest music in North Africa (23). The FIS or Front Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front) also confronted Rai singers, condemning Rai as being vulgar and promoting vice. The FIS gained a popular following due to Algeria’s economic problems in


John A. Shoup

the 1980s and began their campaign against Rai by fi rst protesting against any type of musical performance during Ramadan (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 15). In 1990, the FIS gained control of the Wahran municipality and refused to fund the scheduled Rai festival, stating the budget was not sufficient to cover the costs (McMurray and Swedenburg 42). The FrancoMaghribi writer Muhammad Qasimi attended Friday prayer in Algiers in 1990 where ‘Ali Bin Haj, the second in command of FIS, gave the khutbah or Friday sermon in which he condemned all of those he considered to be Francophone and said they should all go to their ‘motherland’ France; they had no place in Algeria (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 15). Many Rai singers, including Khaled, Sahrawi, and Fadilah, received death threats and fled, seeking refuge in secular France where many had already established followings among the large Franco-Maghribi community (McMurray and Swedenburg 42). In 1991, the FIS won the fi rst round in the national elections and subsequently the Algerian military stepped in and stopped the second round, starting the long civil war between the FIS and its supporters and the government (Langlois 259). French Rai Despite the problems in Algeria, Rai continued to emerge onto the world music stage, and in 1992 Shab Khaled (now only Khaled having dropped Shab after his move to France) had the first Rai global hit with “Didi.” With many of Rai’s top stars living in France, primarily in Paris, the music itself also began to change to meet the demands of the Beur market. Starting in the early 1980s, Beur took to Rai as a means of ethnic identity, and radio stations emerged broadcasting Rai and other North African music and special programs during holidays such as Ramadan (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 14). The community’s sense of unity grew in response to the Habib Grimzi23 incident in 1983. Grimzi was thrown off of a moving train by French soldiers and subsequently died of his injuries. Over 100,000 Franco-Maghribis marched through Paris in protest to his death, which many saw as emblematic of the racism faced by North Africans on a daily basis in France (15). While Rai spoke to the generation of migrants from North Africa, it needed to develop to include the Beur who responded to the global growth of rap. French groups such as Carte de Sejour or Residency Card (usually described as Franco-Maghribi rockers) and the rap group I-AM as well as singers such as Amina and Jimmy Wahid fused rock, disco-funk, jazz-funk, and Caribbean sounds with Arabic, Berber, and African music which created a new form of Rai, French Rai (16). Rai had to also compete with the popularity of Western MTV-styled music videos. “Didi” marked the start of international appeal for Rai.24 “Didi” was the first Arabic music video to be done with an MTV-styled video, and was the first to have Arab youth dancing on screen like Americans or Europeans in popular Western videos. “Didi” changed Arabic music videos that had, for the



most part, shown concert shots with the singers standing, using hand gestures typical of Arabic music, but never dancing and moving about like Western pop singers. While Khaled himself does not dance in the video, the dancers are all noticeably Arab youth, but men have long rasta locks, and the men and women dance to Western moves with a hint of the Middle East. “Didi”’s mark of “having made it” with a Western audience was that it was one of the top 10 songs of the year on the mainstream French M-6 TV call in program “Hip Hip Hourah” (14). Khaled followed up on the widespread success of “Didi” with concert tours in Europe, the Arab world, 25 and North America, including an appearance on the popular American TV show The Tonight Show. Khaled quickly followed with the album N’ssi n’ssi or [You] forgot [me] which contained the hit “El Shabbah, El Shabbah” or “Oh girl” complete with a clever MTV-styled video of Khaled and a young boy dressed exactly alike following an older and younger girl, also dressed alike, with scenes switching between couples in the streets of Marseilles singing of the beauties of the “Beautiful young woman/Oh beautiful young woman/Oh daughter of my country.”26 Other rising stars in France included Rashid Taha and his group Carte de Sejour named for the official document all legal aliens must have in France. The group began in 1981 singing at local parties in their hometown Lyons and included numbers that dealt with French racism (Swedenburg 181). Carte de Sejour and others such as the Toulouse-based Zebda 27 were recruited by the political left’s organization SOS-Racisme founded in 1985 (McMurray and Swedenburg 41). In 1986, Carte de Sejour released their ironic version of the French classic “Douce France” or “Gentle France” originally written and sung by French legend Charles Trenet.28 The video that accompanied the song showed a clearly North African Taha being refused permission to marry a very European-looking French girl. The term “Douce France” became a by word for the type of treatment North Africans, citizens or not, could expect from the police. Ridan, another Maghribi artist noted in his song “Le quotidien” or “Everyday life” (released in 2003), “Would you like to know the daily life of a Maghribi when you are twenty/Douce France loves me so much that it checks my papers at every corner/I don’t have the profi le of a president, for them I was born to be a ruffian” (qtd. in Aadnani 24). In 1993, the fi rst fully French (no Arabic lyrics at all) Rai songs “Voila voila” or “There it is” by Rachid Taha 29 and “Adieu” or “Farewell” by Khaled both hit the French top 10. “Voila voila” was released for the dance floor, and its use of French and English words rather than Arabic was intended to reach a wider audience among European youth. It has a driving rhythm, but a rather simple melody making it easy to remember. The song’s lyrics deal with racism: “I hear them say foreigners you are the cause of our problems. . . . Voila voila, it starts again; they are coming.”30 Again the lyrics make reference to the Trenet song and the fact that for those who are immigrant to France, or the children of immigrants from North Africa, there


John A. Shoup

is very little room in France. This was made worse in the famous “noise and smell” speech given by then mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, in 1991. Chirac was speaking in Orleans and said that the ordinary French worker cannot help but “go insane” living next door to a Muslim family of “two or three wives and twenty kids [who] come and pile up on their floor and earn 50,000 francs of welfare money” (qtd. in Aadnani 23). “If you add the noise and smell” then you cannot help but sympathize with the Frenchman (23). Since his speech, the phrase “noise and smell” has come to mean the music and foods of North Africans in particular. The group Zebda used the phrase for the title of their 1995 album Le bruit et l’odeur (Noise and smell), and in the title song they took words directly from Chirac’s speech (Aadnani 23). During the 1990–1991 Gulf War, newspaper headlines appeared that helped keep the French public fearful of Arabs and Muslims and some 70% of Arabs in France felt they were vulnerable to mass deportations (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 15). The French ultra-right National Front, led by JeanMarie Le Pen, 31 called for the expulsion of immigrants, particularly Muslim Arabs and West Africans who pose, according to Le Pen, the biggest threat to pure (meaning European) French culture (12). Rai has entered into the fray initially at the urging of the French political left and continues to champion the rights of immigrants and their children as well as speaking out against the discrimination they face. According to the Franco-Tunisian singer Amina, “I will continue preaching for the mixture of cultures. The more hybridization we have, the less we’ll hear claims to [a pure] culture” (qtd. in Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 16). Taking a cue from African Americans, rap and hip-hop were seen as the music of the urban underclass youth. To stay relevant, the Rai singers had to adjust, and in 1996 Khaled did the fi rst Rai-rap song with the French group I-AM called “Oran-Marseille.”32 Khaled remained the “King of Rai” until, due to becoming the victim of too much commercialization, he lost much of his popularity after the release of his 1996 album Sahara. Though it contained “Oran-Marseille” with I-AM, it also contained the purely French pop song “Aicha”33 by French composer Jean-Jacques Goldman. While “Aicha” proved to be very popular both in Europe and in North Africa, it is a light, purely pop song with no social value/meaning and lacks any of the real substance Rai has come to be known for. By the time he released the album Ya-Ray–Khaled and Friends in 2004, he was struggling, and even the guest appearance by Carlos Santana on the track “Love to the People” was stale, adding nothing of notice to the album. Khaled’s title as “King of Rai” may soon be lost to others. Rai as a Political Movement Unlike Khaled or Mami, Rashid Taha, although born in Wahran in 1958, grew up in France. He had a rough life and dropped out of school because of



poor marks. In 1981, he was back home in Lyons working at a shoe factory. His musical career coincides with the rise of the ultra right in France and, as noted above, he and his group gained national standing with their 1986 version of “Douce France.” Following the breakup of the group, he decided to take a trip to Algeria and experience the direct impact of Rai and its various influences. The result was the album Diwan that includes songs by Farid al-Atrash, Dahman al-Harrashi, as well as Algerian folk pieces in tribute to those who contributed to the development of Rai.34 The group’s fame grew, and in 1991 he had wanted to release the album Barbes, but due to the Gulf War, French authorities decided to hold its distribution. In 2000, Barbes was fi nally allowed to be released, and the title song describes life in the part of Paris called Barbes, one of the banlieue (suburban slums that surround many French cities) where many North African immigrants live. The video used his alternating lyrics of the good/bad side of the area with candid shots of the place. Some in North Africa did not like the photos of guys drinking or other more graphic scenes, but the video along with the words in mixed Arabic and French give an accurate description of the place: “Everybody is happy in Barbes; you fi nd all the friends in Barbes/I can also be lonely there.”35 In France Rai took on the job of helping to defend the rights of immigrants, but in Algeria Rai formed an uneasy alliance with the government. For more than twenty years, the Algerian government had sought to destroy Rai as a symbol of colonial decadence, but when Rai was targeted by the FIS and Rai singers sought refuge in France, the Algerian government saw Rai as a possible ally against Islamic fundamentalism. As Swedenburg points out, Rai musicians themselves helped with the idea that they stood against Islamic fundamentalism by distancing themselves from Islam (182). Magazine headlines in Western press also emphasized the ‘confrontation’ between Rai singers and FIS. Swedenburg states. The notion of rai as an enemy of Islamic fundamentalism gained greater resonance after September 11, and Khaled and Mami themselves actively promoted this view to show that Islamic societies are not homogeneous. But this model of Rai also ignores the ways Algeria’s repressive regime has used Rai in its very bloody and dirty struggle with the country’s Islamists, and it erases Rai’s very important role in Arab struggles against racism in France. (182) In 1993, at the invitation of the Algerian president, Shab Hasni, one of the most beloved of the Rai singers, performed before a crowd of 150,000 people to celebrate Algerian independence, the fi rst time a Rai singer had such an honor (Mortaigne 82).36 Unlike Khaled and Mami, Hasni had not sought refuge in France, but had stayed put in his native city, Wahran.37 For him and the others who stayed in Algeria, the confl ict was daily, and in 1994 Shab Hasni was shot and killed in Wahran, later in 1995, music producer Rashid


John A. Shoup

Baba Ahmad was shot and killed in his home city of Telmsen (Langlois 264, 271). Langlois notes that in the region of Wahran and even across the border in Oujda, after the death of Shab Hasni, there was little interest in Rai which came to be replaced by Egyptian/Lebanese pop (271). Among those who were able to capitalize on the anti-fundamentalist label, as noted above, was Shab Mami who had been based in Paris since 1985. He teamed up with British star Sting in 1999 with the song “Desert Rose” (Swedenburg 181). The song was a hit, and even the car company Jaguar used it for advertising, though the ad looked more like a music video than an advertisement (Swedenburg 181). Between 1999 and 2000, Mami toured with Sting including a spot on the Tonight Show and even performed with Sting at the 2001 Super Bowl where, during the pre-game activities, Desert Storm commander General Norman Schwarzenkopf appeared (Swedenburg 182). Mami was able to capitalize on his success with “Desert Rose,” and in 2001, when his album Dellali (My guide) was released, it had the highest sales of any album for the label Mondo Melodia and reached the top 20 in world music sales (Swedenburg 182). Despite such world success, Langlois states that French Rai did not have much appeal to those in Algeria and the rest of the Maghrib since it generally dealt with issues of Europe and more and more seemed to lose its “Maghribiness” as it fused more and more with European pop, eventually sounding like “mainstream Euro-pop” (270). The exception is Rashid Taha whose songs deal with anti-racism that is able to reach a wide range of situations, not only as experienced in Europe (Swedenburg 184). In 2000, Taha released his album Made in the Madina that includes the song “Barra, barra” or “Outside,” and American fi lm director Ridley Scott wanted to use it in the soundtrack of his 2001 fi lm Blackhawk Down.38 Rashid Taha agreed based on Scott’s previous work, mainly Blade Runner, 39 which had an inventive and different soundtrack. However, Taha was not that happy with the fi nal fi lm, as the use of his work, in Swedenburg’s words, makes the US Special Forces look “somewhat hip” (183). Taha’s 2004 album Tekitoi? (Who are you?) is comprised of song after song dealing with bad governments including his version of The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” which he renamed “Rock the Kasbah.”40 The track “Hasbuhum” or “Ask them for an explanation”—or perhaps more literally “Make them accountable”—is a list of accusations: “Liars, thieves, humiliators, killers, oppressors, traitors . . . Get rid of them, ask them for an Explanation.” Rachid Taha: The New King of Rai? Today, some Rai singers are struggling to stay relevant and popular, like Khaled. His most recent album Liberté (Liberty; released in 2009, after a fiveyear silence) was an attempt to return to the successful formula of the 1980s. It has had less than rave reviews and some have even said that “the King is Dead” after listening to the album noting that he had taken as many twists, turns, and



tweaks in his music as possible, and the result was he lost his audience. Liberté is a return to the Khaled of the past, but it is suggested that it is too late for this to work. Mami was convicted by a French court in 2009 to a five-year prison sentence as a result of his botched attempt to drug his girl friend on a trip to Algeria and force her to have an abortion. Others, such as Rachid Taha, have pushed the musical limits of the genre yet remain popular in North Africa and in Europe. Recordings are often made in several places, like France, Egypt (where the best Arab musicians are to be found), and New Orleans, and finally produced in New York, or increasingly Los Angeles. While Rai today sounds nothing like it did in the 1920s, it does remain true to itself; it still provides an outlet for the social, economic, and political oppression of the working class. Those who remain successful, such as Shabbah Fadilah, Shabbah Zahwaniyah, Shab Sharawi, Shab Bilal, Faudel, and Rachid Taha are able to pull on the experience of the working class, while those who fall by the way side, perhaps Mami and Khaled, are those who have succumbed to commercialization. Conclusion Commercialization remains the artists’ greatest challenge to continued success. Marc Schade-Pousen notes that of the fi fty-three singers he knew during his research in Algeria, only one was in the music business, and only two others had family in music, the rest were poorly educated and the majority were school dropouts. Their little knowledge of the world makes them easy prey for managers who make the decisions for them, even once they have become major stars. Khaled and Taha, both with minimal education, have American managers and, while Taha and his manager have made decisions that keep Taha popular, Khaled’s manager has not been able to help him. The same issue of being able to negotiate fi nancial decisions while keeping the listening audience loyal plagues all popular music; what rappers call ‘keeping it real’. Rai as a musical format has made numerous changes to the realities of the listeners since it was founded in the 1920s and the ability of the singers to remain popular is linked to their ability to also adapt and adopt, but when seen as more part of commercialization, they can lose their audience. The response to Khaled recording the empty pop song “Aicha”–seen as having no redeeming social content–lost him his audience fi rst in North Africa and then in Europe. He was believed to have turned his back on what Rai stands for, a vehicle for expressing working-class concerns. The fall of Rai’s “King” should stand as a strong warning for others. Taha remains hard hitting with his lyrics, and it often takes months for his albums to be released in North Africa. At the moment, he is the most successful in managing the balance between commercial success and working-class problems. Perhaps he should be compared to the American Country and Western singer Johnny Cash (1932–2003) or the African-American Rhythm and Blues singer Ray Charles (1930–2004) who were successful in maintaining this balance. Like


John A. Shoup

both Cash and Charles, Taha has to battle his drinking problem which has recently interfered in several of his more recent concerts in Europe. Perhaps such a personal battle is the price of popular success. Notes 1. “Bled” is the North African pronunciation of the word bilad and usually is used to refer to the North African homeland, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia by immigrants and migrants in Europe. North African Arabic tends to ‘swallow’ short vowels allowing for consonant groupings Arabic usually does not have. This is an influence from Berber or Amazigh languages on spoken Arabic in North Africa usually called darijah (colloquial). 2. Many of today’s albums are recorded in different places and then remastered in a fi nal location, more often than not in Los Angeles. Arabic sections are often recorded in Cairo where, according to singers such as Rachid Taha, the best Arabic musicians can be found. 3. The Gnaoua or Ganawah are a Sufi brotherhood originally founded by slaves in Morocco from what is today Mali. Since the invasion of Morocco by hippies following Jimmy Hendricks, Gnaoua groups have recently gained popularity with Jazz musicians who strive to be able to play with the complicated rhythms found in Ganoua music (Swedenburg 179; Mortaigne 25). Swedenburg notes that among the Jazz/Gnaoua fusions, Gift of the Gnaoua, released in 1991, Jazz trumpeter Don Cherry played with Moroccan Hassan Hakmoun and the Moroccan funk band Zahar as well as more traditional Gnaoua musicians (179). 4. Shaykhat do not have good reputations generally in the Maghrib because they perform before men in settings where ‘good’ women would not be found. They frequently entertain men yet today in the men’s side of wedding parties or at bastas (pleasure parties) and their songs have explicit (often sexual) lyrics. Shaykhat play for both men and women and those who perform only for women have a somewhat better reputation, but they play instruments that are seen as male (Schade-Poulson 16). 5. Malhun is a semi-classical form of music based on the rhythms of classical Andalusian music, but often the lyrics are in dialect. Malhun developed in the Tafi lalt Oasis in Morocco’s southeast and was favored by the ‘Alawi dynasty (1660 to present) and, when the Sultan Moulay Isma‘il (ruled 1672–1727) moved his capital to Meknes, the music went with him. Today, Meknes in Morocco is still considered to be among the main centers for Malhun. 6. Tamazight is the more acceptable form of referring to the Berber language. Berbers prefer to be called Imazighin (Amazigh in singular) which stems from their word for “free men,” while “Berber” stems from the Greek and Latin usage meaning “barbarian” or someone who does not speak Greek or Latin. 7. Her last album entitled N’ta gudami (You in front of me) was released in 2005 (Aadnani 23). 8. Ramadan is the month in the Islamic calendar when believers fast from dawn to dusk; refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex. It is the month when the Quran was fi rst revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and people are expected to be more religious in their daily interchanges.



9. In North African Arabic, habb al-muluk is the term for “cherries” and, according to people spoken to in Wahran in 2004, her stage name was a slightly veiled term for lost virginity. 10. Um Kulthoum gave the inaugural performance for the station, and until her death in 1975, she gave a monthly concert broadcast by Cairo Radio. 11. Rachid Taha released several albums to honor the generation of the 1940s and 1950s. His album Made in the Madina includes the songs “En retard” to honor Shaykhah Remitti and “Qalantiqa” and “Ho cherie, cherie” to honor Shaykh Hamadah, Shaykh Jilali ‘Ain Tadales, and Ahmad Saber (see also Mortaigne 86). 12. Shaykhah Remitti was among the most active for the resistance and was recognized as such in 1970 when she was invited to the Institut du Monde Arabe (Mortaigne 84). 13. His original name was Muhammad bin Ibrahim Bu Kharubah and he took his nom de guerre in 1957 during the Algerian War of Independence and is the combination of the names of two major Islamic figures, Sidi Houari (1350– 1439), buried in Oran and the patron ‘saint’ of the city and Sidi Abu Madyan (1126–1198), buried in Telmsen and the patron ‘saint’ of that city. Ironically, many Rai songs call on both Sidi Houari and Sidi Abu Madyan as well as Sidi ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (1077–1166) who was seen on the heights above Oran and there is a mashhad (an Islamic shrine built where an element of vision of a pious man was seen) to him. Sidi ‘Abd al-Qadir is called Abu ‘Alam (Bu ‘Alam) or “He of the flag” in many Rai songs due to the fact that when he was seen, he was holding the green flag of Islam in his hand. 14. The decision to declare Andalusi the official music of Algeria was perhaps in response to the fact that Morocco had already claimed the Andalusi heritage, and certainly the cities of Fez and Tetouan had preserved traditions that date back to the eighth century. Tunisia had developed Maluf, a form of Andalusi music with major influences from Ottoman court traditions, and had named Maluf its national music. In order to also have a national music of equal high culture, the Algerian government selected the Andalusi music from Constantine and Telmsen where it had also been influenced by Ottoman court music, but had not taken on the major developments of Maluf. Maluf did influence styles in Tripolitania where the local Turkish dynasty of governors wanted to compete with the Hussaynids of Tunis. 15. Thus the appellation of “Cheb” or Shab in front of the performer’s name replacing the older and more controversial Shaykhah. Later, women would again join the ranks of Rai performers and would take the title of “Chaba” or Shabbah before their stage name. Shabbah also is used in Rai lyrics to mean a beautiful young woman such as in the Shab Khaled song “El Shabbah, El Shabbah” released with the album N’ssi n’ssi in 1993. 16. Balqasim was one of the young boy performers who was twelve years old when, in 1965, he had a major hit with the song “Ziziya,” originally sung by Shaykhah Washmah (Schade-Poulsen 17). 17. The song was immediately plagiarized by Shab Khaled. Plagiarism remains a serious problem with Rai singers yet today. 18. Called the “Mystery Lady” of Rai, Shabbah Zahwaniyah remained un-photographed for years. It was said that she was of Moroccan origin and her parents refused to allow any photos of their daughter to be taken. It was claimed that as




21. 22.

23. 24.


26. 27.

John A. Shoup strict Muslims, they allowed her to sing as long as no male saw her. Her recording sessions were closed and she sang at only private, women-only concerts and parties. Her album covers used a generic painting of a veiled woman that other female singers also used (Ewens 51). Zahwaniyah is her stage name and means “joy, happiness,” though her songs are frequently about the hardships of working-class women. In 1992, she appeared in concert for the fi rst time lifting the mystery of who she is and what she looks like and her photograph is now allowed on her album covers (Mortaigne 82). Shab Khaled (full name Khaled Haj Ibrahim) began singing in 1975 when he was fi fteen, and Shab Mami (full name Muhammad Khalifati) in 1982 when he was fourteen (Swedewnburg 181; Mortaigne 88). Beur seems to have its origin in the word “Arab” (said backward) in the youth speak called Frankaoui or Frankawi, being a mix of Arabic and French spoken in the banlieues or suburbs of French cities where most working class and immigrants live. Frankaoui is often chosen for rap lyrics not only by Beur youth, but also those of West African origin (Gross, McMurray, and Swedenburg 15). Swedenburg notes that later, in the 1990s, the Algerian government would use Rai as an opposition to Islamic fundamentalism (180). Nass al-Ghiwan was formed in the early 1970s by four working-class young men from Casablanca and sang a number of songs that spoke to the problems facing Moroccans during the rule of Hassan II, particularly during what have been called the “Years of Lead” or the “Years of Ashes” between 1970 and 1997 (Aadnani 25). Nass al-Ghiwan were influenced by American protest singers of the Vietnam War era and a good number of their concerts were closed by the Moroccan police. They remain popular today in Morocco, though more with those who remember them from the past than with the current Hip Hop generation. Another Moroccan group similar to Nass al-Ghiwan is Jill Jilala who also was composed of five working-class men from Casablanca. They too were very political, speaking about the social and political conditions of Hasan II’s reign (Mortaigne 69). The incident helped to focus attention on the growing problem of racism and the political right in France. “Didi” was translated into a number of different languages (including Turkish, Greek, German, English, Urdu, Hindi, and Serbian) and has been performed by such singing stars as Turkey’s Tarkan. The author attended the concert in Cairo where no one in the audience could really understand what he was saying and the standup comedian who was one of the show’s warm up acts parodied the song “Didi” and the fact that no one could understand more than “Didi wah.” Most of the audience wrongly thought the song was about a girl named Didi rather than its real meaning: “Take it” or “Give it to me” (words on EVE.online). Translation in the album jacket notes. Zebda is the Arabic word for “butter” and the group is playing with the term Beur, which sounds like the French word beurre or “butter” (Aadnani 23). The group is composed of seven young men of both North African and European origins from Toulouse and since their debut in 1982 they have been very active in anti-racist activities, fi rst with the youth group Maïté Débats and then with Club de Prévention.



28. Douce France describes the pre–WWII France, before the occupation by Germany—and before the loss of both Indo-China and Algeria. For many French, particularly those who remember those days, it describes an “ideal” France that is now lost. 29. Carte de Sejour broke up in 1989 and the lead singer Rashid Taha (along with Hakim Hamadush who plays the mandolute) launched a solo career and has subsequently become one of the main leading forces in French Rai. 30. From the official Rachid Taha website: rachidtaha.fr. 31. Le Pen is stepping down from the leadership of the National Front and would like his daughter, Marine Le Pen, to follow him as the next leader of the party. In 2010 she caused a stir when she compared Friday prayers that spill out onto the streets and block passage by cars to a form of occupation of parts of France. She repeated the same thing when asked about it on French television. 32. I-AM is composed of both Beur and French members each taking the stage names of Akhenatun, Shurik’n, Khephren, Kheops, and Imhotep and I-AM standing for Invasion arrivée de Mars (Invasion from Mars). 33. From the Arabic girl’s name ‘A’ishah. 34. In 2006, he released Diwan 2 which includes songs by Bayram al-Tunisi, Dahman al-Harrashi, Baligh Hamdi, and Ahmad Wahby. 35. Words translated by the Al Akhawayn University student Khalid Baddou. 36. Shab Mami had the honor in 1999. 37. In a visit to Wahran in 2006, the author was taken to Hasni’s neighborhood, Gambetta, and shown the coffeehouse where it is said he came every day. 38. Senegalese singer Baaba Maal also lent his distinctive voice to the soundtrack. 39. Blade Runner had an international mix for its soundtrack, including a brief piece of an Um Kulthoum song. 40. The author attended the concert in Meknes, Morocco shortly after the album’s release. The concert was sponsored by the French Cultural Center and Rashid Taha was being promoted as French (he does have French citizenship) and the concert was attended by all ages and all types of people, from toddlers to grandmothers in jallabahs (long hooded gowns worn by North African men and women particularly from the working class) and veils. Taha proceeded to smoke and drink on stage, but he was clearly well liked by all. Following the concert, he stayed for photos, kisses (with the same veiled grandmothers), and autographs for as long as there were people wanting them, which took several more hours. He took time to speak a bit to everyone, and no one was denied a photo or hug or kiss or whatever was requested. The concert was fun for all, with all dancing, even though the lyrics were often hard-edged.

Works Cited Print Aadnani, Rachid. “Beyond Rai: North African Protest Music and Poetry.” World Literature Today 80.4 ( July–August 2006): 21–26. Ewens, Graeme. Africa O-Ye! A Celebration of African Music. London: Guiness Publications, 1989.


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Gross, Joan, David McMurray, and Ted Swedenburg. “Rai, Rap, and Ramadan Nights: Franco-Maghribi Cultural Identities.” Middle East Report 178 (September– October, 1992): 11–16, 24. Langolis, Tony. “The Local and Global in North African Popular Music.” Popular Music 15.3 (October 1996): 259–73. McMurry, David, and Ted Swedenburg. “Rai Tide Rising.” Middle East Report 169 (March–April, 1991): 39–42. Mortaigne, Véronique. Musiques du Maghreb. Paris: Editions du Chéné, Hachete, 2002. Schade-Poulsen, Marc. Men and Popular Music in Algeria: Social Significance of Raï. Austin: U of Texas P, 1999. Swendenburg, Ted. “The ‘Arab’ Wave in World Music after 9/11.” Anthropolgica 46.2 (2004): 177–88.

Discography Cheb Hasni. Best of. Fassiphone, 2009. Cheb Mami. The Very Best Cheb Mami. Disco Maghreb, n.d. Cheikha Remitti. Aux sources du rai. Edition Voix Oranaise, n.d. El Harrachi, Dahman. Ya rayah. Edition Atlantic, n.d. Khaled. Didi. Nabilophone, n.d. . N’ssi n’ssi. Barclay, 1993. . Sahra. Island Records and Barclay, 1996. . Ya rayi. Wrasse Records, 2004. Taha, Rachid, and Carte de Sejour. Diwan 2. Wrasse Records, 2006. . Made in the Madina. Barclay-Universal, 2000. . Rachid Taha: Rock the Casbah The Best of. Wrasse Records, 2007. . Rachid Taha Tekitoi. Barclay-Universal and Wrasse Records, 2004. . Taha and Carte Blanche. Barclay, 1995. Various Artists. French Rai. Disco Maghreb Laser, 1999. Various Artists. He Rai. Fasiphone, n.d. Various Artists. Le monde du rai. Buda Musique, 1988. Various Artists. Rai Rebels. Earthworks Virgin, 1988. Various Artists. Raikum. Nabilophone, n.d.

Part II

Gender Politics, the Popular, Social Resistance


Masculinity and Fatherhood Within a Lebanese Muslim Community Assad Fouladkar’s When Maryam Spoke Out Dalia Said Mostafa

Over the fi rst decade of the third millennium, particularly since the 9/11 events, Islamic cultures have come under attack by many critics in the West. This attack was countered by a cultural ‘movement’ in the Middle East as well as in the West on the part of novelists, visual artists, fi lmmakers, and poets, among others, who have tried over and again to articulate the theme of ‘identity’ in their work, and how such an attack on Muslims’ ways of life has provided ample space to rethink and reconsider issues revolving around identity formation in a new globalized world, gender, and sexuality in Muslim societies, and the position and role of women in these societies.1 In other words, the 9/11 events constituted a turning point and have led many artists and writers to look more closely and critically into Muslim cultures and what an ‘Islamic identity’ might be made of. This cultural critique has not focused only on political and economic theory, but has also extended to include representations of everyday life, family relations, marriage, motherhood and fatherhood, and many other quotidian matters within Muslim communities. In this broad context, my chapter aims to address and analyze some theoretical questions about the relationship between masculinity and fatherhood as social and cultural constructs, as portrayed in the Lebanese fi lm Lamma hikyet Maryam (When Maryam Spoke Out) which was produced and directed by the Lebanese fi lmmaker Assad Fouladkar in 2002. In the larger framework of contemporary Lebanese cinema, which has flourished over the past decade, the representation of gender issues has taken various forms and dimensions. However, many of the feature and documentary fi lms produced in recent years by both male and female fi lmmakers who reside in Lebanon and abroad have focused on gender questions in relation to the Lebanese civil war (1975–1990), or have addressed such subjects as sexuality, masculinity, motherhood and fatherhood in the postwar era as remnants or traumas of the haunting war years. For example, if we consider such fi lms as Kan ya ma kan, Beyrouth (Once Upon a Time: Beirut; 1994) by Jocelyne Saab; Bayrut al-gharbiyyah (West Beirut; 1998) by Ziad Doueiri; al-Bayt al-zahr (Around the Pink House; 1999) and


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Yawm akhar (A Perfect Day; 2005) by Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige; Zinnar al-nar (Ring of Fire; 2004) and Chatti ya dini (Here Comes the Rain; 2010) by Bahij Hojeij; Ma‘arik hobb (In the Battlefields; 2004) by Danielle ‘Arbid; Zozo (2005) by Josef Fares; Bosta (2005) by Philippe Aractingi; Falafel (2006) by Michel Kammoun; Khalass (2007) by Borhan Alaouié, among others, we fi nd that their themes center on crises of identity, gender and sexuality, and family relations as tied to the experience of the long Lebanese civil war, or as manifestations and residues of this traumatic historical experience spilling over into the postwar period. Besides the older generation of masters such as Borhan Alaouié and Bahij Hojeij, the younger generation of Lebanese fi lmmakers (a number of whom are mentioned above), who began producing their fi lms in the mid- or late 1990s, continue to create high-quality cinematography and images while addressing groundbreaking issues and themes. In her article “Panorama of Lebanese Cinema,” Nadine Naous argues that the success of many of these young fi lmmakers is attributed to the fact that they “were shaped by images”: “[They] were raised in a world manipulated by them [images] (be they cinematographic, televised, or computerized). They know all the tricks and are able to master them. They came to cinema through cinema, and they make fi lms that breathe the air of the times as regards their themes and the manner of their conception” (139). Naous concludes her article by remarking, “Thus, should someone ask if Lebanese cinema is in good shape, one can cheerfully respond that, in light of all these ambitious fi lmmakers and all these works in progress, Lebanese cinema is doing just fi ne” (141). Naous’s words, which were written at the turn of the new millennium, have seen further expansion and growth of Lebanese cinema over the past decade. Two main Lebanese films which have acquired much critical acclaim at home and abroad in recent years even though they did not tackle the civil war experience directly are Fouladkar’s When Maryam Spoke Out and Nadine Labaki’s Sukkar banat (Caramel; 2007). Despite the difference in their cinematic aesthetics and approaches, these two films have indeed enriched the ways in which gender roles, family relations, and the institution of marriage are portrayed in contemporary Lebanese cinema. Moreover, the two films look critically into issues of identity formation amongst the younger generations in present-day Lebanon: sexual orientation, women’s agency in the contemporary modern Lebanese society, religious values and their impact on the shaping of identities, the role family ties play in the lives of various Lebanese communities, and the perception of one’s body in relation to the same or the other sex. Whereas Fouladkar’s Maryam subverts and disturbs many deeply held beliefs about the relationship between Islam, masculinity, and fatherhood, Caramel portrays certain social and emotional dilemmas which the female characters encounter as a result of the traditional masculine culture they inhabit. There is no doubt that Caramel is far more advanced technically than Maryam in terms of cinematography and the use of high-tech cameras.

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Maryam was made with a very low budget, and this factor has impacted on its cinematography, but not its sophisticated script or actors. What makes Maryam stand out among many Lebanese fi lms produced in the postwar era is its theme which has come to question and delve into the relationship between the individual and his/her faith in a modern society, and the implications of adapting to conventional beliefs about sexuality and marriage. In Caramel, we see how the main protagonist Layale suffers because of her affair with a married man who refuses to acknowledge her presence in his life so as not to ruin his settled marriage relation. Layale finally decides to leave her lover and move on with her life. On the other hand, we see how Layale’s friend, Nisreen, lies to her fiancé about her virginity and ends up going through a minor surgery before her wedding in order to restore her virginity. We also see how their older friend Jamale is obsessed with her looks so as to appear younger than her real age. As Labaki comments on Jamale’s character in the film: “She doesn’t want to get old. It’s this eternal quest for beauty.”2 Jamale goes into so much trouble in selecting her colorful clothes, styling her hair, and applying her makeup in order to feel confident in the company of younger and more beautiful women. Moreover, we see their fourth friend Rima torn between traditions and her need to express her sexual desires as a gay woman. Rima is troubled and confused about her sexual identity and tries hard throughout the film to come to terms with her sexuality. Nadine Labaki explains that she made Caramel because she felt that there were striking contradictions in the lives of Lebanese women in today’s society, which she wanted to investigate through a cinematic lens. She goes on to say that, on the one hand, many Lebanese women look modern like any European woman, but, on the other, freedom is only in appearance and dress rather than in the way they lead their lives or make their choices. In her portrayal of the fi lm’s female protagonists, Labaki believes that they reflect the dilemmas which Lebanese women face in their daily life circumstances. Labaki also speaks about the sense of ‘guilt’ which women feel when they challenge traditional values about gender relations: “You end up having this feeling that you’re doing something wrong, even if you’re not doing anything.” It is a kind of “self-censorship” according to Labaki. Thus, in her view, many Lebanese women today are still searching for freedom, what she presumably wanted to capture in her fi lm. As she remarks, “In Lebanon, you live in a community. We are very close to our families. . . . We need to have a balance between the modern and the traditional, because we also have beautiful traditions.” It is precisely this ‘imbalance’ or contradiction embedded within community ties which When Maryam Spoke Out tries to depict. Assad Fouladkar produced and directed the fi lm after receiving a small amount of funding from the Lebanese American University, where Fouladkar teaches fi lmmaking (Khatib 36). It was the fi rst Lebanese feature fi lm to be shot on digital video (47). Upon its release in Lebanon, the fi lm stirred controversy in


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the Lebanese press (see Ya‘coub; Abi Samra; Al Haj). Despite its very low production budget, which did not exceed $15,000, the fi lm won fourteen awards, after it was screened in numerous Arab and international fi lm festivals. Three of these awards went to Bernadette Hodeib, who played Maryam in the fi lm (Al Haj). The fi lm was warmly welcomed by fi lm critics in Lebanon as another step toward revamping the Lebanese fi lm industry after the civil war years. For example, Lebanese fi lm critic Lina Khatib observes, “Lebanese cinema today has made significant leaps. The cinema has been going through a renaissance period over the last decade. More Lebanese fi lms are being made, and more are being screened in cinemas in Lebanon. . . . Filmmaking in the country is going from strength to strength” (31). However, Lebanese fi lmmakers continue to struggle to overcome the challenges of funding and low budgets. The new generation of Lebanese fi lmmakers are able to produce high-quality fi lms, but fi nding funding opportunities constitutes a major obstacle, even though some fi lmmakers have been successful in securing co-productions with prominent fi lm companies whether in Europe or in the Arab world (Khatib 31–48).3 Khatib comments that Maryam “remains the Lebanese feature fi lm with the smallest budget to have emerged in the last 30 years (in relative terms)” (37). On several occasions, furthermore, Fouladkar himself has drawn attention to how his fi rst feature, Maryam, had suffered from its modest budget. He feels that the fi lm could have turned out of a higher technical quality had he been able to fund the fi lm with a larger budget. In an interview with Fouladkar conducted by Lina Khatib, he expresses his concerns about this issue: The biggest problem when making the fi lm was that the people working on it did not take the project seriously. Shooting on video, with a small crew, on a low budget, surrounded by my students–to the actors it looked like a university project, not a set. We fi nished shooting in 15 days. There was little money; I barely paid the actors anything. So I could not ask people to give me more of their time. I did not try to have different takes of scenes for example. I shot only the exact scenes I wanted. Some people thought the fi lm might be shown on television, but it was not looked at as a fi lm to be screened in cinemas. I had little money to be able to negotiate. I had to work with whoever I could afford to work with fi nancially, as opposed to who I would have liked to work with. (38; emphasis in the original) As Fajr Ya‘coub suggests, perhaps such restrictions in terms of money and time have led to the production of a film that is superior in its plot and cinematic structure. Indeed, the filmmaker had no time or money to waste, hence all the film’s scenes and the characters’ dialogues and emotions are geared toward reinforcing the film’s main theme. When it was screened in Lebanon upon its release,

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When Maryam Spoke Out was perceived as a groundbreaking film, particularly as it attempted to address ‘taboo’ social and cultural issues as set in present-day Lebanese society, away from the theme of the civil war (Khatib 31). Still today, whenever it is screened at fi lm events across the Arab world (see Nasr; Nasrallah), the fi lm continues to raise debates and discussions around the main question which it tackles: What might happen when a woman within an Arab-Muslim community fi nds out that she is unable to bear children? For many of us in the Arab world, we might be thinking, “So what is new about this subject? It has been represented a countless number of times and in many different ways in cinema and television. Why has this fi lm in particular raised much debate and controversy?” The following analysis is an attempt to unravel this question. In the fi lm, femininity and masculinity, as well as motherhood and fatherhood, are depicted as integral parts of a larger social, class, and political network which emphasizes and shelters patriarchal values, including the absolute necessity for a married couple to have their own offspring. In other words, it is an ‘uncontested’ territory from a social, religious, and cultural perspective. The married couple, Ziad and Maryam, who are seen at the start of the fi lm forming a loving and passionate relationship, are put to a tough test when Maryam fi nds out after three years of marriage that she is unable to bear children. The social pressures on the couple mount to the point that Maryam fi nds herself all alone and indeed descending into madness, leading in the end to her untimely death. How does the characters’ understanding of Islam inform and shape their identity and gender relations in the fi lm? I would like to suggest that what is illuminating about Fouladkar’s reading of this theme is that both Maryam and Ziad are not represented as victims. The fi lm diverts from the conventional treatment of the husband or wife, or both, as victims of the community in which they live or the social class they belong to. On the contrary, the fi lm follows closely the two characters, the choices they make, and the pressures they yield to. As a result, they have to bear the consequences of such choices. These elements in the script transform it from being a repetitive, clichéd story, to a universal and humanistic one, which can happen to anyone facing similar circumstances. The fi lmmaker looks with a critical cinematic gaze into the objective reasons which lead to Maryam’s downfall, hence we cannot consider her death as a tragic incident. Maryam died heartbroken and lonely because her trajectory of failing to bear children was punished by society rather than treated with understanding, care, and love. It is indeed a social situation which Pierre Bourdieu refers to as the “paradox of doxa” where the established order with its relations of domination “ultimately perpetuates itself so easily, apart from a few historical accidents, and that the most intolerable conditions of existence can so often be perceived as acceptable and even natural” (1). Bourdieu expands his argument by contextualizing this paradox into what he calls “symbolic violence”:


Dalia Said Mostafa [A] gentle violence, imperceptible and invisible even to its victims, exerted for the most part through the purely symbolic channels of communication and cognition (more precisely, misrecognition), recognition, or even feeling. This extraordinarily ordinary social relation thus offers a privileged opportunity to grasp the logic of the domination exerted in the name of a symbolic principle known and recognized both by the dominant and by the dominated—a language (or a pronunciation), a lifestyle (or a way of thinking, speaking and acting)—and, more generally, a distinctive property, whether emblem or stigma. (1–2)

Symbolic violence, thus, according to Bourdieu, comes to inhabit a relationship of power and domination. In Fouladkar’s fi lm, we see how Ziad and Maryam come to compromise their happiness under mounting social pressures. Yet the decisions and actions they resort to lead to further reinforcing the patriarchal beliefs (or the dominant order) prevalent in the society around the wife’s infertility, the husband’s uncontested right to have his own offspring, and in turn his right to remarry. On the other hand, the fi lm also analyzes how such compromises can have a far more brutal impact on the wife’s life than the husband’s. Thus, in a sense, everyone is implicated in this large social and cultural framework of choices, compromises, consequences, and paradoxes. Yet, it is Maryam who ultimately pays the highest price. The Language of Masculine and Patriarchal Values I would like to engage with the issue of symbolic violence by shedding more light on the conversations which take place between the various characters around the topic of Maryam’s infertility. From the fi rst sequence of the fi lm, we see how the various characters—the two mothers-in-law, Ziad’s brother, and his wife—are haunted by the question of why Ziad and Maryam have not had any children even though they have been married for three years. The characters belong to a conservative, working-class Muslim community, in which marriage and children are valued as integral to the very survival and continuity of family ties and generations. In this way, the topic of the ‘childless couple’ permeates most of the dialogues and ‘gossip’ between the characters, hence creating a register of terms and phrases which come to characterize Ziad’s and Maryam’s social calamity. In fact, one of the strong aspects of the fi lm lies in illustrating how the attitudes and actions of the characters are shaped by the phrases, idioms, and expressions which they use in communicating about the couple’s misfortune. Here, marriage is investigated as an institution which embraces certain practices and values. Therefore, we cannot understand the institution if we do not explore the cultural practices associated with it, including language. Indeed, it is through the medium of language that the story of Maryam and Ziad, and the culture they inhabit, unfolds. It is a culture which constructs

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male and female identities through specific linguistic structures, and part of this is the perception of fatherhood as central to masculinity. Fatherhood as a category of gender empowers men and demonstrates that their masculinity is ‘complete’. Throughout the fi lm, Maryam is perceived as an ‘incomplete’ female as a result of her infertility, which is set in contrast to Ziad’s powerful gendered position as a fully masculine character due to his biological fertility as well as his potential fulfi llment of the role of a loving and caring father. So, what does fatherhood signify for Ziad, who is portrayed as a conventional Muslim, working-class husband? Whilst seeking to become a father, Ziad has sacrificed his love for Maryam, and in turn has lost the quality of passion in his life. The fi lm does not only question whether Ziad is solely responsible for Maryam’s demise, but also raises important issues about the social network which has played a major role in ruining the couple’s relationship through perceiving the husband as ‘incomplete’ if he does not become a father. Maryam, the infertile wife, is left behind to fight her own battle against her in-laws, her husband’s new wife, and the community at large. As Emma Sinclair-Webb argues in her “Preface” to Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity and Culture in the Modern Middle East: Factors of class, labour market relations, ethnicity and sexuality, as well as individual experience and relations with family and peers, are centrally implicated in the formation of men’s identities, in patterns of association and in the categories men fi nd themselves occupying and sometimes also consciously seek to occupy. Such different socialisation processes and variations in how men relate to women and to other men suggest that it makes little sense to see masculinity as a single category, as though it were an “outcome.” (7) Furthermore, Jeff Hearn sheds light on fatherhood as a ‘historically constructed’ institution. He provides this observation: Debates about fathers and fatherhood need to be more explicitly gendered and more explicitly about power. Fathers need to be understood as gendered and as men, and fatherhood needs to be understood as an institution, historically constructed as a form of certain men’s power. Fathers and fatherhood are social, rather than “natural” or biological, constructions and institutions, intimately connected with the social production and reproduction of men, masculinities and men’s practices. (245; emphasis in the original) I would like to add that language as discourse holds together the institution of fatherhood, as demonstrated in When Maryam Spoke Out. In this context, according to Whitehead and Barrett, the concept of discourse “highlights not only the power of language, but also how language and practice interact,


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and how this interaction is taken up by the subject as a means of identity validation” (21). When the family fi nds out that Maryam cannot bear children, her mother-in-law tries to convince her son to marry another woman, and starts discussing this issue with Maryam herself. She says to Maryam, “Let him marry someone else. He can marry four. It is better if it comes from you.”4 This attitude reflects a deeply rooted social belief embedded in the culture, which recurs throughout the fi lm: Maryam ought to be punished because her body has failed her. Even though such an attitude on the part of Ziad’s mother is socially constructed, it is one which is based primarily on an Islamic and legal doctrine, which gives permission to men to marry four wives. Popular culture perceptions, represented in Fouladkar’s fi lm through a tight social network in the community, use this permission which Islam has granted men to further reinforce patriarchal values. The couple try to resist the pressure imposed on them by Ziad’s mother through coming up with another solution: to adopt a child. However, the mother responds by convincing her son that it is not a good idea at all to adopt, because it is haram (forbidden in Islam) and that he will never be able to ensure whether the adopted child is in good health or not. She says to Ziad: Are you happy now? I’ve been telling you over and again to have a child, and now you have wasted three years of your life. Your wife is infertile. Her body is lacking. She cannot bear children. How much longer do you want to waste your time with her? Don’t you want to have a son to carry your name? Do you want to put an end to your line for the sake of a stranger? Leave her. Take her back and bring another one. Ziad replies, “A stranger? What are you talking about? This is Maryam. This is my wife you’re talking about. She’s not a car to take her back and bring another one. Do people only get married to have children? They get married to share their life together.” But the mother does not relent, as the most important issue for her is the family’s line and offspring. Thus, she turns her attention to Maryam, reiterating the following, “If you really love him, you should let him divorce you.” And she reinforces her point by saying to Ziad, “Have a child with any woman. It is better than adoption. You are not the first or last man who leaves his wife because she is infertile.” Yet it is not only Maryam’s mother-in-law who holds this position, but also Maryam’s own mother, who says to her, “Many men divorce their wives if the wife cannot bear children. It is good that he is still staying with you.” Moreover, the neighbors also exert pressure. On one occasion at the start of the film, when Maryam falsely believes she is pregnant, Ziad tells their neighbor Abu Jamil, the vegetable vendor, that they are expecting. When the neighbor meets Maryam, he says to her, “Congratulations. Inshallah [if God wills] it will be a boy.” Another neighbor enquires, “What is it? Are

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they expecting?” And Abu Jamil replies, “They’ve been married for a few years, but they’ve got it right just now ya haram [poor thing].” As mentioned earlier, even though Ziad, at the start, resists the idea of marrying a second wife who could bear him children, he fi nally succumbs to his mother’s wishes. The interesting point here is that Maryam herself agrees to this plan: She will put up with Ziad’s second wife only for the sake of him having a child, in order to defend her love for him and because she is convinced that he will never fall in love with his second wife. For Maryam, this solution is far better than divorce or losing Ziad’s love. In one of the revealing scenes of the fi lm, we encounter the following conversation between Ziad and Maryam: Ziad: Maryam: Ziad: Maryam: Ziad: Maryam: Ziad: Maryam:

Ziad: Maryam:

I want a child—my child. It is my right to have one. I am not asking for anything other than my right. We’ve agreed to adopt a child. I want my own child. What do you mean? I don’t have another choice. You mean divorce? Have we got any other choice? Yes, we have. Marry another woman and have a child with her. It won’t cost you much to remarry. You don’t have to buy another house. We can both live here together. I am ready to fi nd someone for you. You accept that I marry someone else? Isn’t this better than divorce? The important thing is that you keep on loving me.

And so, they both implement the plan, and Ziad marries Sorayya. On his wedding day, Ziad reassures Maryam of his love, “It is only you whom I love.” Both Sorayya and her family are fully aware that she is going to be the second wife, as Ziad made it clear that he was not going to divorce Maryam. Nevertheless, everyone in Sorayya’s family agrees to this arrangement. After Ziad’s wedding, however, Maryam cannot bear to live in such a starkly contradictory situation, so she leaves her marriage house for Ziad and Sorayya and goes back to live with her mother. Later on, Ziad and Maryam agree to divorce until Sorayya bears him a son, and then they can go back to live together as a married couple. Another revealing element in the portrayal of this social network of family and marriage relations is how Maryam and Sorayya perceive one another, and how each of them justifies her love for Ziad and her insistence on keeping him in marriage relation. Each character uses her cunning and wit to convince Ziad that her counterpart is worthless. A domestic ‘battle’ erupts between Maryam and Sorayya in competition over Ziad’s love and attention.


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Maryam accompanies Ziad to their village in order to fi nd a ‘bride’ for him. They go together to visit Sorayya’s family to ask for their daughter’s hand for Maryam’s husband. Even though everyone in Sorayya’s family considers Maryam’s behavior unusual and indeed bizarre, Maryam does not pay attention to their critical gazes and attitudes. Like everyone else in Ziad’s family, she perceives Sorayya as a mere ‘solution’ to the problem which threatens to end Maryam’s marriage. Sorayya will be present in their lives only until she bears Ziad a child. On one occasion, Maryam explains to her mother, “I am Ziad’s wife. That other woman is only there to give birth.” Moreover, Maryam is the only female in the fi lm who wears the hijab, and she is portrayed as a committed Muslim woman. Yet, such a commitment has not prevented her from demeaning and objectifying Sorayya. Through presenting Maryam as a committed Muslim in dress and appearance, the fi lm subtly questions her behaviors and attitudes in dealing with the problem of her marriage. On the other hand, Sorayya does not care about Maryam’s presence in Ziad’s life or even attempt to understand Maryam’s dilemma and the social and psychological pressures exerted on her. In fact, Sorayya takes advantage of Maryam’s tragedy, as she is fully aware that once she bears Ziad a child, he will have nothing to do with Maryam. Sorayya does not object to being the second wife, and does not even condemn Maryam when the latter arrives suddenly on Ziad and Sorayya’s wedding day to fi nd the family holding a big celebration and she starts acting and dancing in a hysterical way. The fi lm delves deeper into the psyches of Maryam and Sorayya and how their perception and treatment of one another further reinforce masculine and patriarchal attitudes and values in today’s Lebanon, whilst highlighting the role which women might play in keeping such a value system alive and well. The two women appear to have no sympathy for one another, as the main battle revolves around who will succeed in keeping Ziad solely to herself. Once again, Bourdieu’s analysis of symbolic violence as embraced by the dominant patriarchal social order is relevant here. As he asserts, “The androcentric view is thus continuously legitimated by the very practices that it determines. Because their dispositions are the product of embodiment of the negative prejudice against the female that is instituted in the order of things, women cannot but constantly confi rm this prejudice” (32; emphasis in the original). Furthermore, the characters’ understanding of Islam and the way their religion is ingrained in their popular beliefs and imaginary as well as in their everyday practices, serves in the fi lm as the backbone of the social values they inhabit. The fi lmmaker here stresses how all the characters justify their actions under the broad banner of Islam: Ziad has the right to marry a second wife because Islam grants him permission to do so since his fi rst wife is infertile; Sorayya has the right over Maryam to keep Ziad as a husband because she is the one who bears him a son; Maryam has no legal rights whatsoever as a divorcee since she has got no children with Ziad, and so on. Within this Muslim community, no one considers the value of compassion

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embedded in Islam when it comes to Maryam’s emotions and psychological wellbeing. The fi lm emphasizes once again how all the characters are implicated in the wretched ending which befalls Maryam as a result of such distorted popular belief systems of Islam. The Symbolism of Maryam’s Tale In the fi lm, the story of the couple is narrated by Maryam. The fi lm opens with a medium shot of Maryam sitting facing the camera, against a pale yellow background. She starts her tale by sharing with the viewer photos of herself and Ziad during various occasions to point to the deep love and passion which united them. She then interrupts this flow of memories, and says, “Who would have thought that we would end up like this?” The viewer is aware that Maryam is documenting her story in front of a camera. Thus, the director creates a fi lm-within-a-fi lm narrative in order to present Maryam as the storyteller of the events. The tale is Maryam’s own in the fi rst place. The Maryam who reappears every now and then to resume recounting the story until she ends up in a mental hospital, turns paler and paler to match the yellow color in the background. Fouladkar comments on this technique; his aim was to make Maryam start appearing to the viewer as a face that one would see in an old photograph, or as a distant memory (Abi Samra). At the end of the fi lm and before her death, Maryam leaves Ziad the videotape which she has recorded, along with their photographs which she has kept throughout the years. The videotape and the photographs come to symbolize Maryam’s last ‘love letter’ to Ziad. She dies, but the tale survives to be narrated by those who have encountered it whilst passing it on and on ad infinitum. Through flashbacks, Maryam reconstructs the events of her relationship with Ziad, his family, and his new wife, as well as her journey through marriage, her desperate attempts to become a mother, and fi nally her downfall. And so, as Maryam tells the viewers, after Ziad’s marriage, she leaves her home and moves back to live with her mother. The mother convinces her daughter that the best solution for the problem is to seek the help of Abul Faraj, who is known in the community for his ‘supernatural’ powers. Once again, even though Maryam resists this solution at fi rst and mocks her mother for believing in such nonsense, she fi nally agrees to follow the road to Abul Faraj, who turns out to be a mere swindler. At this point in the development of the story, Maryam seems to be in self-doubt, hence she succumbs to whatever the other characters tell her to do. She has lost her way and her vision, which ultimately leads to a complete nervous breakdown. So all along, both Maryam and Ziad choose to follow a certain advice or a certain path. Yet, as mentioned earlier, the fi lm also depicts how the consequences of such choices can have a much harsher impact on the life of a woman than on a man’s. For Ziad, he got what he wanted, a son of his own.


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Even though he could not love Sorayya as he did Maryam, this fact does not have much bearing on his personal life or his professional career. Even when Sorayya comes back home unexpectedly on one occasion to fi nd Maryam lying naked in her bed waiting for Ziad to have sex with her, and she scandalizes Maryam in front of friends and neighbors, this does not impact on Ziad’s relationship with Sorayya, but rather leads to Maryam’s physical and mental breakdown. As for Maryam, she fi nally fi nds herself all alone after the death of her mother, with no other shelter to go to except the mental hospital where she spends the last part of her life. When Ziad learns of Maryam’s death, he fi nds out that she lived in the mental hospital under the pseudonym “Sorayya Soliman,” and had left a note advising to contact her husband Ziad Soliman in the case of her death. Ziad collects Maryam’s body, and in a scene reminiscent of mystic rituals, he washes her body in a fi nal attempt to redeem his love and passion for her. It must be noted here that from the start of the fi lm, images of water dripping on Maryam’s body and a hand massaging it with water interrupt the flow of the story, giving the illusion of erotic love scenes. Indeed, one of the main aesthetic motifs in the fi lm is how these fragmented images of the washing of the dead body are reflected to the viewer as erotic, sexual scenes. Such a ‘trick’ which the director has played on the viewer poses this question: Has Maryam’s death shaken Ziad’s beliefs and attitudes about love, passion, motherhood, and fatherhood? In one of the fi nal scenes of the fi lm, when we see the rest of the family together while Ziad is washing the body in the room next door, the expressions on Sorayya’s face, on Ziad’s brother’s face, and on his wife’s, as well as on Ziad’s face, all reflect deep sorrow and anguish. Everyone is implicated in Maryam’s untimely death. Perhaps the characters are thinking: Could we have done the whole thing differently to prevent this ending? This remains an open question, but as some critics have argued, the gender order is “not unshakable” (Sinclair-Webb 8): “[M]asculinities are not fi xed; they change over time, over space, and, not least, during the lives of men themselves” (Whitehead and Barrett 8). Fouladkar’s fi lm suggests that the horizon of hope for change and transformation will always be present. Despite the bleak ending of the story, the viewer can sense that Ziad’s transformation, even though it has happened literally over Maryam’s dead body, is the main potential for future change of patriarchal values and attitudes around masculinity and fatherhood. Conclusion: When Maryam Spoke Out as an Allegory Indeed, When Maryam Spoke Out can be read as an allegory where the characters’ human condition is contextualized within the realm of the universal. 5 For example, Maryam’s tale echoes Federico García Lorca’s play Yerma (1934; yerma is the Spanish word for “barren”), which has been perceived as an allegory for the deep and unfulfi lled desire for motherhood (Francisco

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García Lorca 27). However, whereas Lorca investigates Yerma’s trauma as part of a frustrated ‘instinct’ to become a mother, Fouladkar expands his investigation to include the social and cultural networks which contribute to Maryam’s trauma. It seems to me that Fouladkar has chosen Maryam’s story to be an allegory for modern times: Many of us might think that such social injustices against women like Maryam no longer occur in our modern and progressive times, but the fi lm suggests that certain patriarchal values are still ingrained in the popular belief systems of communities around us. Fouladkar’s characters come to represent certain types whom we might encounter anywhere in the Arab-Muslim world. Maryam’s unfulfi lled desire to become a mother matches to a great extent Yerma’s dilemma, and in both cases their traumas reveal a kind of “violent anxiety about fertility and sterility, or on another plane, of life and death” (Francisco García Lorca 29). Perhaps the representation of this continuous tension between life and death is most vivid in Yerma where the play’s dramatic ending as Yerma kills her husband points at the same time to Yerma’s symbolic death. In Fouladkar’s fi lm, on the other hand, Maryam’s actual death is also read as a violent (rather than a tragic) outcome of embracing an inhumane social system and the hypocrisy of using Islam to justify and support patriarchal values. In fact, the fi lm begins to chronicle Maryam’s ‘symbolic’ death since her hysterical dance during Ziad and Sorayya’s wedding party. This scene is the climactic point which registers the start of Maryam’s descent into death. Thus, in both Yerma and Maryam, we see how all the events and dialogues are centered on exploring the theme of the woman’s demise as a result of not embracing her motherhood, by delving deep into her emotions as well as those of the people around her. I have argued in this chapter that Fouladkar’s fi lm is a significant contribution to the flourishing and growing Lebanese cinema, as it has provided a cinematic critique of a number of taboo issues which are still prevalent in today’s Lebanon. The fi lm diverts from revisiting the theme of the civil war and rather focuses on dismantling a web of gender relations which are deeply rooted in the popular perception of Islamic values. The fi lm unsettles notions associated with masculinity and fatherhood, and brings to the viewers’ imagination a tale of modern times around women’s unfulfi lled desire to become mothers, and the underlying social and cultural implications. Notes 1. For example, Laila Halaby’s novel Once in a Promised Land and Leila Aboulela’s Minaret aptly reflect this ‘wave’ of cultural critique. 2. Labaki speaks about her fi lm in the “Special Features” section of the Caramel DVD. 3. See also the feature on Lebanese cinema in Screen International ( July 27, 2007): 15–23.


Dalia Said Mostafa

4. All translations of dialogues into English from When Maryam Spoke Out are mine. 5. In an interview conducted by Mohammad Abi Samra, Fouladkar remarks that the script of his film was inspired by a story which he originally heard from his motherin-law: “What caught my attention was not the story in itself, but the fact that my mother-in-law used to cry whenever she recounted it, even after forty years of its happenings. . . . As for others to develop similar emotions towards your own story, you have to tell it in a way where they would feel that the story is not only yours but theirs as well, and that it belongs to each single one of them” (Abi Samra).

Works Cited Abi Samra, Mohammad. [Interview with Assad Fouladkar.] “Filmi sara min al-madi wa udafi‘ ‘an tarikhihi naqdan [My fi lm has become a story of the past and I defend its history critically].” Al hayat. April 11, 2003. http://www.daralhayat. com/archivearticle/16058. Aboulela, Leila. Minaret. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. Alaouié, Borhan, dir. Khalass. Cinéart, 2007. Aractingi, Philippe, dir. Bosta. Fantascope Production, 2005. ‘Arbid, Danielle, dir. Ma‘arik hobb [In the Battlefields]. Memento Films International, 2004. Bourdieu, Pierre. Masculine Domination. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Polity P, 2001. Doueiri, Ziad, dir. Bayrut al-gharbiyyah [West Beirut]. Arab Film Distribution, 1998. Fares, Josef, dir. Zozo. Memfi s Film, 2005. Fouladkar, Assad, dir. Lamma hikyet Maryam [When Maryam Spoke Out]. Misr International Films, 2002. García Lorca, Francisco. “Prologue.” Federico García Lorca. Three Tragedies of Federico García Lorca: Blood Wedding, Yerma, Bernarda Alba. Trans. James Graham-Luján and Richard L.O’Connell. New York: New Directions, 1947. 1–37. Hadjithomas, Joanna, and Khalil Joreige, dirs. al-Bayt al-zahr [Around the Pink House]. Mille et Une Productions, 1999. . Yawm akhar [A Perfect Day]. Arab Film Distribution, 2005. Halaby, Laila. Once in a Promised Land. Boston: Beacon P, 2007. Hearn, Jeff. “Man, Fathers and the State: National and Global Relations.” Making Men into Fathers: Men, Masculinities and the Social Politics of Fatherhood. Ed. Barbara Hobson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. 245–72. Hodieb, Bernadette. Interview with Faten Al Haj. “Lamma hikyet Maryam: Jadid Bernadette Hodieb ya‘ud ila al-ajwa’ al-rumansiyya fi-l-sinima al-lubnaniyyah [When Maryam Spoke Out: Bernadette Hodieb’s new fi lm returns to the romantic ambience in Lebanese cinema].” Asharq al-awsat. January 3, 2003. http://www.aawsat. com/details.asp?section=25&article=144891&issueno=8802. Hojeij, Bahij, dir. Chatti ya dini [Here Comes the Rain]. Online Films, 2010. . Zinnar al-nar [Ring of Fire]. Online Films, 2004. Kammoun, Michel, dir. Falafel. Les Films du Paradoxe, 2006. Khatib, Lina. Lebanese Cinema: Imagining the Civil War and Beyond. London: I.B. Tauris, 2008. Labaki, Nadine, dir. Sukkar banat [Caramel]. Arab Film Distribution, 2007. Naous, Nadine. “Panorama of Lebanese Cinema.” Encyclopedia of Arab Women Filmmakers. Ed. Rebecca Hillauer. Trans. Allison Brown et al. Cairo: The American U in Cairo P, 2005. 137–41.

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Nasr, Mohab. “Lamma hikyet Maryam . . . fa awja‘at! When Maryam Spoke Out . . . She Made Us Feel the Pain].” al-Qabas. July 9, 2009. http://alqabas.com.kw/Article. aspx?id=515827&date= 06072009. Nasrallah, Ibrahim. “Al-fi lm al-lubnani Lamma hikyet Maryam ba‘d arba‘ ‘ashr ja’izah: ‘An al-masafah al-multabasa bayn naqd al-khas wa hija’ al-‘am [The Lebanese fi lm When Maryam Spoke Out after fourteen awards: On the ambivalent distance between criticizing the private and satirizing the public].” al-Awan. February 17, 2008. http://www.alawan.org. Saab, Jocelyne, dir. Kan ya ma kan, Beyrouth [Once Upon a Time: Beirut]. Arab Film Distribution, 1994. Sinclair-Webb, Emma. “Preface.” Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity and Culture in the Modern Middle East. Ed. Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb. London: Saqi Books, 2006. 7–16. Whitehead, Stephen M., and Frank J. Barrett. “The Sociology of Masculinity.” The Masculinities Reader. Ed. Stephen M. Whitehead and Frank J. Barrett. Cambridge: Polity P, 2001. 1–26. Ya‘coub, Fajr. “Lamma haka Fouladkar: Maryam ‘ala shareet video ‘anif [When Fouladkar spoke out: Maryam on a powerful videotape].” Al hayat. January 10, 2003. http://www.daralhayat.com/archivearticle/22749.


Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil Photography and the Inscription of Subjectivity on the Female Body Walid El Khachab

Tattoos are a popular practice that has flourished for centuries in the Middle East in a traditional form. As such, they have drawn the attention of Orientalists and anthropologists, such as Abdel Kabir Khatibi and Aline Tauzin. Since the 1990s, however, tattoos—particularly as a metaphoric use of writing inscribed on the female body—have become a major practice in the work of female photographers from the Middle East. This ‘reinvention’ of tattoos paralleled a recuperation of the practice by self-Orientalizing Westernized elites and upper middle classes in many urban areas of the Middle East. Both in art photography and in everyday life body aesthetics, the reemergence of tattoos problematizes the accepted notions of culture as a clear-cut dichotomy: high vs. popular. While traditional practice of tattoos in the Middle East was confi ned mostly to uneducated popular classes—except for religious tattoos performed across class lines within Christian orthodox communities—reemerging tattoos are mostly appreciated by upper middle-class individuals, either as an importation of some Western body aesthetics, or as an appropriation of traditions in a postmodern way that consists of sampling: the form of an imported practice; tattoos in parlors, combined with the content of a heritage practice; traditional motifs, particularly henna body art. This recent trend in the Middle East has become even more complex when appropriated by photography. In the Middle East, photography has predominantly been part of popular culture since the popularization of small cameras after World War II. Only recently, some photographers have engaged in art photography, as in the case of Shirin Neshat and Lalla Essaydi, who both live in the West. On the other hand, some photographers were ‘retrieved’ from the archives of popular culture and celebrated for the aesthetic qualities and the originality of the body/gender politics of their production. Such is the case of Van Leo who worked in his Cairo studio between the 1950s and the 1970s, but whose portraits of ‘ordinary’ people had aesthetic qualities beyond the functionality of personal portraits (Melis 111–16). While art photography in the Middle East is often part of an elitist culture, the practice is usually based on a postmodern sampling that mixes popular

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


practices such as the use of the medium itself, software manipulation like Photoshop, popular references like tattoos, with elitist ‘cultured’ references. Thus, the blurring of boundaries between high and popular culture occurring in the recent practice of tattoos is consistent with a similar blurring in art photography. Both cross-boundary practices are replicated when Middle Eastern photography refers to, or focuses on, tattoos. Tattoos: Meaning and Agency Studies on the art of tattoo in the Middle East and North Africa are scarce and almost exclusively ethnographic/anthropological, such as Tauzin’s work on henna culture in Mauritania. The title of Jon Udelson’s book, Arabic Tattoos, is in turn misleading as he focuses on the recent trend in North American market which deploys the inscription of tattooed Arabic words on the body. Lars Krutak’s The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women surveys many traditional cultures in Asia, the Americas, and the Pacific. It includes a chapter dealing largely with the traditional practice of tattoo in the Middle East. Even though he devotes separate sections to Berber tattoos in North Africa, Arab tattoos in Iraq, and Kurdish tattoos, his account points to the similarities in tattooing techniques and to the recurrence of certain motifs inspired by the natural environment: palms, stars, sun, moon, etc., yet his historical account of the tattoo culture among women—heavily relying on ethnographic sources from the early twentieth century—is merely descriptive. He summarizes some pattern structures, explains ink-mixing techniques, and demonstrates that tattoo artists are predominantly women in traditional Middle Eastern societies, but he does not analyze the significance of tattoos, nor does he discuss their aesthetics. In the following sections of this chapter, the discussion builds on the history of tattoo culture and its strong association with women, while it addresses a modern, artistically self-conscious culture. Clinton Sanders and D. Angus Vail’s Customizing the Body is one of the fi rst exhaustive ethnographic studies of tattoo culture in the West. Sanders describes a shift in the social perception of tattoo in the West: Until the 1970s, tattoos were associated with marginality and criminality. Later, more educated, middle-class persons joined this culture, as a means of empowerment and an expression of identity (36–41). A parallel shift occurred from a tight repertoire of simple, familiar references inspiring tattooed images to a broader, more complex and syncretic, ‘artistic’ repertoire. I argue that a similar shift was imported in the Middle East two decades later. Ethnographic studies of tattoo in traditional societies—particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Pacific—are numerous. Recently, Juniper Ellis’s Tattooing the World dealt with tattoo practice in non-modern communities in the Pacific. She addresses such issues as the role of tattoo as a mark of gender and an expression of identity—albeit in relation to genealogical affi liation, as a reminder of ethical commitment to family and community, and as


Walid El Khachab

an alternative aesthetics of the body, according to non-Western mainstream values (16–29). Ellis’s refreshing approach to tattoo as script is particularly suitable for this study, since the tattoo effect in the photos analyzed here is predominantly calligraphic. Her hypothesis that “[t]attoo is an analogue to language and forms a vital means of signification; but it is not reducible to writing, and the patterns exceed any lexicon” is a point well taken (12). In Tattoos in American Visual Culture, Mindy Fenske criticizes the notion that bodies “either ‘express or reflect social control,’” a notion which implies that the tattooed body is merely a site for the display of signification, be it the reproduction of meaning imposed by society, or a narrative of the selfresisting predominant discourses in society (18). The author proposes to take agency as performance into account, as the act of producing tattoo (in a manner that exceeds the mere meaning of the forms tattooed). She describes her method as follows: The interpretive move of understanding the production and reproduction of meaning is supplemented by an attention to the ways that visual representation acts through meaning making. . . . Agency, in these terms, is the enactment of the potential for disruption, destabilization, transformation, and change that is produced in and through reiterative, reproductive, and citational visual and discursive practices of meaning making and meaning attribution. (24; emphasis in the original) Fenske’s notion of agency resonates with what this chapter describes as the production of subjectivity. Photographic Production of Female Subjectivity According to Fenske’s defi nition of agency, the production of a female subject through meaningful cultural practices—here, photographies of women putting forward a tattoo effect that simulates actual inscriptions on the body or on space—amounts to a constitution of subjectivities. These may appear as surfaces and forms bearing the mark of tradition—as if tattooed by society—or display more than resistance to tradition: an actual performance of an action that transforms, destabilizes, or challenges ready-made discourses, visual organization of space and body, and received interpretations of these. This chapter argues that performance can be that of the artist who photographs or that of the model. The production of the female subject, its materialization in an actual set of signs, through specific practices, within particular cultural references, is what is called here the production of subjectivity, and it is what I plan to analyze in what follows. I propose to explore the ambiguous agency of this postmodern cultural production that turns an ancient popular practice—tattoo—into an elitist artistic genre and consolidates the emergence of a new female subjectivity identified by

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


the tattoo—which is essentially here a tattoo effect, a simulated tattoo inscribed, in fact ‘imprinted’—on the female body. Almost all tattoos referred to here are composed of writings in Arabic/Persian script. Again, this choice is a postmodern sampling, which combines both the learned—often elitist—art of calligraphy, scarcely associated with body art, and the art of tattooing, which has predominantly been a traditional practice of the uneducated classes, and has recently become part of upper middle-class popular culture in the Middle East. Yet the agency of what is called here ‘photo-tattoo’ (the trope of tattoo in photography) may sometimes be viewed as tending to de-subjectify the female self and to produce it as a collective body. Paradoxically, while allowing for the emergence of affi rmative constructions of womanhood, phototattoos create a female body veiled with writings inscribed on that body, in a way that depersonalizes the female subject. Comparing tattoos that cover the whole body or the whole photo to veils is more than an Orientalist delight for the reader. Often women with near ‘fullsuit’ tattoos—that is, tattoos covering the whole body—do not mind being photographed naked, precisely because they feel covered by the tattoos as if by clothes. Tattoos have traditionally been magic skins or empowering ‘suits’ that cover the body literally and protect it by the power of its symbolism. The veil as trope and accessory plays an unmistakable role in the emergence of new postcolonial female subjectivities, particularly in the Muslim-scape and among Muslim communities in the West (see Aitel and Valentin). The agency of tattoo is similar to that of the veil inasmuch as they both turn the female body into a site where the woman performs her own subjectivity and self-expression, through the dynamics of covering/uncovering. Furthermore, the photos dealt with here represent the tattoo in much the same way a veil is used to cover bodies and spaces. The trope of tattoo in photography, photo-tattoo, acts ambivalently; it veils/unveils the skin, at times contributing to the performance of an accomplished, autonomous female subjectivity, particularly because the material tattooed is text, while at others participating in what may seem as the dissolution of this subjectivity—a processes of de-subjectification. The analysis of works by two artists from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds illustrates this hypothesis. Iranian American artist Shirin Neshat’s photographs of herself partially covered with Persian writings are exemplary of the first process. Moroccan American artist Lalla Essaydi’s photos seem to reinforce the second process: the de-subjectification of the female self. Her women are often almost faceless, covered by ‘extreme’ veils doubled by calligraphy that render the photo’s atmosphere shady and the women unidentifiable. Calligraphy here seems to act as a veil that erases subjectivity. Neshat and the Tattooed Body One of the major exhibits that confi rmed Shirin Neshat as an accomplished photographer was the Women of Allah, a black-and-white series featuring


Walid El Khachab

Neshat with parts of her body tattooed with calligraphy. One of the venues where Women of Allah was exhibited was the Artspeak Gallery, Vancouver. The exhibition catalogue includes five photos where the female subject—the artist herself—wears tattoos consisting of Persian calligraphy. Most of the texts tattooed on the female body in this series are contemporary Iranian poetry, dealing with love, martyrdom, or the love for the martyr. The ‘tattoos’ are performed on the printed photo rather than directly on the body, because we see in one photo the calligraphy inscribed on the white of the subject’s eye. The type of calligraphy and the color of ink used are reminiscent of tattooed calligraphy performed on the female body in some traditional Middle Eastern contexts, particularly with henna—even though the ink used by Neshat is darker than the usual henna used traditionally (Neshat 13; Eldestein, image 5). The fi rst photo of the Women of Allah series is a close-up on palms stretched open as if to beg or to present something to the viewer. Only the palms are tattooed with calligraphy, so that one half of the poem is printed on each hand. Contrary to Essaydi’s deliberate use of blurred characters, Neshat uses a font and lens that make the text well legible to a Farsi-speaking viewer. In North America, the photos were accompanied by English translation. The viewer is thus able to make sense (or non-sense) of the text in relation to the rest of the photo (Neshat 4; Eldestein, image 3). Here, the text by Tahereh Saffarzadeh is a poetic description of an apocalyptic scene where women are drumming, maintaining their calm, while men flee when an ugly black hand appears suddenly and chokes the moon above their heads. The hands in the photo are the opposite of the threatening hand in the text: They are fair and feminine and their serene posture infuses reassurance, even though their begging posture indicates the presence of a threat that amounts to metaphysical dimensions. The entire background is black, except for the hands, but the most distinctly black element is a Remington rifle crossing the hands—as if choking them. This seems to be a visual equivalent of the black presence choking life in the text. Thus, the hands seem to be associated with the beauty and mystique of the moon, and are not simply praying for a martyr. The tattooed calligraphy contributes therefore to making the photo ambiguous and to distancing it from the clichéd Orientalist/romantic idea of odes to martyrdom or that of fascination by guerrilla violence. The second photo is a close-up of the artist herself clad in a tchador that covers her whole body except for her face. The tattooed calligraphy is imprinted on the forefront and the lower part of the face, leaving the eyes fully in view, with their expressive sadness and restraint. The text tattooed on the face is an ode to the martyr, a love song addressed by a female lover to her beloved martyr, made more distressing by the fact that the artist holds the rifle in an upright position, in front of her, in a manner that ‘splits’ the face—and the poem—vertically into two parts. Again, beyond the seeming homage paid to martyrdom, the suffering of the female subject is expressed

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


through the metaphor of the rifle cutting the woman’s face. The encounter of the phallic cylindrical shape of the rifle’s barrel with the round face suggests an ambiguous visual situation, of either coitus or rape. While the poem is an expression of female subjectivity deploring the violence of war and mourning the beloved man, the theatrical presence of the rifle—as if the artist was kissing it—and the content of the text seem to imply that the tattoo effect here is that of pre-produced discourses of tradition inscribed on the female body (Neshat 9; Eldestein, image 4). The eroticism of the third photo is unmistakable, although at fi rst sight it may seem disturbing and aggressive. The center of the photo is the only part in focus. It shows two feet joined together, with the barrel of the rifle ‘penetrating’ the tiny space between them, where the feet slightly curve. At fi rst, one may think of the image of a wall behind which a sniper hides and lets only the muzzle of his rifle show. The poem tattooed on the feet is another ode to the martyr and the trope of a guard watching over the city’s walls reinforces the bellicose interpretation of the work. However, the eroticism of the feet is overemphasized by their size (they occupy about a quarter of the photo’s space), their centrality, and the analogy between the barrel and male genitals, on the one hand, and between the female genitals and the ‘slot’ between the feet, on the other. This erotic dimension becomes ironic when juxtaposed with the tattooed text, which reads like a piece of revolutionary poetry (Neshat 11; Eldestein, image 6). The fourth photo is an extreme close-up on the left eye of a woman (Eldestein, image 5). The white surface of the eyeball is tattooed in black ink. The poem inscribed is about a dying garden losing the fish in its pond and its flowers. The poem concurs with the violence of the act of tattooing the eye. The photo’s complexity stems from the contradiction between the apparent soft eroticism of the structure and the violence it exudes. The perfect roundness of the iris in the middle of the frame is quite erotic, but its position in the heart of the eye heavily made up with a black liner is equally heavily charged as a sexual metaphor: the eye’s contour resembles the opening of a female sexual organ displayed horizontally, and the texture of the eyelids reinforces the imagery of the sexual organ. Moreover, the comparison is consistent with Freud’s interpretation of the eye as symbol of female genitals in dreams (Freud 359). The viewer/reader familiar with modern Iranian literary history will be more inclined to seek the erotic significance of the photo, given that it is by Forugh Farrokhzad, famous for her liberated love life. The layers of arc-like lines of the eye and the eyebrow are comparable to a wave, suggesting a metaphor of the eye deep as the sea. Combined with this poetics of eroticism is the violence of tattooing, which is doubled by the fact that the tattoo is printed on the very sensitive tissue of the eyeball. Yet the contradiction between the eroticism and the violence is problematic. The eroticism of the eye in the photo and that of the violence resulting in the inscription of calligraphy on


Walid El Khachab

the eye are not exact parallels because the content of the tattooed text is not violent in itself. The text is just sad, expressing a sense of loss of some sort of paradise of origins. The last of the photos featuring calligraphic tattoos is a close-up of a woman in a veil tightly surrounding her face. In contrast with the previous photo, the eye globe is clear and the face is covered with calligraphy. The poem used is about the rebirth of nature, and is therefore an exceptional piece in the collection, because it has no reference to violence or war. However, rebirth can also be read as part of the larger intertext of Shiite martyrdom literature where the blood of the martyr is actually celebrated as a means to regenerate life, in the same manner that all the great sacrificed bodies from Dionysus to Jesus contribute to the ritual of the regeneration of nature and life in general. The male martyr being ‘inscribed’ on the woman’s face may suggest the pantheistic Sufi idea of the divine comprising male and female principles whose conjugated action ‘fertilizes’ the universe, that is, regenerates life (Eldestein, image 7). The photo is also exceptional in that the tattooed text is predominantly in red ink. Red being a ‘hot’ color, with sexual connotations, disrupts the modest female look implied by the scarf. Furthermore, the lines are organized in concentric circles, in the manner of an abstract vortex. This visual structure echoes the swirling effect of the fabric surrounding the face. The movement of the lines contrasts with the steady position of the eyes, the latter introducing a sense of stability at the center of the photo. This tension adds dynamism to the lines’ movements and recalls the trope of waves and sea— another metaphor of the matrix of life in Islam, and particularly in Sufism. The magnification of the tropes exalts the female subject and endows her with cosmic dimensions. Three of the five photo-tattoos in this series feature body parts that are metaphorically sliced by a rifle. While the photos seem solemn, even deferent, vis-à-vis the Remington—thus partaking of the glorification of martyrdom—this metaphoric slicing of the female body makes the martyr’s woman a victim in her own right. Although this reading implies a critique of the glorification of self-sacrifice in war times, it entails a victimization of the female subject. Neshat’s early work was mostly interpreted as a critique of hijab, the orthodox female Muslim outfit that emphasizes covering the hair as virtuous. A minority of critics saw it as a celebration of female agency. It is fascinating that even when the body is victimized, the posture of the face and of body parts is dignified. Hence, the veil is not part of a repressive visual arsenal, but a prop indexing a postcolonial identity. Fabric does not prevent the female subject from being sexually provocative—as in the photo of the rifle emerging between two feet—or from being affi rmative in her attitude—as in the photo of the artist’s face behind the Remington’s muzzle. The fact that the tattoo effect often places the writing on the face in a way that saturates the skin is

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


reminiscent more of Maori empowering tattoos than of facial tattoos in the Middle East—which never cover the entirety of the face. Given the positive and affi rmative tone of many of the poems tattooed on the female subject, one can safely say that the actual veil of fabric and the metaphoric one of tattooed text act as symbolic ‘revealers’ of agency. Writing is a major site for the emergence of female subjectivities, as most feminist theorists agree. The calligraphic tattoos used by Neshat give voice to women: They are inscriptions of poems by women who have become, each in her own way, icons of Iranian feminism: Tahereh Saffarzadeh and Forugh Farrokhzad. The theme developed in these texts is the affi rmative expression of their radically different political, aesthetic, and personal choices. The major quality that these strong independent women share is their defiance of the established order. Farrokhzad was a romantic figure who died in a car accident at the age of thirty-two, who had many (tormented) relationships and was always associated with a Western—and liberated—life style (Hilmann 32–33). Quite the opposite, Saffarzadeh was one of the female intellectuals who voluntarily took up the veil in rebellion against the Shah’s pro-Western regime. Politically committed in her youth, she devoted herself to the study and teaching of the Quran in English translation, and grew to be a respected figure in the cultural and academic establishment of the Islamic Republic. She died at the age of seventy-two (Milani 153–54). Despite ideological differences between the two poets, both assert the autonomy of female subjectivity. Moreover, in performing the poetry—by inscribing it as a pseudo-tattoo on her own body—Neshat contributes to the female narrative of women’s independence, and her agency represents a challenge to the received dichotomy: A woman’s liberation can be achieved only through Western values—according to Westernized elites—or only through the values of the Islamic revolution—according to proponents of political Islam. Neshat’s politics of inscription and of contiguity seem to suggest that a woman’s liberation resides in her own pursuance of her desire, notwithstanding the ideological color of that desire. Essaydi and the Tattooed World Four photos by Lalla Essaydi are published in Nazar—the anthology of photography from the Middle East. They are part of a series titled “Converging Territories” about women in traditional white burqaas whose bodies and faces are completely covered by tattoo-like calligraphy. The artist describes her series as follows: In the absence of any specificity of place, the text itself becomes the world of the subjects—their thoughts, their speech, work, clothing, shelter, and a nomadic home. The texts, written in henna, are a diary— incomplete, of course. The viewer and the writer become involved in a


Walid El Khachab process of reading and revising, fi nding and losing multiple and discontinuous threads. (Essaydi)

Even though the title and the artist’s note emphasize the territorial aspect of female bodies, the most striking visual feature is the fact that these bodies are simple shapes wrapped in large white robes and capes, covered by Arabic calligraphy, performed with henna, and ‘quoting’ motifs and techniques associated with henna tattoos. Inscribing tattoos and writings on the body is the equivalent of marking the borders of a territory; the dress and cape are a closed—or at best determined, confi ned—space, just like national space. Nevertheless, the aspect of inscription is in itself compelling. Essaydi’s four photographs are printed each on an individual page, all of them ‘tattooed’ with writings in henna. In all photos, calligraphic tattoos cover almost every inch of the surface, except—strategically—faces or objects (Melis 25–28). The fi rst photo shows a woman almost at the center of the frame, occupying more than a third of the space. Her body is in profi le but her face—half-covered, showing only her eyes and forehead—is threequarters facing the camera. The cape she wears is white, the same color as her background. However, her body is detached and given relief, due to the drape effect that draws contours of shade around the woman, and to the organization of the writings. The calligraphic henna in the background is horizontal, yet slightly tending to be seen from left and right toward the center, converging on the woman’s body, while the drapes themselves are tattooed with writings that flow from the upper right corner of the body’s mass to its lower left corner, thus creating a dynamic flux following a different axis than that of the calligraphy in the background. The distribution of light in the photo is a third factor contributing to highlighting the woman’s body. The right side of the background is overexposed to light, so is the left side—albeit less brightly, while the body itself is shown in more shade, which contrast further detaches the body from the background (Essaydi). In this work, the ambiguity of tattoo is blatant in the paradoxes stemming from the coexistence of different regimen of social meaning. On the one hand, traditional understandings of tattoos place them in the paradigm of society, imposing its sign—its mark—on the female body. Henna in the Middle East and North Africa is an ephemeral tattoo that marks the female body as different—from the male—while embellishing/beautifying it, for instance before marriage, in order to prepare it for male pleasure. This treatment of the subject as an anonymous female body and the illegibility of the calligraphy printed/tattooed on the photo in extremely fi ne characters seem to embody the metaphor of society erasing the individual subjectivity and ‘writing’ its own text, the discourse of tradition, on what becomes a non-individualized female subject. Even though we do not see any tattoos—henna or other—inscribed on the woman’s body, the use of calligraphy imprinted like a tattoo implies that the intimate body is tattooed

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


and ‘domesticated’ by henna, while the exterior aspect of the person—her clothes—is inscribed by, and in the discourse of, traditional gender roles and gender hierarchy. On the other hand, in her statement, the artist indicates that the writings are excerpts from a diary. It is therefore a privileged instance for the emergence of a female subjectivity intimately expressing itself. This subjectivity is not just a source/instance of discourse utterance, but is also articulated around a gaze. The tilting face suggests a movement deliberately contradicting the horizontal flow of lines in the photo, because it traces yet another axis between the face and the destination of the gaze. The force of this gaze—accentuated by the deep black of the eyebrows and of the eyes themselves—and the confident (maybe even defiant) attitude of the body construct a subject that is not simply submissive to tradition. The female subject seems in command of the power of the gaze—including its sexual energy—since she is completely covered, thus impermeable to an external gaze, while she can direct her own gaze to whoever she wishes. She gazes effectively, because of the charisma of her eyes, but cannot effectively be the object of a gaze. The second piece goes further in erasing the woman’s subjectivity. Here, the standing female body is photographed from behind. Not only is it entirely covered by the cape, but the face is not shown (since we see only the woman’s back). We are in a way confronted with one of the extreme stages of erasure of subjectivity, the absence of the primal icon of identity: the face. Furthermore, the body—even though it occupies a third of the space, like in the previous photo—is fused with the background, because of the predominant flatness of the image that equalizes body and background and of the uniformity produced by the henna calligraphic tattoo that covers the entire surface of the work, almost entirely equally covering the body and the background, without singling out the body through a distinct flow of lines—save for a small portion of the dress tail. The lighting too contributes to this quasi effacement of the body and its confusion with the background—since the upper part of the body until the waistline is overexposed to light, which makes the body even more ‘diffused’ (Essaydi). Yet the female subject is paradoxically active and, in a way, self-assertive. The ‘opposite’ pole of her identity—her feet—are the only uncovered flesh, even though they are clearly tattooed with henna in the traditional manner—as if they wore a moccasin. The fact that one foot is caught in the movement of walking and the dynamism of the lower part of the body resulting from that movement both remind the viewer of the agency of the female body photographed. The eroticism of the feet thus stems from that movement, the henna tattoo, and the hyper emphasis they gain from being the only flesh exposed—significant in light of Freud’s observation about the foot being a substitute for male genitals in dreams (359). The writing also plays a paradoxical role in the eroticization of the body— which itself empowers the woman in the photo. The shades producing the


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drape effect in the lower part of the body are further accentuated by the lines of blurred calligraphic henna tattoos. The roundness of the lower part of the body, its swinging movement captured by the camera, is framed by lines of shade and of writings imprinted on the fabric, like tattoos. The third photo features four female subjects facing the camera, standing up. From right to left, from the viewer’s point of view, we see a baby girl, a teenage girl, a young woman, and a taller woman one assumes is a mature one—whom we do not see, since every inch of her body, including her eyes, is covered with fabric. We see here four generations of women, in a ‘linear’ progression in terms of maturity, rendered mainly by the body’s height, and in terms of the amount of skin covered by the robe and/or the cape. The youngest shows her hair, her face, her hands, and her feet. The teenager covers her hair, but shows her full face. The taller young woman shows only the upper part of her face. The mature woman, the tallest of all, is entirely covered; even her eyes are hidden by an opaque face veil (Essaydi). The four bodies are individualized through the politics of showing/hiding skin, and each body stands apart from the others because each cape or dress is identified by tattooed writings slanting in different directions. In spite of this, the ‘narrative’ of progression from right to left—following the order of writing Arabic—is hardly optimistic when seen as a woman’s journey of selfrealization. There is a stark irony in organizing the bodies as if they were progressing from younger and smaller to bigger and more mature, in a narrative pointing physically upward, while the conclusion of the progress narrative is the dim perspective of a body entirely imprisoned in layers of fabric and tattooed calligraphy, totally covered. The way the women are lined up facing the camera refers ironically to popular comic posters, such as those showing a succession of apes to the left of the frame, becoming hominids at the center of the image, and ending the series on the right with a human being in a straight stand-up position. This intertext of the ascension of hominids to culture and to the full status of humanhood contradicts the logic of Essaydi’s photo, where the outcome of the woman’s journey is total regression in the form of veiling. Because the direction of reading in Arabic is from right to left, Essaydi’s photo concludes on a pessimistic note, showing the older woman entirely deprived of her individuality, almost disenfranchised, being completely ‘wrapped’ in traditional gear. The fourth piece by Essaydi may be auto-referential. At the center, we see a woman from behind, like in the second piece, but her long, dark, curly hair is undone. The woman is seated and raises her right hand, gracefully holding a fi ne brush to write on what seems to be a wall or an immense white page— the background surface of the photo. Her hand is clearly tattooed with henna and the only object in the scene that is not covered with calligraphic tattoo is a small bowl, containing the henna/ink with which the raised hand is writing, inscribing her tattoos on the surrounding surfaces (Essaydi).

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


Even though we do not see the character’s face, there is no suggestion that the woman’s subjectivity is erased. Her being photographed from behind suggests that her privacy is respected, even staged, so that her creative gesture of writing/tattooing with henna is celebrated. The undone hair is a sign of her empowerment and it references a wide repertoire of images of female magic powers, independence, defiance of established order, and so on, through the unrestricted flow of hair. The dynamic gesture of writing produced by the hand movement singled out in the photo is only the most blatant aspect of the woman’s distinctiveness. Like in previous photos, there is tension between the uniformity suggested by the all-encompassing presence of writings tattooed on the surface of the photo and the orientation of the tattooed writings on the woman’s cape. The latter writings are organized in a concentric circular manner, as opposed to the horizontal orientation of the writings on the walls. The woman’s outfit is furthermore marked by a white strip defi ning the cape’s contour and distinctly separating it from the rest of the masses in the frame, which is an almost literal metaphor of the female subject’s distinctiveness. One is reminded of three references when analyzing this piece. First, the boldness of the representation of a person from behind is reminiscent of the historical moment when modern European cultural production—particularly in painting and theater—started to introduce deliberate staging of characters from behind. Georges Banu reflects on the emergence of a systematic effort to represent iconoclastic ethics through the seemingly defi ant posture of a person who turns his/her back to the audience (148–52). Repeating such a posture, Essaydi’s character is defiant, but is also signaling her rebellion against the established order—the order that expects the individual, particularly the female, to be available to the viewer’s gaze. Thus the act of writing/tattooing appears even more of a defiant gesture, since it is enhanced by the posture. Second, the hair as a metaphor of the feminine divine informs this last photo. A long tradition—particularly among Gnostics—associates divinity with a woman’s hair, and this association has survived in the biblical story of the sinner who wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair, interpreted as a fusion between male and female divine principles (see “The Holy Bible,” Luke 7:44). The mysteries of the divine are compared in this tradition to the labyrinth-like structure of female hair, and this metaphor was praised by some modern European poets, such as Baudelaire (25–26). Bearing this metaphor in mind, the viewer may feel the charisma of the female subject enhanced by the association of her hair with the divine. Regardless of this Gnostic tradition, the majesty of the hair—a dark mass at the center of the photo—contrasting with the white walls and cape exalts the female body, as if it were a crown. Third, the robe style could be a reference to the Mevlevi whirling Dervishes. The round shape of the woman’s outfit is reminiscent of the shape of the Dervish’s robe during the whirling dance and the moment of trance,


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especially that shade and drape effects make the cape seem like a swirl. This reference contributes even more to the magnification of the female subject, since the ecstatic dance is performed by humans to unite with God and the world, in a pantheistic way. The hair style and the cape put the female body in connection with instances of transcendence and the act of writing/painting appears, hence, as a means of uniting with nature and the divine. Thus, calligraphic tattoos perform in their own way an act of fusion between the subject and the world–a pantheistic ritual–by unifying and harmonizing the space of the photo with writings in Arabic. Conclusion: Ambiguities of Subjectivity Performed In Neshat’s and Essaydi’s works analyzed above, different layers of culture— popular and elitist—are intertwined. Photography, calligraphy, and tattoo move back and forth between traditional and popular practices, on the one hand, and postmodern syncretism, on the other. Such syncretism allows these practices to be absorbed and recycled in new ones, such as those of phototattoos. It is refreshing that the practice of tattoo has thus gained a wider reach, its meaning-making process becoming more complex. Therefore, it contributes to the critique of contemporary repression of non-conformist behavior and of the violence of political and cultural hegemony. In so doing, this practice contributes to the emergence of a female subjectivity, not by the expression of an ‘activist’ message, but—to use Fenske’s words—“through meaning making” (24). In other words, female subjectivity in the works I analyze is not expressed by the artist. Rather, it is enacted within the process of performing the work. Therefore, the interpretation of the meaning of facial expressions—or their lack for that matter—is not the sole factor of subjectivity building. Subjectivity is essentially enacted/produced throughout the process of performance. Its complexity stems from it being ‘assembled’ from multiple practices corresponding to the different layers of the work. For example, some of the texts used by Neshat refer on one level to the tradition of praising martyrs, thus implying a traditional female subject living in the shadow or in the absence of the male martyr (Neshat 9, 11). But the style of calligraphy is a modern one freed of the constraints of medieval codes, suggesting a break with tradition. The tattoo effect suggests that the text of patriarchal tradition (glorification of the male martyr) is inscribed on the female body. Yet the confident—even defiant—gaze of the female subject is self-assertive. The whole work being staged and performed by the female artist, whose body itself is the core material of the work, the latter being produced in a very modern medium at the time–photography–counters by its modernity any suggestion of resignation in the face of tradition. It is thus clear that photo-tattoos, by virtue of the medium’s nature, are highly ambiguous—hence their contribution to producing a female subjectivity

Photo-Tattoo as Postmodern Veil


unafraid of embracing and sampling some traditional practices, texts, and motifs and mixing them with postmodern concerns about female agency and the rejection of hegemonic colonial and patriarchal norms. This ambiguity is responsible for the destabilizing effect of the works analyzed, destabilization being a seminal result of agency, according to Fenske (22–24). Agency produces subjectivity, not only by layering practices and mixing the popular with the elitist, but also by emphasizing “citational visual and discursive practices of meaning making” (24). Both Neshat and Essaydi rely heavily on citation. The fi rst quotes female writers and poets; the second quotes her own journal. But beyond that, the core of their art is citational. They ‘import’ tattoo into their practice. They do not actually perform ‘real’ tattoos on the bodies standing in front of the camera’s lens. They do not actually produce calligraphy. They introduce calligraphy performed by calligraphers into the camera’s field of vision. In a way, they quote/borrow tattoo and calligraphy arts. In the fi nal analysis, it could be argued that the multilayering of practices, the postmodern sampling of motifs coming from old tradition as well as from the late capitalist era (moon, henna, rifle, performance art, etc.), and the syncretism of elements of popular and elitist cultures mixed together are diverse ways of quoting traditions, trends, and arts. Beyond the complexity of the female subjectivity produced through their photo-tattoos, both Neshat’s and Essaydi’s works indicate their own sophisticated artistic subjectivity through the elaborate entanglement of their citational practices. Works Cited Aitel, Fazia, and Michel Valentin, eds. The Veil in All Its States. Missoula: Montana UP, 2008. Banu, Georges. L’homme de dos. Paris: Adam Biro, 2000. Baudelaire, Charles. Petits Poèmes en Prose. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1968. Eldstein, Susan. Women of Allah. http://artspeak.ca/exhibitions/event_detail. html?event_id= 67&image=1. Ellis, Juniper. Tattooing the World: Pacific Designs in Print and Skin. New York: Columbia UP, 2008. Essaydi, Lalla. “Converging Territories.” FotoFest-Nazar. http://www.fotofest.org/ nazar/essaydi.htm. Fenske, Mindy. Tattoos in American Visual Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Basic Books, 1955. Hillmann, Michael C. A Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry. Washington, DC: Mage Publishers, 1987. “The Holy Bible: King James Version.” Bartleby. www.bartleby.com/108/. Khatibi, Abdel Kabir. Le corps oriental. Paris: Éditions Hazan, 2002. Kurak, Lars. The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women. London: Bennett & Bloom, 2007. Melis, Wim, ed. Nazar: Photographies from the Arab World. New York: Aperture, 2004. Milani, Farzaneh. Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers. London: I.B. Tauris, 1992.


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Neshat, Shirin. Women of Allah. Vancouver: Artspeak Gallery, 1997. Sanders, Clinton, and D. Angus Vail. Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2008. Tauzin, Aline. Le henné. Art des femmes de Mauritanie. Paris: Ibis Press/UNESCO, 1998. Udelson, Jon. Arabic Tattoos. Missoula: Mark Batty Publisher & U of Montana P, 2008.


Dancing Without My Body Cultural Integration in the Middle East Nadra Majeed Assaf

In a globalized world, the struggle to maintain autonomy plays a large role in the path that artists choose. Communication and education today play larger roles in maintaining human connections than previous centuries have witnessed. Forms of communication have changed and developed in accordance with social and cultural norms across the globe. No longer can a country only focus on the needs and standards within its borders; it must simultaneously adopt a global perspective. With all these factors to consider, how does an artist approach his/her audience and, even more crucially to the debate, who is the intended audience and how are they related to the actual or perspective audience? Adding to the deliberation of issues of social/ cultural acceptance and global religious confl icts occurring daily, one need not ponder the whys in the struggle the Middle East faces when dealing with the West and vice versa. With these concerns in mind, this chapter takes a look at communication through an art form that expresses ideas and plays a major role in how cultures communicate globally: dance. Central to the approach taken in this chapter, the reader should keep in mind that in today’s world not all art forms are equally valued. In the Middle East, where most countries are governed by Islam, the body is a forbidden issue, or, to use the Arabic term, haram. While this ‘forbidden’ territory is the latent place of the body in the Middle East, the West has taken the body to new heights of articulation. Current research has placed the body at the forefront of communication venues whereas previously education placed linguistic, visual, and aural learning in that position (Sellers-Young 177). Previously, physicality was viewed as something that requires vast amounts of suppression and hegemony to succeed in allowing for intellectual performance (Stinson 45). Nowadays, areas such as construction and expression via bodies, embodied episteme, and kinesthetic perception are given forward momentum. In a world where global connection and communication seem to be dominating, how can we sustain communication when social themes of such vast difference exist? Highlighting the fact that contemporary dance is a valid form of art and communication in the West, this chapter takes a deeper look at the ethical/moral dilemma facing the


Nadra Majeed Assaf

use of the body in countries where the body is a matter of haram. Through the examination of a contemporary dance performance titled Majnoon Layla (performed in Bahrain in 2007) and the reactions it received, this chapter highlights several points related to how and why disputes occur within the Middle East vs. the West controversy. The Importance of Dance and the Body in the Realm of Communication It is beneficial for my argument here to highlight the burgeoning bonds and connections between anthropology and linguistics as a starting point. Prominent linguist Dell Hymes stresses the point that there are advocates as well as opponents to the idea that connections exist between the field of linguistics and other scientific areas like cognitive or expressive behavior. Expressive behavior is linked to the physical sense of communicating a message such as in dance. Dance researchers such as Susan Leigh Foster and Judith Lynne Hanna in the mid-1980s began to draw correlations between linguistic functions and dance functions. In the 1990s, the movement continued, and is currently gaining more prominence and support. Hymes explains that an outsider to any group must learn how the group functions in order to be able to communicate with other members of the group effectively (102). Thus, when applying movement to a sequence of verbal ideas or musical melodies, both the dancer and the choreographer must understand the context in which the movement will be perceived by the audience. Further, influential linguist and literary theorist Roman Jakobson stresses the notion of “message and code,” proposing that when there is a message being sent both addressee and addressor must have knowledge of the “code” to decipher the message (“Linguistics and Poetics” 23). The same idea applies to dance: Both dancer and choreographer have an understanding of the message that they want to convey to the audience, but if the audience has no knowledge of the code, they may not be able to decipher and comprehend the message. Thus in Islam, where the body is a forbidden territory, lack of knowledge of the code is prominent, which, therefore, makes dance more difficult to understand. The social context is also important in communication. Psycho-social linguist James Paul Gee posits that languages differ as to the context of delivery. Theoretically, one person can be assigned different versions of who s/he is according to the social language applied. This highlights the crucial importance of understanding the cultural context in which the utterance or communicative form is being delivered. Similarly, Mary Douglas, renowned anthropologist, writes, “We allow social institutions (including language) to do much of our thinking for us. We could not live if we consciously made every decision involved in communication and other social behavior, any more than we could dance if we thought out

Dancing Without My Body


each step as we did it” (17–18). When a dancer performs, s/he is no longer thinking of the ‘steps’ involved in the execution, but rather of the emotion involved in the theme or idea. Thus, the dancer is not involved in the social confl icts of the audience. Sociologist Arthur Frank considers the body the utmost modern concern in most fields of education and human understanding. He discusses the four types of the body (originally proposed by Bryan S. Turner, based on earlier work by Featherstone)—the disciplined body, the mirroring body, the dominating body, and the communicative body—and how these types are viewed from a social perspective (42–43). Believing that how society views us directly impacts upon how we perceive ourselves, Frank proposes that dance is one site where communicative bodies might be found (80). He draws a configuration of how dance is communicative by stressing the production of dance and its association with the individual’s body, which is then transferred to the bodies of those watching. Along the same vein of thought, Gee points out that who we are and how we communicate is directly related to three important factors: (1) the social or cultural group we belong to, (2) the social language(s) we use, and (3) the context in which we are communicating (12–13). Clearly, this delineation applies to dance as well. As previously stated, one must have a common understanding with the choreographer and/or dancer in order to be able to ‘understand’ the dance. This could be the cultural or social unit, the spoken language or the body language (here being a particular type of dance), or the actual context in which the performance is being given. Within the same context, Victor Turner’s theory of the four-phase social drama helps explain the social effect of an artistic performance on the audience (37–41). Judith Lynne Hanna builds on this theory to explain the exotic dance controversy that “centers on what exotic dance is and its relation to the First Amendment, morality (religious and feminist), and economic impact (on dancers and communities)” in the US. These phases consist of (1) breach of norms, (2) crisis, (3) redressive action, and (4) reintegration (38). The work of both Turner and Hanna exemplifies how the fields of sociology and anthropology view the importance of the body in general and dance in specific. Anthropology observes socio-cultural norms and understandings while sociology studies norms, acceptance, and retribution. It would be difficult to deny the importance of these categories in the scope of comprehension and communication among cultures. The Islamic Perspective of Physical Appearance, the Body, and Dance Even though Western culture has placed the body (and dance) in a position of importance with respect to the realm of communication, this does


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not hold true globally. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the country that holds the strictest adherence to a literal interpretation of Islam. According to Richard Schifter, this began around 1902 through Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud’s alliance with the followers of Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab. Abdul Wahhab, an eighteenth-century religious reformer, advocated a philosophy built on a ‘puritanical lifestyle’ that all must adhere to. His followers were taught to hate all non-Muslims, and they believed they had a mission that included the conversion of all ‘infidels’ to Islam. Within this strict view, Wahhab prohibited all dance, music, and children’s games (Schifter 19). Even though Ibn Saud was a practicing Muslim, he was not a puritan, and his followers have maintained his traditions. However, it was the alliance that he built with Wahhab’s followers (during WWII) that allowed for the further development of Wahhab’s interpretation of Islam to be taught to young Muslim children throughout the Arab World (Schifter 20). Such views are clearly not universal, since several Muslim countries do not practice laws as strict as those in Saudi Arabia. From a global perspective, artists need to understand the connection between the visual and the perceived; however, in communities that have varying degrees of social and cultural awareness, not all art is accepted. Verbal and nonverbal art alike can cause issues that lead to violence and mass discord; yet, this is not limited to Islamic countries. Recently, the UK banned an advertisement for Beyoncé’s latest perfume on the grounds that it was too sexually revealing and appealing. The Advertising Standards Agency even issued a statement about how “Beyoncé’s body movements and the camera’s prolonged focus on shots of her dress slipping away to partially expose her breasts created a sexually provocative ad that was unsuitable to be seen by young children,” considering the ad not fit to be shown before 7:30 pm due to its “sexually provocative” nature (“Beyoncé Advert Banned”). Here one can see that sexual provocation is connected to various amounts of nudity, and innuendoes toward possible nudity, and is not only linked to Islamic beliefs. Nevertheless since the latter part of the nineteenth century, Europeans have been fascinated with the issue of Muslim women and their place in the harem (Kassim 60–61). This interest can be gleaned in the manner in which Arab women are portrayed in paintings and other art works of the period and the fact that this “symbolic exploitation of Muslim women’s bodies persists in contemporary works” continues to render Islam as backward (Kassim 61). Of course, Edward Said has played a major role in annihilating precisely such antiquated histories and attempted to show a truer reality of the Arab ‘other’ through his key work Orientalism. Naphtaly Shem-Tov in a play titled Here? Now? Love? (presented by a Mizrahi-Arab theater group in Ramle, Israel) highlights the issues involved in attempting to put together a production with different ethnic and religious identities. The main focus involved a scene where the lead

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character Tamar (a Mizrahi Jew) has come to settle in a house earlier abandoned by an Arab family. The ghost of the original owner gives Tamar a hard time until she dances for him. Shem-Tov proceeds to interpret this symbolic dance from two points of view: feminist and cultural (48). He posits that from a feminist point of view, it can be considered erotic-feminine seduction, thus placing the woman as a sexual object for the male’s enjoyment. However, the more interesting interpretation is the one he proposes based on the Arab-Israeli cultural discord. He explains that the Oriental dance is a cultural signifier demonstrating Arab elements in the main character’s identity that allows for the Arab ghost’s ability to relate to her (Shem-Tov 48). Yet for most Arabs, dancing is haram and has no true historical value, while modern Western dance is perceived to have developed since 1926 in “a lineal way which brought it from rite to entertainment, from the village main square to the palaces of the powerful. Once there, it climbed to the stage to become a show” (Dox 52). The West has used dance to enhance both social and educational issues whereas the Middle East, mainly due to social/religious restrictions, is not on solid footing as to what should be done with this progeny. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, dance is ‘frowned upon’ due to the historical connection of dance and ecstasy. Other religions too such as Christianity and Judaism make connections between sexual awakening and dance, often not of a positive nature. The reference to a bodily ‘center’ emanates from Islamic (and other monotheistic religions’) ideology. This bodily center is often thought of as one of gravity which involves more linear movement and positioning. In current dance studies, when scholars make references to the original movement of mankind, it is often perceived as the erect posture of the body. This posture is not the normal mode of human movement, but it came to be adopted as such through religious influence. Man strives to be more erect, thus more god-like. However, references such as Shem-Tov’s to mutually understood and shared cultural aspects (Oriental dance) confound the recipient. How can we understand and accept such references when specialists in Islamic studies say otherwise? For example, Su‘ad Salih, Professor of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, writes, “Islam is a religion of moderation; it does not prevent singing and dancing, but it forbids anything that stimulates people’s desires, whether it be among men or women” (Salamah and Salih). Similarly, Salim Ahmad Salamah adds, It is permissible for women to dance and sing as long as there are no males around. . . . Thus, as long as the words of the song are pure and clean and there are no males, there is nothing wrong in dancing. Men and women dancing together is absolutely haram in all cases, except when a wife dances in front of her husband. The reason behind this


Nadra Majeed Assaf prohibition is that with mixed dancing bodily contact is close and improper sexual desires are aroused. This has been strictly forbidden by Islam in an attempt to block the way against evil. If men and women were permitted to dance together, a lot of haram acts could occur. (Salamah and Salih)

Where does this leave the opportunity for creative and artistic dance such as a classical ballet performance of Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky or a modern dance performance such as Entity by Ewan McGregor who uses dance as a primary motivation to communicate? In his most recent work Entity, the idea for the piece stems from scientific research where the dancers are urged to explore their physicality to the limits. “Jerky and discombobulated movements look, at times, uncomfortable and, to a layperson, even hazardous” (May). An audience member might at times be tempted to consider the piece as being about human development from creation to extinction whereas at times there could be justification for fi nding no resemblance to human life at all. “Entity makes use of the dancers’ whole body, from the face to the fi ngertips and feet, and certainly most of the vertebrae” (May). This is not the manner in which we usually see human beings move, but would we consider it obscene and vulgar because it is not familiar? And more importantly, would this be considered a sexually stimulating piece bearing in mind that the dancers exhibit various forms of physical exposure and contact? How can one establish and achieve recognition of such art in Islamic nations? The answer could be to develop a dance community that is more Arab than foreign. Nicolas Rowe is a dance practitioner and researcher who has spent significant time in the Middle East. He states that he has seen the disappointing results from “well-intentioned foreign cultural educators” who come with the idea of showing people not only how to dance but what and where to dance as well. Because of the difference in the cultural exchange from teacher to student, the community is reliant on ‘foreign’ help to maintain the development (48). Rowe wonders where and how culture can develop if people are not being taught to do anything but that which is foreign to them? Rowe suggests, “Perhaps if the evolution of such dance cultures is made more apparent, more dance interventions might be designed to support, rather than diminish, locally evolving cultural knowledge and aesthetic autonomy” (48). Furthermore, he argues that to use dance to maintain or develop a form of social connection it has to begin with a postulated focus from the viewpoint of the artistic producer, but this has thus far proven to be impossible in the sense that struggling to develop modern issues from traditional ones can oftentimes result in the loss of both (58). Rowe makes a very strong point with regard to the imposition of Western dance culture on the Middle East.

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Where does this leave the artists who wish to have global appeal? Their need to express themselves is no less relevant than any culture’s need to survive. Thus cultural exchanges with appreciation and acceptance are of equal significance and must exist if any culture is to thrive. An example of such a cultural exchange and its results are highlighted in the subsequent section. The Spring of Culture Festival in Bahrain, March 2007: A Cultural Exchange In February 2007 a Lebanese dance troupe consisting of fourteen dancers traveled to Bahrain to perform in the fi rst Bahrain Spring of Culture event. The work performed was titled Majnoon Layla and consisted of music, poetry, and dance. The music composer and project producer was famous poet Marcel Khalife, an internationally acclaimed figure in Middle Eastern music. The dance section led to a lengthy dispute among the religious and political leaders of the country. A committee was formed to investigate allegations stating the performance centered on eroticism. Sheikh Mohammed Khalid commented on the performance: “The actions of the dancer were clearly meant to depict a sexual act between a man and a woman. . . . The female dancer opened the male dancer’s shirt and what followed was like a sex movie only without the nudity” (Khonji 1). The above quote is one of several comments made about the sexual explicitness of the dancers and the performance, and, from the onset the dance troupe felt cultural discomfort. None of the troupe members were Muslims, thus none of them dressed in Islamic dress code. The women were all ‘scarfless’ as they had been told that Hijab was not required of ‘infidels’. As the week progressed, however, they had all purchased scarves and were wearing them in different ways not akin to how they would have used them in their native country. The dancers felt comfortable wearing sleeveless shirts in Lebanon, yet felt the need to put on longsleeved jackets even in the heat of Bahrain. Physical conformity is what dancers are trained to do. For the most part they watch their teachers/ choreographers and emulate what they see (kinesthetic-visual comprehension). Their acquired sense of focus allows for them to move and situate their physicality in a conforming manner. In this case, they felt eyes staring at them and this made them feel slightly out of place; thus they conformed by wearing more appropriate clothing and scarves in order to feel more adept in the culture. After one of the rehearsals, a conversation arose concerning the differences between Bahrain and Lebanon. It is interesting to note that the discussion took place in a mélange of English and French as the dancers shied away from Arabic (which is their native tongue). This cultural distancing occurred whenever the dancers


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discussed areas of uneasiness, yet they reverted to Arabic when they were in situations of inclusion and comfort. The Bahrain Spring of Culture event opened on March 2 with one of the two performances of Majnoon Layla. The theater seated only 600 people; however, due to the number wanting to watch the performance, seating was extended to fit slightly fewer than 800 people for the fi rst night, while the second night slightly over 900 were allowed to attend. The second night people were seated on the floor and up the stairway aisles leading to the seats. In one of choreographed sections of the performance, the dancers leave the stage and run up and down the stairs throwing out little bags to the audience members. This section was not physically possible on the second night for as soon as the dancers left the stage to execute the choreography they were faced with the people seated in the passage way thus hindering their ability to move (Figures 6.1 and 6.2). Before the performance started on the second night, the choreographer went to the theater entrance and was shocked at the hordes of people pressing up against the glass trying to get in. The doors were physically barred by the security guards and theater employees. They were struggling to allow only the number of people that could be seated in the spaces that were still available. The choreographer later described this scene to her dancers and the rest of the cast as, “something akin to a rock concert! I felt as if we were suddenly turned into some rock stars and the people were pushing and shoving just to get a glimpse of us” (Focused Group Interview).1

Figure 6.1 Dancer performing on first night. Photo by author.

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Figure 6.2 Audience on first night. Photo by author.

How could such a reception warrant the issues that followed in the days after the performance? With a picture of the audience in mind, let us take a brief look at the performance itself. Majnoon Layla consisted of sixteen scenes, half of which were danced. The others consisted of singing and poetry recitation. As the lights came up on the stage, the fi rst scene was that of a woman singing a cappella, the mood was set from that moment. The poet (who remained seated stage left) would read parts of the poem at the beginning and/or end of each scene. The dancers came on stage and performed in between the songs and the poetry reading. Dances were thus used to enhance the story line and did not overlap with the songs, whereas both the songs and the dances expressed the meaning of the poetry. The dancers were appropriately clothed for each scene. Appropriateness stemmed from the words of the poem and the story. The dancers had three major costume changes, and in one of the scenes the men wore long slit skirts over their loose pants. Females wore dresses that never hung above the knee. Some of the clothing had no sleeves. All the dancers wore a body suit (Lycra suit fitted to the body and spanning from wrist to ankle). All movement came from a Modern/Contemporary vocabulary and in parts reverted to the traditional folklore of Lebanon (Dabke dance) in a fusion style. When asked in the focused group interview whether any situation during their stay in Bahrain made them feel different or unusual, the dancers’ answers comprised a range of opinions. Two of the males responded with a


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strong simple “no,” while another male gave a strong affi rmative answer: “I was a tourist staying in a hotel where I had access to a Cabaret Show; while a Local wasn’t recommended to attend an artistic show. . . . Yes I was different!!!” (Focused Group Interview). The female dancers had different reactions within the context of cultural communication and exchange. Unity and inclusion are two themes that were repeated more than once in the responses. For example, one dancer commented on how she felt concerned that she was traveling to a new and unknown place with dancers who had not been in the troupe as long as she had (emphasizing the issue of unfamiliarity). The same dancer also found it stressful and problematic that there were dancers in the performance who were not members of the troupe (inclusion). Another dancer commented on the feeling of inclusion that came from working with artists from different artistic backgrounds and genres. The comment was geared towards the manner in which the artistic genres amalgamated to form a unified and codified (to a certain extent) performance. The performance in Bahrain allowed the dancers an experience that they previously had not undergone, thus allowing for a new exchange which was welcomed. One dancer writes, One of my best experiences in Bahrain was working with professionals, not just dancers, but musicians, live musicians, with different styles of instruments with us on stage, playing for us to dance. That made me feel what a real live performance is. We also had singers and a poet, but the musicians were closer to us. (Focused Group Interview) Another dancer adds, “Every work has its ups and downs; however, both of these made me aware of things I didn’t take notice of before . . . the whole work was a blend of different arts (body, words, music) which gave a volcanic feeling on stage like never before” (Focused Group Interview). The dancers viewed the performance as a positive experience from both a cultural and social perspective. Thus they were surprised when they later found out that there were issues surrounding the social and religious acceptability of their physical interpretation of the poem: Only one big negative experience happened after our last performance. I recall they had told us that Mr. Marcel Khalife was asked to remove a dance scene (which he didn’t), that I consider emotional and sensual, from the art work because it was erotic in their opinion, a sexually unacceptable scene. (Focused Group Interview) According to Mohammed Al-A‘ali, the Bahraini Parliament was accused by fi fty-three societies and twenty-five Shura councilors of taking the country “back to the Middle Ages” because of its ruling to hold an investigation of the Spring of Culture festival due to issues concerning the refutation of

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Islam. The members of Parliament (MPs) were asked to back down from their decision and the following statement was issued, We support and back Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad and well-known Lebanese musician Marcel Khalifa, who are great achievers in their fields. . . . We also extend our support to all creative people standing against cultural oppression in Bahrain, which has the longest history in enlightenment, tolerance, cultural difference and rich traditions. We fully back all cultural and intellectual activities, which have a strong message—especially those calling for enlightenment, modernisation and enhance artistic and literary taste. We also support anything that spreads happiness, love, beauty and tolerance, in addition to putting Bahrain again on the cultural map. We condemn the attack on intellectuals and artists with hollow excuses and defamatory remarks. We strongly condemn political powers, parliament in particular, who are trying to strangle freedom and creativity as if they were assigned as caretakers of people’s choices and are dividing the community with things out of their authority, instead of touching other issues. (Al-A‘ali) The religious community led by the MPs began a media outcry concerning what they termed the “vulgar and lewd” performance in Majnoon Layla. Several Bahraini MPs changed the name of the Spring of Culture Festival to the Spring of Sex (Al-A‘ali) due to their interpretation of the work via pictures they had seen in the press. Few, if any, of the officials (religious and government) who protested the performance actually attended it. Even after issuance of the above statement and the official request of Minister of State for Parliament and Shura Council Affairs, Abdulaziz Al Fadhel, for the MPs to abandon enquiry, the parliament members voted 36–3 in favor of its continuation (Al-A‘ali). One is left to ponder whether the insistence was based on a true concern for a violation or rather the lack of cultural understanding and awareness. One of the dancers commented on this: Concerning issues that made me feel uncomfortable; some people could not accept the sight of two bodies of opposite sexes interacting together. This gave me a different insight and feeling about the Arab culture since it killed the joy of being in “paradise” and pulled me back to the sad truth of the immobile un-evolving Arab world. (Focused Group Interview) Bahraini official Sheikh Adel Al Maawada mentioned that people were coming to his office to attest that the performance was improper (Al-A‘ali). “The complaints centre on ‘erotic’ performances by dancers during a concert by Marcel Khalifa, called Majnoon Layla” (Al-A‘ali). Another Bahraini official, Al Asala MP Ibrahim Busandal, was angered by comparisons made in the press between


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the Parliament officials and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Al Asala Bloc MP Abdulhaleem Murad defended the committee’s actions by highlighting the fact that the MPs were not against culture; however, “sleaze and immorality” were things they would not tolerate (Al-A‘ali). The press was also attacked by Al Menbar MP Sheikh Nasser Al Fadhala, for its biased coverage of the issue. Fadhala remarked that the press should not be biased: “We are not against singing or dancing, we are against practicing sex in public” (Al-A‘ali). From the dancers’ point of view, this committee was also biased. The dancers did not have sex in public, nor were their performances erotic, sleazy, or immoral. One of the dancers who danced the female lead in the aforementioned performance said, People there saw our means of expression in a different way than we did. They did not get our message. They only saw physical movement and related it to sexual ideas! This is what I got from the newspapers and their investigation but when we were on stage I thought everybody was so happy and they were watching and observing and clapping. They even cheered for us and told us “good job” at the end. (Focused Group Interview) When asked what things in dance they found to exceed the boundaries of normal decency, the dancers said that nudity and audience harm were issues that surpass the margins of morality. In the performance in Bahrain, neither occurred, thus to the dance troupe they did not exceed the boundaries of normal decency. The dancers were all from the same culture: Lebanon, an Arab country. Nevertheless, due to globalization, the boundaries of cultural differences are dissipating, and because Lebanon is a governed (not religiously ruled) country it receives criticism from neighboring Arab countries as being somewhat excessive. This being the case, we can see that even the US fi nds issues of eroticism excessive: “In 1996, New York mayor Rudy Guiliani called erotic dancing ‘a dirty, vicious business . . . [where one] fi nds the exploitation of sex that has led to the deterioration of New York and places throughout the US’” (Ross 249). According to Judith Lynne Hanna, “the exotic dancing body” functions in milieus of power and knowledge. American culture is one where the body in general is highly repressed (38), thus advancing the “erotic body” into an unfathomable category. But was what happened in Bahrain unfathomable? Was it erotic? According to those in charge of the production the answer is “no.” The play was a simple and straightforward representation of the poem. The verbal language was depicted in an unpretentious and aesthetic manner: “The play represented a love story and the minimum expected from the movement base was physical contact between the leading roles, in a choreographed and tasteful manner” (Focused Group Interview). Decency norms vary individually as well as culturally. One of the issues that arose during the interview was whether or not art has boundaries.

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According to Hanna, dance is an art and accordingly falls into the category of expression and is thus protected in the US by the First Amendment (38). Freedom of expression also has limits, according to the dancers who performed in Bahrain. They argue that their freedom ends where the direct harming of the audience begins. They argue that the audience is the one that is in control of how they ‘see’ things. They argue that art in general allows for freedom of expression in ways that other communicative genres do not, that boundaries are fi rst set by society and then by social groups and then by individuals themselves. “They can vary accordingly so what I might consider as unacceptable others may consider differently. For me personally, boundaries are crossed through the audience’s mind not through the performer’s body” (Focused Group Interview). A look across the communicative continuum shows us that social, cultural, and religious factors all come into play. Understanding and mutual respect have to be in the forefront of any communiqué be it physical or verbal, visual or even visceral. In reference to Victor Turner, any social drama has to start with a breach and end with a reintegration; it is the two steps in between which will show how successful we are in the future. Where Do We Go From Here? Karin Van Nieuwkerk writes, Popular culture, entertainment and performing arts are specific targets for the cultural politics of competing groups because they are very influential in people’s daily lives and lifestyles. Art and popular culture (pop-culture) are vital in identity construction of individuals and communities. Art is a boundary marker between different cultures, subcultures and ethnicities. It can therefore be expected that in art and expressive culture different imaginations of identities, ideals and belongings compete. (170) In reading van Nieuwkerk, words such as ‘targets’, ‘competing’, ‘influential’, ‘lifestyles’, ‘identity’, ‘individuals’, ‘communities’, ‘ethnicities’, ‘art’, ‘expressive’, ‘imaginations’, ‘different’, and ‘belonging’ pop out and make me realize that a feather has been placed in the cap of social awareness and communication. These are keywords that we need to assimilate in order to function and prosper in any existing community, much more a global one. As for the discrepancy between the popular response to the audience in Bahrain and the official response, the issue is not straightforward and clear-cut. The growth of global communication and the popularity of the Internet have enhanced the need for common acceptance of popular culture in the Muslim world. This acceptance has to come from both the population as well as the leaders. As for the cultural integration of dance (in particular) in the Middle East, there


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are three words I would add to the words of van Nieuwkerk: understanding, tolerance, and acceptance. Notes 1. The interviews used in the chapter were conducted by the author with the members of the dance troupe. Interviews were conducted individually as well as in groups.

Works Cited Al-A‘ali, Mohammed. “Gulf Daily News: ‘Spring of Sex’ revolt.” Bahrain Center for Human Rights. March 20, 2007. http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/1107. Al-Sarab Dance Troupe. Personal Interviews. January–March 2010. Bennett, Milton J. “Towards Ethnorelativism: A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity.” Education for the Intercultural Experience. Ed. R. Michael Paige. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural P, 1993. 21–71. “Beyoncé Advert Banned for Being ‘Sexually Provocative.’” BBC—Newsbeat. November 17, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/11774382. “Dance.” Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. Brill Online Reference Works. April 22, 2011. http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/danceDUM_0899. Douglas, Mary. How Institutions Think. New York: New York UP, 1986. Dox, Donnalee. “Dancing Around Orientalism.” Drama Review 50.4 (2006): 52–71. Foster, Susan Leigh. “Dancing Bodies.” Meaning in Motion. Ed. Jane C. Desmond. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1997. 235–57. Frank, Arthur. “For a Sociology of the Body: An Analytic Review.” The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. Ed. Mike Featherstone, Bryan S. Turner, and Mike Hepworth. London: Sage, 1991. 36–96. Gee, James Paul. Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses. London: Routledge, 1996. Hanna, Judith Lynne. “Undressing the First Amendment and Corsetting the Striptease Dancer.” TDR 42.2 (1998): 38–69. Hymes, Dell. “The Ethnography of Speaking.” Readings in the Sociology of Language. Ed. J. Fishman. The Hague: Moulton, 1968. 99–138. Jakobson, Roman. “Linguistics and Poetics.” Selected Writings. Ed. Stephen Rudy. The Hague: Mouton de Gruyter, 1982. 18–51. . “Shifters, Verbal Categories and the Russian Verb.” On Language. Ed. Linda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990. 386–92. Kassam, Tazim R. “Response.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 22.1 (Spring 2006): 59–67. Khonji, Tarek. “‘Spring of Sex’ Fury at Show.” The Voice of Bahrain Gulf Daily News. March 9, 2007: 1. May, Julia. “Dance That’s Written in the Body.” The Sunday Morning Herald. December 28, 2010. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/dance/dance-thats-written in-the-body-20101227–198ir.html. Ross, Becki L. “Bumping and Grinding on the Line: Making Nudity Pay.” Labour/Le Travail 46 (2000): 221–50. Rowe, Nicholas. “Post-Salvagism: Choreography and Its Discontents in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Dance Research Journal 41.1 (Summer 2009): 45–68.

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Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Salamah, Salim Ahmad, and Su’ad Salih. “Dancing: What Is Allowed and What Is Not?” Fatwa Management System. December 18, 2006. http://infad.usim.edu.my. Schifter, Richard. “The Clash of Ideologies.” Mediterranean Quarterly 15.3 (Summer 2004): 12–23. Sellers-Young, Barbara. “Somatic Processes: Convergence of Theory and Practice.” Theatre Topics 8.2 (September 1998): 173–87. Shem-Tov, Naphtaly. “Community Theatre of Mizrahi-Jews and Arabs in Ramle: A Junction of Nationality, Ethnicity, and Gender.” Theatre Topics 20.1 (March 2010): 43–54. Stinson, Susan W. “Body of Knowledge.” Educational Theory 45.1 (Winter 1995): 43–54. Turner, Victor. Dramas, Fields, and Metaphor: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca, NY: Cornel UP, 1974. Van Nieuwkerk, Karin. “Creating an Islamic Cultural Sphere: Contested Notions of Art, Leisure and Entertainment: An Introduction.” Cont Islam 2 (2008): 169–76. http://www.springerlink.com/content/k727150296103010/.

Part III

Tradition and the Popular New Forms and Trends


Satellite Piety Contemporary TV Islamic Programs in Egypt Omaima Abou-Bakr An argument can be made that ethno-religious revivalism is both cause and effect of postmodernism. Because the media allow both freedom of expression and broadcast of revivalist impulses, in a manner never before witnessed, the fire for self-assertion and self-identity is fuelled. (Akbar Ahmed, Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise 13)

In recent years, satellite TV religious (Islamic) programs and specialized channels have proliferated across the Arab world, and especially in Egypt, in parallel with the noted increase of religious observance among various sectors of society—meaning the social and cultural manifestation of different forms of religiosity. As diverse, and chaotic, as they are, such Islamic, talk/call-in programs have become both a site for the construction of certain religious perspectives or interpretations and a reflection of the current religio-social attitudes. It is also possible to view them in the context of the rise of a new Muslim public space facilitated by media and enhanced by the available interactive dimension. The creation of this media domain has simplified access to religious information, practices, and fatawa (authoritative legal opinions) to a pious public, disenchanted with what they perceive as worldly and trivial TV, whether on state or private channels. This chapter analyzes the socio-cultural significance of this phenomenon and the nature of two types of programs: (1) programs shown on private Egyptian channels which present traditional Azhari fiqh (jurisprudence) and focus on ‘ibadat (acts of devotion/worship rituals) and personal Muslim ethics and conduct, with occasional tackling of social problems, though distanced from controversial public issues of political implications; (2) salafi programs— broadcast via specialized religious channels—which emphasize extreme correctness of worship details and appearances, promoting the ideology of a literal following of the first Muslim generation. Countering and Appropriating Globalization As numerous scholars have noted over the past twenty years, contemporary Islamic revival took the form, not just of political Islam, but also the


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awakened sense of collective cultural identity and specificity in the face of the homogenizing tendency of Western-led globalization. Both Francois Burgat and Anouar Majid have analyzed the dimension of culture in the phenomenon of Islamic resurgence stressing its importance in explaining causes and implications of contemporary religious discourses and practices. Burgat, for example, writes of “identity reconstruction” and the restoration of an indigenous symbolic order, which have long been ignored and marginalized by post-independence state policies in the second half of the twentieth century (48). In his view, the general Islamic project has proven effective in its recourse to a set of intuitive cultural references previously ruptured, and so now embodies continuity and reconciliation: “It is helping to close the traumatic chapters of colonization and this is undoubtedly the secret of its formidable ability to mobilize” (50). In order to survive “the pitfalls of globalization, it allows its followers a precious and reassuring feeling of belonging” (50). Along the same lines, Majid describes globalization as “the deculturing effects of capitalism” and calls upon the world’s cultural traditions to speak for themselves, “through retrieved memories, revitalized vocabularies, and historically imagined futures” (21). This view points to a counter notion of ‘polycentricity’, achieved and strengthened through the imagining of a postEurocentric, post-capitalist world where cultures live in a progressive dialogue with one another. Resistance to these hegemonic, global economic, and political systems also means the building of an alternative harmonious multicultural world by the ‘world’s outcasts’ who should attempt to delink from those systems and reduce the sphere of dependency (144). Hence, resistance and the search for alternatives can lead to the use of appropriation, with writers calling the phenomenon “globalization-frombelow” rather than “globalization-from-above.” It points to transnational networks of non-state actors working together to counter the degenerative consequences of the collaboration between leading states and the main agents of world capital (Karim 43). This form of activity uses the mechanisms and tools of modern technological communications that diminished the importance of national borders and established global links and global networks between these non-state actors. From this perspective, “the notion of the ummah [world Muslim community] located around the planet but united in certain beliefs, prefigures the globalized nature of diasporas,” and, hence, Muslim diasporic transnations use modern communicative technologies which are part of the infrastructure of top-down globalization, to develop communication flows in networks that support a globalization-from-below (Karim 44). Drawing on Benedict Anderson’s well-established work, Peter Mandaville applies the model to further analysis of the impact of globalized information, communication, and media technologies on the current phenomenon of “reimagining the ummah.” The means and instruments of the homogenization of culture can be appropriated for disseminating notions of the particular,

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producing an inverse side-effect: “Localizing the global can also at times serve to globalize the local” (66). Although Karim Karim and Mandaville in the above discussion mainly concentrate on the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web for the establishment of a virtual Islamic sphere, the analysis also explains the spread of daily and weekly interactive religious programs as well as entire specialized religious channels, which form their own viewing communities and a consistent audience who follow closely the shows’ guests and their tackled subjects. Using satellite airwaves as an outreach to separate and distance viewers, these Islamic programs appropriate the mechanisms of globalization for their own indigenous goals. Barriers of distance or various geographical locations do not hinder a special form of social interaction based on common identity and the pursuit of the ‘straight path’. In Mandaville’s view of the role of Internet Islamic sites in the lives of Muslim minorities in the West, these provide a space where they can go to fi nd others “like them” in “a reimagined ummah” (79). I fi nd this also true of the case of religious television programs. Mostly broadcast ‘live’, callers can share their pious sentiments or spiritual concerns on air with a receptive community of viewers out there, who share similar values and occasionally respond in following calls, participating in what might be termed a ‘satellite ummah’. Hence, it is a phenomenon that can also be understood in the light of the following characterization, by Arjun Appadurai, of ethnicity or identity factors of diaspora groups: “[Their] greatest force is in their ability to ignite intimacy into a political sentiment and turn locality into a staging ground for identity . . . spread over vast and irregular spaces, as groups move, yet stay linked to one another through sophisticated media capabilities” (41). Similarly, Walter Armbrust is interested in mass-mediated forms and their effect on scales of communication and new dimensions of modern identity, in relation to the globalist perspective, as analytical framework. He rejects what he calls “technological determinism” which posits that various parts and societies of the world will be eventually assimilated into the wider global system through the inevitable use of communications technology and modern media, and sees a clear tension between the “apparent homogenizing tendency of globalized modes of production and consumerism and the creation of localized cultural enclaves” (10). Yet, this indigenous cultural material, in its turn, is enabled to transcend ordinary boundaries and achieve what John Esposito has called “global re-Islamization” (Modernizing Islam 15), which we can now see manifested in the satellite programs and channels under consideration. Changing Times and the New Islamic Programs Beginning with the 1970s, television programs with religious content passed through three significant stages of media appeal and public popularity. The fi rst period is the sweeping outspread of programs and recorded sessions


Omaima Abou-Bakr

featuring the Azhari shaykh, Muhammad Mitwalli al-Sha‘rawi (1911–1998), explicating in a lucid and simplified teaching manner Quranic verses and the wisdom of divine revelations. The location shown to the viewing audience was inside the main prayer-hall of a mosque, with al-Sha‘rawi sitting crosslegged in traditional fashion on a raised stool besides the minbar (mosque pulpit) faced by rows of the exclusively male audience sitting on the carpet. Al-Sha‘rawi, with his typical Azhari uniform and pose, as well as the halaqah setup (a traditional study session, consisting of a circle of students or disciples formed around a scholar, teacher, or spiritual leader), reinforced the traditional aspect of these recorded sessions—even if the style and manner of presentation initiated at that time by al-Sha‘rawi was new and unprecedented by previous religious figures. The main feature and cause of his attraction was the use of non-specialized, simplified language, with interspersed colloquial Arabic, to paraphrase Quranic texts and explain their meaning and wisdom. Hence, access to direct understanding of religious concepts, previously exclusive to experts, was a major factor in the success of this initial phase of disseminating and popularizing religion via the available media channels of the time. The development of the second phase came with the rise of Amr Khaled (b. 1967), Islamic preacher and new television star of the late 1990s and first decade of the twenty-first century. All details concerning the person and performance of Khaled manifest the significant departure, even from the previous innovative stage of al-Sha‘rawi, on a number of levels. First and foremost, Khaled was not classically trained in al-Azhar, but received post-graduate religious education in a parallel institute that trains preachers, following his original study of accounting, hence considered a lay preacher not an official shaykh. His elegant full suit and tie, shaven beard, and youthful age were an immediate visual divergence from the look of the classical ‘man of religion’ or shaykh. Concomitant with the drastic developments in the media domain of cable and satellite television, Amr Khaled was able to present several programs that were aired on Arab channels, such as the Saudi Iqra’ and the Lebanese LBC. The format has now completely changed from the static sessions or lessons of al-Sha‘rawi to a high-tech, studio-televised show with a gender-mixed, youthful audience, who are mostly of a marked higher social class than al-Sha‘rawi’s. Khaled’s programs appeared in regular talk-show format with a front podium and a studio audience, who may occasionally participate and respond to the presenter’s engaging questions via mobile, wireless microphones. Clearly, the basic setup has changed from a shaykh and his silent, receptive disciples at his feet to a more interactive and dynamic atmosphere. In content and style, Khaled took the primary innovation of al-Sha‘rawi steps further. More than simply making Quranic meanings accessible to common understanding, Khaled’s distinctive contribution was making religious values and ethics relevant to the modern life of youth in particular. He focused, not just on religious observances, but also on the morals and social conduct that ought to be inspired by Islam and followed by the youthful generation

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of both genders, who constituted the target audience of his preaching. His personal charisma and approachable informal style in addressing the contemporary real-life problems of this generation even transcended that of al-Sha‘rawi, and he became the most watched and followed religious figure during the latter 1990s and after. Local observers differed widely over the interpretation of Amr Khaled’s media career and impact, both positively and negatively (Wise 44–45). Yet the popularity of adopting this fashionable look and modern style in religious programs led to the spread of more new-wave Islamic preachers, a phenomenon that has elicited studies on changing public religious discourses in relation to ‘official Islam’, on one side, and to television entertainment, on the other. During the decades of the 1980s and 1990s with the Egyptian state’s attempt to control the role of religion and image of political Islam, the main task was to promote a brand of conventional and passive Islam isolated from life and to focus on private worshipping practices, while nurturing the old cultural stereotype that being religious is either for the poor or the violent Islamists. This was done through co-opting the traditional ‘ulama (expert religious scholars) who never contributed to any substantial reform or revival in Islamic discourse, but rather maintained a stagnant sphere of alienating classical religious knowledge. (The daily ten-minute recorded talk by an Azhari scholar aired before the national 9 pm news bulletin on Egyptian state television called “Hadith al-ruh” [Soul talk] in a rather dull format is a good example.) Hence, Khaled’s contemporary and engaging programs can be read in this context as an attractive alternative and—later when banned to give lectures or sermons in Egypt in 2002 and he resorted to airing from other Arab countries, such as Lebanon—as clear resistance. This is what Dale Eickleman and Jon Anderson refer to as the emerging public sphere “situated outside formal state control,” emerging in Muslim communities across the globe and resisting state centralization of religious authority (1). It is significant that, in Khaled’s case, the ban was ineffective on account of cable and satellite television, as his message continued to be heard in Egyptian and Arab homes. According to Eickleman and Anderson, this multiplicity of uncontrollable, travelling voices, facilitated by the new mass media, produces a ‘fragmenting’ effect on political and religious authoritarianism and allows for new contributors in the Muslim public (1). Nevertheless, their view that this crossing of boundaries between “multiple and shifting” (3) senders and receivers of messages creates an independent civil society to challenge existing policies exaggerates the political aspect of these proliferating modern religious programs, as they have not been openly oppositional or dissenting and mostly evaded controversial, public issues—even those related to the application of religious values or standards—and concentrated on a form of safe and tamed piety. (A sample of these shows, inspired by the new-wave preachers following in Khaled’s footsteps, will be described in the next section of the chapter.)


Omaima Abou-Bakr

As for the intersection between piety and the role of popular visual media, Malise Ruthven tries to answer the question of whether Muslims can fi nd a way of representing their forms of spirituality through television, with the latter transforming into a type of “surrogate popular religion” (70). He directs our attention to the fact that television naturally assimilates every aspect of public communication to its own distinctive forms—“essentially the forms of entertainment and show business” (70). Hence, this ‘showbiz’ model of religious broadcasts means that “in order to succeed with audiences accustomed to the conventions of television they must assimilate some of the conventions and forms of the entertainment industry” (71). American Christian televangelism that spread in the 1980s is a case in point. Tele-preachers of the New Christian Right were able to use the medium successfully and pose themselves as visually modern, appealing, entertaining, and high-tech as their liberal counterparts. Indeed, recent researchers of the phenomenon of the new and young Muslim preachers, in the line of Amr Khaled, have started calling it “Islamic televangelism” (Moll 1). Referring to the work by Lindsay Wise, Yasmin Moll highlights what Wise has documented in her interviews with Ahmed Abu-Haibah, the producer and director of Amr Khaled’s shows, that he was aware of the genre of Christian televangelism; he expressed the desire to create a similar modern format that will be a new experience in Islam (8). Focusing on Khaled’s even younger disciples/preachers, such as Mu‘iz Mas‘ud and Mustafa Husni, Moll analyzes the significance of combining modern media technologies and Islamic da‘wah (call for faith): Rather than worrying about the “secular” origin of the television medium, du‘ah such as Masoud and Khaled make this medium an integral part of their pious performance aimed at moving their audience to a more virtuous life. It deeply matters that one can see them–educated, young, attractive, obviously well-to-do–working the camera, inhabiting spaces of modern technology, yet still maintaining a high commitment to Islamic practice. . . . Furthermore, it is precisely the association of television with entertainment . . . that makes it such an attractive medium . . . [since] this association works to bolster Islam as a viable (entertaining) alternative to secular and potentially immoral media. Thus, far from shunning Western media/cultural forms as morally suspect, these forms are appropriated to new moral ends. (9) The third stage of Islamic TV broadcasting begins with the establishment of specialized religious channels characterized by the adoption of a specific school of religious thought and practice—that of the salafi trend. Al-salafiyyah is an Arabic term derived from ahl al-salaf (ancestors/forefathers of the fi rst Muslim generation), and it has accumulated a complex history as the term is used to refer to several trends and figures since the fourteenth century (Esposito, Oxford Dictionary 274). It will be used in the context of this chapter

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to refer specifically to the contemporary phenomenon in Egyptian society, increasing approximately since the early 2000s, of large sectors applying a very literal and close following of the Muslim forefathers’ understanding and practice of the Islamic shari‘ah (the canon of Islamic law). One of their telling mottos states: “Kitab wa-sunnah bi-fahm salaf al-ummah” (the Quran and the Prophet’s tradition through the ancestors’ understanding). This rhyming phrase summarizes the basic belief of the followers of this ‘method’ (almanhaj al-salafi ), or ‘call’ (al-da‘wah al-salafiyyah). The overriding concern is preserving orthodoxy and purity of the Islamic doctrine and teachings, directly extracted from the two major sources of the Quran and the Prophet’s traditions, by means of imitating the ways of deduction, practice, application, and lifestyles of the fi rst generation. Further explanation or analysis of the intricacies of this school of thought is beyond the scope of this chapter, as the subject is its TV broadcast manifestation, but it suffices here to note that their focus on a certain unified appearance and dress codes for both genders demonstrates the influence of Saudi Wahhabi culture. A significant turn in the spread of the salafi discourse came with the establishment of a number of satellite TV channels broadcast from Egypt and devoted entirely to the dissemination of religious knowledge, in this specific vein and interpretation, via diverse types of programs. Four channels became widely known and watched: al-Rahmah, al-Nas, al-Hafi z, and alHikmah. The fi rst one in particular started airing in 2007 and was launched by its owner, Shaykh Muhammad Hassan (b. 1962), who has become the most prominent and venerated symbol of the salafi movement. The shaykh’s look and dress starkly demonstrate the change from Shaykh al-Sha‘rawi, with his Azhari or typical rural Egyptian clothes, to the modern suit of Amr Khaled, and fi nally to the white robe and headgear of the Arabian peninsula dress code—in addition to the shaven moustache and untrimmed grown beard that is a characteristic feature of salafi followers. Each of the three preachers embodied, as well as visually represented, a certain stage in the development of television Islamic programs in the last thirty years. The Islamic Outlook and Everyday Life From the perspective of the viewing audience, what are some of the causes of these programs’ recent popularity? First and most straightforwardly, they provide Muslim viewers in various locations with useful, simplified, and basic information about religious practices and conduct. Accessibility to the opinions and explanations of guest religious figures or ‘ulama, along with the opportunity to make calls and ask directly about specific problems, would save the average Muslim the effort to seek an available shaykh for consultation. S/he can now receive, in the comfort and privacy of home, ‘authoritative’ advice to rely on. In the words of Eickleman and Anderson, “A characteristic of the new media is that they occupy an interstial [sic] space


Omaima Abou-Bakr

between the super-literacy of traditional religious specialists and mass sub-literacy or illiteracy” (9). Hence, “[t]heir natural home is the emerging middle, bourgeois classes of the Muslim world” (9). Another reason is the conviction on the part of viewers that simply tuning in, especially to the specialized channels that broadcast around-the-clock solely religious content, is an act of piety in itself and a rejection of the ‘worldly’ frivolous entertainment of other channels. Yet, as discussed above, the element of wholesome entertainment has not been very far from the genre when it was fi rst initiated and, in fact, continued to develop in the form of the appeal and personality of the host, the décor of the studio set, the accompanying graphics and musical notes, and other factors which attempt to make of these Islamic ‘talk shows’ compelling and attractive viewing as well. These features are especially evident in the fi rst type of programs to be discussed here in terms of both form and content. One-hour afternoon shows aired either weekly on Fridays or daily with the exception of Thursdays and Fridays on private channels, such as al-Hayah, Dream 2, al-Mehwar, since the mid-2000s. Programs like “‘Amma yatasa’alun” (What they inquire about) on Dream 2, “Al-din wa-al-hayah” (Religion and life) on al-Hayah 1, and “Kalam min al-qalb” (Words from the heart) on al-Hayah 2 gained a considerable viewership. These (sample) shows share distinctive common features—regarding hosts, topics, guests—and can be considered a development of Amr Khaled’s informal style of treating religious subjects in a televised context. First, the host is either a modern-looking gentleman or an elegantly dressed young lady in a colorful headscarf and fashionable, modern Islamic dress code, using colloquial Egyptian to introduce the day’s topic and conduct the conversation with the show’s guest in a noticeable chatty and down-to-earth manner. Second, subjects originally intended to be purely religious began also to touch on real life problems of average Muslims trying to live the modern life, with all its complexities and ambivalences, without violating Islamic teachings. Viewers’ concern over what is haram (religiously unlawful) and what is halal (lawful), as voiced in their call-in questions narrating their specific circumstances and inquiring about the applicability of these laws, strongly imposed itself. This participatory aspect gradually led to a continuous development in the programs’ agendas to accommodate the public’s interests and to bring religion closer to everyday living. For example, it will be noticed that the two most common areas of callers’ inquiries concerned either marital and domestic problems (known as personal status legalities of marriage obligations, divorce, custody, etc.) or inheritance disputes. Significantly, one popular daily Islamic program carried the telling name of “Al-din wa-alhayah” (Religion and life; al-Hayah channel), in which a young female presenter (Du‘a’ ‘Amer) would host each day a different guest (man or woman), specializing in varying areas of ordinary life—such as nutrition, health, dieting, psychological issues, therapy, and child rearing—in addition to religious

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figures advising on Islamic observances and ethics. A similar program on alHayah 2, “Kalam min al-qalb” (Words from the heart), followed exactly the same format and style, with another female presenter (Du‘a’ Faruq) hosting the fi rst two days of the week religious figures/shaykhs to discuss an Islamic topic and respond to callers’ questions on air, then the remaining three days, inviting psychologists, sociologists, nutritionists, or physicians to discuss relevant subjects in their areas of expertise. The implied message is that living a wholesome, sound, and balanced life—in addition to religious observances and worshipping practices—is also part of modern Muslim living. Islam can be observed and implied in all aspects of life. This realistic attitude and spirit of moderation was articulated by Ahmed Abu-Haibah in his quoted opinion regarding this new-style Islamic media: “An Islamic program doesn’t have to speak about the Quran and the Prophet. I consider speaking about friendship is Islamic, speaking about love is Islamic, about sex is Islamic. What matters is what I’m going to do behind that. The values” (qtd. in Moll 6). This engagement with the contemporary social and public context had appeared strongly in an earlier program, “‘Amma yatasa’alun,” by the presenter Ahmad ‘Abdoun in the prime-time slot of Fridays after the midday prayers on Dream 2. In fact, this program—now off the air—had pioneered the incorporation of responding to current public controversies or breaking sensational topics which touch on religion. In addition to hosting well-known Azhari ‘ulama to explain certain Islamic precepts and issue on-air fatawa or religious opinions, ‘Abdoun used to elicit from his guests their views and direct responses to particular social phenomena or newspaper reports. The practice aimed at, not so much measuring everything with the Islamic ‘yardstick’, but rather making the shaykhs’ Islamic discourses directly face reality, promoting a ‘practical’ Islam rooted in real life, not just theoretical issues. In terms of guests, another feature that this show initiated, and that attracted viewers’ attention, was the regular invitation of three of the most widely known female religious scholars/academics in Egypt: Su‘ad Salih (Azhar Professor of Jurisprudence), Amnah Nusayr (Azhar Professor of Doctrine and Philosophy), and Malakah Zirar (Cairo University Professor of Islamic Law). The three experts were hosted together in one live show, once a month, discussing diverse subjects—ranging from how to pray and fast correctly and how to avoid sin and God’s wrath to polygamy, wife battering, extra-marital relationships, intimate marital relations, and virginity. After several shows, two things became evident: (1) each of the three figures demonstrated a certain pattern in responding to religious issues or debates, which eventually characterized her and gained for her a title given by the public. Hence, Su‘ad Salih was called faqihat al-‘asr (jurist of the age), Amnah Nusayr hakimat al-‘asr (wise woman of the age), and Malakah Zirar thawragiyyat al-‘asr (revolutionary of the age). (2) On account of both the female gender of the presenters/guests and the nature of the most popular subjects being asked about by the callers as previously indicated, the shows


Omaima Abou-Bakr

began to acquire clear gender overtones. Hence, other religious programs— such as the two in al-Hayah 1 and 2 mentioned above—have started using female presenters and mostly female preachers (da‘iyat) as guests. Not only so, but three of these female preachers themselves have recently started religious programs of their own in which they are the main presenters, receiving and responding to viewers’ calls. The fi rst is a Dream 2 program titled “Albaqiyat al-salihat” (Good deeds) by the elderly and popular preacher and scholar, Dr. ‘Ablah al-Kahlawy; the second is “Qulub ‘amirah” (Enriched hearts) on al-Hayah 2 by Dr. Nadia ‘Imarah; and the third “Fiqh al-mar’ah” (Women’s Islamic laws) by Dr. Su‘ad Salih on the same channel and during the same time slot of the preceding program, but on Thursdays and Fridays. Similar programs have proliferated in other private channels, such as al-Mehwar and Modern Hurriyah; the fi rst broadcasts “Al-muslimun yatasa’alun” (Muslims inquire) presented by a male presenter, whose one recent guest was the female preacher Inas Mostafa, and the second airs the program “Fi rihab al-Azhar” (In the domain of al-Azhar) by a female presenter hosting daily one Azharite scholar to discuss a certain topic. In all these shows, gender-related issues seem to dominate, creating in effect a hybrid genre of contemporary Egyptian television programs that are a cross between women’s and religious shows. Personal crises associated with husbands’ unfair treatment, unfaithfulness, polygamy, miserliness, violence, separation, divorce, children’s custody, providing for the family, oppression, and other domestic troubles flood the attendant guest. They reflect the type of actual social problems created most of the time as a result of culturally imbalanced gender relations and misunderstanding of Islam’s views on gender justice and/or equality. And in the preachers’ replies and attempts to encourage reconciliation, one can also witness the role of this form of media in the cultural and social construction of gender roles and characterizations. To add to the feminization of these shows, almost all of them are aired during afternoon hours from 4 to 6 pm, suitable for both stay-at-home and working female audiences when they could watch television alone free of house chores. Most recent examples of networks’ awareness of the current pressing need (and media market) to address increasing gender-related and women’s issues/problems in their relation to Islamic rulings are the two mentioned women’s religious programs launched in September 2011 on al-Hayah 2. Three consecutive shows by Dr. Nadia ‘Imarah consisted of the following topics: (1) for young males, what to look for in your future wives; (2) for women, how to choose a suitable husband; and (3) men you should avoid to marry. As for Dr. Su‘ad Salih, the fi rst two shows had the themes of “Women in Islam’s eyes” and “Islam’s honoring of women.” Being under the close scrutiny of a culture facing the new experience of receiving authoritative religious opinions from women, these TV women preachers and scholars are careful not to deviate from academic and juristic correctness when conveying a theoretical ruling. Nevertheless, their on-air

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presence and visibility are pushing the boundaries of the cultural acceptance of their credibility and religious authority. In her analysis of women’s religious programs on the Saudi-owned Islamic channel al-Risalah, Sharon Otterman observes that “the desirability of female audiences—as well as the desire to influence female opinion on Islamic practice—is encouraging Islamic channels to have programs hosted by and catering to women.” She attributes the importance of what the women shaykhat are saying about Islam on television, not to the fact that “their opinions have been certified by a mufti [jurist capable of issuing authoritative legal opinions], but because viewers are paying attention” (Otterman). Aside from the commercial demands behind producers’ motives in recruiting women presenters and preachers, the phenomenon is contributing to the larger issue of women’s negotiating cultural power relations and partaking of legitimate, religious authority. Convergences and Divergences—Salafi Salafi Media The salafi channels al-Rahmah, al-Nas, and al-Hafi z—which were banned under the Mubarak regime in October 2010 by a court ruling on account of content of religious extremism, then allowed to resume broadcasting by a decision from the Board Chairman of the Egyptian Satellite Company in mid-February 2011—could be generally considered another embodiment of a newly created Muslim public sphere. Yet even within this emerging Muslim satellite space, these channels and their programs have always expressed a divergent message and interpretation of Islamic practice. Programs with the same format of a live broadcast receiving callers’ queries and a shaykh giving Islamic rulings on air abound. Three such programs air during the very same time slot on the three channels: “Fatawa al-rahmah” (Legal opinions of mercy), “Fatawa al-nas” (People’s legal opinions), and “Fatawa qur’aniyah” (Quranic legal opinions). However, divergences in content and form are immediately noticeable. The main thrust of these shows is a straightforward conveying of basic Islamic information and the issuing of rulings for the callers to follow. Most of the sessions are conducted in a Q-and-A manner, with the fatwa given concisely, bluntly, and almost in a mechanical fiqhi (juristic) deduction, abruptly moving on to the next question, with no interest in contextualizing any problem or issue. This method is in keeping with the salafi thought and application of Islamic shari‘ah: Rulings are almost like medical prescriptions to be followed and implemented literally in exactly the same way as the ‘righteous ancestors’ understood and practiced them. This type of a static and isolated religious discourse is demonstrated in two significant instances aired on the programs “Fatawa qur’aniyah” and “Fatawa al-rahmah” by Shaykh Mostafa al-‘Adawi during September 2011. In answering a question on the Islamic legitimacy of democracy, the shaykh said, “We consider democracy blasphemy [kufr] because it is against Islam, yet if corruptions spread, we are forced to choose the least of them. For instance, if


Omaima Abou-Bakr

a shar‘i [Islamic] party comes along [by means of democracy] to apply God’s law, then fi ne.” Another opinion concerned the legitimacy of striking as a means of political protest or the demand for rights. The shaykh stated that “striking is not part of Islam, for it was not known in Islamic history at all, neither during the time of the Prophet nor practiced by the early Muslims in the early preferred centuries” (my emphasis). He went on expounding, “Striking came to us from the lands of kufr [blasphemy]; no one should force an employer to increase pay, for there is a contract. If someone is not satisfied, he should resign.” The same shaykh keeps also repeating in utmost certainty that, for women, nams (plucking eyebrows) is from the kaba’ir (grave sins) and, for men, leaving beards unshaven and not shortened is an absolute faridah (religious injunction). On the program “Fatawa al-nas,” Shaykh Samy al-Sirsawi is also concerned with explaining what is exactly unlawful (haram) about different types and ways of shaving: the occupation of barber is not haram in itself, but can lean towards unlawfulness when it involves shaving men’s beards (for this act is not allowed in shar‘ [Islamic law]); using a thread in plucking hair in ears is allowed but not for the eyebrows. On a September 28 show of “Fatawa al-nas,” Mostafa al-‘Adawi advised a woman asking about working as a medical nurse to leave this job on account of mixing with male doctors, and another bride-to-be not to have her photo taken. The day before, Shaykh Waheed ‘Abd al-Salam in “Fatawa qur’aniyah” on al-Hafi z advised a male caller to leave working in an amusement park if he will hear music or singing and if there will be women around. According to this shaykh also, “[W]omen do not talk to men or men to women—unless for a particular unavoidable necessity” like in selling and buying. The above examples demonstrate the nature of the salafi discourse and orientation in religious interpretation. What the followers of this method perceive as an honest and purist way in conveying the Islamic doctrine and practice—exactly as is—what they perceive as authenticity, ends up as an exaggerated concern with technicalities or appearances, and with trivializing religious discourse. Political and social activism is condemned as secular and blasphemous. It must be said, though, that the fatawa are usually voiced in response to callers’ questions about such minute instances and behavior, like someone asking if watching TV drama series is haram, if working as a barber or in a boutique that sells makeup is haram, if working in an amusement park is halal or not, if buying makeup for one’s sister is allowed, or about the color of menstruating blood and bodily fluids. Hence, it becomes a two-way or back-and-forth road: The more the shaykhs emphasize the grave sinfulness of these details, the more the viewing public obsesses over them and produce more queries; the more such queries reach the shaykhs, the more they drown the public in further minutiae and technicalities. As far as visual form and style, all these programs follow one unchanged setup: the male shaykh (never a female preacher or guest) sitting at a desk receiving calls and speaking directly to the camera to answer the questions.

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In fact, programs aiming at discussing certain Islamic themes and answering relevant callers’ questions in a chatty host–guest format are very rare, as this would undermine not just the seriousness of religious edification but also the unmitigated authority of the shaykh who is the central and only source of information. A host–guest setup would imply that this information is open for discussion or challenges. Patriarchy can also be observed in the complete visual disappearance of women on the screens of these channels. Women’s voices are heard as callers, but when in one post–January 2011 revolution program the presenter had to show a recorded clip from another channel’s program and to comment on the segment that featured a woman presenter, her whole face and head were graphically obscured only leaving her shoulders appearing within the frame. Another significant observation concerns the identity and look of the invited scholars and religious figures. Although the majority are the star representatives and figures of the salafiyyah trend today who have lived, worked, and received their training in Saudi Arabia, such as Muhammad Hassan, Abu-Ishaq al-Huwayni, Muhammad Husayn Ya‘qub, the channels occasionally invite Azhari scholars, who appear with their typical Azhari uniform, yet with shaven moustaches and untrimmed salafi beards. This mixed look of traditional Azhari shaykhs (e.g., Sami al-Sirsawi and Sa‘id ‘Amer on al-Nas channel) signifies the co-option of Azhari traditionalism by salafi media and the desire by some Azharites to be assimilated into their mass popularity. It is worth making the point here that a ‘culture war’ has been forming and is increasing between two brands of religious discourses or Muslim cultures, one propagated by the salafi trend, characterized and influenced by Saudi Wahhabism, and the other represented by the legacy of the traditional institution of al-Azhar in Egypt, whose conservative ‘ulama have been the guardians of classical, juristic learning. One notices that most salafi media figures and spokesmen did not receive formal Azhari religious education, such as Khaled ‘Abdallah and ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Shahhat—who are engineers by training—and Muhammad Hassan—whose biography shows that he carries a BA in information from Cairo University. Khaled Abou El Fadl, the prominent Islamic scholar and expert on Islamic law, successfully dissects the nature of the Wahhabi/salafi system of thought and methodology. He explains that in the name of return to a pure and pristine Islam, Wahhabis and salafis, being ambiguous towards the classical juristic tradition, follow processes that are quite dissimilar to the methods and processes of classical Islamic law: “Wahhabis tend to regard this tradition as unnecessarily complex and messy,” and so the movement “hardly celebrates differences of opinions or juristic diversity” (18). Abou El Fadl analyzes what he calls “the anatomy of authoritarian discourses,” the end result of a paradigm that treats Islamic law “as a settled, constant, and closed set of rules (ahkam), which are to be implemented without much possibility for development or variation” (171). He claims that the product of the jurists from this school “epitomizes the interpretive authoritarianism” that his book aims to analyze and critique (174).


Omaima Abou-Bakr

How did the Egyptian January 2011 revolution impact the nature of the two types of Islamic TV programs discussed so far? In the case of the programs shown on private Egyptian-owned satellite networks, drastic change was not noticeable or sustainable. Aside from initial and superficial references to the political upheavals that have recently taken place, programs like “Al-din wa-al-hayah” and “Kalam min al-qalb” resumed pursuing the same agenda of nurturing personal Islamic ethics, strengthening devoutness, and edifying the public regarding practices and observances. While the prevailing discourses can be described as Islamically centrist and flexible—hosting moderate Azhari ‘ulama like Shaykh Ramadan Abdel Mu‘izz and Shaykh Ashraf al-Fil—they remained non-politicized in the sense of not reflecting upon any of the hot public crises rocking Egyptian society since January 2011. Even the two new programs by Nadia ‘Imarah and Su‘ad Salih, launched after the revolution, continue to focus on social issues in the private, not the public, sphere. Two exceptions to this are two new shows, one aired during the month of Ramadan in August 2011 by the post-revolution channel al-Tahrir called “Liyatma’in qalbi” (So my heart is assured) by the presenter Ahmed Abu-Haibah and the other by another post-revolution channel CBC that began a show called “Nas wa-nas” (People, and [other] people) presented by the Tahrir imam made famous because of his fiery sermons during the revolution, Shaykh Mazhar Shahin. Encouraged by the new spirit and sense of liberation, the fi rst show attempts a critical outlook and in-depth discussions of intellectual issues in Islam, such as ijtihad (independent reasoning), Muslims’ realities and the shift in rulings with changing time and place, and the application of reason and common sense. The second features Imam Mazhar Shahin hosting public figures to discuss phenomena or themes directly related to the present context and impact of the revolution. One wonders if the chosen title of this program is intended to be a reference to, and a differentiation from, the kind of un-contextualized programs of the salafi channel al-Nas. Ironically, however, the January revolution did not just impact salafi television media positively by returning their channels to the airwaves, but another repercussion of great significance is the bold entry to the field of politics. The irony comes from two factors: (1) the essential salafi rejection of any radical or revolutionary ideology that might call for democratic mechanisms, political protests, and civil disobedience; and (2) the lack of participation of the salafi followers in the revolution. Nevertheless, we fi nd two new shows launched recently and airing daily on al-Hafi z channel, “Fi al-mizan” (On the scale), and al-Nas channel, “Masr al-gadeedah” (New Egypt). These epitomize how the January revolution has been a turning point in politicizing and enabling salafi media performance. “Fi al-mizan” adopts the format of typical nightly talk show that invites a number of guests, either salafi figures/ spokesmen themselves or sympathizers, with a Dr. ‘Atef Abdel Rashid facilitating a round-table discussion over a particular public issue, news item, or a journalist’s column, which he reads to them from his laptop and asks them to

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comment. “Masr al-gadeedah,” presented by the aggressive Kahled ‘Abdallah, also takes the format of a single presenter who, for the fi rst part of the show, presents the selected day’s events and current issues or controversies, then, in the second part, hosts a guest to discuss a certain topic or theme. Naturally, subjects and analysis are presented from the salafi viewpoint and judgment. Particularly the latter show concentrates on aggressive opposition (that can also involve name-calling) to “the secularists and liberals” who are against God’s law. This category is broad enough to include any journalist, columnist, media figure, writer, politician, or public figure who critiques the political performance and ideas of salafi groups and other Islamic movements. Specific TV personalities and politicians seem to be targeted for continuous attack, and their names always mentioned and repeated as the epitome of liberal and secular (anti-religious, in the presenter’s view) thinking. None are invited for debates or asked for a telephone intervention to explain the other points of view. A frequent strategy is to air a short recorded clip, extracted from another program, which includes one or two statements by the figure under attack, statements taken out of context to reveal ‘antireligious’ sentiments and views against ‘applying shari‘ah’. Further accusations of ignorance and deviation from the correct religious path are directed against certain Islamic figures, especially Azharites. These come under attack on account of their flexible rulings and emphasis on the use of reason and common sense, rather than exaggeration in the field of blind transmission from the ancestors. This method is perceived as sheer negligence and distortion of the iron-clad legacy of al-salaf al-salih (the pious forefathers). “In thinking that they are presenting an enlightened, attractive Islam, they are in fact supporting secularism,” says Khaled ‘Abdallah on alNas channel in his program, “Masr al-gadeedah.” In September 2011, two entire shows of his program were devoted to a prolonged attack on Dr. Sa‘d al-Din al-Hilali, Azhar Professor of Islamic Jurisprudence. Shaykh Amgad, introduced as a legal researcher/expert, was hosted to refute and disprove all the professor’s religious opinions, criticizing his methodology of deduction and orientation. Criticisms were not confi ned to objective analysis of errors, but also replete with verbal abuse and personal attack, such as describing Dr. al-Hilali as “a weak scholar,” his methods constituting a “betrayal of scholarly honesty,” “forgery,” and “heresy” (zandaqah). Dr. al-Hilali himself never appears on or calls al-Nas—a channel whose motto is, “A screen that takes you to paradise” (Shashah ta’khudhuka ila al-jannah). Overall, the bifurcation into Islamic shows that cast their nets over wider terrains of everyday Muslim realities in Egypt, on one side, and parallel shows that limit their scope to a codified set of puritanical rulings or a sweeping attack on liberalism and secularism, on the other side, characterizes the present scene. In either case, the continuous multiplication of Islamic television programming in all its forms and types reflects the fact that the Muslim public cannot get enough of the accessibility of this media, as well as directs


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attention to the serious role it can play in shaping public religious discourses and cultural practices. Conclusion In the earlier sections of the chapter, I introduced the phenomenon of increased and diversified satellite religious programs in contemporary Egypt within the framework, fi rst, of globalization and, second, of alternative public spaces and multiple religious authority. Eickleman and Anderson have in general viewed this emerging Muslim media public positively as a form of challenge to political monopoly, using the very same means: “The asymmetries of the earlier mass media revolution are being reversed by new media in new hands.” Therefore, “this combination of new media and new contributors to religious and political debates . . . feeds into new senses of a public space that is discursive, performative, and participative, and not confi ned to formal institutions recognized by state authorities” (2). Yet, this recent form of assertive salafi media performance, especially political programs and the unrestrained attacks on non-Islamic ideologies, is not just de-centering state control, but also replacing indigenous religious practices and traditional institutions, on the one hand, and the “subtlety and richness of the Islamic legal heritage,” on the other (Abou El Fadl 174). This replacement or relocation of religious discourses, facilitated by the mass media, may also subvert the original intended consequences; instead of an even globalization-from-below model via expansive means of communication, another paradigm of imposed value systems can materialize. A variant potential pattern lies in what Mandaville calls “processes of cultural translation” as symbols and terms of discourse can be “redrawn to suit the unique set of socio-cultural contingencies into which it enters” (79). This is what he means when he speaks of “globalizing the local” or “the globalization of cultural material which is then re-localized in new and distant contexts” (79). In other words, it is hoped that in the end ‘Saudizing’ public religiosity and practice in Egypt transfers into ‘Egyptianized’ forms of moderate religious understanding and application. Works Cited Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001. Ahmed, Akbar. Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise. New York: Routledge, 1992. Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 1983. Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996. Armbrust, Walter. Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000. Burgat, Francois. Face to Face with Political Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 2003.

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Eickleman, Dale, and Jon Anderson, eds. New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999. Esposito, John. Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in the Middle East and Europe. London: Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2003. . The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Karim, Karim. “Muslim Encounters with New Media: Towards an Inter-Civilizational Discourse on Globality?” Islam Encountering Globalization. Ed. Ali Mohammadi. London: Routledge, 2002. 36–60. Majid, Anouar. Unveiling Traditions: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2000. Mandaville, Peter. “Reimagining the Ummah? Information Technology and the Changing Boundaries of Political Islam.” Islam Encountering Globalization. Ed. Ali Mohammadi. London: Routledge, 2002. 61–90. Moll, Yasmin. “Islamic Televangelism.” Arab Media and Society 10 (2010): 1–27. Otterman, Sharon. “Fatwas and Feminism: Women, Religious Authority, and Islamic TV.” Transnational Broadcasting Studies 16 (2006). http://www.tbsjournal.com. Ruthven, Malise. “Islam in the Media.” Interpreting Islam. Ed. Hastings Donnan. London: Sage Publications, 2002. 51–75. Wise, Lindsay. “Words from the Heart”: New Forms of Islamic Preaching in Egypt. M. Phil Diss., St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, 2003.


Büşra Bü ra The Veiled Protagonist of a Comic Serial Iren Ozgur

In August 2007, when the cartoonist Bahadır Boysal decided to sketch something a little different in his weekly comic strip, he had no idea that Büşra, his female protagonist, would result in such recognition and controversy. Usually his contributions were typical of Leman (Mistress), one of the most popular humor magazines in Turkey. The magazine’s style and humor were not particularly sophisticated: The cartoons appealed mostly to urban, Westoriented youth, with panels that mocked figures of authority and featured sexual and crude content. However, given the moment’s socio-political environment, Boysal felt inspired to step outside his usual box. A month had passed since the national elections and the ascendancy of Abdullah Gül to presidency. Since the ruling Justice and Development Party had nominated Gül to the presidency, it had faced opposition from the country’s military-backed, secularist establishment (see Baran; Göl; Tavernise). To most secular-leaning Turks, the Justice and Development Party, composed of practicing Muslims who spoke publicly about their religious identities, harbored intentions to transform Turkey into an Islamic state. Thus, to have the party’s nominee win the presidential seat in Çankaya, home of the Republic’s secular founder, Atatürk, was unsettling, perhaps even alarming. What made Abdullah Gül’s presidency controversial among secularleaning Turks was not only his long-term involvement with Islamist political parties, in general, and the Justice and Development Party, in particular, but also the fact that his wife wore a veil. The veil (turban) has historically been a proxy for the political struggle between the country’s ‘Islamists’ and ‘secularists’.1 For many Islamists, the veil is a mark of religious devotion. For many secularists, however, the veil is also the political symbol of a desire to ‘Islamize’ Turkey (see Saktanber and Çorbacıoğlu). When Abdullah Gül became Turkey’s eleventh president, not only did he become Turkey’s fi rst Islamist president, but his wife, Hayrünisa, became Turkey’s fi rst veiled First Lady. Boysal was not known for drawing veiled characters; however, he found himself inspired by the politically charged events. The serial that he began drawing featured a “smart and pious young woman” who embodied “many seemingly contradictory behaviors and attitudes” (Boysal, personal



interview). Boysal’s protagonist resonated deeply with the public and drew a flood of responses. From its modest beginnings as a comic strip in the pages of a humor magazine, the serial has since been collected into a full-length book, and made into a feature fi lm.2 Focusing on this serial and examining its main character, Büşra, this chapter will argue that the serial transformed the way that religiously conservative women were portrayed in humor magazines and other areas of popular culture. The serial’s protagonist enveloped a complex identity that mixed Islamic as well as secular elements and spoke for a generation of veiled women who were coming of age in the increasingly urbanized and modern world of Istanbul. And, because the serial appeared in Leman, it potentially made young Muslim women—like Büşra—more accessible and understandable to their secular counterparts. The Beginnings In August 2010, three years after he drew the first panel featuring Büşra, Bahadır Boysal reflects on the evolution of the strip and the character while sitting in the café underneath his office. “It’s been exhausting,” he says as he takes a sip of his rakı,3 looking far more weary and serious-minded than his zany photograph in the magazine. He continues, “I knew it would attract attention, but I did not expect this much clamor” (Boysal, personal interview). Büşra can be considered a milestone in the history of Turkish illustrated humor. As Ayşe Öncü points out, “[H]umorous line drawings, caricatures of prominent political figures, and illustrated jokes” have a long history in Turkish popular and political culture (175). In fact, the republic’s tradition of humor magazines dates back to Diyojen (Diogenes), the fi rst Ottoman humor magazine published between 1870 and 1873. The satiric vision of this magazine was strongly influenced by the European imperial context and it featured cartoons about social chaos and foreign hegemony. Since Diyojen, hundreds of humor magazines have followed suit.4 Today, Turkey has close to twenty humor magazines. Out of these, Leman as well as Penguen (Penguin) and Uykusuz (Sleepless) retain the highest sales, with over 50,000 copies a week. These magazines reflect upon the social, cultural, and political environment and feature aspects of everyday life (Yüksel). According to Boysal, they also “criticize authority, make fun of society, and break a number of social and sexual taboos” (Boysal, personal interview). Their illustrations frequently contain profanity, sexual situations, and references to drugs. Most relevantly, they feature strips and panels of sophomoric humor that frequently take aim at Islamists. The magazines often juxtapose images of conservative Muslims against those deemed to be secular, progressive, modern, and Western, and present the former in one-dimensional stereotypes. Whereas pious men appear to be hypocrites, naïve dim-wits, or sexually-repressed perverts, pious women come across as submissive, ignorant,


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and oppressed. 5 Importantly, these characters of conservative Muslims are almost always without discernible identities. It is easy to substitute one veiled woman (or prayer-capped man) with another. In the words of Ayhan Akman, it is almost as though Muslims in the strips are “interchangeable units of a larger whole” (126). The particularity and importance of Büşra derives from the fact that it neither falls squarely within the mold of cartoons that adorn the pages of these magazines, nor resembles the female characters generally drawn by Boysal. The serial depicts a veiled protagonist amid cartoons that are disparaging toward devout Muslims. Furthermore, Boysal himself is known to depict women in nude and sexually provocative positions and composures.6 Boysal drew on his own experiences when he created Büşra. His background as well as the time he spent with a religiously conservative community during his university years gave him a unique insight into Büşra’s world. Like Boysal, Büşra comes from a traditional, upper middle-class family and studies drawing at Mimar Sinan University’s Faculty of Art. From an early age, Boysal showed talent for drawing. He recalls how he would send his caricatures to humor magazines such as Gırgır ( Jocular) and Limon (Lemon) and hope that they would get published in the “Young Amateur” sections of the magazines.7 Boysal’s efforts at drawing paid off when he gained admission to Mimar Sinan University. At the age of seventeen, he moved from Adana, his hometown, to Istanbul, where he would attend university. While Boysal’s parents were proud of their son’s accomplishment, they were worried about his move to ‘the big city’, 165 miles from Adana (Boysal, personal interview). Hence, they decided to enroll him at a dormitory that was overseen by members of the Gülen community, known for their religious conservatism.8 Boysal recalls his experience: Early on, I realized that I did not fit in. The students in the dormitory would pray together, read the Quran, and study the teachings of Fethullah Gülen. 9 . . . I would spend my days drawing nude figures and when I returned to the dormitory I would have to pray with the rest of the students. It just did not go together. I could not make the two click. So I left the dormitory after my fi rst year. (Boysal, personal interview) Boysal exaggerates the experience for great comic effect in the strip titled Modelden Modele (From model to model; Boysal, Büşra 28–29). There are several other strips in the serial that draw on Boysal’s experiences at Mimar Sinan (Boysal, Büşra 6–7). Shortly after his move to Istanbul, Boysal was hired by Leman, then still in the early stages of its existence. In a few years, Boysal became one of the most popular cartoonists at the magazine and continues to have a loyal following. “I could have only drawn Büşra in Leman,” Boysal claims, likening Leman to a medrese (school) and noting that the magazine has “a sophisticated



side” (Boysal, personal interview).10 Indeed, Leman has served as a school of sorts for many of the young, emerging cartoonists drawing in Turkey’s humor magazines today. In January 2011, the magazine published its 1,000th issue, becoming Turkey’s longest-running independent humor magazine. Büs¸ ra: A Unique Protagonist From the onset, Büşra is marked as different. The veil in the cover image indicates that Büşra is a devout Muslim. However, rather than a loose-fitting and dark-colored top, she wears a stylish, logo-branded sweatshirt. Büşra’s eyes are wide with fear and trepidation. Her hand gesture and the dark circles above her cheekbones signal apprehension. At this point, what Büşra fears is unclear. However, even at fi rst glimpse, the reader is made aware of the contradictions in her attire and the unease in her composure. Perhaps, as the strips in the serial demonstrate, this foreboding is born of Büşra’s attempts to resist stereotypes in her journey of self-discovery. It is evident that Büşra takes her faith seriously. The serial contains various examples of her attempts to fulfi ll her religious duties and adhere to Islamic norms. In one of the strips, she tries to distribute alms in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Istanbul. In another, she advises a friend to eat her cheese toast with her right hand because the left hand is considered unclean. However, Büşra is inclined and interested in experiencing what can be characterized as a ‘secularist’ lifestyle. All of her close friends are unveiled, urban, Westoriented young women. With them, Büşra practices yoga, goes out to bars and restaurants, and travels to beach resorts both in Turkey and abroad. Because of her veil, those around her—whether it is her friends or members of her family—expect Büşra to act and behave in a conventional manner. However, her identity is made up of multiple layers, and she is still in the process of figuring out who she is. What she wants is for people to appreciate her complexity and not reduce her to one singular identity. While the primary reason for the serial’s popularity is its protagonist, the contexts in which the cartoons are embedded give the serial a deeper and more thought-provoking context than its counterparts. In addition to documenting events in Büşra’s life, the cartoons are informed by the highly controversial debates surrounding the ban on veiling in universities, the polarization between the country’s secularists and Islamists, as well as the ongoing confl ict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish citizens. The serial also examines and explores sensitive and provocative topics such as drug use, date rape, and homosexuality. Real-life references are another important aspect that gives the serial gravitas. The places that the strips feature, be they nightclubs like Reina in Istanbul or summer resorts on the Mediterranean like Antalya, are all real. Similarly, the events in the strip titled Cemil İpeksi’den Sırra Kadem Melaike (Disappearing angels from Cemil İpeksi) revolve around the well-known


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fashion designer Cemil İpekçi (Boysal, Büşra 18–19). The ‘Islamic’ vocabulary used in Büşra’s word balloons as well as the jargon used by her friends is neither fabricated nor concocted. Boysal effortlessly injects the characters’ speeches and conversations with Quranic verses and Prophetic sayings. Aslolan Muhabbet (Love is the only truth) is the fi rst strip of the serial that gives insights into Büşra’s character and temperament (Boysal, Büşra 2–3). The fi rst panel of this strip features an unveiled young woman sitting in front of a computer. The contours of her curvy body are made apparent by her tight clothes. With long hair and eyelashes, she evokes eroticism and sexuality. The panel also indicates that she is studious and intellectual. Her thought balloon informs the reader that she is working on a term paper which examines the theory of the ‘non-disappearance of sounds in space’. The poster on her wall depicting the planets proves her interest in science and technology. Bored with her work, the young woman decides to take a study break. She goes online and logs on to a chat room as bayırgülü (wildrose). A young man who identifies himself as son Mohikan (the last Mohican) opens a chat and begins fl irting with her. His clothes, disposition, and habits brand him as a rebellious secularist. The posters on his walls are of popular heavy metal and rap artists. His desk is strewn with cigarette butts and beer bottles. The copy of Leman on his desk tips off to his fondness for ‘anti-Islamic’ humor.11 The fl irtation starts when this young man requests wildrose to show him her “beautiful face” (Boysal, Büşra 2). She agrees to turn on her webcam, but requests a moment. Then, she puts on her veil, gets in front of the camera, and says, “Hi! It’s Büşra—aka wildrose!” (Boysal, Büşra 2). The young man is taken aback by Büşra’s religious identity and exclaims, “You wear a veil?!” (Boysal, Büşra 3).12 To Büşra’s mind, there is nothing unusual about being veiled and online. She laughs at his surprise, and tells him that the reason she never told him is simply because he never asked her. However, aware of the preconceived notions and stereotypes toward veiled women, she asks whether he will stop talking to her now that he has found out about her religious sensibilities. When the young man comments on how the veil makes her “even more special in his eyes,” Büşra smiles and thanks him for being open-minded (Boysal, Büşra 3). She thinks that it might be possible for the two of them to be friends. Shortly, the last Mohican asks Büşra to lift her veil. He cajoles her with the depth of their previous conversations and the serenity of the night. Banking on his goodwill and persuaded by his words, Büşra lifts her veil slightly to reveal a part of her hair. The young man becomes lustful and commands her to undress. Finally, at that point, Büşra realizes that the last Mohican is trying to have online sex with her. Shocked and disgusted, Büşra turns off her webcam, veils herself, and breaks into tears. In this fi rst strip, the reader is still figuring out the composition of Büşra’s religious sensibilities. Expectedly, the reader might think that Büşra is regretful of her ‘un-Islamic’ behavior and will beg God for forgiveness. After all, as



a devout Muslim, she should not have loosened her veil and made her hair and neck visible to a strange man. However, she does quite the opposite. She asks God to forgive the young man and his sins. She weeps, “Please God, please, forgive him. He does not know what he’s doing” (Boysal, Büşra 3). Perhaps this is because Büşra does not think that she has done anything wrong and believes that it is religiously permissible to show her hair as long as she does not completely take off her veil. As the other strips indicate, however, it is not just the reader, but Büşra herself, who is trying to determine the extents and boundaries of her piety. This fi rst strip and the others that follow depict instances where Büşra makes attempts to mingle with the ‘secular’ world and portray instances where her religious sensibilities are put to test. Events of the second and the third strips, for instance, revolve around Büşra and her friend, Selin, and give the reader a better sense of who Büşra is and where she stands. Although Büşra and Selin are very close friends, they have contrasting styles and behaviors. Like the young man in the fi rst strip, Selin is not religiously conservative. She dates, parties, wears makeup, and dresses in revealing outfits. In the first few panels of the second strip, we see Büşra and Selin breaking fast at an iftar tent.13 Selin looks over to Büşra’s plate and comments on how she has not touched her food. At that point, vexed, Büşra rebukes Selin for dragging her to an iftar tent for dinner. Soon, the reader finds out that since it was her first time fasting, Selin wanted to experience the “otherworldly ambiance” (uhrevi ambians) inside a tent (Boysal, Büşra 4). In contrast to her friend, Büşra has fasted all of her life. However, she has never broken her fast inside an iftar tent. Having grown up in an upper middle-class family, she is repulsed to be among working-class people and thinks the experience to be beneath her.14 In retribution, she demands that Selin take her to Reina, a famous night club in Istanbul. The irony being that it is the irreligious Selin who suggests attending an iftar, and the pious Büşra who proposes clubbing. As they get ready, Selin puts on a revealing pink mini dress and Büşra— along with her veil—wears a pair of skin-tight pants with a zippered top. Once they arrive at the club, the bouncer at the door attempts to perform a routine pat-down on Büşra. Shocked that a man motions to touch her, Büşra starts to yell, tipping the paparazzi in their direction. At that point, Selin grabs a hold of Büşra and yanks her away from the crowd. Several blocks away, they encounter a bloody, beaten man on the side of the road. When they stop to check on him, the man tells them that the security guards at Reina, who did not approve of his casual attire, beat him when he provoked them by attempting to strip. Upon hearing this story, Büşra turns to Selin and exclaims, “This is the world to which you belong!” and continues, “May God forgive your sins” (Boysal, Büşra 5). The last panel of the strip depicts the front page of the next day’s newspaper headline: “The Sought after Balance with the Veil Has Been Found”


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(Boysal, Büşra 5). Ironically, the paper reports this incident as a breakthrough in the relations between Islamist and secularist communities. But the truth is quite different. Büşra, who never made it into the club, is probably so embittered by the experience that she has no interest to return. In the third strip, Selin invites Büşra to a costume ball organized and attended by students at Mimar Sinan University, promising to make up for Büşra’s unpleasant experience at Reina if the latter agrees to go with her. While Selin wears a Victorian-inspired gown, Büşra simply puts on a mask over her veil. At fi rst, people at the ball think that her veiled outfit is part of her costume and they do not give it much attention. However, when a drunken guest dressed as Jesus bangs into her, Büşra voices her contempt by saying, “You should be ashamed of your costume. [ Jesus] is sacrosanct for us as well” (Boysal, Büşra 7). At that point, people around her notice that she is in fact veiled and start to criticize her. One of them indicates his aversion toward Büşra’s veil by saying, “We are the children of the Republic! Under no circumstances should the veil be allowed on university campuses” (Boysal, Büşra 7). Feeling ostracized, Büşra leaves the ballroom. As she passes a bust of Atatürk, she thinks aloud, “I am so lonely, My Atatürk” (Boysal, Büşra 7). The second and the third strips also depict instances of people with stereotypes toward religiously conservative women jumping to conclusions about Büşra. At Reina, Büşra causes a pandemonium because people around her cannot fathom the presence of a veiled woman at a nightclub. In their minds, a veiled woman is an anomaly in a place where people party, dance, and drink. Similarly, Büşra runs away from the costume ball because people start accusing her of being a religious extremist. However, nowhere in the serial is there any indication of Büşra’s political sentiments and choices. Remarkably, the one person she chooses to share her loneliness with is Atatürk. It appears that Büşra appreciates living in a secular country, feels a sense of patriotism, and does not long for a more ‘Islamized’ Turkey. These strips provide examples of Boysal’s examination of the polarization that exists in present-day Turkish society. Despite the fact that rifts between secular-leaning and religiously conservative communities have been closing since the late 1990s, there still exist hot-button issues that engender flare ups among the communities. Veiling in public places is perhaps the most noticeable of these issues. Though in many ways Selin speaks for the secularists and Büşra for the Islamists, by making Büşra and Selin best friends, Boysal might be attempting to say that the youth of these two seemingly opposite communities are intrigued by one another and can actually co-exist, perhaps even get along. The ironic newspaper headline mentioned earlier could be read as Boysal’s longing for a world where the secularists and Islamists are tolerant toward one another. However, Büşra’s attempts to be part of the secular world are fraught with difficulty and disappointment. While she displays a willingness to hang out



with her best friend, she realizes that it is not easy for her to fully participate in her friend’s world. Many who identify themselves as secularists are not as open-minded as Selin and spare no chance to make their unease with her known to Büşra. The strip Sahilde Raks Ederken Kaderin Miydi Seni Bekleyen? (Was it your faith that awaited you when you were dancing at the beach?) echoes similar sentiments and reflects the polarization that exist in society (Boysal, Büşra 24–25). In this strip, Büşra is at the beach with Ece, another one of her close friends. Like Selin, Ece is not religiously conservative. She is unveiled and wears a revealing two-piece bikini at the beach. Büşra’s beachwear, on the other hand, is a haşema, a full-body swimsuit. Despite their contrasting styles, the two friends are relaxing and enjoying their time at the beach. Their good time is interrupted when a group of men begin to harass them. After one of the men attacks Ece, Büşra starts to kick and punch. Once Ece manages to get away from her attacker, Büşra orders her to head for the water. The two begin to swim, but somehow end up at two different beaches. Büşra fi nds herself in a segregated beach, where she is among many other women in haşemas. In contrast, Ece fi nds herself on a nude beach, where—remarkably— she is suddenly the most conservatively dressed swimmer. Once again, there is goodwill on behalf of Boysal to make the worlds of Büşra and Ece collide. However, the strip ends with the two of them fi nding comfort in their own realms and within their own communities. While the divisions in Turkish society constitute one of the main politically sensitive topics with which Boysal deals in his strips, it is not the only one. The strip Zor Zamanlar (Hard times), for example, highlights the long-running separatist conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish state (Boysal, Büşra 10–11). Kurds are the country’s largest and most politically active minority group (see Barkey and Fuller; Hirschler; Taşpınar). The roots of the conflict can be traced to the early 1920s when the establishment of the Turkish Republic was based on a homogenous, ethno-centric Turkish identity. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was armed conflict which resulted in the deaths of many Turks and Kurds. The situation has improved slightly since the late 1990s when Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish separatist leader, was captured and a greater degree of tolerance was introduced for Kurdish cultural activities. However, political tensions, which can easily erupt in violence, still persist. In the fi rst panel of Zor Zamanlar, the reader sees Büşra talking on the phone while looking out her window in Istanbul. Seda, her friend with whom she is on the phone, inquires about the outside noise. Büşra tells her that there are people right outside her window, waving Turkish flags and chanting the slogan, “Martyrs don’t die! Motherland cannot be divided!” (Boysal, Büşra 10–11). The content of the slogan informs the reader that this is an anti-Kurdish demonstration. During that phone conversation, Seda informs Büşra that her grandmother who lives in Antalya is very sick. She then asks Büşra if she would


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accompany her to Antalya. In order to make the offer appealing, Seda tells Büşra that after they visit her grandmother, they can go to the beach. Büşra agrees. Much like Büşra’s other friends, Seda is not religiously conservative. And, reminiscent of the strip Sahilde Raks Ederken Kaderin Miydi Seni Bekleyen?, the incongruity between Büşra’s haşema and her friend’s G-string bikini results in a clashing visual effect. As the two girls are relaxing at the beach, they hear a group of demonstrators shout, “Everything is for the country. Kurds and Turks are siblings. Those who want to separate them are treacherous” (Boysal, Büşra 11). The content of this slogan is quite different from the one that Büşra had heard outside her window in Istanbul. It encourages unity between Turks and Kurds and blames those who try to tear the two groups apart. While the slogan that the group chants is peaceful, their actions are not. Shortly, members of this group approach the girls and criticize Seda for “having no shame” and “having everything out in the open” and they begin to hit her (Boysal, Büşra 11). Büşra interjects and begs the men to let Seda go. While one of the men tries to push Büşra away, another man intervenes. He helps Büşra pull Seda away from the crowd. In the last panel of the strip, the reader sees the man who saved Seda enveloping her in a Turkish flag. The strip is clearly replete with irony. One example is how the separatist protest is peaceful, yet the conciliatory march turns violent. Another irony is how politically disengaged people—such as Büşra and her friend—are pushed into the political orbit given the highly charged and sensitive climate in the country. In the first panel, the Büşra who looks out her window is merely an observer. She sees the demonstrators outside, but she does not give any thought to their demands. The same is true of her friend, Seda. After Büşra tells her that there is a demonstration outside her window, she does not even bother to ask who is demonstrating or for what. She carries on with the conversation as though nothing had happened. Perhaps, it is their political disengagement that allows for Büşra and Seda’s friendship. However, toward the end of the strip, both Büşra and Seda are forced to engage with the crowd in order to break free. From being mere observers, they transform into participants. What differentiates this strip from earlier ones is that Büşra’s religious sensibilities do not abash, but rather save her. In the strips featuring her at the night club and the costume ball with Selin, Büşra was shunned because of her veil and kicked out from both places. In this strip, however, the crowd’s intolerance is directed against Seda’s overly exposed body. It is Büşra’s religiously conservative beach gear that ends up rescuing her friend, Seda, from the attacks of the angry crowd. When the Samaritan sees Büşra in a haşema, he decides to intervene and rescue the girls. Boysal makes an attempt to remain objective and not to take sides in any of the sensitive issues that his strips touch upon. As such, for all their trials and tribulations, Büşra’s experiences can be interpreted humorously. Even those instances where Büşra displays her religious devotion can be regarded



as satirical. For example, the strip Modelden Modele (From model to model) depicts Büşra’s first day of class at Mimar Sinan when she is assigned to draw a nude figure. After she promises herself that she will perform ablutions after class, Büşra begins to draw. Toward the end of the session, the professor notices that Büşra has chosen to draw the nude figure with underwear. Furious, he starts yelling at her. At that point, the nude model overhears the argument and realizes that the veiled young woman is his long-lost niece. He gets up, knocks over Büşra’s canvas, and accuses her of spying on him. When Büşra realizes that the model is in fact her uncle, she tells him that she was not spying on him and promises not to tell her parents about his modeling career. Despite this, it must be noted that in the overwhelming majority of the strips, secularists are portrayed as degenerates. Neither the men nor the women who would be identified as secularist appreciate Büşra’s religious sensibilities. While her close girlfriends like her as a person and want to spend time with her, they complain about—what to their minds is—Büşra’s strict adherence to religion. In the sixth strip of the serial, Büşra’s friend Ece complains that “in an age where people send prayers to their grandfathers’ graves through the Internet” Büşra still makes an effort to fi nd the needy and distribute alms (Boysal, Büşra 12). The majority of Büşra’s girlfriends wear what could be considered immodest clothes that reveal their bodies. They smoke, drink, and even use drugs. They date and have casual sex with people they meet at parties. Similarly, the serial often depicts secularist men as perverts who harass and attack women in order to have sex. Moreover, it is generally the secularists who are portrayed as more intolerant. They do not make an effort to really understand Büşra or her perspective. They expect her to act in a certain way and condemn her when she fails to adhere. Conclusion The last decade has witnessed transformations in the style and message of Islamic movements throughout the Muslim world. The ideas, approaches, and practices which had defi ned Islamism as a holistic solution or ideology to any political regime have lost their rigor and attractiveness. Congruent with these global trends, Islamists in Turkey have undergone changes with regards to their political aspirations and social attitudes. Since the late 1990s, many of them have taken a “low-profi le, non-confrontational, and moderate stance” (Cizre 323). This trend has gained momentum with the rise of the Justice and Development Party to power in 2002. Reflecting on the last two decades, scholars from a wide range of disciplines have explored how the political and social fabric of Turkish society has changed. However, only a handful of these works have analyzed how genres of popular culture have echoed and responded to the changing political aspirations and social attitudes of Turkey’s Islamists. Büşra is an example of the secularist response to the Islamists’ moderation.


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Büşra’s appeal cannot be grasped apart from the Turkish socio-political environment.15 Ten years earlier, Boysal would not have conceived of illustrating Büşra within the pages of Leman. However, transformations among Turkey’s Islamists and their increasing visibility in public spaces have enabled an environment wherein Boysal could create Büşra. “Now, there are so many different veiled women around. She just happens to be one of them–albeit a marginal one,” notes Boysal as he takes another sip of his drink (Boysal, personal interview). Büşra is a multilayered character whose identity is neither fi xed nor falls far from those of secularists. She moves in and out of secular realms and atmospheres trying to figure out how and the extent to which she can exist within them given her religious sensibilities. Throughout her journey, the veil subjects her to the public gaze. Both the Islamists and the secularists expect her to display the modes of conduct—or perhaps stereotypes—associated with veiled women and judge her when she fails to deliver. This might be why a sense of melancholy and sorrow is one of the most palpable aspects of the serial. Throughout the serial, Büşra is depicted in a lonesome state. The reader never sees her interact with family or with any other veiled character. She has friends, but none who can help her sort through the experiences of otherness and alienation. Büşra does not offer easy answers on how to merge the seemingly opposite components of her identity. At times, she comes across as being hypocritical. She travels to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Istanbul to distribute alms, yet shuns the experience of eating at an iftar tent because she thinks it beneath her to mingle with the working class. Acknowledging how the serial stemmed from changes in Turkish politics and society, Boysal wonders whether the experiences of his protagonist will effect any changes. His implicit wish for it to do so might be a reason why Boysal chose the name Büşra, which in English translates into ‘good omen’, for his protagonist. Boysal remains cautiously optimistic that it is possible for the Islamists and the secularists to co-exist. Büşra continues to sporadically appear in Boysal’s strips, and in the August 3, 2011 issue of Leman, she is revealed to be religiously married to a secularist, punk rocker type. Boysal depicts the husband telling her that he does not think he can change his bad temper and Büşra encouraging him to keep trying for the sake of their relationship. Boysal never makes an explicit plea for the two communities to come together. In fact, each strip demonstrates how complicated it is for the two communities to intermingle. However, by making a character like Büşra available to secularists, Boysal might encourage Leman’s readership to look at veiled women with a more well-rounded perspective. Likewise, following the adventures of Büşra might make the idea of participating and interacting with the secular world more palatable and appealing for some Islamists. Moreover, by creating Büşra, Boysal might also be attempting to broaden Western notions regarding Muslims and their appreciation for humor. In



September 2005, the publication of twelve cartoons in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten which depicted Prophet Muhammad sparked outrage and protest among Muslims across the world (see Kuipers; Klausen; Lewis et al.). The cartoons triggered a series of aggressive and violent events which left many in the West thinking that Muslims were intolerant toward humor and images—and that they could not take a joke. Seen in the light of these events, Büşra could be considered an effort to break down stereotypes about, and misrepresentations of, Muslims as intolerant and rigid people. Notes 1. The terms ‘Islamist’ and ‘secularist’ are current in society and have more or less accepted meanings among a wide range of people who operate outside of academia. ‘Secularist’ is used by researchers and journalists alike to refer to individuals, civil society organizations, and various other institutions that enforce and avow the secular principles of the Republic which were established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. ‘Islamist,’ on the other hand, when used in Turkey, refers to individuals who strive to carve a space for Islamic norms and practices in all spheres of Turkish life. ‘Islamists’ (İslamcılar) perceive Islam not only as a religious belief system, but also as a social and political system. 2. This chapter is for the most part based on Büşra, a compilation of the strips Boysal drew over the course of a year in Leman (Boysal, personal interview). The movie Büşra directed by Alper Çağlar was released in March 2010. 3. Rakı is an anise liqueur that is traditionally diluted with water. 4. On the history of Turkish humor magazines, see Alsaç; Özer Balcıoğlu. 5. Stereotyping has been a tool employed in cartoons since the 1930s. The most commonly stereotyped characters in cartoons have been civil servants, small shopkeepers, street vendors, and peasants. 6. See, for instance, his work in the June 16, 2010 issue of Leman. 7. Gırgır ( Jocular), fi rst published in 1972, was the best-selling and most influential Turkish humor magazine of the 1970s and early 1980s. After its closure, other humor magazines retained its content and style. Limon (Lemon) started appearing in 1985 and was published by a group of cartoonists who had worked for Gırgır. Interestingly, Leman (Mistress) was later founded in 1991 by cartoonists who in turn left Limon. 8. For background on the educational activities of the Gülen movement, see Balcı and Berktay; Agai. 9. Fethullah Gülen (b. 1941) is the founder of the Gülen community, which has close to six million members and boasts an enormous network of companies and institutes. It is the most eminent religious movement both inside and outside of the country. 10. The word medrese can variously be transliterated as madrasah, madrasa, madrassa, and madraza. In most Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian contexts, a medrese is a seminary or a college that specializes in the transmission of religious knowledge. However, depending on the context, medreses vary greatly in relation to the syllabi they offer, sectarian affiliation, reputation, geographical location, and the socioeconomic characteristics of the surrounding community (see Berkey). 11. This panel also exhibits the typical demographic for Leman’s readership.


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12. It is no coincidence that Boysal chose the reader’s initial view of Büşra as an unveiled woman who wears a tight-fitting, trendy outfit. Boysal’s intention was probably to have the reader experience a smiliar surprise to that of the last Mohican upon discovering that Büşra is veiled. 13. Every year during the holy month of Ramadan, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality erects more than 100 iftar tents around the city where thousands of people eat their iftar dinners for free. 14. This is an incident of Boysal drawing the reader’s attention to issues of class among religiously conservative Turks. 15. As mentioned, August 2007 was a time when tensions between the secularists and the Islamists flared up and prompted Boysal to create Büşra.

Works Cited Agai, Bekim. “Islam and Education in Secular Turkey: State Policies and the Emergence of the Fethullah Gülen Group.” Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education. Ed. Robert W. Hefner and Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007. 149–71. Akman, Ayhan. “From Cultural Schizophrenia to Modernist Binarism: Cartoons and Identities in Turkey (1930–1975).” Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 6 (1997): 83–131. Alsaç, Üstün. Türkiye’de Karikatür, Çizgi Roman, ve Çizgi Film [Comics, graphic novels, and animation in Turkey]. Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1994. Balcı, Bayram and Ali Berktay. Orta Asya’da İslam Misyonerleri: Fethullah Gülen Okulları [Missionaries of Islam in Central Asia: Fethullah Gülen’s schools]. Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2005. Balcıoğlu, Semih. Cumhuriyet’in 75. Yılında Türk Karikatürü [Turkish caricature in the 75th year of the Turkish Republic]. Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1998. Baran, Zeyno. “Turkey Divided.” Journal of Democracy 19.1 (2008): 55–69. Barkey, Henri, and Graham Fuller. Turkey’s Kurdish Question. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998. Berkey, Jonathan. “Madrasas Medieval and Modern: Politics, Education, and the Problem of Muslim Identity.” Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education. Ed. Robert W. Hefner and Muhammad Qasim Zaman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007. 40–60. Boysal, Bahadır. Büşra. Istanbul: Cadde Yayınları, 2010. . Personal interview. Istanbul, June 11 and August 4, 2010. Çağlar, Alper, dir. Büşra. Kanal D Home Video, 2010. Cizre, Ümit. “Turkey 2002: Kemalism, Islamism, and Politics in the Light of the February 28 Process.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.2–3 (2003): 309–32. Göl, Ayla. “The Identity of Turkey: Muslim and Secular.” Third World Quarterly 30.4 (2009): 795–811. Hirschler, Konrad. “Defi ning the Nation: Kurdish Historiography in Turkey in the 1990s.” Middle Eastern Studies 37.3 (2001): 145–66. Klausen, Jytte. Cartoons that Shook the World. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2009. Kuipers, Giselinde. “The Politics of Humour in the Public Sphere: Cartoons, Power and Modernity in the First Transnational Humour Scandal.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 14.1 (2011): 63–80. Lewis, Paul, et al. “The Muhammad Cartoons and Humor Research: A Collection of Essays.” Humor 21.1 (2008): 1–46.



Öncü, Ayşe. “Global Consumerism, Sexuality as Public Spectacle, and the Cultural Remapping of Istanbul in the 1990s.” Fragments of Culture: The Everyday of Modern Turkey. Ed. Deniz Kandiyoti and Ayşe Saktanber. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2002. 171–90. Özer, Atila. İletişimin Çizgi Dili Karikatür [Caricature: The lined language of communication]. Eskişehir: Anadolu Üniversitesi Yayınları, 1994. Saktanber, Ayşe, and Gül Çorbacıoğlu. “Veiling and Headscarf-Skepticism in Turkey.” Social Politics 15.4 (2008): 514–38. Taşpınar, Ömer. Kurdish Nationalism and Political Islam in Turkey: Kemalist Identity in Transition. New York: Routledge, 2005. Tavernise, Sabrina. “Turkish Party’s Pick for President Worries Secularists.” New York Times. April 24, 2007. Yüksel, Metin. Personal Interview. Istanbul, June 7, 2010.


The Yacoubian Building and Its Sisters Reflections on Readership and Written Culture in Modern Egypt Richard Jacquemond

One of the most discussed events in Egypt’s cultural scene during the fi rst decade of the new millennium, or the last decade of Muhammad Hosni Mubarak’s reign, has been the success story of ‘Ala’ al-Aswany’s novel ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian (2002; English translation: The Yacoubian Building, 2004). First published by Dar Merit, a small publishing house linked with the literary and political avant-garde, it was soon reprinted by Maktabat Madbuli, both one of Cairo’s main bookshops and a publisher with high commercial skills, and fi nally by Dar al-Shuruq, Egypt’s leading private publishing house. In the meantime, the novel had been adapted into a movie (2006; directed by Marwan Hamid) which was presented as “the most expensive in the history of Egyptian cinema.” The opaque conditions that prevail in the publishing business, in Egypt more than elsewhere, make it a hard task to try to figure out the actual sales of ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian, but a conservative estimate would put them around 200,000 copies. Moreover, the novel was soon translated into every major world language, also with unprecedented sales for a modern Arabic novel. The French translation alone is said to have sold more than 300,000 copies, and al-Aswany announced in March 2009 that he had just celebrated with his agent his fi rst million copies sold worldwide.1 In a country where the latest novel by the most consecrated living novelists would not sell more than few thousand copies, the “Yacoubian phenomenon” was bound to prompt heated debates within the literary milieus over its literary value and the reasons of its success. But even more interestingly, ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian’s success was followed by a series of other ‘bestsellers’ by equally previously unknown authors. Some of them are also novels, although in quite different ways: ‘Azazil (2008, seventeenth reprint in 2011; 2 English translation: Azazeel, 2012), by Yusuf Zaydan (b. 1958), is a highly acclaimed historical novel which won the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, also known as the “Arabic Booker.” In yet other styles, Ahmad Murad’s (b. 1978) Vertigo (2007, eighth reprint; English translation, 2011) belongs to the classical—although not so common in modern Arabic literature—genre of the detective novel, while Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq’s (b. 1962) Utopia (2008; English translation, 2011) is a socio-political thriller set in Egypt’s near future. Others do not fall in the

The Yacoubian Building and Its Sisters


conventional category of fiction, such as Khalid al-Khamisi’s (b. 1962) Taxi (2007, twenty-first reprint; English translation, 2008), a compelling narrative account of the author’s encounters with Cairo taxi drivers, and the various bestsellers belonging to adab sakhir (satirical literature), such as Shaklaha bazit (Looks like it messed up; 2006) by ‘Umar Tahir (b. 1975), Usama Gharib’s Masr laysat ummi, di mrat abuya (Egypt is not my mother, but my stepmother; 2008), or ‘Ayza atgawwiz (2008, ninth reprint; English translation: I Want to Get Married, 2010) by Ghada ‘Abd al-‘Al (b. 1978), which was originally a blog and also became a TV series (2010). This list does not pretend to cover exhaustively the actual bestselling books of the last decade in Egypt: As I stated before, the current conditions of publishing in the country make it impossible to compile such a list with minimal accuracy. Rather, my purpose is to put together a corpus as significant as possible in order to analyze this phenomenon, namely, the emergence of new kinds of actors—authors, publishers, booksellers, and readers as well—in the field of written culture in today’s Egypt. To the abovementioned titles, I will add a few others that share in common all that made it to the bestsellers’ lists, partly thanks to the notoriety gained by their authors’ first bestselling book: al-Aswany’s second novel Chicago (2007, nineteenth reprint; English translation, 2008); Khalid al-Khamisi’s Safinat Nuh (Noah’s Ark; 2009, seventh reprint; English translation, forthcoming), and Yusuf Zaydan’s al-Nabati (The Nabatean; 2010, fifth reprint). Before reflecting more lengthily on this new “bestsellers phenomenon,” I would like fi rst to situate it in its historical context. The Egyptian Book Market at the Turn of the Millennium In modern times, Egypt, the most populated country of the Arab world and the leading one in terms of modern nation-state building, has long been the main publishing center in the region. At the peak of its influence, in the 1950s and early 1960s, it is estimated that Egypt printed 75% of the total Arab book production, of which it exported 60% to 80% to the rest of the Arab world and, further, to the Muslim countries of Asia and Africa (Gonzalez-Quijano, Les gens 125–26). This leadership was jeopardized by the Nasserist policies. The successive waves of nationalizations and restructuring of the press and the publishing industry and their political instrumentalization at the hands of the regime seriously weakened it. This became clear after the 1967 defeat and even more in the 1970s. The thriving Lebanese publishing industry recuperated the foreign markets lost by its Egyptian counterpart, and by the end of the 1970s it had become by far the leading book exporter in the region, a position it was able to maintain and consolidate in the following decades in spite of the Lebanese civil war (1975 –1990). Despite some gestures toward liberalization, such as the suppression of prior censorship (1977), the Sadat and Mubarak regimes maintained strong control over book production, through various means. The public sector preserved its dominant position over the book industry which, significantly,


Richard Jacquemond

remained largely immune to the liberal policies enhanced by the Egyptian authorities starting from the mid-1970s. The main actors in the private sector were small, family-run businesses working mainly in the two fields that generated some profit in the Egyptian market, that is, school and university books and religious books. ‘General’ publishing, what is usually referred to in the Anglo-Saxon world as ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’, remained in the hands of either state-owned companies, or small, fragile private ventures who suffered from the unfair competition imposed by these. These cyclical problems due to political mismanagement were aggravated by the structural weaknesses of the national book market. While the country’s population roughly doubled between 1975 and 2010 (from 40 to 80 million), and while all education indicators witnessed spectacular progress in the same period, meaning that the number of potential readers multiplied by six or eight, everything indicates that the book market and the reading audience did not expand accordingly. The reasons for this lag are well known: The Egyptian educational system does not stimulate or foster reading; the national network of public libraries is almost inexistent; every link in the book chain is extremely fragile, from marketing to distribution and bookshops; and so on. In these conditions, reading as a social habit did not spread beyond limited fractions of the middle class and remained largely associated with a utilitarian thinking rather than with entertainment or aesthetic pleasure; as I mentioned before, the two most profitable slots for publishers have always been schoolbooks and religious books, that is, books that are beneficial to their readers, either immediately or in the other world. These trends are confirmed by the most recent survey on Arab readership (Next Page Foundation): Given a list of sentences with which they can agree/disagree on a scale of four, the items Egyptian readers most “strongly agree” with are “Islam/Christianity teaches Muslims/Christians to read” (80%) and “I read to improve myself (59%), while only 36% strongly agree with “I read for pleasure.” Highbrow Versus Lowbrow Culture: The End of a Myth? These perceptions of books and reading are closely connected with the representation of Egyptian culture as being strongly divided between highbrow and lowbrow culture. Actually, as many observers have noted (see Armbrust; Gonzalez-Quijano, Les gens), there is a huge gap between the dominant representation produced by the intelligentsia, whereby legitimate culture is restricted to a limited cluster of genres, authors, and styles, and the reality of cultural practices, where the whole spectrum of the social fabric shares a ‘mass culture’ that has little in common with the legitimate culture as defined by the elite. Indeed, a closer observation of the mass reading practices in Egypt reveals that this divide is much more blurred than what the dominant representation would have us believe. The same individuals, families, and social milieus have, much more often than believed, diverse reading practices. Individuals and social groups associated with the cultural elite may read a wide range of authors,

The Yacoubian Building and Its Sisters


many of them rejected outside the highbrow canon, while authors belonging to the latter have a much wider audience than the close circle of the intelligentsia’s happy few. An eloquent indicator of these mixed practices is that of the most downloaded Arabic books on the popular website www.4shared.com, which provides us with the number of downloads for every book shared by its users. Because of the legal loopholes and the chaotic state of the Arab market, virtually all Arabic books currently available in the market can be downloaded for free at 4shared (and other similar sites, the latter seemingly being the most popular one). In order to test the popularity of a selection of Egyptian authors, I have made an attempt at gathering the total amount of downloads of their books. The result is the following chart:3



Type of writing

Mustafa Mahmud (1921–2009)

> 500,000

Polygraph, ‘Islamic writer’

Anis Mansur (1925–2011)

> 320,000

Polygraph, light journalism

M. ‘Abbas al-‘Aqqad (1889–1964)

> 270,000

Polygraph, mostly Islamic themes

Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898–1987)

> 240,000

Polygraph, playwright

Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006)

> 200,000


Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917–1996)

> 200,000

Islamic preacher

Taha Husayn (1889–1973)

> 180,000


M. Hasanayn Haykal (1923–)

> 180,000

Political journalist

M. Mutawalli al-Sha‘rawi (1911–1998)

> 150,000

Islamic preacher

Yusuf al-Siba‘i (1917–1978)

> 120,000


Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus (1919–1990)

> 110,000


Yusuf al-Qaradawi (1926–)

> 90,000

Islamic preacher

Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966)

> 80,000

Islamic thinker and militant

Rajul al-mustahil (Man of the impossible; Nabil Faruq [b. 1956])

> 80,000

Detective series for teenagers

Mahmud al-Sa‘dani (1928–2010)

> 75,000

Satirical writer

Ali Ahmad Bakathir (1910–1969)

> 57,000

Novelist and playwright

Gamal al-Ghitani (1945–)

> 55,000


Nawal al-Sa‘dawi (1931–)

> 50,000

Feminist writer

Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq (1962–)

> 45,000

Novelist (esp. for teenagers)

‘Umar Tahir (1975–)

> 45,000

Satirical writer and vernacular poet

Faruq Guwayda (1945–)

> 40,000

Poet and journalist

Yusuf Zaydan (1958–)

> 34,000

Novelist and historian

Sun‘allah Ibrahim (1937–)

> 30,000


‘Ala’ al-Aswany (1957–)

> 28,000


Yusuf Idris (1928–1991)

> 21,000

Short-story writer and novelist


Richard Jacquemond

Comparator: selected non-Egyptian Arab authors and foreign authors in Arabic translation: Author


Type of writing

Ahlam Musteghanemi (1953–)

> 250,000

Novelist, Algeria-Lebanon

Nizar Qabbani (1923–1998)

> 150,000

Poet, Syria

Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008)

> 62,000

Poet, Palestine

Paulo Coelho

> 150,000


Gabriel García Márquez

> 110,000


Jean-Paul Sartre

> 55,000


Dan Brown

> 50,000


Amin Maalouf

> 30,000

France (Lebanon)

Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling)

> 21,000


Of course, these books can be downloaded worldwide, and not only in Egypt: In other words, this chart tells more about the Arab-speaking readership at large than about the Egyptian readership only. But while there is no way to know if a particular Egyptian author is more downloaded in his own country or elsewhere, we know that some authors enjoy a pan-Arab fame while others’ audience tends to be more limited to their country of origin. Canonical writers such as Mahmoud ‘Abbas al-‘Aqqad, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz, and Taha Husayn are widely read beyond Egypt’s borders. This is also probably true for their younger counterparts such as Gamal al-Ghitani, Sun‘allah Ibrahim, or Yusuf Idris, especially if one takes into account the limited exporting abilities of their current Egyptian publishers. All of them represent the highbrow, canonized literature in this chart. The same goes for Yusuf al-Siba‘i, Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus, ‘Ali Ahmad Bakathir, and Nawal al-Sa‘dawi: These Egyptian authors, less canonized than the previous ones, are well known outside Egypt. As regards the two journalists represented in the chart, Anis Mansur’s audience is much more local than that of Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal, whose pan-Arab audience has been boosted by his numerous programs on Al-Jazeera TV, and Haykal’s writings are usually dubbed more ‘serious’ than Mansur’s. The other names in this chart have a mainly local fame and audience, and most of them typically belong to what I characterize here as middlebrow literature. It is worth considering the two names that head this chart and are by far the most popular writers in Egypt more closely. Mustafa Mahmud (1921–2009), trained as a physician, started his writing career in the 1950s as an author of ‘existentialist’ fiction and essays before becoming a born-again Muslim of sorts at the end of the 1960s; since then, he published dozens of books aiming at the edification of the public and the apologia of Islam. An English

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translation of some of his bestselling titles suffices to situate them: “My journey from doubt to faith,” “The enigma of death,” “I saw God,” “Of love and life,” “Coming out of the coffi n,” and so on. Mustafa Mahmud’s fame had been boosted by the popular program al-‘Ilm wa-l-iman (Science and faith) which he presented for almost twenty years on Egyptian TV. Writer and journalist Anis Mansur (1924–2011)—whose obituary in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar began with this sentence, “There is no single reader in Egypt who has not opened one of his books, but it is impossible to fi nd one who has read all of them” (qtd. in Gonzalez-Quijano, “Anis Mansour”)—is the author or translator of more than 200 books on all subjects, famous for his travel accounts, the lightness of his style (and his ideas), as well as his ‘apolitical’ stance and his closeness to the former president Sadat. All these factors allowed him to enter the schoolbooks and be granted the highest literary state prizes, even though his name is, and will remain, absent from every history of modern Arabic literature. Two weeks after his death, his most-visited fan page on Facebook boasted more than 150,000 friends,4 which shows that he remains popular among younger generations of readers. This chart can be read as an opinion poll of sorts: It has many limitations and therefore should not be over-interpreted. Still, it is consistent with the general picture the author has derived from a two-decade long frequentation of Cairo bookshops and book fairs and conversations with its actors, and it offers a tentative indication, within a largely opaque book market, of the reading trends of that fraction of the Arab readership that is familiar with this particular way of getting access to the book: an audience younger, more computer and Internet literate than the average Arab reader. Overall, it confi rms some specific characteristics of the Arab book market, the fi rst of them being that it is still immune to the major trends prevailing in Western markets, as can be attested by the weak showing of international bestsellers such as the novels of Dan Brown or Harry Potter, and of highly popular genres such as Japanese manga, heroic fantasy, or detective novels. Conversely, the local audience, especially in Egypt, overwhelmingly favors specific genres of writing such as ‘Islamic’ literature, satirical literature, but also the kind of light and socially committed fiction represented by Yusuf al-Siba‘i and Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus in the 1960s and 1970s (and who are still widely read, according to this chart), and by ‘Ala’ al-Aswany, Khalid al-Khamisi, and similar authors in the 2000s. New Authors, New Venues, New Audiences Several of the authors of the new bestseller corpus appear in the above chart: a good indicator of their strong presence in the market, which is all the more remarkable because, unlike their elder peers, most of them have only published a handful of titles or less. In Egypt as elsewhere, it takes a longer time for a writer to build a name and earn his/her place in the sun than, say, for


Richard Jacquemond

a singer or an actor. For these authors, the name-building process went relatively swiftly, and this swiftness is closely connected with the general renewal witnessed by the book market during the last decade. In 2002, two young professional women recently graduated from the American University in Cairo, Hind and Nadia Wassef, opened their fi rst bookshop in the upper middle-class district of Zamalek. The venue, named Diwan, was in many ways a totally new concept in Cairo’s cultural scene: It displayed within the same space books (Arabic and foreign, mainly English), music, and fi lms (CDs and DVDs). This might seem quite ordinary to a European or American reader, but it was unheard of in Cairo ten years ago, which tells a lot about the lag of the cultural supply in this 15 million metropolis that boasts of being the cultural capital of the Arab world. It also included a small coffee shop, and the Wassef sisters soon made of Diwan a can’t-miss venue for dozens of writers and hundreds of readers by setting up a relentless program of book-signings, readings, and similar events. A decade later, Diwan has opened seven other outlets in Cairo and two in Alexandria, and the next stage of its expansion should witness new openings in the country’s other major urban centers. Diwan’s success soon inspired Dar al-Shuruq, the biggest private Egyptian publisher who has in its turn opened some ten outlets in Cairo and Alexandria in the same span of time. Other actors also made their appearance, whether local such as Kutub Khan, an innovative bookshop set in the upper middle-class suburb of Maadi, or global retailers such as Virgin, which opened a ‘Megastore’ in City Stars, one of Cairo’s most posh malls. As it happens, 2002 also saw the fi rst publication of ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian, ‘Ala’ al-Aswany’s bestseller. Since then, as Nadia Wassef puts it, Diwan and al-Aswany have “supported each other.” One could not express in a better way the close connection between the new wave of bestsellers and this new kind of book marketing. Of course, Diwan, and the establishment of similar bookstores, was but one of many factors and actors that contributed to shaping this new landscape. The Internet—a negative factor if one looks at the illegal downloading practices mentioned before—perhaps as decisively has boosted the sales of many books through online book clubs (see Alsayed); social networks, whether general (such as Facebook) or specialized (such as Good Reads); blogs; and forums. Here, it should be recalled that during the last decade, Egypt has been one of the fastest-growing countries in terms of Internet access (from 450,000 users in December 2000 to over 20 millions in March 2011, according to Internet World Stats5 ). The new wave of writers themselves use the Internet to promote their books, by creating their own blogs or Facebook pages to their names or their books’ titles. In the case of Ghada ‘Abd al-‘Al, the blog preceded the book or, more precisely, the blog’s popularity made her write the book. Online promotion has been especially crucial in these developments since the traditional Egyptian media—both press and TV—have remained a very ineffective actor in this respect.

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By contrast, publishers appear as the poor relative in this new relationship between the Egyptian book and its readers. Huge progress has certainly been made during the last two decades as regards the product itself: While many old publishing houses still stick to the design and shapes that prevailed in the 1960s, which gives to many Egyptian books their characteristic antiquated look, the main and most recent actors in the market now produce more attractive books, although editorial standards do not seem to progress at the same pace. This revamp certainly helped both authors and retailers in conquering new audiences within urban middle-class milieus where reading, especially in Arabic, was not fashionable. However, Egyptian publishers have still to develop effective marketing strategies which appear remarkably absent in this new context where authors, readers, and retailers are the main actors of the book promotion. These connections between authors, venues, and audiences help us draw an ideal typical picture of this new pocket in the Egyptian book market that has emerged in the last decade. Its audience is overwhelmingly young (below forty), predominantly female (in Egypt as elsewhere, women are more regular readers than men), urban, and educated at the university level. These young readers are prone to have discovered fiction in the 1990s through the cheap, popular detective series for teenagers written by Nabil Faruq and Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq (both authors appear high in the above chart). When they came to age in the 2000s, they found in the satirical literature of ‘Umar Tahir (who follows Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq in the above chart) and similar writers a mirror of their own social and cultural trajectories and a faithful, tragicomic expression of their love–hate relationship with the Egypt in which they grew up: a country they “love sometimes, because there [they] see their parents and friends, and [they] hate sometimes, because [they] don’t see clearly how to make for [themselves] a place in it” (Tahir 10; my translation). This satirical literature, as well as al-Aswany’s, al-Khamisi’s, and others’ novels, has contributed to shaping this generation’s political consciousness in an authoritarian, neo-liberal context where major political issues were kept out of public debate and where political activism appeared either pointless or suicidal. Unsurprisingly, these writers have resorted to private publishers, and even to self-publishing sometimes, and, unlike most of their predecessors, they have no connection whatsoever with the state’s cultural and media apparatus. Maybe the most crucial point in order to understand this phenomenon is that it developed in complete disconnection from any state intervention. In this respect, it is the clearest indication in the field of written culture of the failure of the cultural policies of the Mubarak regime. At the same time, it is a crucial factor for understanding the world vision of the middle-class, educated youth who were to become one of the most visible, if not decisive, actors of the January 2011 revolution. Before January 2011, complaining about the political apathy and ‘negativity’ of Egyptian youth was commonplace among the older generation of intellectuals and activists. According to a similar


Richard Jacquemond

stereotype, this same youth had been brainwashed by an educational system that failed to develop its taste for reading, and therefore was irremediably cut off from literature. Both stereotypes proved wrong but, like all stereotypes, they tell more about those who circulate them than about those they are supposed to characterize. New Context, Old Recipes With the growing discontent caused by the neo-liberal policies enforced by a corrupt bureaucracy for the benefit of a very small elite, but also the relative freedom of expression allowed to the cultural field—especially as regards written culture—the last decade of Mubarak’s reign offered a favorable context for the expression of social and political criticism through two genres of writing in particular: satirical literature and realistic social fiction. By tackling these genres, the new writers have innovated and, at the same time, reactivated a rich national tradition. Actually, one can argue that both genres were born at the same time in the fi rst Egyptian masterpiece of modern Arabic literature, namely, Hadith ‘Isa ibn Hisham (1907; English translation: A Period of Time, 1992), by Muhammad al-Muwaylihi (1868–1930). Because it is written in the form of the classical maqama,6 modern Arab critics have often disregarded this fictional work as a ‘proto-novel’, while actually it contains all the essential ingredients of both satirical literature and realistic fiction in their Egyptian manifestations. Both satire and realism are discursive strategies that construct reality and bestow meaning on it by putting the emphasis on its failures and shortcomings, excesses and distortions, in order to provoke laughter and to express a form of social and political criticism. Another characteristic of both Hadith ‘Isa ibn Hisham and many contemporary satirical and fictional works is that they pretend to be all encompassing, that is, to embrace all aspects of social life in their satirical/fictional critical narrative. In this respect, Sun‘allah Ibrahim’s masterpiece Dhat (1992; English translation: Zaat, 2004), can be read as the Mubarak years’ avatar of Hadith ‘Isa ibn Hisham: Although it uses much more modern narrative strategies, it shares with its predecessor the same combination of satire and realistic fiction and the same ambition of covering in its criticism all aspects of social life in modern Egypt. Such a mix is exceptional: Satirical literature and social realism developed during the twentieth century as two separate, autonomous genres. But while the latter became gradually canonized in the form of the realistic novel, the former has remained marginalized by the literary Establishment as a ‘light’ form of writing.7 The new young writers who have made a name as satirists in the recent years seemingly share little in common with their elder counterparts such as Ahmad Ragab (b. 1928) or Mahmud al-Sa‘dani (1928–2010), another popular specialist of the genre who appears high on the above chart. Actually,

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their works themselves diverge much in both form and content. Regarding language, Ghada ‘Abd al-‘Al uses almost exclusively spoken Egyptian Arabic, whereas ‘Umar Tahir creates an original mix of classical and colloquial, and Usama Gharib generally sticks to the classical variety. Content-wise, ‘Abd al‘Al’s book narrates the misfortunes of a young Egyptian woman looking for a suitable match, giving way to a hilarious satire of male–female relationships in Egypt’s middle class. By contrast, Usama Gharib alternates between anecdotes about his life, family, and friends, and half-serious, half-funny thoughts and meditations about God, religion, and the meaning of life. While both use fi rst-person narration, ‘Umar Tahir, the most popular of this new generation of satirical writers, takes a more distant stance. His bestselling book is a hilarious journey through modern Egypt’s contradictions, shortcomings, and peccadilloes, with chapters such as “How to know you’re walking in a Cairo street,” “How to know you’re watching an Egyptian movie,” “The 100 most famous rumors in Egyptian life,” “The 55 most famous sentences uttered by an Egyptian mother and father,” and so on. However, the common denominator among these writers is that they establish an explicit link between their age and their world vision. This is probably the main cause of their appeal to their young peers in a society that makes little room for youth expression and more than often delegitimizes it. Another reason for their success, which is related to the previous one, is their apparent distance from politics. Although their satire is more social and moral than outwardly political, this self-distancing from direct political critique is in itself a political stance. In a context where the expression of political dissent was tolerated by the regime—within limits of course—this way of criticizing the decaying state of Egyptian society without naming those responsible for it was a more radical and more effective way of delegitimizing them, as if the youth gave the ruling elite, that does not recognize them, a taste of its own medicine. Just as this new satirical literature revives an old national tradition, the new works of narrative fiction that made it to the bestsellers lists did so mainly by renewing, in different directions, the tradition of realistic fiction. My purpose is not to discuss the content of these works or to propose a literary analysis of them, but rather to reflect on the reasons behind their success and on the debates they aroused within the Egyptian literary field. The most famous and the most debated one was undoubtedly ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian, and to an extent that exempts us from dwelling on it at great length (see Jacquemond 232–33). Al-Aswany’s novel is a skillfully written narrative that is anything but innovative: It could have been written half a century earlier, by Yusuf al-Siba‘i or Ihsan ‘Abd al-Quddus, two masters of the Egyptian melodrama in its novelistic form who are still very popular (see the above chart). The reciprocal shunning between al-Aswany and the Egyptian literary milieu, for that matter, is the exact repetition of that which characterized the relation between al-Siba‘i and ‘Abd al-Quddus and the literary avant-garde in the 1950s and 1960s. The main difference between him and his predecessors


Richard Jacquemond

lies in their respective reception abroad: al-Siba‘i and ‘Abd al-Quddus could never make it to the global market because the latter was much less open to third world literatures in general, and even less to Egyptian writers because of the political image of their country in the West during the Nasserist era. By contrast, The Yacoubian Building’s success abroad is one among several indicators of the emergence of a ‘world literature’ that has little to do with Goethe’s Weltliteratur and more with ‘world music’: As Sinan Antoon puts it, it is an indicator, among others, of the growing openness of the international book market to literary products that come from the global south and are ‘packaged’ in a way familiar to the European and North American audiences while catering to these audiences’ “forensic interest” (qtd. in Lynx Qualey) in these dangerous places. Khalid al-Khamisi’s Taxi—maybe the second-best-selling book in the corpus—is an even more interesting case. Its original subtitle, Hawadit almashawir, summarizes the purpose of the book well: This colloquial expression refers to oral stories (hawadit) gathered by the author during his journeys (mashawir) in Cairo taxis. These fi fty-eight stories, put together, draw a vivid picture, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, of ordinary Cairenes’ struggle for survival against all odds. Al-Khamisi stated, in a public lecture at the American University in Cairo, that he fi rst had thought of another subtitle: maqama haditha,8 “a modern maqama.” This aborted subtitle might be actually the best way to characterize his book, for it shares with Muwaylihi’s and Ibrahim’s aforementioned works the same ambition of drawing an allencompassing picture of Egyptian society through a succession of sketches, although with much simpler and direct literary means. What concerns me more, however, is once again the book’s reception and status. As Ursula Lindsey remarks, commenting on al-Khamisi’s lecture at AUC: It was interesting to me to note, however, how the book’s reception in Egypt—where a debate ensued over whether it was a work of literature proper, rather than of reportage or sociology—has been interiorized by its author. Al Khamissi was at pains to describe Taxi as a “literary text,” one that was entirely his imaginative creation. . . . After the success of Taxi, Al Khamissi has been at pains to present himself as a Writer, capital W. This seems to include retroactive re-interpretation of his work: Taxi clearly has a sociological goal, but Al Khamissi today insists it should be discussed “from a literary point of view.” Of course, this has to do with the new turn in the author’s career after the success of his fi rst book, since he later published a ‘proper’ novel (Safinat Nuh, 2009) that deals, like al-Aswany’s second one (Chicago), with the migration of Egyptians seeking a better life abroad. Besides this common theme of their second opus, they share other characteristics. Both have inherited their literary inclination from fathers who were themselves writers belonging to this

The Yacoubian Building and Its Sisters


vast, understudied section of Egyptian written culture that transcends the highbrow/lowbrow divide. ‘Abbas al-Aswany (1925–1977) remains known as a satirical writer, author of al-Maqamat al-Aswaniyya—another hint at the centrality of the “modern maqama” in this investigation! ‘Abd al-Rahman alKhamisi (1920–1987) was a brilliant Jack-of-all-trades (poet, playwright, song writer, theater and movie director, etc.) who remains famous in the Egyptian literati’s memory for his relentless verve as well as his political stance against the regime. Both their sons completed their education abroad (al-Aswany in the US; al-Khamisi in France) and are fluent in both English and French. Furthermore, both use their literary fame to intervene in the national political debate and to make a plea, abroad, for the new, democratic Egypt they hope for. It is thus fascinating to see how both are now, each in his own way, bound to follow parallel trajectories, to produce and export abroad the same kind of literature and the same kind of intellectual figure. Their follower on the bestselling chart, Yusuf Zaydan (‘Azazil, 2008; al-Nabati, 2010), works on a different genre, the historical novel which, alongside the realistic novel, has been throughout Egypt’s modern literary history one of the most popular narrative genres. One can argue that modern Arabic narrative was founded at the turn of the twentieth century by Muwaylihi and his realistic fiction and by Jurji Zaydan (1861–1914) and the historical novel. But just as the modern Arab literary canon marginalizes Muwaylihi because of the ‘neo-archaic’ style of his pseudo-maqama, it looks down upon Jurji Zaydan’s novels with their larger-than-life heroes and villains and their predictable plots. From Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas to Umberto Eco and Orhan Pamuk, the historical novel has remained one of the most popular genres in the international literary market. Jurji Zaydan was, in his time, the fi rst modern Arab writer to have access to this international market, being widely translated into Persian, Turkish, and–more modestly—German and French. Yusuf Zaydan’s novels will probably fi nd their place in the global market. However, it is hard to predict whether they will be met abroad with the same success as in Egypt. As a matter of fact, this success owes much to his fi rst novel’s theme and setup: ‘Azazil presents, through the pseudo-autobiography of an Egyptian monk, the ideological and political confl icts that opposed the conquering Christian church with the last believers in the ancient Egyptian pantheon, the Alexandrian Hellenistic intelligentsia, as well as the rivalry within the Christian Oriental church between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Antioch in the fi fth century. Zaydan, an academic and a scholar in Islamic studies, succeeds in mixing historical events and characters with fictional ones and compelling love stories, in an elaborate Arabic style that sounds at once modern and faithful to the spirit of the novel’s ancient setup. All this has won ‘Azazil the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. 9 By these standards, ‘Azazil gets closer than any of the previously discussed works to what is deemed a ‘proper’ literary piece by the Egyptian literary Establishment. This does not explain, however, the amazingly high level of


Richard Jacquemond

its sales in the country, which has to do with the book’s subject and the controversy it aroused within the Egyptian Coptic Church, which could not stand Zaydan’s depiction of the patriarch Cyril of Alexandria as a powerhungry leader who stirred his followers in a way that led them to slay the Greek Alexandrian philosopher and mathematician Hypatia. Thanks to his twofold identity as a Muslim scholar and a novelist, Yusuf Zaydan has thus been able to have it both ways, that is, to reproduce in his way the “impossible mix of commercial success and cultural legitimacy” (Casanova 12) that characterized the reception of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, to which ‘Azazil has been compared by some Arab critics (see Wazen). Compared to satirical literature, realistic fiction, the historical novel, the political thriller, and the detective novel—genres to which Utopia and Vertigo belong—the two works I will deal with now do not have a very rich history in modern Arabic literature. Whereas Western detective novels in Arabic translation have long been popular with local audiences (see Selim), few Egyptian writers have tackled the genre in a consistent way. The most popular among them was Salih Mursi (1929–1996), whose fame is closely connected with his novelistic rendition of the life and deeds of Ra’fat al-Haggan, the code name of a real intelligence agent who became known to every Egyptian after Mursi’s novels were adapted into a popular TV series in the late 1980s. The other major name in this field is Nabil Faruq (b. 1956), the author of the popular teenager series Rajul al-mustahil (see the above chart), whose hero is, much like Ra’fat al-Haggan, an Egyptian spy. With Mursi and Faruq, we are thus dealing more precisely with the spy novel, which allowed these authors to situate their work within the framework of the national epic. Conversely, the detective novel’s function is to unveil the darkest sides of human behavior, the most corrupt and unspeakable aspects of a given society. It is perhaps for this reason that, in addition to the literary Establishment’s looking down on it, the genre has remained so marginal in Egyptian literary production where many subjects still belong to the realm of the unspeakable. Given this context, the success of Ahmad Murad’s Vertigo and Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq’s Utopia, although more modest than that of the works analyzed in the previous pages, is worthy of interest. These are two quite different authors and pieces of literature. Ahmad Murad, the youngest of all our writers (b. 1978), was trained as a cameraman before becoming Hosni Mubarak’s personal photographer10 when he started writing Vertigo. This is all depicted in the novel: Its hero is a young photographer, and it is written as a fi lm scenario (in fact, it has recently been adapted into a TV series). The plot leads the reader into the underworld of Cairo’s business tycoons, privatized policemen, and corrupt politicians—Murad is obviously a smart reader of both John Grisham’s thrillers and the crime-and-scandal pages of the Egyptian press. He has produced slick promotional videos of his two novels and has them broadcast by the TV talk shows that invite him—another indication of the transformation of the book into an ordinary good. Ahmad

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Khalid Tawfiq’s (b. 1962) trajectory is quite different: Like his friend and colleague Nabil Faruq, he was trained as a physician at Tanta University’s Faculty of Medicine (where he still teaches), and he joined him around 1990 at al-Mu’assasa al-‘arabiyya al-haditha (Modern Arab Foundation), where Faruq was publishing his Rajul al-mustahil series. Tawfiq published in his turn more than 200 titles in various teenager series ranging from science fiction and horror to adventures in Africa and translations from world literature, all of which built up his fame among tens of thousands of young readers, if not within the literary Establishment. Recently, however, he made a name as a ‘real’ novelist with Utopia, a political thriller set in the year 2023 in an Egypt divided between a small gated colony of the super wealthy and the rest of the country living in poverty and destitution. Published, like the fi rst editions of Vertigo and ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian, by Dar Merit, Cairo’s main publisher for the literary avant-garde in the 2000s, Utopia transformed the status of Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq, making him a recognized writer. At the same time, he could rely on the wide audience of his youth series, now grown older and more politicized, to make of this ‘fi rst’ novel a bestseller. Utopia and Vertigo have just been released in English translations by Bloomsbury Qatar Publishing Foundation, a Qatari-British venture launched in 2008, months after the initiation of the International Prize for Arabic Literature (IPAF), the other major British-Arab joint venture aiming at putting the Arabic novel on the global map of world literature. But while the IPAF is a nonprofit venture whose selections seem influenced by a complex weighing of political, literary, and commercial criteria, Bloomsbury Qatar is a clearly commercial one whose explicit aim is “to fi nd new talent to build on the success of Egypt’s ‘Ala’ Al-Aswany’s novel The Yacoubian Building, which is an international bestseller” (Black and Flood). Bloomsbury Qatar has also published reprints of the Arabic version of Utopia and Vertigo, as well as a paperback reprint of the English translation of Taxi, presented (on the front cover) as “the novel that predicted the uprising.” The same could be said of Utopia and Vertigo, and the simultaneous release of these three books in the fall of 2011, a few months after the overthrow of Mubarak, was a major marketing asset for Bloomsbury Qatar, which invited the three writers for a promotional tour in Great Britain on this occasion. It is noteworthy that these three books carry the same title in their Arabic original as in the English translation, simply because their Arabic titles are foreign. While this foreignness is less perceptible for the Arab reader in the case of Taxi, a word so commonly used in Cairo daily life that it has become completely naturalized in Arabic, it is blatant in the case of Utopia and Vertigo. Paradoxically, the meaning conveyed by these foreign titles to the Arab reader is a critical reference to the national elite’s Westernization, while they give the English-speaking reader a sense of familiarity. On another level, as we have noticed in the analysis of the transformation of the Egyptian book market, the packaging and marketing techniques deployed to promote these


Richard Jacquemond

books tend to be the same whether in Egypt or abroad. Moreover, when looking at the Arabic and English Bloomsbury editions of Vertigo and Utopia, one does not see any difference except the script: the format, colors, and design are almost identical—an extraordinary evolution of the cheap look of the average Egyptian book in the 1980s. One could not fi nd a more graphic illustration, in the literal sense of the expression, of the growing insertion of this new Arabic literature into the global literary market. Conclusion: A Non-Generation, or the End of the Literary Avant-Garde? During most of the twentieth century, Egypt’s literary history has been punctuated by the emergence of successive avant-gardes who assimilated their predecessors’ heritage yet, at the same time revolted against it, thus pushing literary innovation and artistic freedom to further limits. These successive avant-gardes defi ned themselves, and remained defi ned in cultural history, as ‘generations’, a clear reference to the importance of the historical moment in which they emerged as collective actors in the literary/cultural field, on the one hand, and to the innovative and confrontational stance they took towards their elder peers, on the other. These successive avant-gardes are thus identified as “the 1919 generation,” “the post-1945 (or 1952) generation,” “the generation of the 1960s,” and “the generation of the 1990s.” The close connection between these avant-gardes’ emergence and major nationa—and/ or regional and global—political upheavals often led literary and cultural historians to overstress the political dimensions of these changes at the expense of their specifically literary and/or artistic dimensions. But these dimensions were always strongly marked and, moreover, identified and theorized by both avant-garde actors and outside observers as collective aesthetic revolutions ( Jacquemond 168–73). Compared to this century-long history, it is fascinating to observe that the cluster of writers analyzed in this chapter has never identified itself or been identified as a ‘generation’, in this specific sense of a new, collective literary avant-garde. Obviously, this has to do with the nature of their output. As we have seen, it is not concerned with aesthetic innovation, which is precisely what made it possible for these writers to reach large audiences. But this points to a new configuration of the Egyptian literary field where the old opposition between the avant-garde and the Establishment is becoming irrelevant, as it is substituted with economic, market-oriented logic. Therefore, literary groups and movements, as an essential instrument in the struggle for the conquest of symbolic power and consecration in the literary field, are losing their raison d’être. As the literary output is more and more inserted into the market sphere, there is only room for independent, individual producers attempting to carve a niche in the literature market, both local and global, as is attested to by the growing role of translation. Such developments are not

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specific to the Egyptian literary field; one can trace them in many other parts of a local and regional (Arab) cultural field that is increasingly becoming market oriented and incorporated into the global market of cultural goods. The same goes for other linguistic areas and other sectors of cultural production such as plastic and visual arts (Mehrez 9–11, 211–14). One cannot but welcome these transformations in the sense that they allow Egyptian writers, or some of them at least, to reach new audiences both in their own country and abroad. At the same time, one cannot see without apprehension the potentially lethal effects of this commodification of artistic production on future literary innovation. Notes 1. During a weeklong event dedicated to celebrating the Yacoubian phenomenon, organized by the Egyptian Cultural Center in Paris in collaboration with various French cultural and academic institutions. It is not clear whether this million figure concerned only translations or also included the original Arabic sales. 2. In the following lines, I use the number of reprints (as mentioned on the copies I checked during a tour in Cairo bookshops in July 2011) as a tentative indication of these books’ sales. The number of reprints, when mentioned on the cover of the book, is used as a selling point. Therefore, it should be also taken with a grain of salt. Furthermore, no one knows how many copies each reprint consists of, although professionals generally put it between 3,000 and 5,000 copies. 3. The data in this chart was compiled through successive consultations of the website (www.4shared.com) between November 2 and 10, 2011. 4. http://www.facebook.com/ANIS.MANSSOUR. Accessed on November 7, 2011. 5. http://www.internetworldstats.com, accessed on December 21, 2011. 6. The maqama is a classical Arabic literary genre of rhymed prose featuring an Oriental rogue akin to the Spanish pícaro, whose wanderings and exploits in speaking to assemblies (the literal meaning of the word maqama) are conveyed by a narrator. 7. Recently, the status of satirical literature in Egyptian culture was the subject of a rare debate in the Egyptian press, when Ahmad Ragab, a journalist famous for his satirical writings, was awarded the highest state prize in July 2011: the Nile Prize—formerly the Mubarak Prize—for Literature. Several commentators criticized this choice on the ground that it rewarded a satirist who practiced his art without ever being too harsh on the Mubarak regime (and, moreover, only a few months after the latter’s fall, hence the change in the name of the prize). Significantly, however, these same commentators stressed that this award was also a long overdue recognition of satirical literature as a legitimate genre. 8. “Translation and Its Afterlife,” lecture by Khalid al-Khamisi and his English translator Jonathan Wright, American University in Cairo, Center for Translation Studies, Cairo, March 10, 2010. Available online: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=tJ0Qd41uOfw. 9. Created in 2008 as a joint venture between the Booker Prize Foundation and the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi, this pan-Arab prize has become within a


Richard Jacquemond

few years, through its astutely set up and generously funded process of longlist and shortlist elaboration and winner designation, a major trend-maker, both within the broad Arab literary space and as regards the internationalization of the Arabic novel on the global market (see the prize’s official website: www. arabicfiction.org). 10. Ahmad Murad kept this important biographical detail secret until after Mubarak’s overthrow and gave the scoop to the British press while promoting the English translation of Vertigo (see Seacombe).

Works Cited ‘Abd al-‘Al, Ghada. ‘Ayza atgawwiz. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2008; I Want to Get Married. Trans. Nora Eltahawi. Austin: U of Texas P, 2010. Al-Aswany, ‘Ala’. Chicago. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2007; Chicago. Trans. Farouk Abdel Wahab. Cairo: American U in Cairo P, 2008. . ‘Imarat Ya‘qubian. Cairo: Dar Merit, 2002; L’immeuble Yacoubian. Trans. Gilles Gauthier. Paris: Actes Sud, 2006; The Yacoubian Building. Trans. Humphrey Davies. Cairo: American U in Cairo P, 2004. Al-Khamisi, Khalid. Safinat Nuh [Noah’s Ark]. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2009. . Taxi. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2007; Taxi. Trans. Jonathan Wright. London: Aflame Books, 2008. Alsayed, Amany. “Arab Online Bookclubs: A Survey.” IFLA Journal 36.3 (2010): 235–50. Armbrust, Walter. Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Black, Ian, and Alison Flood. “Publishers Seek New Talent in Arab World.” The Guardian. October 16, 2008. Casanova, Pascale. “Le roman international ou l’art de jouer sur les deux tableaux.” Liber 13 (March 1993): 12–16. Gonzalez-Quijano, Yves. “Anis Mansour, une disparition passée inaperçue.” Culture et politique arabes. October 31, 2011. http://cpa.hypotheses.org/3041. . Les gens du livre: Édition et champ intellectuel dans l’Égypte républicaine. Paris: CNRS Editions, 1998. Jacquemond, Richard. Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State and Society in Modern Egypt. Trans. David Tresilian. Cairo: American U in Cairo P, 2008. Lindsey, Ursula. “Taxi, Translation and ‘True’ Literature.” The Arabist. March 13, 2010. http://www.arabist.net/blog/2010/3/13/taxi-translation-and-true-literature.html. Lynx Qualey, Marcia. “Sinan Antoon on the West’s ‘Forensic Interest’ in Arabic Lit.” Arabic Literature (in English). March 4, 2010. http://arablit.wordpress. com/2010/03/04/sinaan-antoon-on-the-wests-forensic-interest-in-the-arab-world/. Mehrez, Samia. Egypt’s Culture Wars: Politics and Practice. London: Routledge, 1998. Murad, Ahmad. Turab al-mas [Diamond dust]. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2010. . Vertigo. Cairo: Dar Merit, 2007; Vertigo. Trans. Robin Moger. Doha: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2011. Next Page Foundation. “What Arabs Read: A Pan-Arab Survey on Readership.” January 2007. http://www.npage.org/IMG/pdf/Readership_FULL_5_Country_ Report.pdf. Seacombe, Mark. “By Day, I Shot My Boss Hosni Mubarak. By Night, I Dreamt of Dictator’s Downfall.” The Observer. November 11, 2011. Selim, Samah. “Fiction and Colonial Identities: Arsène Lupin in Arabic.” Middle Eastern Literatures 13.2 (2010): 191–210.

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Tahir, ‘Umar. Shaklaha bazit [Looks like it messed up]. Cairo: Atlas, 2006. Tawfiq, Ahmad Khalid. Utopia. Cairo: Dar Merit, 2008; Utopia. Trans. Chip Rossetti. Doha: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2011. Wassef, Nadia. Personal interview. Cairo, September 2011. Wazen, Abdo. “Naqmat ‘Azazil [Azazeel’s curse].” Al hayat. March 30, 2009. Zaydan, Yusuf. al-Nabati [The Nabatean]. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2010. .‘Azazil. Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2008; Azazeel. Trans. Jonathan Wright. London: Atlantic Books, 2012.

10 Tradition and Modernity The Globalization of Sufi Music in Egypt Michael Frishkopf

Local, Global, World Musics In Egypt, as in the global ‘world music’ market, ‘Sufi music’ (the affective sonic dimensions of mystical Islam) is often received as the purest expression of a premodern ‘tradition’. In this chapter, I wish to demonstrate how this Sufi music (local or global) is, in fact, constructed through thoroughly modern, global musical processes. This happens, I argue, in two principal ways. The fi rst way I term ‘world music globalization’. Emerging idealistically in the 1960s to encourage broader musical horizons, the music industry appropriated ‘world music’ as a promotional tag in 1987, and commercial world music developed rapidly thereafter, with the advent of a world music Billboard chart (1990), Grammy award (1991), and WOMEX trade show (1999; see Feld; Erlmann; Mitchell; Bohlman; Stokes; Holt). Today, ‘world music’ refers to representations of sonic performance lying (or imagined to lie) outside the dominant musical traditions of Western culture, repackaged and commodified in a globally visible market (though available mainly in the West). Such music is valued according to its somewhat paradoxical ability to communicate desired sui generis qualities of ‘otherness’, ‘difference’, ‘tradition’, and ‘authenticity’ within globally familiar musical styles and formats—which is why fusions with Western popular styles often prevail (Keil and Feld 266). Typically, familiarity is downplayed, while otherness is ‘up-played’, as a means of exploiting the distinctive quality of this market segment. Western world music consumption thus resembles a kind of armchair aural tourism for those seeking to visit exotic locales without sacrificing the comforts of home (analogous to the familiar, homogeneous tourist culture of five-star hotels and air-conditioned buses).1 World music globalization begins when local musics, situated outside the West, are drawn into global circulation, becoming transformed in the process. The contradiction between otherness and familiarity, one attribute negating the other, is necessarily self-limiting. The irony is that while purporting to represent local musics, world music globalization transforms them, as they are coerced into globally familiar styles and formats, in order to widen

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circulation. The more a musical genre is other, the more it will be coerced, and the more it is coerced, the less it will be other. Such coercions also affect the local source music, though typically to a self-limiting degree, as will be explicated in what follows. World music globalization comprises a tiny slice within the broader globalization of musical content, the transnational circulation of commodified music, which is dominated by the dissemination of Western musics to every corner of the world. However, both faces of musical content globalization have been preceded—and, indeed, prepared—by a much more far-reaching process of musical globalization, inconspicuous and powerful precisely because it masquerades as culture neutral and local, and hence often goes unrecognized as the crucial condition for nearly all content globalization today. This is the second way. What I term ‘world system globalization’ is the process by which technical and economic modes of audio media production and consumption (developed primarily in the West, and optimized for musical commodification there) have globalized, consistently incorporating and transforming local musics through inexpensive asynchronous media 2 circulating as commodities in a free-market environment. The impact of asynchronous media is to a great extent parallel worldwide, due to the ability of media objects to flow independently through existing social networks, through operations of production, bootleg recording, purchase, copying, gifting, and exchange—while also extending them. Unlike synchronous media, such flows of media objects trace, reinforce, and extend extant social pathways through the social networks already connecting musicians, patrons, and performance (or ritual) participants, ushering them into the media space, transforming musical practices at their core. While synchronous media, such as TV stations or satellite channels, tend to be expensive, exclusive, centralized, and forcefully imposed from above, asynchronous media are more accessible, inclusive, localizable, and grassroots. This sonic process, riding atop the broader globalization of a technocapitalist world system evolving from the sixteenth century (see Wallerstein), began with the advent of wax cylinders and 78s. But the process accelerated during the 1970s, with the introduction of affordable audiocassette recording and playback technology, enabling global media colonization of musical practices around the world to become much deeper, broader, and decentralized than ever before (e.g., Manuel). Such colonization is facilitated by preexisting social networks, through which asynchronous media (e.g., cassettes) rapidly diffuse, and which they rapidly transform through such diffusion. While ethnomusicologists have for some time noted the effects of new systems of music production on popular music, their indirect but widespread impact upon even the most putatively traditional, non-commodified musical genres has not always been properly appreciated, resulting in a false dichotomy between ‘traditional’ and ‘popular’ musics, for


Michael Frishkopf

the impact of “mediaization” (Wallis and Malm 278–81) nearly always extends to the sphere of live performance as well, profoundly transforming the social as well as the sonic structures of musical life, and—thereby— musical meaning. World system globalization typically anticipates world music globalization, since the latter is a recent phenomenon of late (or postmodern) capitalism and its “commodification of difference” (Erlmann; Jackson 101), while the former is exactly what exposes ‘local’ musics to ‘world’ music industry uptake. Therefore, by the time world music globalization has worked its relatively limited (though conspicuous) stylistic coercions and redistributions of local musics, world system globalization has already completely transformed them. Though both forms of globalization are driven by Western dominance, world system globalization (standing at a remove from local ‘culture’ and its Western markets), developing via preexisting social networks, often appears to work through local agency, and thus passes undetected, particularly in its asynchronous forms. But most often the local music drawn into the world music industry and homogenized through coercion is already the product of a homogenizing world system. On the other hand, the content of that world music, coerced by foreign markets demanding a measure of familiarity, tends toward aesthetic homogeneity, often diminishing impact in the local arena. Thus world music stars putatively representing a given region may be relatively unimportant there, and often world music fame is inversely proportional to local stature. In this chapter, I compare these two processes of globalization in detail, assessing their relative impacts on Sufi music in Egypt. I conclude that the uptake of asynchronous media has been especially rapid for Sufi music due to extensive preexisting social networks provided by Sufism’s fictive spiritual kinship relations. This already-globalized music, then, is selected, coerced, and disseminated through world music globalization. The profound impact of world system globalization on the Sufi music of Egypt has subsequently accelerated through mobile phone and computer networks. Musical Systems and Networks Applying social network theory (Scott), I consider a musical system to be a semi-autonomous social network, through which flows sonic, semantic, and pecuniary messages. This abstract concept of musical system encompasses live performance as well as mediated interactions. Relatively speaking, local systems are geographically bounded, with few linkages in or out. The global musical system, represented by the transnational music industry, is geographically unbounded, but centered primarily in the West. Global and local systems are connected by what I term ‘internetworks’, mediating bidirectional flows between the two. A local system

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is globalized through the mediation of this internetwork, joining it to the global one. This linkage may induce transient or durable transformations on the local side. When the internetwork is large, densely connected, and carries highvolume flows, laws of large numbers apply. Network behavior then becomes more predictable in macro terms, independent of the interactions of micro-elements constituting the network and its flows. Messages, whether cultural or fi nancial, are readily communicated; price and meaning are well-determined by forces determining overall rates of exchange. I call these ‘rich networks’. Conversely, when the internetwork is small, thin, and low volume, a law of small numbers applies: Network behavior is unpredictable, dependent on accidental connections and particular micro-characteristics of constituent elements. As a result, there is uncertainty about the price or meaning of anything. Communication proceeds with difficulty, and misunderstanding prevails. I call these ‘sparse networks’. World music globalization entails a musical internetwork so constituted as to pass musical messages across cultural divides, joining local to global. I argue that the contradictions of coercion imply a musical internetwork that is (initially at least) relatively sparse, weakly connected to either the local or global musical system (or both). Hence the world music internetwork is somewhat unpredictable, liable to garble its messages, and weakly transformative at either the local or global side. Once again, this is because the world music requirements of familiarity and otherness work at cross-purposes. ‘Other’ musical messages must be coerced into familiar, hence comprehensible, Western musical packages: series of recombinant ‘pieces’ (songs), each with identifiable composer, lyricist, and arranger; repeatability (limited improvisation); context independence; high fidelity; audience non-participation; emphasis on music more than language; fusion with Western musical styles; and social collaborations with Western artists. Yet such coercion must also be concealed to preserve qualities of otherness and authenticity, without which world music loses its appeal, indeed, its entire raison d’être. Noteworthy is the stunning success of many sub-Saharan African popular artists (e.g., Youssou N’Dour or Hugh Masekela) as world music. These musics have already absorbed African-American musical styles (unsurprisingly, since the roots of the latter lie in Africa) and require little additional coercion. The same is not at all true of most Arab musics, however. 3 By contrast, once ideological and legal barriers to free-market capitalism are removed, world system globalization impinges inexorably on local music economies, transforming them via mediation of a rich media internetwork communicating economic and technical messages that are essentially transcultural and thus flow unimpeded by any need for coercion, as they pass from global to local systems.


Michael Frishkopf

Introduction to the Sufi Music of Egypt The Sufi music of Egypt (inshad Sufi ) is a subtype of inshad dini (religious hymnody), performed by a munshid (plural munshidin). Mystical poetry (shi‘r Sufi ) is central to inshad performance, some poems meaningful only in relation to local practice, others more universal in import. Sufi sm features extensive social networks, bound through spiritual brotherhood (ukhuwa ruhiya) and fatherhood (ubuwa ruhiya). Such relations are formalized in the Sufi orders (turuq; singular tariqa), as centered on the Sufi shaykh and his muridin (disciples), where they are reinforced in tariqa ritual. But they also extend far beyond the turuq through ‘informal Sufi sm’ centered on saint veneration and public rituals (Frishkopf, “Tarab”). Within the formalized private tariqa liturgy (hadra; literally ‘presence’) of a Sufi order (tariqa), inshad is usually prominent, alongside rhythmic chanting of God’s sacred Names (dhikr). Often featuring poems associated with the order, inshad is usually performed by muridin, under the authority of their shaykh (spiritual leader), who usually enforces a degree of emotional restraint; social and temporal scope of such rituals is limited. Outside the tariqa hadra, professional munshidin are central to public hadras held for mawalid (saints’ day celebrations; sing. mulid), or life-cycle rituals (circumcisions, weddings, and memorials). In the course of performance, also known as a layla diniyya (religious night; pl. layali diniyya), the professional munshid freely selects poetic excerpts from a wide repertoire, setting them to improvised melodies, accompanied by a musical group typically including percussion and one melodic instrument, usually kawala (reed flute) or kamanga (violin). Meanwhile, the audience—who can frequently be counted in the thousands—listens intently, moved to ecstasy by the combination of music and poetry—as in the classical Sufi sama‘ (alGhazzali; Avery)—sometimes while performing dhikr. Here, the munshid is in control, effectively serving as hadra shaykh. Public hadras are amplified to deafening levels, usually through extremely low-fidelity horns (ahran). Frequently, the munshid performs for well over an hour without a break, and layali reach marathon proportions, lasting six hours or more, and sometimes continuing past dawn prayer ( fajr) to sunrise (see Frishkopf, “Inshad”; Gilsenan; Waugh). In particular, celebrated professional munshidin attract many fans whose interest is not based entirely on Sufi spirituality, but also on the music’s affective pull, the festive atmosphere of performance, and the munshid’s celebrity. In part, Sufi inshad is a popular entertainment because it is free; listeners frequently record, copy, exchange recordings, or (these days) post to the web. Yet attendance, and especially participation in the dhikr, remains a devotional act for many, a kind of supererogatory prayer.

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Figure 10.1


Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami, c. 1996. Photograph by the author.

Since the early 1980s, Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami (see Figure 10.1, above4 ) has achieved unprecedented fame among Egypt’s professional layla munshidin; his enormous, clamorous mulid performances attract tens of thousands of spectators, from across the country, and beyond. Hailing from Hawatka, about 20 km north of Assiut, Shaykh Yasin began performing publicly in the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, he was famous throughout Egypt. Today, he is booked many months in advance to perform at life-cycle celebrations, and commands impressive fees (see Frishkopf, “Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami in the Public Hadra”; Frishkopf, “Tarab”). A typical Yasin layla comprises three waslas (parts): (1) a long metric wasla of an hour or more, including instrumental and percussive accompaniment, containing a series of accelerating buildups, during which many attendees perform the swirling movements and chants of the dhikr; (2) a shorter ametric wasla, performed without percussion or dhikr, during which attendees simply listen; and (3) a fi nal metric wasla, shorter than the fi rst (see Figure 10.2, below). 5 The music of Shaykh Yasin—and hundreds of others like him—is extremely popular in Egypt. However, poetry-centeredness, improvisation, continuousness, repetitiveness, and length; low-fidelity; the lack of fi xed melodies or short segmented song units; and the fact that meaning is tightly bound to performance context, active participation, and understanding


Michael Frishkopf

Figure 10.2 Temporal structure of a typical Shaykh Yasin layla (1/17/1994, Ezbit al-Mansi), recorded and analyzed by the author. Wahda kabira, maqsum, and bamb are rhythmic cycles (after Frishkopf, “Public hadra”).

of (if not subscription to) the Sufi world view all render it at once strongly other and particularly obdurate to world music coercion. Shaykh Yasin in London and Paris Up until the late 1990s, Shaykh Yasin had traveled abroad only to sing for expat Egyptians working in the Gulf. In the mid-1990s, I tried to arrange for him to perform at the international WOMAD festival in London, but failed miserably to bridge two worlds, in one of which he was a major star, the other an unknown quantity. However, Shaykh Yasin’s rapidly expanding fame generated global visibility. In 1997, producer Prakash Daswani traveled to Egypt in search of Sufi talent, and (attracted by thronged fans) located Shaykh Yasin at a Cairo mulid, then invited him to sing at his 1997 Sufi Music Village festival in London. Shaykh Yasin enjoyed a second opportunity to cross the world music internetwork when he accepted an invitation from Paris-based world music promoter Alain Weber. In Fall 1997, Shaykh Yasin toured France, with a group of seven superb musicians, including four melodic instrumentalists (typically he employs only one), far better trained in Arab music than his usual layla accompanists (and, undoubtedly, better paid). For Shaykh Yasin, such an elaborate group was unprecedented, strongly evoking the takht (art music ensemble) of yore (Racy, “Sound and Society”), and exactly what French audiences expected to hear. One Paris concert, held for the Festival D’Automne à Paris, was recorded and released as a double CD on the Long Distance label (Al-Tuhami), featuring two extended tracks of about fifty minutes each, each centered on a classical Sufi text (see figure at https://sites.google.com/site/globalizationofsufimusic/). This double CD reveals a new performance style, forged for the European world music audience, conformant to the Western art-concert setting.

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For the CD, and likely other stops on his inaugural French tour, that setting comprised the old-world elegance of the traditional European concert hall (the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord; see fi gure at https://sites. google.com/site/globalizationofsufi music/ ), with its ornately balustraded stacked balconies, spot-lit stage, and darkened fi xed seats (hardly conducive to any sort of movement, a fortiori the vigorous swirls of dhikr, even supposing cultural knowledge of this practice) fi lled with ticket-buying Parisian listeners, largely unfamiliar with Arab Sufi traditions, an audience adopting—for the most part—a familiar listening attitude combining aesthetic disinterestedness and cross-cultural curiosity. Nothing could be further from Shaykh Yasin’s typical open-air performances in Egypt. The Paris setting necessitated appropriate coercion from local to world music inshad. This Shaykh Yasin accomplished via a transformation to his performance style: entirely eliminating the ritually participatory fi rst and third waslas, where the driving rhythms of dhikr—absolutely central to his Egyptian performances—are featured, while expanding the contemplative second wasla (closer to the Western concert hall listening model) to fi ll nearly the entire form, with only the briefest metrical coda at the end. The CD, recorded live and unedited, provides a serviceable ethnographic recording. During an extended tonal-poetic meditation, Shaykh Yasin lingers on each phrase, turning Sufi literary expression into European concert music of the highest order. His voice, precisely captured by the fi nest microphones and amplified by the highest fidelity equipment, is fi lled with expression, thereby communicating to an otherwise uncomprehending audience. Texts deliver the universal Sufi tropes of spiritual longing, as drawn from the high literary Arabic of Sufi poets ‘Umar ibn al-Farid (1182–1233) and Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 922), representatives of what European Orientalists consider Sufi sm’s golden age (Arberry). He avoids the madih (praise) and madad (petitions) to the Prophet Muhammad and local Egyptian saints so typical of his Egyptian performances, and remains focused on a single poem (likely selected in advance), unlike Egypt where he mixes numerous poetic sources together in a dense bricolage, composed according to his spiritual mood, and that of his listeners. In contrast to popular devotions of colloquial poetry, the mystical love of classical Sufism is more general, and therefore more easily universalized in performance, across faiths, while presenting also a strong ‘Orientalist’ appeal. While his European audience, for the most part at least, does not understand Arabic, and is largely unfamiliar with Islamic mysticism, they are highly literate and motivated by curiosity, and therefore appreciate translations, in program or liner notes, of lofty expressions of mystical love, such as the following, from Ibn al-Farid’s “Qalbi yuhaddithuni” (My heart tells me) on CD1:


Michael Frishkopf Ask the stars of the night if sleep visits my eyelids. . . . I suffered the terrifying pain of separation. If You have no desire to meet me, at least promise that I may hope! . . . The waiting for the union which You endlessly resist is as sweet to me as the meeting with a willing lover. (Al-Tuhami 14)

Such lines evoke Arab-Islamic civilization, while also expressing universal human sentiments of love and longing, spiritual or otherwise. Shaykh Yasin also deploys a performative style designed to overcome linguistic incomprehension. In my liner notes for this double CD, I elaborated on this universalizing style: Conventional aesthetics of vocal purity are thrust aside; what is essential is the munshid’s ability to convey felt emotion through singing. His astonishing timbral range includes cries, whispers, speech, shouts, straining, looseness, hoarseness, signs, tremolo, all serving to punctuate, highlight, intensify, dramatize, and thereby communicate his affective reaction to the text. Cracking open the poetic language, he calls attention to its sound surfaces, exploring the phonetic timbres, breaking down referential meaning, turning everything into music. (Al-Tuhami) In the European concert hall, Shaykh Yasin also emphasizes the musiqa ‘Arabiyya (Arab art music) dimensions of performance, building his poetic explorations upon a demonstrated vocal mastery of melodic modes (maqamat), cadences (qaflat), and modulations (tahwilat), as well as through the use of a traditional takht comprising highly accomplished accompanists, performing on a wider-than-usual array of traditional instruments: oud (fretless lute), kamanga (violin), kawala (reed flute), and qanun (plucked zither), and by leaving space for extended, evocative, and highly expressive instrumental taqasim (melodic improvisations) and lawazim (melodic fi lls), all in perfect fidelity (see Figure 10.3, below). Such a richly refi ned musical backdrop is never heard in traditional settings, where the focus is on poetry and dhikr, performed at crackling, ear-splitting amplitudes, and due also to the cost and difficulty entailed in hiring such a diverse ensemble of top-notch musicians (who may be in demand for other musical events) throughout his unrelenting Egyptian touring. Further evidence of coercion to Western models appears on the CD itself, where the producer presents Shaykh Yasin as the “composer” for the two poetic excerpts presented above, though in fact his melody is always quasi-improvised, drawing upon stock melodies of an established Sufi performance tradition. Conspicuous throughout is the quiet, largely non-participatory audience, expressive solo voice, hi-fi sound, large active melodic instrumental group, and no percussion, beat, or dhikr until the fi nal few minutes.

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Figure 10.3 Temporal structure of “Qalbi yuhaddithuni” (Al-Tuhami, 1998). The horizontal axis is labeled (above) in minutes; shaded blocks (light indicating ametric vocals with instrumental accompaniment; medium indicating ametric instrumental taqasim; dark indicating metric section) are labeled with duration. Except for the final two minutes, the performance is entirely ametric, comparable to the middle wasla of a traditional performance. Eliminating the metric dhikr predominating in Egypt, Shaykh Yasin coerces the performance into a style more suitable for the world music stage.

Even with these concessions to Western concert aesthetics, this is not easy listening. Though shorter than in traditional settings, challenges of Arabic mystical poetry and near-hour-long performances remain. Therefore, the audience too must work hard to close the gap from the world music side through concentration, entering the traditional role of sammi‘a (listening connoisseurs; see Racy, “Musical Aesthetics in Present-Day Cairo” 392). Following the contours of Shaykh Yasin’s emotional buildups, and combining Arab and Western listening protocols, they remain utterly silent, then applaud politely at the end of each qafla (cadence). A traditional Arab or Sufi audience would interact far more vigorously and continuously. Only at the conclusion of the performance do two minutes of metric performance appear, a madih (praise) for the Prophet Muhammad accompanied by percussion (tabla goblet drum and two duff frame drums), resembling the predominant style of the Egyptian layla, though the audience joins in with enthusiastic clapping, rather than dhikr. In this way, concert participants—performers and audience together— jointly bridge musical worlds, creating an entirely new performance style in the process, what may be called Shaykh Yasin’s ‘art style’, co-constructed across the world music internetwork. But its global impact, even within the already marginal world music category, has been extremely limited.6 The Impact of World Music Inshad on Egyptian Performance What was the effect of this new ‘art style’, this world music inshad, on the local Egyptian Sufi music scene? I have never witnessed Shaykh Yasin deploying this style in traditional settings, such as mawalid and life-cycle celebrations. Rather, he uses it in Cairo’s elite art venues, which have begun to welcome


Michael Frishkopf

him precisely due to his newfound world music success abroad.7 In a sense, such venues are local impingements of the global world music scene, but they are also rooted in a local environment. The interaction of local and global in these performances is fascinating to observe. In January of 1998, Shaykh Yasin was invited to perform a public concert at the French Cultural Center in Cairo (Centre Français de Culture et de Coopération), catering primarily to Cairo’s foreign and Westernized middleto upper-class Egyptian populations, especially the francophones among them (French was at one time the preferred language of Egyptian elites). The Center arranged this concert as part of an annual month-long Ramadan entertainment program featuring a variety of Egyptian performers, religious and secular. These performed in a traditional multicolored suwan (canvas tent), pitched within the Center’s modern facilities in Mounira, an upscale, relatively modern neighborhood near downtown Cairo—spatially and culturally distant from Shaykh Yasin’s usual performance locales. European cultural centers in Cairo—of which there are many—frequently sponsor local ‘folkloric’ events in their elite venues, often featuring relatively obscure performers and styles, publicized in European languages through elite social networks, and often charging what appear to ordinary Egyptians at least as exorbitant entrance fees. Such performances are thus far more accessible to elites and foreigners than to ordinary Egyptians, who rarely attend due to locale, cost, and musical style. Class barriers—cultural, economic, geographical—remain strong in Egypt. But a Shaykh Yasin performance is not so easily hemmed in by class. He is a major star enjoying broad popularity in a widely appreciated genre. More crucially, his fans, tightly connected via traditional Sufi social networks— nowadays electronically enhanced by mobile phone and Internet (Waugh and Frishkopf)—regularly share details of his every move. As a result, Sufis of greater Cairo were well aware of his upcoming Mounira performance. Despite expensive tickets (the traditional layla is always free of charge), and trepidation triggered by the necessity of transgressing class boundaries at such an ‘elite’ cultural establishment, many lower-class Sufi fans eagerly attended, their love of Shaykh Yasin overcoming all obstacles. To Europeans in Cairo, the concert’s framing in a colorful tent suggested an ‘authentic’ folkloric presentation of staged traditional culture. But for Shaykh Yasin, nothing could be further from traditional contexts than the French Cultural Center context (including a stage, tickets, and— most importantly—a seated concert audience composed mainly of cultural elites), which undoubtedly evoked the performance venues of Europe with which he had recently become familiar. Unsurprisingly, then, he chose to deploy the new art style he had developed on tour for similar audiences and contexts in France. As I had anticipated, the internetwork strained on this occasion. Alongside elites, large numbers of Yasin fans from lower social classes also attended,

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resulting in an enormous, packed, heterogeneous audience—probably far more than the French Cultural Center expected. Though elites appeared pleased to experience a bit of local ‘religious folklore’, Shaykh Yasin’s impact was relatively weaker among traditional fans and Sufis, who had come, as usual, not only to listen, but also to perform dhikr, as a religious devotion. Many of these were, therefore, somewhat disappointed with the performance, which was almost entirely lacking in dhikr. Instead, as in Paris, Yasin focused on unmetered inshad, devoting only the fi nal five minutes to a percussive section, during which his working-class fans quickly jumped up and performed a rousing dhikr. Whether, on the whole, deployment of the art style enhanced or inhibited musical communication, his selective use of it on that particular evening, and subsequently in similar situations, shows that he has now adopted it as a musical tool, an available strategy for negotiating the musical internetwork. Though he rarely deploys it in Egypt, and never in more traditional settings, his ‘art style’ is a newly available performance resource, to be used, sparingly, according to circumstances, and his media company, Ibn al-Farid (see below), subsequently released “The French Concert” for the Egyptian market (see figure at https://sites.google.com/site/globalizationofsufi music/), one of hundreds of productions. World System Transformations But how traditional was Yasin’s ‘traditional’ style, the one he had always used before ever meeting a Western audience? Since the mid-1970s, more than a decade before the advent of Sufi world music, the music of most dhikr munshidin had already been globalized, radically transformed through its incorporation into a global media economy of asynchronous music production. The primary agent of this change was the cassette tape. Prior to the cassette, the capital equipment required to record, manufacture, and play back phonograms was expensive, because the internetwork bridging local and global music industries was underdeveloped, especially under Nasserist socialism. Commercial audio recordings emerged in the early twentieth century, but for the fi rst seventy years or so, the marginal Sufi market was ignored for both economic and ideological reasons: With the rise of Islamic ‘reform’, Sufi practices became increasingly lower class, treated as a deviant form of ‘popular religion’. Sufi munshidin were almost never recorded. Egypt’s shift to a free-market economy changed everything, via the “cassette revolution” (Castelo-Branco). First available in Egypt in the 1960s, cassettes only boomed in the mid-1970s due to President Sadat’s capitalist infitah (economic “opening”), including relaxation of import restrictions and influx of remittances and goods from migrant Gulf workers. The post-Nasserist


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atmosphere of laissez-faire capitalism encouraged rapid development of the media internetwork. Cassette technology’s relative affordability enabled the decentralization of music production, and adaptation to local market niches of all varieties (Frishkopf, Music and Media). Because Sufi inshad was already semi-professionalized and wildly popular, and as Sufism provided a dense social network for effective publicity and diffusion, inshad enjoyed rapid and enthusiastic uptake into the nascent system of cassette music. At the same time, live performance was never displaced, due to its crucial ritual function in traditional contexts. By the 1980s, the cassette revolution had induced three distinct, though mutually synergistic, modalities of Sufi cassette culture, all operating in close conjunction with live performance: (1) an official, legal, commercial Sufi cassette industry (live or studio); (2) an informal bootleg industry; and (3) widespread amateur recordings of live performances. These three modalities, flowing through (and in synergy with) preexisting Sufi social networks, transformed Sufi music in Egypt—sonically and socially. Most popular were amateur recordings, due to perceived authenticity, uniqueness, pure intention, and social embeddedness—both via audible representations of collective social experience, and via social acts of cassette gifting, lending, copying, or exchange. Tape circulation underscored social relationships, as did collective listening, informally among Sufi friends, or in a tariqa teaching session (dars). Cassettes originated and circulated at the grassroots level, and some fans accumulated large libraries, around which social gatherings could center. The dense social networks of Sufism enabled a tight integration between Sufi cassette culture and Sufi community, as cassette flows followed, reinforced, and blazed social pathways, energized by (and energizing) live performance. All this served to amplify Sufi music in ways that were both more unobtrusive and more powerful than was possible in mainstream popular music, lacking such social parallels. In this way, cassettes transformed Sufi music from a localized, amateur, or semi-professional activity within Sufi culture, to a commercial music of much broader social relevance. In short, Sufi music became a form of popular mediated music, and performers achieved the celebrity of popular singers, while remaining closely connected to pre-existing Sufi networks and live performance, which sustained and accelerated the process (Waugh and Frishkopf). The audible consequence was sonic transformation. In the pre-cassette era, only percussion accompanied Egyptian munshidin. However, around the time Shaykh Yasin began to perform, inshad, moving into the media space of popular music, became significantly more musical, thereby broadening its appeal and reinforcing this trend. Melodic instruments were added, along with melodies borrowed from songs of respectable mid-century singers, especially Um Kulthoum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab.8 At the same time—and

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very much unlike the popular music scene as a whole—the Sufi roots of this music remained a primary reference, both for sonic material and for popularity. Unlike popular music, the new inshad cassette stayed close to live performance, whose music changed as well, but whose texts and contexts fostered an impression of the continuity of tradition. However, the more radical—if inaudible—impact was social: the thoroughgoing transformation of Sufi music’s social network, now extending far beyond Sufism per se, and the emergence of a culture of stardom. The decentralized, grassroots network of cassette circulation led, somewhat paradoxically, to the centralization of networks of musical preference, that is, to the concentration of celebrity, and the formation of the munshid as star, the whole increasingly driven by desire for capital accumulation, whether social (prestige) or economic. It is not coincidental that Shaykh Yasin’s own zoom to stardom coincided with the rise of the cassette industry. He rode the crest of the commercial tape wave, the fi rst Sufi munshid to do so successfully, signing in 1980 with Idaphone, one of many newly founded cassette labels (Frishkopf, Music and Media; see figure at https://sites.google.com/site/globalizationofsufi music/). By the early 1990s, Idaphone had released about thirty Shaykh Yasin tapes. But by this time bootleg tapes of Yasin layali had become more prevalent and numerous than the Idaphone series. Recorded by Yasin’s thousands of fans, copied and circulated with wide dispersion and high velocity, many Sufis found these tapes to be more authentic (if lower fidelity); they also evoked collective memories among listeners who attended a particular live event, thereby tightening the social network as a whole. The combined effects of live and mediated performance, commercial and bootleg tapes, and his positioning at the crest of this technological wave were all crucial to Shaykh Yasin’s broad recognition and stunning success. Without detracting in any way from his tremendous vocal, poetic, and spiritual talents, it is clear that his career benefited from impeccable timing as well. Such stardom was inconceivable in the pre-mediated era. More generally, widespread networks of cassette distribution, and especially the market forces shaping commercial music production, produced a level and concentration of professionalism, fame, and fortune hitherto unknown—and unattainable—in Sufi inshad. Formerly, the inshad system could be characterized as a semi-professional, localized, decentralized, relatively homogeneous face-to-face network. Unlike mediated Quranic recitation, there were no Sufi munshidin who could claim national (much less global) fame, and no one became wealthy from Sufi inshad. Things are quite different today. Shaykh Yasin, famous throughout Egypt, drives a Mercedes, founded a large mosque and shrine for his father, built a massive apartment complex for his family, and has partnered in various businesses, including a new media company: Ibn al-Farid Yasin li-l-sawtiyat


Michael Frishkopf

wa-l-mar’iyat (Ibn al-Farid Yasin for audio and video), which actively produces audio cassettes, CDs, and VCDs of nearly all his major live performances. While Shaykh Yasin is not the only munshid star, the net effect of asynchronous networks has been to concentrate celebrity in a small number of munshidin. The impact of world system globalization on munshid celebrity may be more precisely formulated in the vocabulary of network theory. Formerly, fame was localized: Every moderate-sized village contained a small number of munshidin, well known to the surrounding community but not far beyond it. The social network connecting munshidin to fans was constrained by geography, resulting in a bell-shaped distribution: Some munshidin had few fans, some had many, but most were in the middle, near the average value, because most people preferred munshidin whom they heard locally. However, the advent of cassettes has transformed this social network, inducing a ‘scale-free’ distribution, characterized by a small number of overwhelmingly preferred munshidin—network ‘hubs’—plus a long tail of increasingly lesser-preferred performers. Scale-free celebrity networks arise when networks expand through addition of new fans who preferentially select the most famous performers, irrespective of distance, which cassettes enable them to do. Indeed, any network that grows according to this ‘rich get richer’ principle results in a scale-free distribution (Barabasi and Albert). 9 For Sufi music, networks expanded primarily via attraction to existing stars, who thereby became even more famous. This emergent star system has, in turn, introduced prestige as an important goal and selection factor—a form of social capital—accelerating the conversion to a scale-free distribution. Thus a man may invite Shaykh Yasin to perform at his son’s wedding because performance by a prestigious munshid confers prestige upon his family, quite apart from musical or spiritual factors. As Pierre Bourdieu has noted, capital is convertible from one form to another (16). Prestige converts to economic capital—and never more directly than for the munshid star himself, who acquires wealth through live performance and media sales. All this has wrought profound, if inaudible, transformation changes to Sufi music’s social network, and—hence—musical meaning. But the persistence of traditional live performance contexts, and grassroots embedding of cassette networks, masks this social transformation, fostering the impression of continuity. Thus, whereas Egyptian popular music appears overtly as a radically modern, mass-media phenomenon that has erased its more localized predecessors, mediated Sufi music appears as if entirely continuous with its local and traditional past—except for sporadic reformulations in response to world music coercions, such as those enacted by Shaykh Yasin in France, or at the French Cultural Center in Cairo.

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Those munshidin who are most highly connected, thanks to the rise of asynchronous media, are ultimately selected for uptake into the world music system. However, sparsity of the world music internetwork may allow lesserknown artists to be selected fi rst. More contractually pliable, such artists are often marketed as ‘generic’ representatives of local music, and indeed several lesser-known Egyptian Sufi singers preceded Shaykh Yasin in the world music market (Chazili; Barrayn). Ultimately, however, the biggest celebrities are likely to cross into the world music market, not only because world music impresarios are likely to encounter them, but also because their network topologies already conform to what the world system requires. Thus world music stars (even if they are not the biggest on the local scenes) are typically already transformed by world system globalization prior to uptake. In Egypt, by the late 1990s, cassettes were yielding to CDs, VCDs, and DVDs (see figure at https://sites.google.com/site/globalizationofsufi music/), and the even less costly MP3s, YouTube or Facebook videos, and ringtones, disseminated via web or mobile phone platforms.10 But the principle remained the same. World system globalization, impinging via a rich internetwork linking Egypt to the developed world, and capitalizing on Sufism’s extensive social-spiritual networks, has enabled a decentralized flow of asynchronous media objects working radical sonic and social changes to that which appears, at fi rst sight, as the most traditional music imaginable: the Sufi music of Egypt. Notes 1. Not coincidentally, a single company, Rough Guide, produces travel guides and world music discs, often under the same titles. 2. Asynchronous media (whether tangible—cassettes, CDs; or intangible—MP3 fi les) comprise flows of replicated media objects that circulate independently, without enforcing synchronization among consumers. By contrast, synchronous media—terrestrial radio and television, cable, and satellite broadcasts—do so. 3. Significantly, most of the popular Arab world music genres cited by Swedenburg strongly evince Africanness (e.g., Gnawa), or prior fusions with Western, African-American influenced, popular styles (e.g., Rai; see Swedenburg). 4. All figures are available at https://sites.google.com/site/globalizationofsufimusic/. 5. The word wasla formerly described secular musical performances (see Racy, “Waslah”). 6. As judged from Amazon sales. Thus compare the current Amazon rank of Shaykh Yasin’s double CD (#464,134) with that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose style fits Western expectations more closely (less improvisation; shorter, more song-like tracks; more amenable to fusions). His Real World album Shahen-Shah (Khan) is currently ranked #41,398. 7. Ironically, recognition at home often comes last. As the Egyptian proverb has it: zammar al-hayy la yutrib (the local piper doesn’t move anyone).


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8. Many Egyptians told me Shaykh Yasin was the fi rst to use instruments in Egyptian Sufi inshad, though this is hard to verify. 9. Indeed, the topological transformation from spatial (bell curve) to mediated (scale-free) social network is perhaps the crucial indicator of the transition from ‘traditional’ to ‘popular’ in music. 10. E.g., www.yassintohamy.com, now partnering with Vodafone, one of Egypt’s largest mobile networks.

Works Cited al-Ghazzali, Abu Hamid. Emotional Religion in Islam as Affected by Music and Singing. London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1901. Al-Tuhami, Sheikh Yasin. Magic of the Sufi Inshad. Long Distance France, 1998. CD. Arberry, Arthur. Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam. London: Allen & Unwin, 1950. Avery, Kenneth. Psychology of Early Sufi Sama‘: Listening and Altered States. New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004. Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo, and Reka Albert. “Emergence of Scaling in Random Networks.” Science 286.5439 (1999): 509–12. Barrayn, Sheikh Ahmad. Sufi Songs. Paris: Long Distance France, 1994. CD. Bohlman, Philip V. “World Music at the ‘End of History.’” Ethnomusicology 46.1 (2002): 1–32. Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital.” The Routledge Falmer Reader in Sociology of Education. Ed. Stephen J. Ball. New York: Routledge, 2003. 15–29. Castelo-Branco, Salwa el-Shawan. “Some Aspects of the Cassette Industry in Egypt.” World of Music 29.2 (1987): 32–45. Chazili, L’Order. Egypte: L’Order Chazili. Arion, 1982. CD. Erlmann, Veit. “‘Africa Civilised, Africa Uncivilised’: Local Culture, World System and South African Music.” Journal of Southern African Studies 20.2 (1994): 165–79. Feld, Steven. “From Schizophonia to Schismogenesis: The Discourses and Practices of World Music and World Beat.” Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology. Ed. George E. Marcus and Fred R. Myers. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995. 96–126. Frishkopf, Michael. “Inshad Dini and Aghani Diniyya in Twentieth-Century Egypt: A Review of Styles, Genres, and Available Recordings.” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 34.2 (2000): 167–83. . Music and Media in the Arab World. Cairo: The American U in Cairo P, 2010. . “Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami in the Public Hadra: A Typical Layla Performance.” Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 6. New York: Garland, 2002. 147–51. . “Tarab in the Mystic Sufi Chant of Egypt.” Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East. Ed. Sherifa Zuhur. Cairo: American U in Cairo P, 2001. 233–69. Gilsenan, Michael. Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt: An Essay in the Sociology of Religion. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1973. Holt, Fabian. “World Music.” Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World. Ed. Peter N. Stearns. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. University of Alberta. December 28, 2011. http://www.oxfordreference.com.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/views/ ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t254.e1727. Jackson, Peter. “Commodity Cultures: The Traffic in Things.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24.1 (1999): 95–108.

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Keil, Charles, and Steven Feld. Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994. Khan, Nusrat Fateh Ali. Shahen-Shah. Real World, 1993. CD. Manuel, Peter. Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993. Mitchell, Tony. “World Music and the Popular Music Industry: An Australian View.” Ethnomusicology 37.3 (1993): 309–38. N’Dour, Youssou. The Guide. Sony, 1994. CD. Racy, Ali Jihad. “Musical Aesthetics in Present-Day Cairo.” Ethnomusicology 23.3 (1982): 391–406. . “Sound and Society: The Takht Music of Early Twentieth-Century Cairo.” Issues in the Conceptualization of Music. Ed. James Porter and Ali Jihad Racy. Los Angeles: Department of Ethnomusicology, UCLA, 1988. 139–70. . “The Waslah: A Compound-Form Principle in Egyptian Music.” Arab Studies Quarterly 5.4 (1983): 396–403. Scott, John P. Social Network Analysis: A Handbook. London: Sage Publications Ltd., 2000. Stokes, Martin. “Music and the Global Order.” Annual Review of Anthropology 33 (2004): 47–72. Swedenburg, Ted. “Arab ‘World Music’ in the US.” Middle East Report 219 (2001): 34–40. Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System. New York: Academic P, 1974. Wallis, Roger, and Krister Malm. Big Sounds from Small Peoples: The Music Industry in Small Countries. New York: Pendragon P, 1984. Waugh, Earle. The Munshidin of Egypt: Their World and Their Song. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1989. , and Michael Frishkopf. “Technology, Change and the Music of Sufi Chanting in Egypt.” Musica Humana 3.1 (2011): 9–40.

Part IV

Cultural Hegemony Popular Representations of the Middle East and the US

11 American Orientalism after Said John Carlos Rowe How did exile become converted from a challenge or a risk, or even from an active impingement on [Auerbach’s] selfhood, into a positive mission, whose success would be a cultural act of great importance? (Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic)

When my good friend Edward Said died on September 25, 2003, I was invited by Marita Sturken, editor of American Quarterly, to write an essay about his legacy in my own field of American studies. “Edward Said and American Studies” appeared in the March 2004 issue of the journal. Said lived two years beyond 9/11 and thus witnessed some of the most vitriolic of the Western responses to al-Qaeda’s terrorist acts. Dismayed but not surprised, Said recognized the American Orientalism that took ominous shape in those early days in political policies, cultural representations, and personal attitudes. President George W. Bush framed the new confl ict in the rhetoric of the European religious ‘crusades’ to reclaim the ‘holy land’ from Islamic ‘infidels’ in the Middle Ages. Samuel Huntington infamously titled the era a ‘clash of civilizations’, in which Christian and Moslem values struggled for survival. With hardly any time for reasoned debate or serious consideration of the consequences, the US joined anti-Taliban dissidents in Afghanistan as early as October 2001, and in March 2003 invaded Iraq. The speed with which the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq following the events of September 11, 2001 is the best evidence that ‘American Orientalism’ was already well established in US ideology at the time. Although there was a vigorous anti-war movement, led by MoveOn.org in the US and broadly supported around the world, protest seemed to have virtually no impact on US foreign policy and military experts. Said warned us in Orientalism that “the United States today is heavily invested in the Middle East, more heavily than anywhere else on earth: the Middle East experts who advise policy-makers are imbued with Orientalism to a person” (321). Some people concluded that the George W. Bush administration cynically ignored antiwar protests, but the more likely explanation is that US state policy makers assumed popular ignorance of the Middle East, relying instead on their own Orientalist expertise. Once again, the long history of Orientalism Said traces


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back to the European Enlightenment shaped US policies in the buildup to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Said’s criticism of US imperialism, especially in the Middle East, is the basis for the claim several of us have made for him as a scholar-activist of American studies. On the mere evidence of Said’s extensive work on US imperialism in the Middle East, ranging from Orientalism (1978) through Covering Islam (1981) and Blaming the Victims (1988) to Out of Place: A Memoir (1999), scholars in American studies ought to have undertaken the more concerted studies of relations between the US and the Arab and Islamic worlds that are just today beginning to have an impact. Said was indeed ‘out of place’ in the US in this regard, insofar as his regular columns in Arabic journals, including Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo, were virtually unknown in US scholarly circles (Hafez 170–90). Published in 2010, Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom’s collection of essays, Edward Said: Emancipation and Representation, helps overcome this American provincialism, as do the many valuable studies of Said published in the Arab world before and after his death, including the issue of the American University in Cairo’s Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics devoted to his work in 2005. Of course, the phrase ‘ahead of his time’ applies more accurately than ‘out of place’ to Said’s actual anticipation of the new scholarly attention in American studies devoted to the Arab and Islamic worlds. In the post-nationalist era we inhabit uneasily today, characterized as much by neo-nationalist struggles as it is by a dizzying array of transnational dangers and hopes, the comparatism Edward Said exemplified in his public persona and his distinguished career should be the work of many different scholars, coming from many, increasingly overlapping disciplines such as American studies, Middle Eastern studies, comparative religions, history, comparative literature, philosophy, political science, anthropology, and foreign language departments. Their work ought to be diverse and contentious, but the goal should be certain intellectual coalitions essential for a new liberal education global in scope. Another goal should be the development of public policies that might confi rm or challenge the knowledge of governmentsponsored experts on all sides. In short, we might work toward these difficult but imaginable collaborative ends as a way of replacing the singular celebrity of Edward Said with the more collective and diverse voices of professional intellectuals willing to take greater responsibility for the world in which they live. If we continue to work in the directions already suggested by Said’s work and in the rich scholarship of postcolonial studies, cultural studies, and the new American studies, we will remember Edward W. Said in the best way possible: as the teacher who encouraged us to go beyond his work. In this spirit, I turn now to the development of an ‘American Orientalism’ Said may have anticipated but did not live to witness in its current state, particularly manifest in the troubling Islamophobia evident in certain areas of contemporary US society. The debates in 2010 about the construction of an

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Islamic Center two blocks from ‘ground zero’ in Manhattan, entangled with plans by a small-town preacher in Central Florida to burn Korans on 9/11 in protest against Islamic terrorists, are troubling examples of how polarized the US and Islamic communities have become. Despite increased public attention to the need for more research and teaching by experts on a wide range of topics concerning the Middle East in US education, little practical work has been done to address the failure of US schools and universities to provide that education. As a long-time advocate of educational reform, especially with regard to education of Americans about the Arab world and Islam, Said would have understood the current failure of our educational institutions as yet another instance of American Orientalism. My purpose is to suggest that Edward Said’s contributions to American studies are more than merely disciplinary and certainly more important than what he might have occasionally said about Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and T. S. Eliot. Said’s legacy for the new American studies and its cultural politics must be understood as his elaboration of key ideas for our understanding of the US as a global power deeply involved in the politics of the Middle East. By the same token, Said should not be treated as an omniscient prophet; American Orientalism is not merely an extension and elaboration of the European version Said interpreted so well in Orientalism and other scholarly and journalistic works. When Said died on September 25, 2003, the Second Gulf War had been officially declared over and our military “mission accomplished” in President George W. Bush’s infamous speech on May 1, 2003, even though the US military occupation of Iraq would last another eight years, only recently drawing to a formal close after President Obama announced the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by the middle of December 2011. Said recognized, of course, George W. Bush’s military bravura and our unjustified invasion in the search for elusive “weapons of mass destruction” as the causes for the civil war that would break out in Iraq and the breakdown of civil society that would cause hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to die in sectarian violence and millions to flee the country. For Said, it was a familiar story in the history of Western imperialism in the region. Said also predicted accurately how traditional US imperialism would metamorphose into neo-imperialism from the First Gulf War to the George W. Bush administration’s postulation of a “Great Middle East,” balanced and secured by our disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq in the Second Gulf War. This ‘new Orient’ follows historically the paths of European colonialism in the Middle East, especially in the buildup and aftermath of colonial struggles in North Africa and the Middle East surrounding the construction of the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, the political balance-of-power European and Ottoman Empire politics negotiated in the region in the World War I era, and the fi rst major foreign exploitation of Middle Eastern oil resources in the 1920s. Gun-boat diplomacy; spheres of political influence, such as the


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British Mandate in Palestine; and commercial opportunism of fi rst world nations, disguised by the rhetoric of modern ‘development’ and ‘free-trade’ capitalism, such as Standard Oil and British Petroleum relied upon, have merely been extended by the US over the past two decades in typically ‘Orientalist’ ways. “No Blood for Oil!” we demanded in demonstrations around the world in 2003, and it was by no means a naïve slogan. It spoke truth to power in ways Said understood and shared. Said also understood how this imperial legacy shaped the current stalemate between Israel and Palestine, as well as affected the internal politics and foreign policies of their neighbors in the region—a political stalemate virtually guaranteed by the territorial fractures that have made distinct national sovereignties in the region so difficult to defi ne, much less maintain. “Imperialism is fi nally about land,” Said writes in Culture and Imperialism, insisting upon an imperial bedrock we are warned never to forget (xii–xiii). But there are limits to the mere extension of the traditional imperialist model to the neo-imperialism of the contemporary US, which certainly dates from the Vietnam War (1965–1975), just the last in the series of colonial wars in Southeast Asia that destabilized that region but also exceptional in the neo-imperialism the US deployed “to win hearts and minds” in Vietnam, with the disastrous results we forget at our peril. Said’s insistence upon the irreducible ‘reality’ of land as the object of imperialism’s desire may also mark the limitation of his thoroughly modern conception of Orientalism as a key strategy of Western imperialism. In exposing how Orientalism disguised the basic land-grabs of European imperialists, Said imagined a relatively straightforward demystification of Western discursive practices—scholarship, literature, visual arts, news media, and so on—that otherwise masked or disguised the real political situation in the Middle East. Feminized, marginalized, minoritized, and above all linguistically and culturally excluded from this Western discourse, Arab culture needed primarily to be reasserted in its venerable authority, both as it had informed and shaped the West and as it continued to represent itself in ways simply distorted and repressed in the willful misreadings by the West. Taking upon himself this task as cultural translator and demystifier, Said cast himself in the role of anti-imperalist critic of a West whose cultural protocols he understood at the professional level of a trained European comparatist and Continental theorist. As I noted above, US scholars ought to have recognized what I know scholars in Arab and Islamic communities knew already: Said’s anti-imperialism was also a profound contribution to American studies. Today, ‘covering Islam’ has assumed some different modes not completely anticipated by Said and that transform our understanding of what must be termed a ‘neo-Orientalism’ manipulated by the US nation-state that draws only in part from traditional Western Orientalism, itself primarily the work of European imperialism. I will consider a few of these new modalities under a single, roughly formulated heading: the internalization of the traditional

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‘Orient’ within the US nation. I prefer this description to ‘Americanization’, itself an older form of cultural importation within the history of US imperialism, because I think this process has some new features that differ from Americanization in the simplest sense, notably a complex and contradictory use of the ‘nation’ by hegemonic powers that are themselves self-consciously transnational and global. Indeed, one of the crucial features of this US ‘nationalization’ of the Orient also involves a curious engagement with European cultural contexts, such that the US attempts to shift the cultural and political relationship from the US and the Middle East to the US and Europe. This European modality complicates the process and works quite effectively to create a ‘screen discourse’ to distract us from the real political, cultural, and religious issues at stake. The core of such ‘internalization’ of the ‘other’ is genealogically derived from the European imperialism Said understood so well. In Orientalism, he analyzes brilliantly how nineteenth-century European Orientalism works by projecting Europe’s own unconscious anxieties about the foreign, the feminine, the sexual, the racial, and the irrational other onto other peoples and cultures occluded by this European fantasy. However much Said objected to deconstruction and post-structuralism in general, he ‘deconstructed’ these others to expose the European psychosis, whose principal symptom must be its incurable, unsatisfiable imperialist desire. Said equally understood how the pathology of projection also involves a profound identification with the phantasmatic other in a hierarchical manner. “The Orientalist now tries to see the Orient as an imitation of the West,” Said writes in Orientalism, in which the subaltern Oriental strives to emulate his modern, democratic, nationalist, and thus Western models (321). “If in the meantime the Arabs, the Muslims, or the Third and Fourth Worlds go unexpected ways after all, we will not be surprised to have an Orientalist tell us that this testifies to the incorrigibility of Orientals and therefore proves they are not to be trusted” (321). But Said’s criticism of Orientalism reaches its limit when confronted by such cultural productions as John Walker Lindh, “the American Taliban,” and Azar Nafisi, the American Iranian whose Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) was a national bestseller. John Walker Lindh (1981–) is the convicted and imprisoned ‘enemy combatant’ (legally not a ‘terrorist’, or else he would be in Guantanamo, probably untried, at this very moment), who was captured in Afghanistan during the early stages of the US invasion in 2001 and sentenced by a US court to twenty years in prison. Azar Nafisi (1950–) has gained a wide international following, with special popularity in the US, as a new ‘patriot’ for both US and dissidents both outside and inside Iran, representing perhaps a nearly inconceivable ‘transnational’ entity, ‘American Iran’. I want to use John Walker Lindh and Azar Nafisi to exemplify the neo-Orientalism Said did not quite comprehend, as examples who nonetheless emerged as widely discussed public figures while Said was still alive. To be sure, in the wildly accelerated pace of contemporary media representations, Lindh and Nafisi appear old


John Carlos Rowe

topoi, but it is just their liminal status in making visible US neo-imperialism that warrants my attention to them. By the same token, I do not want to overemphasize the exceptional status of what these figures represent in the present moment. US neo-imperialism today draws upon a very long tradition of American Orientalism that predates the US nation and was employed effectively, along with other xenophobic attitudes, to consolidate and legitimate the new nation, much as the Alien and Sedition Acts did in overtly legal ways in 1798 and the more recent Patriot Act has done since 2001. In “Arabia Fantasia: US Literary Culture and the Middle East,” I sketch this longer history with specific reference to the traditions of American Orientalism as they worked within traditional and incipient neo-imperialism in the US. Lindh draws the ‘new Orient’ into the otherwise disparate field of ‘domestic terrorism’, condensing David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh, and Ruby Ridge (Idaho) secessionists with American popular fantasies of Middle Eastern and Islamic radicalism. Today, that relation has morphed to include left politics’ anti-imperialist struggle in the anti–Vietnam War movement and thus tacitly the anti-war movements against the immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sarah Palin’s resurrection of Barack Obama’s association with William Ayres during the 2008 presidential campaign is symptomatic of how President Obama’s ‘criticism’ of America and the Second Gulf War condenses the Weather Underground Ayres co-founded in the 1960s and the anti–Vietnam War politics it served with a more general anti-American ‘hatred’ that improbably links critical positions as different as critical American studies as a discipline, anti–Gulf War protests, such as MoveOn.org has sponsored, neo-Nazi and radical Libertarian groups committed to American isolationism and racial purity, and the emergent ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrations by the ‘99 Percenters’ currently taking place in dozens of American cities. It would do no good to protest that such radical movements in the US, only some of which have been labeled domestic terrorism, usually depend upon their profound patriotism, insisting that whatever criticism they advocate is necessary for a functional democracy. Lindh posed a far greater threat to US state authority, because he refused that democratic and national universe of discourse. As a consequence, he had to be ideologically neutralized by infantilizing him and offering him a ‘lenient’ sentence that further testified to his ‘adolescent’ rebellion against Yuppie parents, Bay Area permissiveness, and other ‘symptoms’ of a post-Vietnam generation that could not adequately parent because its members had themselves ‘never grown up’. The familiar neo-conservative explanation of anti–Vietnam War protest, such as Paul Berman has claimed in A Tale of Two Utopias (1996) and its sequel Power and the Idealists (2005), dismisses strong criticism of foreign policy, imperialism, and unjustified warfare as ‘childish’, out of touch with the ‘real world’ and the presumed ‘Realpolitik’ of US military and economic policies around the globe. To be sure, the conflation of the Orient (Yemen

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and Afghanistan in the case of Lindh) with ‘infantilism’ recalls sophisticated Hegelian theories of historical ‘development’ from the ‘infant’ East through the adolescence of Egypt to Greco-Roman young adults and the full maturity of German idealist philosophers, like Hegel himself. Lindh’s domestication of Islamic radicalism turns on his adolescent rebellion against Western ‘modernity and development’, a regressive gesture through which ‘he’ displaces and incorporates Arabic, Afghani, Yemeni, and other Oriental social institutions and Islam, embodying this new Orient in the uncanny figure of the bearded Bay Area youth in the US courtroom, once again confusing anti–Vietnam War hippies with radical Islam. In case you think that the John Walker Lindh ‘narrative’ is a bit of forgotten popular culture in the early stages of the US military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, I want to suggest that Lindh provides a ‘national’ prototype that regulates the recent rationalizations of such acts as the military assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki (1971–2011) by means of a US drone missile fi red in Yemeni sovereign territory and Nidal Malik Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist accused of the Fort Hood, Texas shootings on November 5, 2009 and connected closely with al-Awlaki. Although both are US citizens, neither al-Awlaki nor Malik Hasan have been ‘nationalized’ in precisely the same ways as John Walker Lindh, but instead relegated respectively to ‘foreign terrorist’ and ‘unstable psychotic’. Despite efforts by al-Awlaki’s father to claim his son’s civil rights as a US citizen, President Obama declared in 2010 al-Awlaki’s assassination as a legitimate goal of the US ‘war on terror’. In terms of the cultural narrative I see initiated by John Walker Lindh, Anwar al-Awlaki constitutes the irreducible foreignness of a terrorism that can only be addressed by military force, whereas Lindh ‘appears’ American and thus ‘reformable’, instantiating a host of social and cultural problems we need urgently to address (as much work in popular culture would do after his arrest and during his trial). Nidal Malik Hasan poses yet another variation, in which his Americanness can only be regulated by way of an absolute judgment of ‘insanity’, rendered especially ironic when we consider his professional training as a psychiatrist and his daily work in treating military personnel suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. Another version of this misrecognition is the émigré Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, whose authority in Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) is presumed to be that of a ‘native informant’, familiar with the political and social history of Iran in the aftermath of the Shah’s brutal rule. Nafisi is, of course, just one of numerous émigré writers who have capitalized on such eyewitness accounts, including the equally celebrated Khaled Hosseini, whose The Kite Runner (2003) is supposed to give us an insider’s account of Afghanistan from the pre-Soviet era to the Taliban’s rule. Of course, eyewitnesses should always be judged skeptically, especially when we are considering politically confl icted societies irreducible to a single, representative perspective. Often enough, the actual authority of the non-Western native is Western, threatening native


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credentials. Nafisi’s authority is actually that of the PhD in English literature she earned from the University of Oklahoma, not her ability to do the sort of social ethnography of modern Iran we identify with the new cultural geographers and anthropologists. Reading Lolita in Tehran is not really about Iran after the 1979 revolution, but instead about the universality of Western cultural values. As I have argued in “Reading Reading Lolita in Tehran in Idaho,” the book is less a memoir than a literary critical study of Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Jane Austen (262–63). Indeed, the main sections of the book are titled by the works or authors organizing her “memoir in books”: “Lolita,” “Gatsby,” “James,” “Austen” (Nafi si Contents). Working in reverse chronological order, Nafi si effectively derives the “great tradition” of Anglo-American literature both in her book and in the secret classes for young women she conducts in her home in Tehran. Nafi si’s hermeneutics are part of the customary modernization process through which imperial powers have claimed traditionally to justify their colonial occupations, as Said understood clearly in Orientalism (321). Said stresses how such Orientalism disguises itself as ‘expertise’, often operating successfully within state institutions (321). Not surprisingly, when Nafi si wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran, she held a faculty position at the Paul Wolfowitz School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. SAIS is in fact dedicated to the training of US diplomats and intelligence officers, not literary critics. What Said’s conception of Orientalism does not anticipate, however, is the extent to which colonial subalterns like Nafisi and Hosseini would incorporate their particular identities into the political and cultural narratives of US nationalism. Whereas Said’s Orientalist experts are assumed to be Western authorities, Nafisi and Hosseini now take the places of experts, such as Bernard Lewis whom Said criticized in Orientalism (320 –23). Traditional imperialism produces subalterns by shaping them in the mould of the cultural and social values of the metropolitan center of Empire. Nafisi and Hosseini carry this tradition further by adopting those values in active ways to construct a ‘representative’ Iranian-American and Afghani-American, each of whom represents the utopian ideal of citizenship for Iran or Afghanistan after democratization. Of course, the political precondition for such democratization is military invasion and occupation, so that such utopian fantasies are always already predicated on US imperial expansion. Although both Nafisi and Hosseini represent traditional assimilationist ideals, neither works to forget his or her native culture as assimilated minorities are presumed to do. Instead, these new subalterns actively construct fantastic Iranian and Afghani cultures inside the US, both in their English-language books (and among their primarily Anglo-American audiences) and in their special valorization of Iranian or Afghani refugee communities in the US as models for those who will eventually return to their homelands.

American Orientalism after Said


A third version of this internalization of the Orient is the adaptation of mythic national narratives and archetypes to new foreign ventures in the Middle East, such as the various interpretations of Jessica Lynch in the context of Puritan ‘captivity narratives’ and the condensation of domestic frontier confl icts with the Second Gulf War. This modality is far more conventional in terms of nationalist ideology than the figurae of John Walker Lindh and Azar Nafisi, because the protagonists in these cultural narratives are rendered representative Americans, whereas the Middle Eastern actors are generally demonized as ‘enemy combatants’ or, at best, subaltern mediators. In the cases of Lindh and Nafisi, each character is transformed by the narrative—Lindh metamorphosed into an ‘American Taliban’, problematically captured in the field of battle in Afghanistan and traceable back to his studies in Yemen; Nafisi changed by her émigré experiences in the US from anti-war student protester at the University of Oklahoma to the good citizen defending the nation against the evil empire in Tehran. Later developments in the Jessica Lynch mythology, including Lynch’s own repudiation of events as they were recounted in the melodrama of her heroic rescue by the US military, appear to subvert this national mythopoeia. In fact, cultural myth-making today is all about ‘circulation’ or what ratings’ experts would term ‘air time’, and by that measure Jessica Lynch’s personal denial of her heroic rescue and her criticism of the media representations of her have only added to her celebrity, making her name synonymous with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. In both contexts, ‘Jessica Lynch’ imports foreign crises and forces them to circulate as national narratives, then exports them to other non-US venues where they continue to help ‘globalize’ America. The speed with which Jessica Lynch was in fact adapted and adopted to domestic concerns is symptomatic of my general conception of the ‘US nationalization of international crises’ as means of containing and controlling those crises. The US fascination with the fate of Patrick Daniel ‘Pat’ Tillman (1976– 2004), killed in Afghanistan by ‘friendly fi re’, also suggests that ideological complications, even contradictions, contribute to the new mythopoeia. Jonathan Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009) is a fi ne account not only of the military cover-up of Tillman’s combat death but also of the popular narratives that have used Tillman to substitute domestic US problems for our ongoing war in Afghanistan. Once again, both Lynch and Tillman are extensions of very familiar US national narratives of ‘captivity’ and ‘friendly fi re’ that can be traced back to pre-national forms, such as the Puritan captivity narrative, and to early novels, such as James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” novels, in which characters caught between changing alliances during the French and Indian Wars often suffer injury and death from ‘mistaken’ political identities. In 1787, during the American Revolution, Jane McCrea, a British partisan, was mistakenly killed by Wyandot Indians attempting to carry out British orders to kill American


John Carlos Rowe

revolutionaries, and, as Jay Fliegelman has pointed out, the event was widely publicized in the American colonies with great propaganda value for the revolutionaries (141). Both Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman remain figures of interest as long as they continue to represent the contradictions of the Second Gulf War and our ongoing war in Afghanistan, and they do so by bringing these wars ‘home’ in all their unresolved political complications. The popular television series 24, in which the investigator Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) faced critical terrorist threats on US territory with only twenty-four hours to foil these attempts, follows the logic of more conventional US imperial narratives. Although Bauer faced a wide range of domestic and international terrorists, the stories invariably turned on the personal psychologies of the American characters, thus reinforcing the ‘clash of civilizations’ so invidiously represented in the late Samuel Huntington’s book of that title. Much has been written about the series 24, but it tells us relatively little new about US cultural imperialism. Like police and crime dramas, 24 trades upon popular anxieties, reinforces clichés about ‘American values’ and ‘good citizenship’, and otherwise distances the real international problems the US state has exacerbated by waging multiple wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The series 24 concluded in 2011, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and it seemed that it had run its course as cultural therapy, but the new Showtime series Homeland, which debuted on October 2, 2011, is an intriguing spinoff that offers new evidence for my thesis of a neo-imperialism that works through the importation of international problems as part of a broader US globalization. Homeland plays upon the redemptive plot of the captivity narrative, but with a radical difference. US Marine Sergeant Nicholas (‘Nick’) Brody (Damian Lewis) returns home after being held captive by al-Qaeda for eight years in Iraq. Brody is received by nearly everyone as a suffering hero, whose captivity by al-Qaeda has left him with countless physical and psychological wounds. Only Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes), who has faulted herself for not predicting the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and ran afoul of military authorities in her own tour in Iraq, suspects that Brody is not who he appears to be, but in fact may well be an operative of al-Qaeda, converted to their political purposes during his long confi nement and torture in Afghanistan. Of course, investigator Mathison appears to many of her superiors to be delusional, obsessed with her own previous failures to follow orders and thus labeled as a ‘rebel’ within her department, the counterterrorism division of the CIA. The details of this new series are just being worked out in its fi rst season, but the broader outlines are clear. The ‘foreign’ antagonist now looks just like an ‘American’, whatever that generalized appearance might really be, and the transposition of ‘terrorist’ qualities to domestic ‘dissidents’ will be rendered easier as cultural work like this television series reinforces such popular slogans in the US as what every traveler reads on US airport signs:

American Orientalism after Said


“If you see something, say something,” the official slogan developed by the new federal agency, Homeland Security, under the current Secretary Janet Napolitano. Recalling the famous Cold War era fi lm, recently remade, The Manchurian Candidate, Homeland plays upon the broad paranoia within the general population of the US, as well as trading on the panoptical presence of Homeland Security in Americans’ daily lives. Homeland appears to be a new television series that locates international problems squarely within the domestic space of the US, but its origins are more complicated. Adapted from the popular Israeli television series Hatufim, or Prisoners of War, developed by Gideon Raff, which was aired on Israeli television from 2009 to 2010, Homeland has a very specific international provenance. The Hebrew word hatufim is literally translated as “kidnapped” (or “abducted”), but the English-language title Prisoners of War renders more exactly the social issue Gideon Raff hoped to address with this Israeli television series. The series focuses on three Israeli Defense Force (IDF) reservists, two of whom are released after seventeen years’ captivity by Arab dissidents in Lebanon, and a third whose body is returned to Israel. Representing the complex family and broader political responses to the two surviving and one dead IDF soldiers, the series raises questions about how Israeli POWs often raise personal and public suspicions of their loyalties. Whereas the dead soldier is consistently revered in public discourse, the two survivors struggle to overcome criticism that blames them directly or indirectly for subsequent acts of terrorism. Homeland draws explicitly from Prisoners of War, but Homeland transforms the complex issues involving POWs in the long confl ict between Israel, the Palestinians, and Lebanon into a one-sided narrative of US national security. Whatever sympathy we are encouraged to feel for the former captive Nick Brody is tainted with our suspicions that he is in fact using his victimization to lure us into a terrorist trap. The handsome, fit character who emerges from his bearded, unkempt POW appearance in the early episodes is another deceptive appearance that could cause us to miss his role in a new 9/11. POWs are venerable problems to be addressed socially and politically as a consequence of military confl icts, but the “POW/MIA” campaign in the years following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 has special relevance for US neo-imperialism and its Orientalist dimensions. In M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America (1992), H. Bruce Franklin argues successfully that the lingering belief in ‘surviving’ POWs and Missing in Action (MIA) combatants in Vietnam turned the Vietnam War into a Cold War in the US–Vietnamese political and economic relations after 1975 (Franklin 3–11). Thirty-seven years after our military withdrawal from Vietnam and twenty years after the publication of Franklin’s book, the POW/MIA issue appears to have slipped inevitably into the past. But as the Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman, and Homeland examples suggest, we have once again warped older historical and different geopolitical problems into contemporary political disputes. The


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broader cultural narrative is the ‘Vietnam Effect’ in both Gulf Wars and Afghanistan, whereby our ventures in one ‘Orient’ (Southeast Asia) appear to condition our later policies in two other, very different, ‘Orients’ (Iraq and Afghanistan), confusing the three regions by mere nominal association. The Vietnam Effect says it is all about us, not them, whether Iraqis, Afghanis, Vietnamese, Laotians, or Cambodians, so that we can readily transfer key terms, the operative metaphors of imperial poetics, from one domain to another without experiencing cognitive dissonance: quagmire (Vietnam and First Gulf War), dominoes (Southeast Asia and Afghanistan/Pakistan); yellow ribbons (POWs/MIAs, the Vietnam Veterans of America [VVA], and Gulf vets); posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Agent Orange, and Gulf War Syndrome. Of course, these social psychological practices of projection and substitution are crucial to nineteenth-century European Orientalism, which began with its own fantasies of the exotic ‘East’ and substituted such fictions for regions neither Eastern nor Oriental. The difference of the new Orientalism is the self-conscious importation of these fantasies. In the nineteenth-century imaginary, distance was a crucial factor, which preserved the exoticism of distant lands and peoples, especially important when people from those lands had emigrated to the metropolitan centers of the empire. But today, US neo-imperialism depends upon rendering familiar the distant and exotic, especially their imaginary qualities, incorporating them into that powerful US myth of assimilation. We must add to this formula the equally powerful myth of the US as a ‘settler society’, whose social values have been shaped by immigrants. Of course, the conventional claim to the US as ‘exceptional’ in this regard ignores the fact that virtually all societies are shaped by immigrants, as long as one goes back far enough. Whatever the actual trajectory of migration followed by native peoples in the western hemisphere, they too originated outside the continent. It takes little reflection to realize that humans have always migrated in search of better living conditions from the earliest periods of hunting and gathering to the most advanced societies. The difference is how the uniqueness of US settler society has been used not only to ignore indigenous rights and history but also to treat other sovereign nations and peoples in this era of globalization. That old British fantasy of ‘the English world’ in which everyone within the British Empire would speak English and behave according to the British standard of civil society has metamorphosed into the US imaginary of an ‘end of history’ when everyone will come to America to realize his or her destiny. And, of course, by implication, ‘America’ will be everywhere. In this dystopic view, Americans are encouraged to look inward to our domestic problems to work through foreign policy issues in anticipation of those ‘foreign’ problems coming to them, as Americans are warned they will. It is this fantasy of ‘American universality’, too often the model for new cosmopolitanism, including Said’s own, that tells us US neo-imperialism is not so much about land, natural

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resources, even global economic or military power, but primarily about a national identity we still cannot defi ne. The new Orientalisms are multiple, overlapping, and strategically confusing, enabling their authors to substitute foreign policy discussions for any genuine historical discussion of the Vietnamese, Iraqi, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, and Afghani peoples. The irony of these cultural processes of internalization, domestication, and displacement is that they take place through a US national model that has never been more fragile and fictional, irrelevant as it is to the global state power wielded by the Reagan and Bush administrations through transnational coalitions, US allies in the Greater Middle East, oil interests in the Black Sea neighborhoods of Afghanistan, and global capitalism’s dependency on Chinese modernization and development. President Barack Obama’s administration has attempted to create an image of more cooperative international relations and a less militant foreign policy, even as the US continues to wage wars in the name of US ‘national security’, in keeping with the policies of Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush that the US police the ‘New World Order’. The Obama administration’s new foreign policy and international image still depend upon a vigorous American exceptionalism, and Barack Obama is ironically the most eloquent defender of such exceptionalism we have had in recent years. The US is not just the ‘leader’ of the ‘free world’, but also the democratic exemplar of religious, racial and ethnic, gender and sexual, economic, and political diversity and tolerance. The Orient is everywhere else, especially at home in America. What would Edward Said have made of such neo-imperial complications worked through a cultural narrative that is closer than ever to the geopolitical interests of the US? Of course, he would have tried to understand the intersection of culture and politics while cultivating his critical perspective ‘out of place’, unstably occupying US, European, and Arab positions. Although Said addressed the work of the media in ‘covering Islam’, he was uncomfortable with popular culture; journalism remained for him a part of the dominant, ruling cultural values. Television shows, popular fi lms, Internet sites, and blogs—all shaping many cultures in his lifetime—rarely drew his attention. The social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, so celebrated for their parts, modest though they may have been, in the January 25, 2011 revolution in Egypt, would have interested him, but he remained a text-bound intellectual, who did not anticipate the speed and complexity employed by such new media. Edward Said wanted us to identify his intellectual horizons, which I do with the greatest respect and affection. What was unlimited in Said’s work and vision was his profound awareness of how we as individuals could counter the state-driven ‘imperial desire’, whether traditional or new. Whatever the forms of interpellation, however disempowered by military, economic, and political forces overwhelming us, we can still see, think, interpret, speak,


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write, and fi nally act. Americans have witnessed such agency in the January 25 uprising in Egypt, as well as in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ that continues to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, influencing profoundly the Occupy Wall Street movement and its self-proclaimed coalition with activists in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Iran, and Palestine who have shown us the way in our ‘American Autumn’. The phrase ‘American Autumn’ is strategically ambiguous, unlike the ‘Arab Spring’. On the one hand, it means that we are reaping the harvest of our relentless US imperialism of more than two centuries, reaching an end of geopolitical power used irresponsibly. On the other hand, it means that in such an end may be a new beginning of shared wealth and new transnational powers, dedicated more to social justice than to domination. At the end of history, Hegel imagined, knowledge takes wing with the Owl of Minerva. Edward Said knew that such an end is only temporary, a beginning of a new narrative that might help us today transcend the limitations of the discrete nation-state and its need to conquer others. Works Cited Berman, Paul. Power and the Idealists: Or, the Passion of Joschka Fisher and Its Aftermath. Brooklyn, New York: Soft Skull P, 2005. . A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journey of the Generation of 1968. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1996. Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. Franklin, H. Bruce. M.I.A. or Mythmaking in America. Brooklyn, New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992. Hafez, Sabry. “Edward Said in Contemporary Arabic Culture.” Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation. Ed. Adel Iskandar and Hakem Rustom. Berkeley: U of California P, 2010. 170–90. Krakauer, Jonathan. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. New York: Doubleday and Co., 2009. Nafi si, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. New York: Random House, 2003. Rowe, John Carlos. “Arabia Fantasia: US Literary Culture and the Middle East.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 32 (2012): 55–77. . “Edward Said and American Studies.” American Quarterly 56.1 (March 2004): 33–47. . “Reading Reading Lolita in Tehran in Idaho.” American Quarterly 59.2 ( June 2007): 253–75. Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Random House, 1993. . Orientalism. New York: Random House, 1978.

12 Barbaric Space Portrayal of Arab Lands in Hollywood Films Hania A. M. Nashef

Introduction In The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan coined the term ‘global village’ to indicate how the advancement in technology has brought the world closer by eradicating traditional boundaries (291). Moreover, with the pervasiveness of the Internet, knowledge is no longer the domain of the educated few but has become available to all. In spite of the accessibility and easiness of obtaining information, certain stereotypes of the Arab world persist to this day, especially in the medium of fi lm. This is not limited to representations of people but extends to include Arab lands as well. Given that the world has become a global village, such misrepresentations are not acceptable. In addition, countries like the US have maintained, especially since September 11, 2001, that they want to overcome misunderstandings between the Arab world and the West. Such representations willfully reinforce misconceptions. One image of the Arab city exists. In this chapter, I analyze the reason behind these false portrayals from a postcolonial and postmodern perspective, drawing on work by Albert Memmi, Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Baudrillard, reflecting on fi lms such as Disney’s Aladdin (1992) by Ron Clements and John Musker, Body of Lies (2008) by Ridley Scott, Syriana (2005) by Stephen Gaghan, and The Siege (1998) by Edward Zwick, and comparing them with two Arab fi lms, Captain Abu Raed (2007) by Amin Matalqa and City of Life (2009) by Ali F. Mostafa. The Desertscape in Hollywood Film The second stanza in the opening scene in Aladdin states that Arabian nights are as hot as days (“Song Lyrics: Aladdin”). The verse occurs in a section of the soundtrack song accompanying the opening scene of the Disney Classic animated fi lm, Aladdin, titled “Arabian Nights.” The opening scene depicts a solitary turbaned man riding a camel in a vast desolate desert. The credits and the title of the fi lm are presented against a background of a blazing fi re with red flames rising that transform into yellow sands. We


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initially hear the voice of the camel rider, who we later learn is the peddler; the man leaves a negligible trail in the sands, which sharply contrasts with this immensity. The peddler-rider introduces himself as someone who comes from a faraway barbaric flat scorching desert land, in which camels dwell. He adds that in his homeland, the wind blows from the east and the sun rises from the west (“Song Lyrics: Aladdin”).1 Although the Arabized version of the animation Aladdin (1992) also states that the sun rises in the west, the lines of the opening stanza talk of a fantastical world, the world of Aladdin, a world of flying carpets and enchantment, a world of golden and bronze palaces. The fi rst couplet states: Ana jay min bilad a‘jab minha ma feesh Feeha qusur min dhahab wa nihas. (Aladdin, “Arabian Nights”) Oh I come from a land From a fantastical land Where the palaces are gold and copper. (my translation)

The impression one gets from the Arabic lines is that of a chimerical place rather than a barbaric one, a magical place with astonishing tales. Granted, the place is just as mysterious and enchanting, and at this stage there is nothing untoward. Obviously, the Walt Disney Production is taking into consideration the audience it wants to target; the same is true of its English version. The audience is primarily an American one, and beyond that the English-speaking world along with the international audience conversant in the English language. They have been trained to expect that evil people and deeds linger furtively in the Arabian Desert. Alan Nadel states that the original English version of Aladdin “participates in a series of clichéd—often self-contradictory—narratives” (185). The narrative of the land is such a cliché. The landscape depicted is very hostile, almost unlivable. Such a locale can only be inhabited by certain individuals who are nothing but extensions of this cruel and harsh environment. In this version of mythical Arabia, we are told the sun rises from the west and sets in the east. This line establishes an antithesis of what is normal. In every country, the sun rises in the east, but in Arabia it rises from the west. Not only is this land barren and overbearing, but it has also defied the rationale of nature. Edward Said writes that it is normal for humans to designate in their minds a familiar place, which they label as theirs, as opposed to a place that is unfamiliar and becomes considered as the other’s space, the land of the barbarians (54). Said elaborates, In other words, this universal practice of designating in one’s mind a familiar space which is “ours” and an unfamiliar space beyond “ours” which is “theirs” is a way of making geographical distinctions that can

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be entirely arbitrary. . . . [I]maginative geography of the “our land-barbarian land” variety does not require that the barbarians acknowledge the distinction. It is enough for “us” to set up these boundaries in our minds; “they” become “they” accordingly, and both their territory and their mentality are designated as different from “ours.” . . . All kinds of suppositions, associations, and fictions appear to crowd the unfamiliar space outside one’s own. (54) The desert with its heat, its inhospitable terrain, and its vastness is conversely opposed to the green pastures and forests of most of Western Europe. This notion of the other and the other’s land is adopted by most American fi lms without any questioning. Jack G. Shaheen similarly states that in “the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European artists and writers helped reduce the region to a colony. They presented images of desolate deserts, corrupt palaces, and slimy souks inhabited by the cultural ‘other’—the lazy, bearded heathen Arab Muslim” (Reel 13). Foreboding Lands In his study on Algeria during the French Colonization, Frantz Fanon saw a similar pattern in the way the Arab is portrayed: “In Algeria there is not simply the domination but the decision to the letter not to occupy anything more than the sum total of the land. The Algerians, the veiled women, the palm trees and the camels make up the landscapes, the natural background to the human presence of the French” (201). Hostile nature, obstinate and fundamentally rebellious, is in fact represented for the colonists by the bush, mosquitoes, natives, and fever, and colonization is a success when all this indocile nature has fi nally been tamed. Even though French colonialists saw themselves in this landscape, they were never seen as part of it. Algerians and the way their land was perceived, however, became the static landscape (despite its nature seemingly being rebellious) against which the French enacted what they perceived as civilized as opposed to that which is not perceived as such. The rebellious nature of the land and its barbaric connotations pit generic and indistinguishable humans who are seen as extensions of the land’s wilderness. The contrasting nature of the Arab countries’ sands, monotone colors of the deserts portrayed, and rubble signal them as a total other. It is a terrain that is unmanageable. Shaheen writes that the “desert locale consists of an oasis, oil wells, palm trees, tents, [and if any edifice is shown] fantastically ornate palaces [or disorderly shacks] . . . and of course, camels” (Reel 14). The latter formula applies irrespective of the depicted country. The repertoire of images which Aladdin presents to perfection—of the mythical Arab—lives to this day. Arabian lands and cities cannot be any different. Furthermore, the inhabitants of these lands are seen as people with opposing physical


Hania A. M. Nashef

characteristics: the dark against the European or American white. Whiteness becomes the standard against which every color is measured. Similarly, Judith Martin et al. reflect that because of power and a privileged status in society, white identity was never questioned (129). It is considered the norm and anything else is a deviation. In their study of disparity between cultures and individuals within cultures, Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck also come up with a set of values which can be applied to understand these cultural variations. One of the values that they discuss in their study is the human’s relationship to nature. They contend that in Western cultures, humans tend to believe that they are capable of both controlling and subjugating nature. The desert, however, has proven to be rather inaccessible to those who are not its native dwellers. It is a terrain that is completely hostile, and deemed uninhabitable by those who are unaccustomed to its climate. To an outsider, it is an unfamiliar and impenetrable place, and the assumption stands that anyone who dwells there cannot be fully human, or to some degree must be endowed with the characteristics of the place; a harsh environment begets coarse humans. It is not perchance that colonizers have labeled the Arabian Peninsula’s desert, which extends from the southern part of Saudi Arabia to parts of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, “the Empty Quarter,” the assumption being that no life can exist there. The original name of the region is Sahra’ al-Ahqaf (Desert of the dunes) or “Wadi al Niran,” which can be translated as “the valley of the flames,” referring to the intensity of its heat. Even though deserts may cover vast stretches of Asian and African Arab lands, the terrains in the Arab world vary tremendously. Assuming that all lands are desert-like, the connotation surfaces that this desolation is primitive. Moreover, deserts are considered dead places in which nothing grows; they are barren and can never become fertile. Their ‘primitive’ dwellers are incapable of changing this reality. The latter supposition exposes a certain prejudice regarding the citizens of these countries. What is subconsciously at play is that these people are wild, and will never be able to tame the land. Nonetheless, the ability to make deserts bloom is the so-called prerogative of the white man, as in the examples of European Jewish settlers in pre-1948 Palestine and white South Africans. On many occasions, cinema has chosen to shoot movies in locales other than the ones in which the events of the fi lms are supposed to take place. This could be due to various reasons, such as cheaper production costs or inability to gain access to the original place. The choice of location, however, tries to provide a mirror image of the original country. In portrayals of Arab lands, and especially in Hollywood fi lms, this rarely holds true. Irrespective of the country in which the action takes place, the landscapes are the same, and the depiction willfully ignores the actual geographical make-up of the country shown. Instead, Arab countries are always presented as an unidentified mass of scorching deserts, and here the emphasis is on the wild, harsh, and uninhabitable terrain on which sporadic barbarian nomads roam, as

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only they can belong to such milieus. Such landscapes can only be tamed by a superior force. These presentations and tropes are not restricted to cinema but also abound in certain fictional romances, in which the truth is rarely sought. A typical scenario is a blonde heroine landing at an Arab airport in a major Arab capital and, as soon as the passengers disembark, camels are shown roaming around the planes. Invariably, the tarmac borders the sand. With the exception of the dark handsome stranger, usually depicted as an oil sheikh or a prince, and an equally dark Arab female, clad in black, presented as the foil of the Western woman who remains the only visible and identifiable character, the others are portrayed as mobs in disarray, drifting through the landscape as an unruly shrub carried chaotically by the wind. As with Aladdin, the dark man must have a dark purpose and move through the desert at night. Constructing Realities Kathleen Christison states that even though one cannot accurately measure the impact of misrepresentations in media in any scientific way, fi lms and novels arguably have a qualitative impact that the others lack. Novels and fi lms allow their audiences to probe an issue with a depth that television news shows and most newspapers do not provide, and without seeming to provide news or news analysis that the audience probably does not want. Novels in particular flesh-out and crystallize the media’s general impressions by giving them substance. (397–98) The same is true of the visual as it functions as a mirror of the real. These immature and uninformed representations persist to this day in fi lm. Christison adds, “With no other ethnic or religious group [than Arabs] do writers try so diligently to ‘prove’ backwardness, political illegitimacy, moral bankruptcy” (397). Such qualities can only exist against a land that appears likewise. Ella Shohat also states, Through a historiographical gesture, the fi lms defi ne the Orient as ancient and mysterious, participating in what Jacques Derrida in another context calls the “hieroglyphist prejudice.” The cinematic Orient, then, is best epitomized by an iconography of Papyruses, Sphinxes, and Mummies, whose existence and revival depend on the “look” and “reading” of the Westerner. This rescue of the past, in other words, suppresses the voice of the present and thus legitimates by default the availability of the space of the Orient for the geopolitical maneuvers of the Western powers. The fi lmic mummified zone of ancient civilizations, then, is dialectically linked to the representation of the historical role of the West in the imperial age. (51–52)


Hania A. M. Nashef

Any representation of the land or topography of the Orient can exist in this fi xed static state. Ancient sites are usually portrayed as places the Westerner stumbles upon, admires, appreciates, uncovers, and understands. These monuments are out of joint, anachronistic in their presence, unacknowledged by their current dwellers whose lands are deemed an unsuitable home to them. The ancient sites are ones that talk of a bygone civilization that may have had a sparkle once but is incapable of ever reigniting such a spark; a link is never established between these magnificent sites and the current uncouth dwellers of the land. In fi lm, these monuments are always unearthed by a Western archaeologist. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) stumbles upon the Nabatean city of Petra on his search for the Holy Grail and his kidnapped father (Sean Connery). In real life, a discoverer can lay claim to a place he or she discovered. The monuments can only belong to someone who is perceived civilized. Shaheen lists Syriana as a film which tries to break away from the stereotype of the Arab (Guilty 169). Granted, the characters may be more complex than the previous cardboard depictions of the Arab, but the same tropes are at play. The film, which is partly shot in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Egypt, and Switzerland, covers events in a mythical Arab Gulf state and the intrigues of the oil industry. Syriana opens with the Moslem call for prayer, indicating the beginning of the day for laborers working in a Gulf Arab state. The landscape is a barren desert, and the only humans we see are Asian workers. The camera then shifts to another scene taking place in the Iranian capital, Tehran. The latter is shown as a metropolis with ordinary people on the streets and in their shops. The contrasting landscapes pit two opposing worlds: civilized and uncivilized, the Arab and the Persian. This is later confirmed when Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is told by the US CIA chair that “Iran is a natural cultural ally of the US; Persians do not want to roll back the clock to the eighth century,” which is juxtaposed against the non-cultured Arabs with their empty lands who, by implication, favor a return to the eighth century (Syriana). Even within the Orient, some peoples are considered more barbaric than others. The opening scene establishes that we are in an Arab space, barren except for the workers who are being bused to their respective places of work—a cruel habitat—while the Iranian city emulates a normal life: streets full of people from various walks of life, except for the Arab terrorist who suddenly appears, and when he speaks in Arabic, Agent Barnes, who is trying to find a missing missile, calls the Arab “a goat.” This goat is definitely more at place in the previous desert scene. Goats make another appearance toward the end of the film in front of the Emir’s (Alexander Siddig) motorcade, and the Emir explains to Brian Woodman (Matt Damon) that the Bedouin (and by insinuation his goats) always has the right of way (Syriana). The oil refineries, to which the laborers were bused, add another dimension to the stereotype. These lands are barren, unfit for ‘normal’ life; they are nothing but pumping petrol stations for the West. We get a panoramic glimpse

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of Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed road from afar toward the end of the film, when Woodman is seen walking away from an explosion. For entertainment, the laborers climb electricity grids. The short scene, which takes place in Dubai Creek, provides the viewer with another angle of the city, as we are shown the dhows and the creek itself when one of the laborers tries to find a job. We also see Woodman’s five-star hotel, which appears to be empty. With the exception of the Emir, Woodman’s interaction with the men with ‘white sheets’ is limited (Syriana). When the film tries to portray part of the ‘city’, we are once again exposed to stereotypical representations. Examples include laborers being beaten for no justifiable reason, showing them queuing at the Labor Ministry, and an Arab man walking with his ‘woman’ five steps behind him. This uneven depiction extends to other Arab cities. The portrayal of Beirut’s so-called Hizbollah suburbs exposes a city that is run by militant thugs and fi lthy alleys in a rundown quarter of the city, which contrasts sharply with the place in which the Arab summit is held and the hotel in which the dignitaries are staying. The falconry scene in the desert is, on the other hand, measured against the hunting scene in Hondo, Texas, which takes place in lush green surroundings as opposed to desert sand dunes, once again drawing on the dichotomy civilized/uncivilized. I am not implying here that greener landscapes are more sophisticated. Rather, I am pointing out the connotation of what the desert has stood for and still represents to this day (as Woodman tells the Emir, it is a place with tents where people chopped each other’s heads off): the savage uncivilized Arab, an image that has been created by the first Orientalists and continues to be nurtured to this day. Real Cities: A Different Typology of the Arab City In City of Life, an Emirati fi lm directed by Ali Mostapha, primarily fi lmed in modern-day Dubai, the events follow the lives of three main characters, and the unveiling of a city that is vibrant with life, comprising various nationalities from different social strata. The fi lm presents Arabs and non-Arabs alike, and we see how they live in their apartments and houses—from the lavish palace in which Faisal (Saoud Al Kaabi) lives to the simple traditional house of his friend Khalfan (Yassin Alsalman) and the luxurious apartment of the air stewardesses, which is pitted against the simple apartment of the Indian taxi driver. We also see how the Emiratis realistically inhabit their desert, and how the latter can be seen as a place for socializing or a haven for self-reflection. The desert in the eyes of the fi lm’s director is neither threatening nor foreboding; it is a meeting place for friends—as in the scene when Faisal and Khalfan join their friends around a campfi re—and a venue for solace—when Faisal mourns the death of his childhood friend, Khalfan. The desert, here, is a welcoming locale, presented more realistically. In Hollywood’s Arab world, not only are the inhabitants of the desert closer to barbarians than anything that resembles civilized beings, but they


Hania A. M. Nashef

are also mummified in this state of primitiveness. They, together with their lands, are static. Shohat states that when fi lm associates itself with “the visual medium of maps, cinema represents itself scientifically, as being a twentiethcentury continuation of Geography” (53). Therefore, what is portrayed in fi lm is a mirror reflection of reality. Shohat adds that the “portrayal of a Third World region as undeveloped, in this same vein, is reinforced by a topographical reductionism” that affects both the land and its people (55). Thus, the “exposed, barren land and the blazing sands, furthermore, metaphorize the exposed, unrepressed ‘hot’ passion and uncensored emotions of the Orient, in short, as the world of the out-of-control Id” (57); uncontrolled lands beget uncontrolled people. These depictions affect the way a native of the land views his or her land, namely, resenting and faulting it. According to Albert Memmi, this devaluation extends to “everything that concerns . . . [the native]: to his land, which is ugly, unbearably hot, amazingly cold, evil smelling; such discouraging geography that it condemns him to contempt and poverty” (67). The land becomes the place from which one flees rather than turn to for comfort. Shaheen also comments on such stereotypical representations of the land, explaining that “the other” [the native of the land] is always outside the circle of civilization, usually threateningly exotic or dark-looking. He speaks a different language, wears different clothing, and dwells in a primitive place such as Africa’s jungles and Arabia’s deserts—real hostile environments with signposts. The “other” poses a threat—economic, religious, and sexual—to our way of life. (Guilty xii) Shaheen adds, “In the early 1900s, . . . movie-land’s Arabs appeared as sexcrazed, savage, and exotic camel-riding nomads living in desert tents” (xv). The desert is the one environment that can produce and support these deviant characters. Tim Jon Semmerling believes that what is partly at play in fi lms that dehumanize Arabs and misrepresent their lands is the “American frontier myth,” which “centers on the conquest of the wilderness and the subjugation or displacement of the native peoples who originally inhabited it” (94). Furthermore, as the native savage can only act in extreme fashion, defying any normal law, any confrontation has to happen on the savages’ lands (94). The land that has produced such savagery becomes the grave where the natives are buried. An inhospitable barren land produces sub-humans, and then consumes them, as happens in Syriana at the end. Similarly, Lina Khatib writes that representations of Middle East spaces in Hollywood fi lms depict them as both political and ideological spaces of the other (19). Khatib contends that the actual depiction of the landscape falls within the confi nes of objectifying the other’s land; there is invariably a glorification of power against a lack of power exhibited by that other (19). Khatib states that this

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kind of “representation invokes a sense of mastery over the Other landscape. The Other landscape is thus objectified by the American gaze,” and the latter gaze “denies a representation of the intricacies of the Other space” (19). Hence, a flat monochrome stretch of yellow sands contrasts sharply with the intricacies of technology or even the masters behind that technology: “the unknown Other space is defi ned in terms of lack (of power) . . . which legitimates control over the landscape” (21). Portraying the land as a savage wilderness presupposes that it should be tamed; power is to be exerted on a barbaric space in order to control and subjugate it, but the Arabian desert treacherously defies control. The landscape is always unknown. In the opening scene of The Siege, directed by Edward Zwick, the American military barracks, which had been the site of an attack, are contrasted sharply with the immense desert setting, representing the Saudi desert, in the second scene of the fi lm. In the barracks, people who are mostly in Western clothes are seen to be moving fast. The desert scene in contrast is slow moving, except for the car that is navigating its way through the sands. The Sheikh (Mike Akrawi) in the car who appears to be the mastermind of the attack is in Arab clothes, and so is the shepherd we meet at the entrance of the village. As the car plods its way through the massive desert, we see the unavoidable camels; in this case, two animals pulled by two faceless Arab men. The village itself boasts a few rubbles, and—besides its few human inhabitants—has a large population of goats. The shepherd, whose accent in Arabic is strangely Palestinian rather than Saudi Arabian, walks leaning on a stick, even though he is young in years. This image not only marks the man as incomplete/invalid but also anachronistically places him in another time. The people of the desert are not only portrayed as the antithesis of civilization; they are nearly always seen to be speaking roughly, dressing roughly, and displaying “the qualities of what is seen as the opposite of civilization” (Khatib 23). In Hollywood, fi lm representations of the Arabs and Arab lands become “reduced and refi ned in the crucible of repeated reworkings,” leading to a limited set of elements (Eisele 68). Likewise, Karin Gwinn Wilkins explains, The processes of media production and reception embody cultural mapping, in that mediated constructions create codes that function as stereotypical plots, settings, and characters. . . . The act of constructing a territory we refer to as the “Middle East” produces a category envisioned from a particular historical and political perspective. Critics of mediated constructions of this territory point to the lack of historical and political context accorded this region, as well as the simplified, stereotypical versions of this landscape. (44–45) These kinds of representations bear no resemblance to reality; the landscape portrayed becomes devoid of any significance—it is the zero signifying nothing.


Hania A. M. Nashef

Wilkins also adds that Arab Americans are weary of such representations and demand more realistic environs. According to her, Arab Americans register concerns with an overreliance on settings in deserts with camels, groups of people in “traditional” outfits, unexplained violence, and unrealistic backgrounds. The Middle Eastern settings appear to them as unnecessarily backward and foreign, dark and mysterious. Instead of specific Arab places, a more generic backdrop with key features is meant to indicate this region. (46) This is evident in a fi lm like Body of Lies, directed by Ridley Scott, a more recent fi lm which, like Syriana, attempts at face value to portray Arabs and their lands more accurately. The fi lm takes place in at least four Arab countries: Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. It attempts to present a more truthful depiction of the Arab city. The portrayal of the Jordanian capital, Amman, is interesting, rather than the portrayal of Dubai—which is depicted as the face of the modern Arab city, and, according to the fi lm, is predominately one of futile opulence, uninhabited high-rises, and massive construction sites of spectacular architecture—or Samarra in Iraq—which is portrayed in its chaotic post-war state with American army patrols controlling its streets under the surveillance of American satellites. The desert with its wandering goats is contrasted sharply with American technology in the scene where Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is talking to Nizar (Mehdi Nebou) in his jeep. The greater part of the fi lm, however, takes place in Amman. The fi rst street scene we see of the city is lined with very high palm trees, which would be more at home in warmer climes, such as the Jordan Valley or Aqaba. During the drive, we pass a roundabout with a fountain; another fountain is seen when Ferris arrives at the Jordanian Intelligence Headquarters. Given the scarcity of water in the Jordanian capital, fountains are a rare occurrence. The ‘safe house’ in which Ferris suspects the terrorists are hiding is located in a poorer neighborhood, which is in line with how an Arab city is portrayed: rundown houses, dusty footpaths, chaotic food and other stalls, children playing in sand, roaming donkeys, overflowing garbage, and rabid dogs, of which two bite Ferris’s leg as he chases one of the suspects. Once he escapes from the dogs, he walks into a desolate area that appears to have been a war zone. When Ferris later meets the head of the Jordanian Intelligence, Pasha Hani (Mark Strong), in the street, we hear the barking of dogs in the background. This is not the fi rst time in the fi lm that we hear the barking of dogs. The current scene takes us back to an earlier one, even though both scenes are separated by another which takes place in a clinic located on a more orderly street, the implication being that Amman is a city of chaos, populated by rabid dogs. In a number of scenes, we see bicycles, suggesting that this is the favored method of transport in the city, which is unlikely in the real Amman, given its steep hills.

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The barking of the rabid dogs becomes the soundtrack that identifies the city; this is cemented by yet another barking scene towards the end of the fi lm, in which Ferris is seen talking to Mustapha Karami (Kais Nashif) on the outskirts of the city. As the city of Amman itself has been identified and the locale has not been presented as some generic Arab one, such depiction is objectionable. Sources provide evidence that the city dates back to the sixth millennium (Donrnemann 98–102). Although the actual city of Amman is ancient, built on what is now twenty hills, and famous for its white-stone houses, the city that emerges in the fi lm resembles the typical Hollywood Arab city. Not a single scene of the fi lm reflects a place in the real city; we neither see its Citadel Mountain nor its amphitheater, two locations that are usually associated with the city. The streets of the fi lm’s Amman are at best dirty footpaths, generally covered with a dusty haze; the markets are shacks half covered by torn tents or cloth; the by-standers are shown wearing strange garments that are supposedly traditional Arab wear. The streets of the city, in reality considered some of the cleanest in the region, are depicted in the fi lm littered and home to a large number of rabid dogs. If the director had chosen cats instead of dogs, then it would have been a more accurate portrayal of the city; Amman is a city full of stray cats. Needless to say, the heat is suffocating. Given that the fi lm was released as recently as 2008, and given the ease with which one can attain information, the portrayal of Amman in such a manner cannot be excused. The place was identified and named, and this requires some accuracy. The actual fi lming location was not Amman at all; the shooting took place in the south of Morocco, which incidentally is a favored choice for fi lmmakers. Depicting an Arab capital in this manner is in line with the long tradition of portraying Arab lands as either expansive deserts or neglected, shabby, squalid towns or cities. If grandeur is to be had, it defi nitely does not belong to this era; it belongs to a bygone era, to antiquity, and preferably to pre-biblical times and historic peoples. Yet, descendants of these ancient peoples still inhabit their cities. Their historical cities are still alive. The events of Captain Abu Raed, directed by Amin Matalqa, are an example of the latter. The fi lm also takes place in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The movie depicts an aging airport janitor mistaken for a pilot by a group of children, and whose imaginary stories offer an escape from a desolate reality. Most of the fi lm’s action takes place in the eastern and poorer section of the capital. Abu Raed, who lives alone following the demise of his wife and only son, meets with the children on top of the Citadel Mountain, which overlooks the city. Katherine Monk describes the fi lm as follows: The picture is eerily beautiful: All sandy beige and dusty pink, the city beneath him looks both ancient and magical in the glittering dawn. . . . These early frames move over the contours of Amman like a gentle caress


Hania A. M. Nashef and firmly establish Abu Raed as a fixture within his environment. The old man, with his white hair and threadbare clothes, fits right into the ancient landscape with its worn stones and sun-bleached architecture.

This becomes evident when Abu Raed negotiates the ancient stairs. The old stairs leading to his house have been, and still are, an integral part of the geography of ancient and modern-day Amman. In pre-car days, people of the city used these stairs to get from one place to another. Day after day, Abu Raed is dropped off by the Royal Jordanian Airline bus at the bottom of these steps, which he laboriously climbs to reach his house. In the evening, he drinks his tea on the terrace, with its magnificent view of the other hills of Amman. Other scenes of the fi lm are set in Queen Alia International Airport, and in the richer suburbs of west Amman, such as the house of the airline pilot, Nour, with whom Abu Raed develops a friendship. Abu Raed’s Amman bears no resemblance to that of Body of Lies. The ancient and modern parts of Amman are not made up of chaotic shacks in dusty streets, but rather stone houses. Conclusion Such portrayals of the Middle East are, according to Wilkins, due to “lack of knowledge” and “preponderance of fear,” which has to be “articulated in an external territory such as the Middle East” (51). Moreover, if, as Shohat proposes, fi lm indeed functions as a geographical continuation, this type of representation is at best erroneous. Jean Baudrillard argues that in Borges’ fable in which a map the size of the empire was drawn by cartographers, eventually the map began to represent the actual empire, and in time came to represent the real. This map begins to represent the real even though it is “without origin or reality” (1). The endless portrayal of Arab lands in such fashion begins to resemble and stand for the real, as with Borges’ fable of the map. This process of simulation threatens to blur the difference between what is true and what is false (4). In repetitiveness, in accumulation, we can create meaning; to Baudrillard, the mummy functions in this manner. The process of mummification allows us to “require a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin, which reassures us about our end” (10). Repetitive misrepresentation of Arab land by Hollywood is an indication that this practice not only serves to recreate meaning but is also a willful attempt at dehumanizing the people and the land. The manipulation of the Arab land in such a manner stresses the barbaric aspect of both land and dweller. And the pervasiveness of this barbaric myth in Hollywood fi lms through the uneven portrayal of Arab land eventually succeeds in dehumanizing the inhabitants of this land; the myth of the barbarian is thus realized, and with it comes the subject’s reassurance of superiority. On the other hand, the other’s vision of his or her city or land endlessly portrayed in this manner creates a chasm between it

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and the other’s reality. The Arab becomes the victim of this othering, which is eventually internalized. Notes 1. The original 1992–1993 production had the same verse but instead of the intense heat, it is a place in which ears are cut off for the fun of it. (“Song Lyrics: Aladdin”). Due to complaints by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the verse was changed.

Works Cited Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994. Christison, Kathleen. “The Arab in Recent Popular Fiction.” Middle East Journal 41.3 (1987): 397–411. Clements, Ron, and John Musker, dirs. Aladdin. Walt Disney Pictures, 1992. Donrnemann, R. The Oxford Encylopedia of Archaelogy in the Near East. Ed. E. M. Meyers. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Eisele, John C. “The Wild East: Deconstructing the Language of Genre in the Hollywood Eastern.” Cinema Journal 41.4 (2002): 68–94. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1961. Gaghan, Stephen, dir. Syriana. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005. Khatib, Lina. Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006. Kluckhohn, Florence R., and Fred Strodtbeck. Variations in Value Orientations. Evanston, IL: Row Peterson, 1960. Martin, Judith N., et al. “Exploring Whiteness: A Study of Self Labels for White Americans.” Communication Quarterly 44 (1996): 125–44. Matalqa, Amin, dir. Captain Abu Raed. A-Film Distribution, 2007. McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1962. Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Trans. Howard Greenfeld. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd., 1974. Monk, Katherine. “Sweet Captain like Mr. Rogers in Jordan.” The Vancouver Sun. April 9, 2010. http://www2.canada.com/vancouversun/news/archives/story. html?id=d34614e0–5906–4e10–9f1e-845721b16564. Mostapha, Ali F., dir. City of Life. Cinemax, 2009. Nadel, Alan. “A Whole New (Disney) World Order: Aladdin, Atomic Power, and the Muslim Middle East.” Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film. Ed. Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1997. 185–203. Said, Edward. Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. New York: Penguin Publishers, 1995. Scott, Ridley, dir. Body of Lies. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2008. Semmerling, Tim Jon. “Evil” Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear. Austin: U of Texas P, 2006. Shaheen, Jack G. Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch P, 2008. . Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Villifies a People. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch P, 2009.


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Shohat, Ella. “Gender and Culture of Empire: Toward a Feminist Ethnography of the Cinema.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 13.1–3 (1991): 45–84. “Song Lyrics: Aladdin.” http://www.fpx.de/fp/ Disney/ Lyrics/Aladdin.html# Arabian%20Nights. Spielberg, Steven, dir. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Paramount Pictures, 1989. Wilkins, Karin Gwinn. Home/Land/Security. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2009. Zwick, Edward, dir. The Siege. Twentieth Century Fox, 1998.

13 Alternating Images Simulacra of Ideology in Egyptian Advertisements Maha El Said

Globalization can be considered the ultimate manifestation of the postmodern condition: fragmented yet connected, similar yet different, global yet local. Globalization has no center; it creates images to be perused and realities to be substituted by the hyper-real. Globalization’s ideology is consumerism, its cathedrals hyper-malls, its prophets advertisements. Furthermore, globalization and Americanization have become synonyms in the minds of many, including those in the Middle East and Egypt. As Thomas Friedman has put it, “globalization wears Mickey Mouse ears, it drinks Pepsi and Coke, eats Big Macs, does its computing on an IBM laptop.” This view, though to some degree dated, still holds true to a great extent in the new millennium, especially as America’s biggest export remains to be popular culture: movies, TV programs, music, fast-food franchises, and so on, making the American look and the American lifestyle the norm, equating globalization with Americanization. The link among popular culture, commercial culture, capitalism, and Americanization has long been established. Tyler Cowen reminds us that, to one degree or another, all culture is commercial and that “[c]apitalism generates the wealth that enables individuals to support themselves through art,” the wealth that can generate a global popular culture “where large numbers of individuals unthinkingly consume the same product” (32). The role played by advertisements in the formation of this mass/popular culture cannot be overlooked. Advertisements, the prophets of globalization, have defi ned our way of living, lifestyle, and, to a great extent, our likes and dislikes, creating a global popular culture that thrives on consumption. The term ‘pop culture’ as defi ned by Jim Collins is “homogeneous, mass-produced objects designed for immediate gratification/enslavement of their consumers” (94). However, this and similar defi nitions raise questions concerning the power relations involved in producers’/consumers’ choices and prevalent tastes. Market research has shown that globalization with its multinational corporations has no nation, no home, and no religion. It has created a world of its own, which Benjamin Barber calls the “McWorld”:


Maha El Said McWorld is a product of popular culture driven by expansion commerce. Its template is American. . . . Its goods are as much images as materiel . . . it’s about culture as commodity, apparel as ideology. . . . Music, video, theater, books and theme parks . . . are the public squares and suburbs the neighborless neighborhoods—are all constructed as image exports creating a common world taste around common logos, advertising slogans, stars, songs, brand names, jingles and trade marks. (17)

With global networks and advertising, nearly any commodity is available for purchase, creating a mass popular culture that has a global reach and American taste. Products representing images derived from the “empire of fun,”1 created through Hollywood, Disneyland, and MTV, with global citizens living in “absolutely fake cities”2 eating at McDonalds or KFC accompanied by a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi, have become ordinary everyday practices that do not call for any questioning, or cause any wonder. Nonetheless, it has been argued that consumer culture and Americanization are not synonyms. Daniel Miller, for example, argues that consumerism is a shared attitude, giving Japan—one of the main contributors of commodities—as an example, he states, “[The] Japanese had managed to convince themselves that consumer culture is actually something that had come to them from America and was a threat to authentic Japaneseness for this reason” (238). What Miller overlooks is that it is not the consumer good or commodity itself that matters; it is the model and the standards set by the American way of life that really counts. That is, if Egypt produces Levis jeans, does this make it authentic to Egyptian culture? Or for that matter, when McDonalds offers Mcfalafel, 3 has it lost the authenticity of its culture? Advertisement campaigns selling Nike shoes that may be produced in China are not promoting the Chinese way of life, rather they are promoting the “Just do it!” slogan that is derived from action-oriented American culture and ideology. Regardless of the origin of a product, when we buy it, we are buying a part of America. In a postmodern world, contradicting images flourish simultaneously; in a globalized world, cultural hegemony is dressed up with fl avors of locality creating images that set the norm for ‘coolness’. Advertisement campaigns not only market a product, they also sell the semblance of iconic identities, all of which represent ultimate freedom and a total break from tradition. As Benjamin Barber argues, selling American goods is not about the goods, it is about the soul of America. He notes, “Merchandising is much about symbols as about goods and sells not life’s necessities but life’s styles—which is the modern pathway that takes us from the body to the soul” (60). In spite of their messages that oppose many prevalent Islamic teachings, like the rest of the world, Egyptian youths have been overwhelmed by the simulacra of America created by advertisement campaigns where the image

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makers “give up the truth in their images and make only the proportions which appear to be beautiful, disregarding the real ones” (Plato 230). According to the Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies, “A simulacrum is an imitation or copy without an original (or referent) in which the simulation becomes more real than the real, indeed, the apparent reality of the simulation is the measure of the real” (“Simulacrum”). In this chapter, I will attempt to trace the impact of advertisements on forming a false, fragile identity that shapes popular ideology—an ideology that limits itself to ‘fashionable’ manifestations without impacting true original identity. Influenced by images and false copies of happiness, freedom, and faith, many Egyptian youngsters create their own ‘false copy’ of ideology in an attempt to belong to, and distinguish themselves in, the global village. Before Globalization: The Nasser Era Colonialism is a fact of modern Egyptian history. Egypt is a country that has seen many colonial eras. However, unlike many other colonized countries, it has always retained a cultural identity that is distinctively Egyptian. In spite of French colonialism (1798–1801) and British colonialism (1882–1952), Islam and the Arabic language, to a great extent, have sustained a national and cultural identity and resisted Westernization over the course of history. Though upper classes and, especially, the aristocracy were influenced greatly by the colonizer, and though education was based on Western thought and style, the lay Egyptian maintained an Egyptian identity that embraced the traditions of both Christian and Muslim teachings. During the Nasser era (1952–1970), an era when Egypt was trying to recover from British colonization, there was a heightened sense of nationalism. The US, with its Cold War on the Eastern Block and its support to Israel, represented the new imperial power, especially as the Soviet Union was perceived as a loyal friend to Egypt, supporting the newly acquired independence. The East (represented in the Eastern Block and the Soviet Union) became the model to emulate, while the West, led by the US, was the new imperial power. America with all its iconic symbols and promise of affluence was shunned.4 In an anti-Western environment, Egypt adopted Arab socialism, an ideology that combines the Eastern European and Chinese socialist systems with religious and intellectual foundations that aim at overcoming imperialism and colonialism. Contrary to expectations, Westernization, which was initially limited to the higher social classes that had direct exposure and contact with the West, trickled down to other social classes: “Farmers substituted their original galabiyas with Western-style trousers, looked forward to owning a Western tape recorder and a fan made in Japan” (Amin 67). Though there were a few products to be sold, advertisements during that era were selling ideas and ideologies. For example, modern life was propagated with pictures of


Maha El Said

workers in overalls and women dressed in Western styles to reflect the spirit of the new age. The Pan-Arab dream, similar to the American dream, was also enforced by Egyptian pop culture. Egyptian theater, movies, and music dominated the Arab world. Figures like Um Kulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez became idols, and Cairo became the Hollywood of the Arab World. The ideology being enforced was mainly Arab socialism, promoting an Arab national identity and aiming at creating the United Arab Republic. Yet despite the general nationalization movement in the country and the ban on anything American, Hollywood’s popularity was never interrupted. American movies, though heavily censored, were shown, reflecting an opposite image of what was being promoted in Egyptian media. Paul Newman, Ryan O’Neil, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe were familiar names and faces to most Egyptian people. Films like The Graduate, On the Water Front, To Sir with Love, West Side Story, and endless Western movies were shown at the Metro movie theater that by then had also become nationalized. Another American leak was pop music, which was broadcast on “the European Local Service” of Egyptian radio, airing a mix of European and American pop music, making Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Presley, who sang the melodies of America, accessible to Egyptian audiences. Even earlier versions of soap operas, such as Payton Place and Little House on the Prairie, were occasion for family gatherings that could not be missed. The images reflected were of a world of glamour, vitality, and power, contrary to the Socialist system of a country then at war. 5 The fact that contact with American culture was extremely limited allowed these images to be enveloped in an aura of magic that presented larger-than-life heroes spinning the threads of the American dream. Nonetheless, the majority of the population had an inflamed nationalist temper that was biased against the US and the West, which have become interchangeable as US culture dominated Europe, and the subtle differences between the two were indistinguishable to many Egyptians. On the public level, the image of the American was either the old, rich American who came to Egypt as a tourist, or the loud, vulgar image reflected by the Egyptian media. Over and above, American foreign policy and its support of Israel, especially during the Six-Day War, made President Lyndon Johnson an emblem of all Western evil, sung in many popular Egyptian songs. The extent of this hostility can be glimpsed, for instance, in Abdel Halim Hafez singing Abd El Rahman El Abnoudi’s lyrics “Wala yhimmak ya rayyis” (Don’t worry, president) in 1967, a song which poses the US as the enemy: “Don’t worry, president,/Don’t worry about Americans,/You are supported by the most courageous men” (Hafez). The problem with Arab socialism and the independence movements that swept the Arab World was that they were anti-Western in rhetoric yet Western-leaning in mode. Galal Amin notes, “In spite of Nasser’s ambitions, he

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did not visualize a distinctively Arab model of progress, instead his objective was to become equal to the West” (66). The 1967 defeat was a turning point in the lives of all Egyptians. The Arab dream was shattered, and doubts about Arab socialism started to surface. Some believed that the return to Islam was the solution to the ills that had befallen Muslim societies, while others turned to communism. In 1970, when Nasser died, mourners fi lled the streets, bewailing not only the death of Nasser, but also the death of the Arab dream of emancipation and progress. “Brave New World”: The Sadat Era With Sadat’s presidency, a new era was launched. The defeat of 1967 was replaced by the victory of 1973. The US became friend rather than foe, and Arab socialism was replaced with ‘the open-door policy’. It was an era that promoted consumerism and globalization, putting Egypt prominently on the map of ‘Cocalization’. As Hassanein Heikal argues, Egypt was transformed from a planned economic development, into a “super market” (213). A variety of multi-/international corporations opened up, and US dollars started to pour into the region through different channels such as the USAID. 6 With this heavy inclination toward consumerism, American products started to appear on the market and, needless to say, the CocaCola factory that had been nationalized was once more taken over by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1994 (Keenan), bringing to Egypt what Ted Friedman describes as “Coca-Cola’s utopian internationalism . . . the universal consumption of a commodity–Coke–which ties people together” (2). Several American chains and franchises started opening up, all implying the same message of universality, bringing a new character to the city of the thousand minarets, with billboards hiding and thus distorting the authentic architecture with advertisements of all kinds, replacing the real with the hyper-real, and making the world of advertisements a substitute for authenticity (Figure 13.1). Consumer culture thus began to take over, and the opening of fast-food restaurants became mega important events. Everybody was buying the American dream: eating American fast food, drinking Coca-Cola, and wearing jeans; everyone became ‘cool’ to one extent or another as these commodities seemed to be the main expression of Americanization, that is, globalization, and thus ‘coolness’. The saturation of the market with consumer goods was a welcomed change, especially after the socialist order of Nasser where many did not have access to what was perceived as the pleasures of life such as Coca-Cola and Levis jeans! This influx of commodities was accompanied by a surge in advertisements creating a “Brave New World” with images of exceptionally pretty women, happy people living in a paradise-like environment. Advertisements, as mentioned earlier, were selling the simulacrum of America and presenting

Figure 13.1 Photo by author.

216 Maha El Said

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ultimate Westernization and modernity to the common Egyptian youth, bringing freedom and prosperity as they packaged the American dream in commodities and brand names. The most explicit example, of course, was Marlboro cigarettes whose slogan ran, “Come to Marlboro Country! Be free in its vast space. Discover nature that is like magic,” with pictures of cowboys embodying vitality, freedom, and, most of all, control. With the development of the global market and the dissemination of such advertisements, a consumer culture was being forged and integrated into the Egyptian society. This culture was creating a lifestyle, if not attainable in reality, attainable through dress code and consumption. Studies on consumer culture have noted the following: The tendency within consumer culture today is to view lifestyles as no longer requiring inner coherence; marketers and cultural intermediaries (fashion; entertainment) cater for and expand the range of styles and lifestyles available to global audiences and consumers with little regard to authenticity or tradition. (Arnould) Advertisements bombarding Egyptians all over the country started promoting lifestyles and cultural forms, if not totally alien, defi nitely different and new. They dictated ideas about how people should look and live as well as what they should eat and drink. Arvind Rajagopal discusses the impact of advertisements on local culture, showing how advertising naturalizes the mysterious “life of things” and affi rms it as the source of all positive human attributes. He explains, “Advertisements build a cluster of qualities and attributes which, by allusion, argumentation and imagery, are associated with a product followed . . . and can transfer to the buyer” (1661). Advertisements have been creating the illusion of happiness, associating commodities with prestige and status, beauty and prosperity, a lifestyle that guarantees self-fulfillment and pleasure. As Jean Baudrillard in his analysis of advertisements has noted, “Goods are not produced to fill already existing needs, but are a response to the need which is conjured by advertising and marketing strategies” (61). In this case, advertisements not only create the need and desire, but also promise the fulfillment of these desires through the consumption of a certain commodity that is suitable to the lifestyle being promoted. However, the desire being created is that of a different world that has a different look and uses a different language. Borrowing Collin Campbell’s notion of “self-illusory hedonism,”7 where consumers are driven by an elusive satisfaction that is enforced through nostalgia, I argue that this self-illusory hedonism in Egypt arises from the illusion of Americanization/Westernization. It is thus no surprise that the fi rst commercial, privately owned advertisement company in Egypt, established in 1978, was called Americana. Again, it is no surprise that most products, even if locally produced, were to some degree affi liated with America. The Kuwaiti franchise company, Americana


Maha El Said

Group, is a case in point. The owner of the franchise of most US food chains, Americana Group has along its history to date introduced KFC, TGI Fridays, Baskin-Robbins, Taco Bell, and many more fast-food chains to Egypt. Even when it produced canned fava beans (foul), it was a joint venture with California Gardens providing Egyptian consumers with American fava beans instead of the familiar fava bean stands traditional to Egyptian market. A study of the development of marketing fava beans, the most traditional meal for Egyptians seen as the poor man’s food, would reflect the Americanization process. The expansion in more recent years of El Shabrawy and El Tabei (the most famous foul restaurants in Egypt) from a single store to chain stores demonstrates this process. These restaurants not only adapted the ‘McDonaldized’ service model, as explained by George Ritzer, of “efficiency, speed and reliability” in packing and services, but also expanded their menus to offer hamburgers and pizza, needless to say accompanied by a coke, to suit the taste of the “McDonaldized society” (100). This illusion or simulacrum of Americanization was also being enforced through TV commercials that advertised foreign commodities, using scantly dressed foreign models, dancing to foreign music, and foreign terms. Even when foreign models were replaced with local models selling local commodities, they were represented in a Westernized style, alienating the local and idealizing the foreign (Figure 13.2). Images used were all foreign, advocating an illusionary world that is totally alien to Egyptian reality.

Figure 13.2 © Tarek Nour Americana.

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With foreign names and commodities, ultimately a foreign language was used to enhance the simulacrum. English language and English names became indispensible. Besides the fact that dropping a couple of English words in a conversation guaranteed your ‘coolness’, the job market was indeed changing, and proficiency in the English language became the most required skill. With English being a main carrier of this new culture and the means to attain it both fi nancially and socially, the teaching of English language gained prominence—supporting a market for language institutes and private language schools, and fi nally introducing English in Grade 1 in public schools.8 The spread of the English language made the rest of American pop culture available to a wider audience in the society. American soap operas, Hollywood commercial movies, and gangster rap became more accessible, with all the violence, sex, and drugs they allude to. The seduction of such a world was irresistible and ongoing as Rambo became an idol, Titanic-inspired haircuts the vogue, and fi nally “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night” the most popular poem in class. However, all these images, though making the US the center of the universe, did not fully represent authentic American culture: They were more of a simulacrum of America, a pseudo-culture that is exported for commercial use, where the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is attained through entertainment, individualism, and freedom coming from illusions of power and the annulment of the conventional. Michel Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Madonna are not the everyday American person we meet. MTV is as shocking to many Americans as it is to Egyptians. 9 As George Packer has observed, “[W]hat America exports to poor countries through the ubiquitous media [are] pictures of glittering abundance and national self-absorption.” However, this is what the US is exporting to Egypt and the world at large. These movies and pop songs that are replicated in different forms of advertisements are appropriating the Egyptian culture and emphasizing a stereotype of America, a country that we got to know through the eyes of J. R. in Dallas and other famous soap operas. This is a world, to many Muslims and Arabs, that is seemingly devoid of morality and, therefore, totally alien since it contradicts traditional and religious beliefs. As Micheal Hardt and Antonio Negri put it, “What is exported is a relation, a social form that will breed or replicate itself. . . . [C]apital touches what is foreign and makes it proper. . . . In one word it creates the world after its own image” (226). Strategies to cope with this new culture, appropriate it, and be appropriated by it caused what has been termed a “schizophrenic culture,” a culture that tries to blend materialistic values with religious values, the Western look with Egyptian beliefs. Many Egyptian shops, no matter how big or small, have adopted an English name to make themselves more appealing. Shopping centers and mega malls like “City Stars” and “Mall of Arabia,” the cathedrals of consumerism, became the family’s treat, offering a combined indulgence of movies, fast-food outlets, and international consumer brands to the globalized citizen. This is a zone where all advertisements culminate, where


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people can “empower themselves by purchasing/appropriating things,” products they have seen on TV through advertisements that emphasized and asserted the “desirability of renewal and fulfi llment” (Rajagopal 1664). The McWorld has taken over, creating a hybrid culture where young people respond to American pop music with belly dancing moves and follow Baywatch from under the veil; where McDonalds offers McFalafel, an Egyptianized version of Big Mac, to suit the Egyptian taste, catering for family outings with kids playing for hours at a time, rather than McDonalds’ speedassociated culture of fast food that accommodates the American way of life. As Egypt moved from a socialist to a capitalist system, the concept of consumerism also shifted from a Marxist “use-value” of the commodity to Jean Baudrillard’s “sign-value” of “the third order of simulacra.” Commodities have become “status symbols” distinguishing the elite from the common (Mann). According to Marx, a commodity is an object that is exchanged for money, highlighting its use value. However, according to Baudrillard’s third order of simulacra, there is only the “symbolic value” that the commodity possesses since “it is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real” (2). Elite suburbia compounds or gated communities, where houses look like American suburban houses, started to mushroom, with names like “Beverly Hills,” “Qattamiyya Heights,” and “Dream Land.” Multi-million dollar mansions with golf courses were built to cater to a minority of the population. Though, as Lila Abu Lughod has noted, “[p]overty impedes full access to the consumer culture,” Egyptian television “insistently traffics such signs . . . enticing people to buy” (123). With the unemployment rate of 9.7% (2010) and 22% (2008) of the population living under poverty,10 it becomes provocative to see advertisement campaigns on TV with slogans that describe these suburban compounds as “What we call the art of living” or “I deserve to live well” (billboard advertising the Alex West compound). Unlike Europe where Americanization is a symbol of rebellious ‘coolness’, a matter of choice, in the Middle East it is a desperate attempt to belong to the ‘in-group’ as Arab culture has repeatedly misrepresented by negative stereotypes in the American media. Orientalism has framed Arabs into stereotypical molds of backwardness where there seems to be three kinds of Arabs: pharaohs, exotic bedouins, or (more recently) terrorists. Therefore, as proof of progress, it has become mandatory to debunk these stereotypes, and since the latter are attached to tradition, breaking away from tradition has become the means to identify with the ‘in-group’ of the new world order. This has never been an easy task. Steeped in traditional and religious values that are very different from Western culture, much more reserved and conservative, Egyptian culture became hybridized: part Egyptian, part American, where most youngsters dress American but act Egyptian. However, Americanization/globalization does not come without consequences. That is, concerns with both culture and identity surface as real

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issues. As Manuel Castells points out, “In a world of global flows of wealth, power and images, the search for an identity, collective or individual, assigned or built, becomes the fundamental source of social meaning” (qtd. in Bokser-Liwerant 8). It is needless to say that many of the messages implied through these advertisements are totally alien to the Arab/Muslim audience. Whereas Islam calls for balance between worldly pleasures and faith, humble life and modesty, this new culture calls for indulgence in worldly pleasures and propagates competition. Values such as “wish for your brother what you wish for yourself” are being replaced by “we’re better than the Joneses.” As Peter Stearns has noted, “The interaction between Islam and consumer culture represents an interplay between powerful, ongoing spiritual and nationalist values and the new lures of public displays of materialism. This occurs against a backdrop of public debate over Western secularism . . . and Islamic religious nationalism” (qtd. in Arnould). To complicate matters further, the attacks of 9/11 drew the lines fi rmly as they divided the world into the good and the bad. Despite attempts at Americanization, people from the Middle East found themselves playing the role of the ‘Indian’ rather than the ‘Cowboy’, trapped in the ‘axis of evil’, with Rambo out to get them. It was proof that no matter how hard Arabs try, they cannot be ‘cool’ enough. Regardless of jeans, Nike shoes, or baseball caps, nothing can be done to counter CNN, which, instead of showing O. J. Simpson soap opera-like news, was showing reruns of the attacks associating Arabs with terrorism and numerous talk shows that wonder, “Why do they [Arabs] hate us?” Simulacra of Islam Though there have always been ambivalent feelings in the Arab World toward globalization/Americanization, on the one hand, and the US with its incessant support of Israel, on the other, the ‘war on terror’ and the invasion of Iraq intensified the situation. Criticism of cultural imperialism and cultural hegemony increased. The American dream started to shatter: Wannabe global citizens felt betrayed by both the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the American government that enforced all the stereotypes they have been trying hard to break away from. It has been shown that “[h]uman affi liations and loyalties are still heavily influenced by a person’s particular location in the ‘global village,’ whether in terms of place, age, sexual orientation, nationality or other shared experience” (Scholte 576). It was becoming more difficult to fi nd affi liations with the American dream; another source of fulfi llment/assertion was needed. Islam was there, offering Egyptians distinction in a homogenized world. However, this distinction did not come without its own negativity: the perception of


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Arabs as backward terrorists who, according to President George W. Bush, “hate our way of life.” As Saad Eddine Ibrahim notes, “Questions of ‘identity,’ ‘modernisation,’ ‘cultural authenticity,’ socio-economic grievances, political participation, and foreign domination are all involved in the resurgence [of Islam]” (632). Ibrahim classifies reactions to the “Western intrusion” that disrupted Islamic societies into three modes: emulation “of the West in its ways in order to befriend or fight it back,” rejection, where adhering to Islamic teaching is “the only means of resistance,” and a third mode which tries to “reconcile the best elements of Islamic heritage with the best elements of Western civilization” (655–56). What I would like to consider here is a fourth mode, which is emancipation. Drawing on Anthony Giddens’ “politics of emancipation,” I claim that socio-political inequalities, unequal power structures, and cultural imperialism—all brought about by Globalization and the new world order—led to the construction of a collective Islamic identity as a means of political emancipation. Giddens explains, “Emancipatory politics works with a hierarchical notion of power: power is understood as the capability of an individual or group to exert its will over others” (210). Ironically, Islamic emancipatory politics, unlike Marxism, reverts to tradition instead of breaking with it, yet it retains the same concern “to reduce or eliminate exploitation, inequalities and oppression” (210–11). In the midst of confl icting trends of globalization, the search for assertion and certainty became mandatory, and Islam presented itself as an available solution to “the frustrated quest for true independence, social equity, political participation and economic development” (Ibrahim 655). The “arrogant policies of the United States of America in particular, and the West in general, which supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine without reserve and is deaf to the legitimate complaints and suffering of the Palestinians” widened the gap between Arab/Islamic societies and the West as represented by the US (Charfi 302–03). Over and above, the proliferated corruption during the Mubarak era widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots within the society, making 20% of the population struggle for bare existence. This, coupled with the festering of radical and political Islam, promoting itself with slogans such as “Islam is the solution,” led to the resurgence of various forms of Islamization. It is important to look at the shape which this resurgent Islamic identity took in a world that is interconnected and influenced by capital flow, labor markets, wars, and politics. Some sociologists have claimed that developing liberal religious ethics can be the answer. Yet how do liberal religious ethics play out in a country that has around a 40% illiteracy rate and a newly formed middle class “that is less educated and more superfi cial?” (Amin 35) I claim that what Egyptians did was create a simulacrum

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of Islam, similar to their Americanization which was “confi ned to appearances rather than values and beliefs, manifested in consumerism rather than intellectualism” (35). And making use of the same tools available to globalization and consumerism, advocates of Islamization were able to create a simulacrum of Islam. Once more focused on superficiality and outer look, Islam became the number-one commodity advertised through religious myths as well as commercial TV. Islamic banking, Islamic language schools, and Islamic commodities were on the rise. Gregory Starrett argues that there is “a renewed religious consciousness” that is expressed through “an explosion of Islamic religious commodities” (52). These commodities have become symbols of religion, creating the ‘symbolic exchange’ of religion from reality to the ‘hyper-reality’ of simulations in which images, spectacles, and the play of signs replace concepts (Baudrillard 3). Therefore, the mix of Coca-Cola and the name of God as seen on many Cairo kiosks, for instance, becomes a natural scene symbolizing the simultaneity of Americanization and Islam in a postmodern world (Figure 13.3). Zamzam Cola and Mecca-Cola are another case in point. Retaining the same original sensory appeal (taste and look), both drinks attempt to replace the Cocalization of the world with an Islamized version, creating an alternative image and simulacrum for the faithful, and associating coke with the holiest water in Islamic belief, that of Zamzam, and its origin in Mecca.11

Figure 13.3 Photo by author.


Maha El Said

According to Jean Baudrillard, “Postmodern societies are organized around simulation and the play of images and signs. . . . In the society of simulation, identities are constructed by the appropriation of images, and codes and models determine how individuals perceive themselves and relate to other people” (qtd. in Keller). In fact, no sign or symbol has gained more importance for Muslims than the veil. As Giddens has stated, “Dress is vastly more than simply a means of bodily protection: it is, manifestly, a means of symbolic display, a way of giving external form to narratives of self-identity” (62). Indeed, wearing the veil has caused more debate than any other Islamic practice in world politics and identity formation.12 However, as has been noted, “[T]he veil worn by Egyptian women today is not the austere black cover worn by their grandmothers, and is still worn by women in the Gulf” (Abdelhadi). Instead, it has become a fashion, with its own markets and advertisement campaigns. Advertisements for different kinds of veils that retain beauty fi ll the streets of Cairo, transforming a symbol of piety and modesty into a commodity with its own fashion trends (Figure 13.4). Mega Islamic stores such as al-Tawhid wa-l-Nur, El Salam Shopping Center, and many others cater to religious and observing Muslims, providing religious commodities such as veils, clocks, and picture frames with Quranic inscriptions—ironically, all made in China. And the veil is not confi ned to women; Muslim girls also start playing with veiled dolls such as Fulla, a dark-skinned, veiled Saudi imitation of Barbie which was introduced into the market as the Muslim counterpart of the ‘infidel’ Barbie. Fulla did not diverge from the idealized Barbie shape, a controversial issue in feminism; it only changed the way it was dressed. Similar to the veil worn by women, it did not enforce an alternative ideology; it merely enforced an image, i.e. appearance, reducing Islam to a headscarf. Needless to say, concerns about this superficiality were extensively discussed and debated. As Starret explains, [T]he surface forms of devotion are portrayed not only as misleading, but as misled. The commercialization of religion has contributed to a cheapening of moral sentiment and the transfer of behavior from the commercial sphere . . . into that of the legitimately sacred (gossiping while listening to live Quran recitation at memorial services). (63) That is to say, the focus on the image has stripped Islam of its essence and led to an emphasis on appearance rather than on the morals of Islam. Looking at the streets of Cairo, saturated with Islamic symbols and Quranic verses yet dotted with amorous couples of veiled Muslim girls and bearded Muslim men, adds to the ambivalence of the situation. Religion—in this case Islam— has become a commodity, an image of purity and piety; as Baudrillard puts it, “[an] ideological blanket [that] functions as a cover for a simulation of the third order,” that is, a simulacrum of Islam (10).

Alternating Images

Figure 13.4 © Book House Publishing.



Maha El Said

Conclusion Regardless of any political or ideological opposition to American pop culture, it is undeniably still attractive to youths around the world, as it has drawn the contours of the ideal society. Still, it can be argued that the key to understanding and respecting other cultures lies in the change from the solo performance of American mass culture to a chorus of cultures. As long as the West continues to control information, scientific development, and production in general, all attempts at distinction or differentiation will remain copies or simulations of the real. Even when we wear Chinesemade products, we are not trying to simulate a Chinese way of life; we are rather looking for a cheap way of simulating the American way of life. Unless we synthesize all global influences and come up with our own defi nition of a modern way of life that cherishes the authenticity of the local and derives its force from root values and beliefs, we will always be a simulacrum of some system or other—be it the communism/socialism of the Nasser era, the Americanization of the Sadat Era, or the Islamization of the Mubarak era. This is not where the story ends, though. Superficial, fragmented, imagebased hyper-reality is being transformed to reality and concrete events. When poverty becomes a fact of life and freedom is oppressed, the simulacrum cannot hold. Images of beauty and prosperity cannot be created in poverty, ignorance, and sickness. Thus, one is forced to seek the real in an attempt to change it. The Egyptian revolution of January 25, 2011, starting virtually and ending in the streets with the fall of dictatorship, to my mind, is a transformation from the hyper-real to the real, the end of the simulacrum of the postmodern condition into a new era that has yet to be named. Notes 1. See Reinhold Wagnleitner who argues that American pop culture exports entertainment, and that the American empire is thus unlike the British empire, “[T]he business of America has become show business”; Hollywood makes “reel history” become “real history” (457–60). 2. A term coined by Umberto Eco upon his visit to Disneyland (40). 3. A variety of the traditional falafel sandwich dressed up in a McDonalds attire to create an Egyptianized version of the Big Mac. 4. It is said that “at international social functions, [Nasser] publicly refused to drink Coca-Cola as it represented American culture” (Ahmed 105). 5. During the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967. 6. Egypt has been receiving an average of $ 2 billion as US military and development aid annually since 1979. 7. “[M]odern, self-illusory hedonism, the individual is much more an artist of the imagination, someone who takes images from memory or the existing environment, and rearranges or otherwise improves them in his mind in such a way that they become distinctly pleasing” (qtd. in Boden and Williams 495).

Alternating Images


8. English has always been a subject taught in public schools. However, it was previously introduced only in Grade 7. With the increasing need for the English language, this approach was revised later and English was introduced in Grade 4. Finally, in 2004, it was introduced in Grade 1. 9. See Debbie Schlussel’s “I Don’t Want My MTV” in which the author condemns many of the offensive scenes of MTV. 10. Data from World Bank country profi le (“Egypt”). 11. Zamzam is the name of a well in Mecca that yields, according to Islamic belief, holy water. 12. The recent controversy about the veil ban in France is a case in point.

Works Cited Abdelhadi, Magdi. “The Islamic Revival in Egypt.” BCC News. September 26, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/special/islam/3136154.stm. Abu-Lughod, Lila. “The Interpertations of Culture(s) After Television.” Representations 59 (1997): 109–34. Ahmed, Akbar S. Postmodernism and Islam. London: Routledge, 1992. Amin, Galal. Madha hadatha li-l-misriyyin? [Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?] Cairo: Dar El Shorouk, 2006. Arnould, Eric J. “Society, Culture, and Global Consumer Culture.” Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing. December 15, 2010. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/ doi/10.1002/9781444316568.wiem06001/full. Ashcroft, Bill. Post-Colonial Transformation. London: Routledge, 2001. Baber, Benjamin R. Jihad VS. McWorld: How Globalism and Triablism are Reshaping the World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994. Boden, Sharon, and Simon J. Williams. “Consumption and Emotion: The Romantic Ethic Revisited.” Sociology 36.3 (2002): 493–512. Bokser-Liwerant, Judith. “Globalization and Collective Identities.” Social Compass 49.2 (2002): 253–71. Charfi , Abdelmajid. “Islam: The Test of Globalization.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 36.3–4 (2010): 295–307. Collins, Jim. Architecture of Excess: Cultural Life in the Information Age. New York: Routledge, 1995. Cowen, Tyler. In Praise of Commercial Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998. Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality: Essays. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. “Egypt.” World Bank Group. http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/egypt. Friedman, Ted. “The World of The World of Coca-Cola.” Communication Research 19.5 (1992): 642–62. Friedman, Thomas. “Commentary: Why Those Angry Men Want to Kill America.” New York Times. August 25, 1998. Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1991. Hafez, Abdel Halim. “Wala yhimmak ya rayyis [Don’t worry, president].” cond. Kamal El Tawil. By Abd El Rahman El Abnoudi. Cairo, 1967. Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. Heikal, Hassanein. Kharif al-ghadab: Qissat bidayat wa nihayat ‘asr Anwar El Sadat [Autumn of rage: The story of the rise and fall of Anwar El Sadat’s era]. Beirut: Sharikat al-Matbu‘at wa-l-Nashr, 1985.


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Ibrahim, Saad Eddine. “Egypt’s Islamic Activism in the 1980s.” Third World Quarterly 10.2 (1988): 632–57. Keenan, K. L. “What Happened to Coca Cola in Egypt.” Public Relations in Africa. November 13, 2009. yvia313prinafrica.blogspot.com/2009/11/what–happened-tococacola-in-egypt.html. Keller, Douglas. “Jean Baudrillard.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward Zalta. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2009/entries/baudrillard/. Mann, Doug. “Jean Baudrillard: A Very Short Introduction.” Doug Mann’s Fabulous Home Page. September 14, 2010. http://publish.uwo.ca/~dmann/baudrillard1.htm. Miller, Daniel. “The Poverty of Morality.” Journal of Consumer Culture 1.2 (2001): 225–43. Packer, George. “When Here Sees There.” New York Times. April 21, 2002. Plato. Sophist. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. The Internet Classics Archive. http://classics.mit. edu/Plato/sophist.html. Rajagopal, Arvind. “Ram Janmabhoomi, Consumer Identity and Image-Based Politics.” Economic and Political Weekly. July 2, 1994: 1659–68. Ritzer, George. “The McDonaldization of Society.” Journal of American Culture 6.1 (1983): 100–107. Schlussel, Debbie. “I Don’t Want My MTV.” WND Commentary. August 3, 2001. http://www.wnd.com/2001/08/10292. Scholte, Jan Aart. “The Geography of a Collective Identity in a Globalizing World.” Review of International Political Economy 3.4 (1996): 565–607. “Simulacrum.” The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies. London: Sage UK, 2004. Credo Reference. November 2, 2009. http://www.credoreference.com.library.aucegypt. edu:2048/entry/sageukcult/simulacrum. Starret, Gregory. “The Polliticial Economy of Religious Commodities in Cairo.” American Anthropologist 97.1 (1995): 51–68. Wagnleitner, Reinhold. “No Commodity Is Quite So Strange as This Thing Called Cultural Exchange: The Foreign Politics of American Pop Culture Hegemony.” Amerikastudien/American Studies 46.3 (2001): 443–70.

Part V

Popular Culture and Revolution The Voice of Dissent

14 The Role of New Media in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 Visuality as an Agent of Change Randa Aboubakr

Regardless of the diverse possible factors that have prompted the intense protest movements Arab countries have been witnessing since December 2010, one key feature they share is the centrality of the call for freedom of expression. This was understandably a reaction to a twofold strategy adopted by Arab dictators, who incidentally enjoy record-breaking longevity. On the one hand, there is the consistent social repression and media control. Until the mid-1990s, and before the start of the spread of Internet and mobile phone technology in the Arab World, autocratic regimes had fi rmly maintained a strong grip on traditional media such as radio, television, and the press. To give one example, the post-1952 military regime in Egypt created the Ministry of National Guidance, an institution equivalent to present-day Ministry of Information in most Arab countries, to facilitate the use of those media in the service of its political agendas (Abdel Kader 228)—a move also aiming to guarantee the uniformity of media discourse. On the other hand, a necessary concomitant strategy was the limiting of public space, which would hinder the development of a sense of community while ensuring the perpetuation of state-sponsored, one-sided media output, as well as an unbalanced distribution of information and media services. However, a young generation of Internet ‘wizards’ had been hatching since the introduction of Internet technology in Arab countries in the mid-1990s, while aging authoritarian regimes were not evolving adequate media strategies to curb a techno-savvy population (Howard et al. 5). It is one of the ironies of the Egyptian revolution, and one that might serve to prove the validity of the so-called “techno-Utopian hypothesis,”1 that the Egyptian regime, particularly the cabinet headed by Ahmad Nazif which had taken over in 2004 and was brought down by the protests of January 2011, was overthrown as the result of its own policies of promoting communication technology and backing vocational training designed and geared toward catering to it. While this was mostly done at the expense of fields equally (if not more) vital to the country’s economy, such as agriculture and heavy industry, it was specifically designed to boost consumer business


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in which the ruling elites, including most of the members of Nazif’s cabinet, were investing. Not only were the massive protests that started on January 25 coordinated as an ‘event’ on Facebook, with a beginning and an end date, 2 but activists and supporters of the revolution also continued to use Facebook and other new and social media sites as means of sustaining and documenting the revolution for much longer. The struggle for freedom of expression was waged through the creation of an alternative media environment warranting a much superior degree of free expression. On the third day of protests ( January 28), the Egyptian authorities cut off Internet connection and mobile phone services all over the country. Mobile phone service was back at the end of the same day with limited access to text messages until February 6, while Internet connection was back on February 2. During the period of Internet and mobile interruption, frustration was fostering among the population, not only as a result of the interruption of daily services depending on such media, but also because of the dire lack of information about what was going on out there in the squares. State-sponsored traditional media, such as TV and print journalism, tended as usual to ignore—at best downplay—manifestations of opposition to the regime, while corresponding independent media, new as they were in the media scene in Egypt, only partially managed to keep up with the events, since they too operate under heavy censorship. This repressive move reflected the bankruptcy of a staggering regime, while it was also the regime’s fi nal desperate attempt to limit information space and hence stall the development of an emerging community with a potential to carry out collective action. When Internet connection was resumed on February 2, it was obvious that the Internet community, which in Egypt constitutes the second largest Internet population in the Middle East (Howard et al. 15), had already taken the media in their own hands and started producing their own representations of reality. This subversive move was also fostered by a feeling shared by most of those who had participated in the initial protests that the regime had already fallen. Though Mubarak, his appointed cabinet, and the Parliament were still intact, the barrier of fear had been mostly broken, and people had carved out a niche through which to put forth their voices and to forward their own version of events. It was also evident that, during the early stages of the protests, social media sites were seen to have partially appropriated the roles of traditional media with regard to disseminating information and commenting on events. Consequently, the interactive nature of these new media was temporarily compromised for the sake of responding to the huge demand for information from the Internet community. Upon the resumption of Internet services, a torrent of visual material flooded sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Still images were expectedly the shortest and most direct way of ‘telling’. However, even the still photographs from the squares were not the photographs

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rendered ineffective because the world was saturated with them, as Susan Sontag, decades ago, argued, but rather multifaceted representations of events as they unfolded, carrying varying weights of points of view by virtue of their abundant and spontaneous attributes, as Sontag later argued against her own earlier assumptions (46). The social mediascape, however, was not dominated by the still image alone; it was strongly characterized by ‘intervisuality’, or “the simultaneous display and interaction of a variety of modes of visuality” (Mirzoeff 3). What was more surprising than the massive outpouring of this visual material was the speed with which it responded to, and echoed, events on the ground, as well as the variety of visual representations it encompassed: still images, video clips, cartoons, doctored images, edited videos, remixes, to name only the most salient varieties. The ‘visual’ as “a specific form of meaning making” (Whiteman 925) was the most effective shortcut to information for an Internet community having little time to keep up with fast-developing events. Visual material was instantly recorded and uploaded on Internet social sites, which demonstrated that people had already taken hold of their means of representation and were creating their own media space. The anonymous ‘hacktivists’3 who made such material available were as if redressing a balance that had spectacularly tipped toward absence of information and media control by the state. This chapter traces visual responses to key events during the early weeks of the Egyptian revolution, more specifically from the outbreak of the protests on January 25 until March 19, which marked the fi rst post-Mubarak referendum.4 Four key moments during this period are designated, with an emphasis on investigating the link between developments on the political scene and their visual representations: (1) the fi rst eighteen days of massive protests, (2) the tense, and much-awaited-for, moment when Mubarak stepped down, (3) the few weeks that followed Mubarak’s ouster and were characterized by the euphoria of the initial ‘victory’ of the revolution, and (4) the mobilization of public opinion before and shortly after the referendum. This timeframe has been decided on because it spans what can be considered the fi rst phase of the revolution, when political actors were, to a reasonable extent, in agreement on key issues. The referendum, as will subsequently be elaborated, has marked the fi rst great rift in political sentiments after the initial success of the revolution. This timeframe is also meant to corroborate my initial proposition that activists and supporters of the revolution continued to use visual material in new media sites—not only as a means of sustaining and documenting events, but also as tools for political campaigning—for even much longer. Challenging a Stubborn Regime This period covers the fi rst eighteen days of intense protests and sit-ins in squares all around Egypt, from January 25 until Mubarak stepped down on February 11. This was the phase when people were out on the streets in


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millions, and when the regime was fighting its fiercest battle for survival. The mediascape of this phase was, especially at its beginning, mostly characterized by the predominance of crude, still images, negating the illusion of art and acting as visual reports from ‘the front’. 5 Tuesday January 25 started off with calls for reform and ended with demands to overthrow the regime that had responded so indiscriminately violently to peaceful protests. By the time the day ended, protesters had already borrowed the most popular chant of the revolution in neighboring Tunisia, and were chanting, “People are out to topple the regime” (Al-sha‘b yurid isqat al-nizam). With the continuation of the protests, and with the escalation of violence on the part of the authorities, two interesting turns of events simultaneously took place. One was that the cheers and chants which had started off in standard Arabic (that variety of Arabic less used in daily interactions and more reserved for writing and formal occasions) soon turned to the use of the colloquial dialect. One obvious explanation is that protesters could not continue using that variety of Arabic with which they were far less at ease and were expectedly unable to use it in responding to the immediacy and spontaneity with which cheers and chants were created. This shift was also coupled with the regime’s failure to respond to protesters’ demands, and was thus also a sarcastic reflection of a wish to get the regime to understand ‘in plain Arabic’. The most prominent chant of the revolution thus far, “People are out to topple the regime,” turned into a variety of colloquial counterparts, most popular among which was, “Get out means buzz off, you, dumbass!” (Irhal ya‘ni imshi, yalli ma-b-tifhamshi)—a more sarcastically insulting rendering of the same demand. Another turn that accompanied the shift to the colloquial register was that, like in most long-term protests, the chants that started off as spoken soon got to be written down. This move from the oral to the written was, however, accompanied by a more intense visual turn: Most of the written phrases were not meant to be chanted at all, but rather depended mainly or exclusively on their visual character. Some protesters simply stood holding hand-made banners and placards, and posed for photographs. One photo from the protests showed a young man holding a placard that said, “Get yourself going; my arms hurt” (Irhal ba’a, idi waga‘itni; see “Irhal ba’a”). Another photo showed a man holding a piece of paper saying, “Get out . . . get out” (Irhal . . . irhal), written in Arabic from left to right rather than from right to left as Arabic is written, with the caption saying “He [Mubarak] might understand it backwards!” (“Irhal”). These photographs, which exhibited the interaction between the spoken word and visual representations, were mostly shot by amateurs and put on Facebook and other social media sites. In their lack of sophistication, they seemed to defy the illusion of art, in fact to promote anti-art. Such manifestations of visual protest were also evidence of the light-hearted nature of the protests, despite the violence and the tragic moments. A young man with disheveled hair held a sign saying, “You

The Role of New Media in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011


are going anyway, so hurry up . . . I need a haircut!” (Hatimshi, hatimishi . . . ingiz ‘ashan aruh ahla’; see “Haircut”). As protests escalated and protesters announced their intention to march to the Presidential Palace on Friday February 11, a protester who had obviously been camping in Tahrir for several days stood holding a sign saying, “If I don’t take my shower at home today, I will take it on Friday in the Presidential Palace!” (Lau ma-istahammitsh innaharda fi bitna, hastahamma yum al gum‘a fi ‘asr el-riyasa; see “Shower”). The role of Facebook and other social media sites thus far was mainly the fast uploading of images taken from scenes of protests and constituting ‘visual’ news reports. However, as events developed, and as the overwhelming net traffic after the resumption of service started to get back to a reasonable pace, hacktivists evidently had more time to spend on their computers and to improve upon their work. Internet social sites and video archiving sites started posting amateurish doctored images with the added dimension of opinion and commentary. Responding to continuous calls on Mubarak to step down and the latter’s nonchalance vis-à-vis such calls, a doctored picture showed Mubarak as one of the protesters, wearing a military over-coat and holding a banner that said, “Mubarak is out to topple the people” (Mubarak yurid isqat al-sha‘b; see “Mubarak”). The photo was evidently not disguising as a real one, and the stress on its doctored (outlawed) character was obviously part and parcel of its message. As the protests continued, with protesters living on the streets and squares—day in, day out—these places of protest became in themselves sites for media production. As camping protesters started to gel and form what can be called temporary ‘alternative communities’, there emerged among them forms of art and entertainment strongly marked by their participatory spirit, such as short dramatic sketches. Some of the viral videos that appeared on YouTube were simply very short clips enacted in Tahrir and other squares which largely depended on their visual, dramatic qualities. Among these were the dramatic sketches improvised and enacted by young protesters in a sort of series which became very popular on YouTube. The short episodes featured mock TV interviews between a news anchor and a Mr. Nanna, a ‘foreign’ expert commenting on the events in Egypt and suggesting sarcastically funny solutions out of his ‘vast knowledge’ of similar problems in his own faraway land (“Mr. Nanna”). It was not in Tahrir, however, that Mr. Nanna was conceived. The figure who can act as commentator on so many issues (sports events, movies, etc.) had for long been a popular presence in youth gatherings such as school trips and youth camps, but was more markedly employed for political satire in Tahrir. Demonstrating the participatory character of such visual material even more strongly was a fi fteen-second clip showing a protester dressed as a football referee, continuously whistling and flashing a red card to no one in particular. The red card is bigger than usual with the word “Out” in both Arabic and English written on it (“Referee”). The scene heavily relied on


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context and audience involvement in the meaning-making process. After all, the “Out” on the card is not clearly addressed to Mubarak or to anyone in particular for that matter, and it remains for viewers, whether in Tahrir or on YouTube, to complete the missing part of the meaning. The act of dismissing Mubarak was both a reminder of the callousness of the regime and a manifestation of a carnivalestic strategy which foregrounds the “nonofficial . . . aspect of the world, of man and of human relations” existing “outside officialdom” (Bakhtin 6). In its challenging and re-questioning of social (and political) hierarchies, this strategy subverts power relations and therefore enacts symbolic victory. Mubarak Steps Down A much stronger wave of satirical representations accompanied the intense moment of Mubarak’s stepping down speech on February 11, which was perhaps the moment that attracted the most focused and nervous popular attention throughout those eighteen days. Late afternoon on Friday February 11, Major ‘Umar Sulayman appeared on State TV in a thirty-twosecond recorded video announcing Mubarak’s stepping down (“Sulayman’s Speech”). Sulayman, a former chief of intelligence, had been appointed as vice president by Mubarak shortly after the outbreak of protests in an attempt to pacify an outraged population. Instantly and massively resented as another, and more inscrutable, Mubarak, Sulayman, on his part, did very little to win protesters over. During his short term in office, he repeatedly appeared on state TV with a grim face, addressing protesters in patronizing tones and pseudo-archaic language which were often ridiculed by the public. When he appeared that time on TV to announce Mubarak’s stepping down, Sulayman looked his grimmest, and his tone sounded its gravest. Standing behind him was also a silent fearful-looking man, showing even more intense chagrin. The speech announcing the end of Mubarak’s reign was, however, the one single shot signaling the victory of the people thus far, and the sudden shift from the height of tension to the peak of euphoria released a torrent of enthusiastic responses among the Internet community. Some of the most bitingly sarcastic among these seemed to have been instigated by the contrast between the grimness of the military establishment, represented by Sulayman and the silent unknown man standing behind him, on the one hand, and the easy humor of the crowds, on the other, as well as by the irony that the same moment could be one of instant joy and jubilation for so many and simultaneously a tense cramped one for the fallen regime represented by the two men. Several Facebook groups were instantly created carrying the name “The man standing behind Sulayman,” which directed their satirical intent at various aspects of this short episode. Most prominent among the manifestations of this ‘visual revenge’ was the use of doctored satirical images. These started

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pouring almost instantly on social media sites, featuring “the man standing behind Sulayman” standing behind world leaders past and present, in a variety of comic poses. He was there behind Barack Obama, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Saddam Hussein, and Adolf Hitler, and even appeared in a back shot standing behind Disney’s Lion King. Obviously fond of standing behind powerful and famous characters, this avatar even featured, with the same serious and grim look, standing behind actress Kate Winslet in a famous scene from the 1997 movie Titanic (“The Guy Behind Omar Soliman”). This mode of ‘digital clowning’ characteristic of Internet hacktivism simultaneously encompasses “symbolic violence,” which Epiphano San Juan, Jr., recalling Pierre Bourdieu, refers to, though in a different context, as both reflecting and producing resistance to hegemony (342). The sarcasm inherent in this symbolic violence, however, obviously extended beyond the incident of Sulayman’s speech to lash at the media politics of the fallen regime. Those doctored images flooding Internet social sites were strongly reminiscent of an incident that had attracted wide attention to media manipulation only a few months before February 2011. In September 2010, peace negotiations between American President Barack Obama, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, and Mubarak were held in Washington. On September 1, a photograph showing the five leaders on their way to a press conference was distributed by the Associated Press, featuring a young and energetic Obama leading a couple of steps ahead, with Netenyahu on his right and Abbas and Abdullah on his left, all one foot behind, while Mubarak, back right, was perceptibly trudging along (“Peace Talks 1”). A few days later, the photo appeared on the front page of the Egyptian government-sponsored daily al-Ahram after having undergone a ‘slight’ change: Mubarak was now in the lead, while the other four leaders were trailing behind (“Peace Talks 2”). Upon the discovery by members of the public (particularly the Internet community who had accessed the digital version of the original photo) of this small press scandal, a defiant chief editor, Usama Saraya, faced the attacks of the public by citing the need for ‘expressionistic’ touches in journalistic photo editing. At that time, hacktivists got extremely creative and productive in their visual response. Sarcastic doctored images of the same photograph proliferated on social media sites. One of them showed several Mubaraks leading, with the other four leaders trudging behind (“Peace Talks 3”); another showed the four leaders headed by a sleepy-looking young man (allegedly the hacktivist himself) with a bath towel over his shoulder, seemingly on his way to take a shower (“Peace Talks 4”); there was also a photograph with all five leaders headed by a famous belly dancer (“Peace Talks 5”). Such visual responses were heavily charged with symbolism. A crumbling, aged Mubarak in the al-Ahram version replaced a young sportive Obama leading mostly older heads of state in the original photograph. In the ‘resistant’ versions produced by Internet hacktivists, one Mubarak turned


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into several Mubaraks, as is natural to any dictator, while the whole story of the peace process was discredited by the substitution of the ‘drowsy people’ and the entertaining dancer. In this process of ‘writing back’ to a corrupt media environment, symbolic violence appropriated the discourses and techniques of that corrupt media and transformed them into tools of resistance, as is often the case with other resistant discourses.6 Such instances of ‘digital clowning’ were yet another example of visual revenge directed at Mubarak, and, more symbolically, an ‘interpolated’ tool of both sarcasm of and resistance to his media politics. Sins of the Old Regime It was perhaps natural for public reaction to develop from euphoric celebrations of victory immediately following the fall of the head of the regime into deeper reflections on the fallen regime and its faithful associates, and to an assessment of the damage they had wreaked on people, particularly by their opposition to the revolution. The goal was still ‘revenge’ and its most prominent tone sarcasm. However, visual expressions during this stage turned toward more elaborate renderings reflecting that hacktivists had situated themselves more confidently as major participants in that new carnivalestically democratic space. It was interesting to see elements of carnival—such as clowning and buffoonery—mixed with technologically sophisticated modes of expression—such as remix—with the underlying message that (Internet) culture is now taking a more integrative, participatory, and democratic turn. Three short videos circulating during this period carried the essence of carnival culture. One was a mimicry of a news bulletin read on an imaginary satellite channel called Elephant News Channel (Qanat al-fil li-l-akhbar). The channel’s name in Arabic strongly recalls the name of one of the leading state-controlled news channels on Egyptian TV (Nile News Channel [Qanat al-nil li-l-akhbar]) whose coverage of events during the revolution was outrageously biased toward the regime. Playing on the near homophony between the Arabic words nil and fil (“Nile” and “elephant,” respectively), the name highlighted the remoteness of the state-sponsored channel’s coverage from reality in Egypt, and evoked a link with the heavy, slow movement of the elephant, sharply contradicting the light speed expected in professional news coverage. The video uses some of the major features of pro-regime TV coverage such as denial by reporters of any violence on the part of the regime, leading questions by news anchors, and staged interviews with ‘honorable citizens’ who voice state ideology (“Qanat al-fi l”). The carnivalesque here helps introduce alternative voices and interpolates “the discourse of the dominant” in order to offset its effect (Ashcroft xiv). The second animated video introduced a remix of a popular song taken from a hit musical comedy from the 1980s called Rayya and Skina (Rayya wa Skina). The play was itself a comic rendering of the famous true story of

The Role of New Media in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011


two women serial killers from Alexandria from the early 1920s. In the play, the original song is part of a murder ritual performed by the two women and their associates in celebration of the murder of a victim, and in preparation for next murder ritual. In the remix, the song was unchanged, but the scene was turned into a dance where figures belonging to the fallen regime (particularly the cabinet dissolved on January 28) were performing (“Rayya wa Skina”). Not only was the remix here a sign of hacktivists’ reciprocal interaction with elements of their popular culture, but it was also ironically, and by virtue of the choice of song, a carnivalestic enactment of the defeat of power. The third, and perhaps most popular of the three viral videos, targeted its attack not at members of the fallen regime but at one of its sincerest apologists. When the regime had still been resistant to protesters’ demands, and as the security situation was getting worse due to the inexplicable withdrawal of police forces from all sites in major Egyptian cities, not excepting airports and archeological sites, many people ‘trapped’ in their homes were expressing antagonism to the protests as the source of all that evil. State TV was expectedly more than ready to host such voices, especially when they were popular entertainment figures and sports personalities. In March, semi retired actress Afaf Shu‘ayb appeared on the private channel al-Hayah, almost in tears, pleading with the protesters who had still been largely out on the street to ‘come back to their senses’ and help bring the country back on track. She painfully complained that she and her family were unable to go out because of the deteriorating security situation in the country, which she expectedly blamed on the protests. Shu‘ayb particularly cited the fact that her two-year-old nephew was shattered because he could not order in his regular meals such as pizza, grilled kebab, and ribs. Numerous sarcastic responses to this TV show appeared on Internet social sites. It was a few days later, however, and with the phase of ‘visual revenge’ that the viral video appeared on YouTube. It was a remix of a TV commercial from the 1970s for a baby food formula (Riri), but the words now focused on “Auntie Afaf” and her nephew. Played by a solo lutist, the song was combined with scenes of Guinness record large pizzas and chubby kids, while the clip ended with the deep menacing voice of Major ‘Umar Sulayman calling upon “Auntie Afaf” and her nephews to exercise restraint in observance of the critical stage the nation was going through (“Auntie Afaf”). These and similar clips represented a huge leap forward in the strategies and techniques of ‘artistic’ attacks in a media culture that had hitherto operated under heavy censorship. By virtue of their connecting with cultural productions from the past (the 1970s and 1980s) and of mixing official and non-official, high and low cultures, these remixes simultaneously represented and initiated vivid interactions between people from different generations and social strata and their own culture. They, moreover, enacted both a democratizing step through the alternation and substitution involved in the


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very culture of remix and a revolutionary leap into market relationships: Consumer and producer have become one, and considerations of profit have been sidelined. Referendum The remixes referred to above are evidence of the symbolic violence symptomatic of carnival culture, which constitutes yet another step toward what Pierre Bourdieu calls the subverting of “relations of domination and subordination into effective relations” (102). However, the change in the function of digital media which made it largely partake of the features and roles of traditional media, necessitated by the failure of the latter during the early weeks of the revolution to carry out their role to the satisfaction of a galvanized population, can be seen to have waned considerably after the revolution’s ‘initial’ victory. This initial victory had the effect, at least for the fi rst few weeks following the fall of the head of the regime, to turn state-sponsored traditional media into enthusiastic supporters of the revolution they had earlier attacked. As the military which took over from Mubarak, consequently exercising precious control over the media, was still intent on winning the potentially threatening crowd, state-sponsored media emerged for a short while as both free and revolutionary. Consequently, Internet social media started to move away from performing the roles of traditional media such as dissemination of information, news coverage, and analysis they had briefly overtaken during the early weeks of the revolution and started to gradually return to their acknowledged roles of creating an interactive community. Perhaps one of the few glamorous instances of the victory of the revolution was the referendum of March 19, when Egyptians for the fi rst time went out in millions to vote on the fi rst batch of constitutional amendments of the 1971 constitution, proposed by the ‘transitional’ military regime. This sign of victory was, however, in itself a sign of the beginning of a socio-political division between two ideologies: those who saw that the revolution had completely succeeded and that the society needed to go on with as little disruption to people’s lives as possible (i.e., the ‘yea sayers’) and those who sensed danger in the presence of the military and could settle for no less than a new constitution (the ‘nay sayers’). However, the vast divide between yea sayers and nay sayers was evidently also religious in nature. Arguments rejecting the amendments (mostly made by secularists and liberals) stemmed from claims of the illegitimacy of amending a constitution that had effectively fallen consequent to the revolution, and the need for a new constitution which would respond to the huge social and political upheaval the country had witnessed. On the other hand, most of the popular arguments in support of the amendments rested on their importance to guaranteeing Egypt’s ‘Islamic identity’ embedded in the 1971 constitution, and guarding against any attempt on the part of secular powers to ‘tamper with’ that identity.

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This very division was at once the product and creator of a healthy controversy over the political future of the country, which most Egyptians were experiencing for the fi rst time in their lives. The interactive nature of this controversy was reflected in how social media responded to the events and a continuation of their highly participatory character during the previous stages. It was also a reflection of social media’s return to their acknowledged role of community formation through interaction. The interactive nature of Internet social media was strongly mobilized during this stage, and used as an instrument pushing for change as well as for political campaigning. This materialized on social media sites in several visual forms, some of which, as has been pointed out, were continuations of previous forms of visual resistance and campaigning, while others were innovative and contingent. A thirty-second animation dramatizing secularists’ fear of a religious ‘takeover’ showed a bearded man in traditional ‘Islamic’ dress in close-up, jumping atop half-hidden pillars until he reaches what looks like a royal chair where he seats himself comfortably. As soon as he settles there, we get a wide-angle shot revealing that the half-hidden pillars he is jumping on are in fact the letters making up the Arabic word for ‘democracy’ (dimoqratiyya). The message is both cryptic and clear: Political Islam is taking advantage of the newly available democratic space to gain power. The last shot of the clip clenches the message even further by introducing (through fade-in, fade-out) the change of only one letter in the Arabic word, turning it into dinoqratiyya, a coined word meaning something like “religio-cracy” (“Dinoqratiyya”). The clip evidently goes beyond the role of transmission of information or commentary; it gives a professed point of view, while visually contributing to an ongoing politico-cultural debate. Internet social sites, however, reflected the debate in more markedly interactive ways. In addition to users being unusually preoccupied with a political debate between the ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps, the image was creatively employed there to announce political stances in the referendum. For some time before and after March 19, profile pictures on Facebook changed into numerous varieties of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Not surprisingly, the ‘No’s’ were in red while the ‘Yes’s’ were in green. This visual way of directly announcing one’s political leanings was also a reflection of the degree of political engagement the Internet community was experiencing. The nay sayers, evidently the minority,7 devised more visual varieties for their protest against the proposed amendments than the yea sayers, thus symbolically expanding the range of their ‘heretical discourse’. Those visual varieties ranged from the word ‘No’ as commonly written in standard Arabic (la) (which corresponded to the variety the ‘Yes’ almost uniformly took [na‘am]) to other renderings in the colloquial and usually un-written variety of Arabic, ranging from “la‘,” more commonly used in the dialects of Southern Egypt, to “tu’,” a childish and rarely written indicator of stubborn refusal, to “la’’a,” a colloquial and less commonly written rendering. There was also “La’’a ya‘ni ‘No’” (La’’a means “No”), which has the latter version (la’’a) together with the word ‘No’ in English in a phrase strongly


Randa Aboubakr

reminiscent of the chant directed at Mubarak during the early days of the protests, “Get out means buzz off, you, dumbass!” (“Referendum”). Regardless of the differences between the yea and nay sayers, the hardgained early fruit of democracy and social participation was evident in Facebook users’ pride in having partaken of a public political referendum for the first time after decades of the marginalization of a whole society. For some time after the end of the referendum, profile pictures on Facebook showed varieties of images of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in solidarity, and of fingertips covered with pink, signaling users’ participation in voting and hence dipping their fingers in pink ink as a final step. This to many was a symbol of freedom and control over one’s destiny. The personalized fingers were also manifest in more artistic renderings, with the little finger painted like a smiling face, announcing the advent of a precious and long-waited freedom (“Referendum”). As with any ground-breaking historical event, the Egyptian revolution is now witnessing several coordinated efforts to document it, a large number of which are unofficial and Internet-based, exhibiting particular interest in visual material. This is allied to the nascent approach to historiography which foregrounds unofficial history and the testimonials of those often excluded from contributing to the writing of official history. Photo- and video-archiving sites have been set up, and their collections are expanding continuously as they include still photos, graffiti, cartoons, animations, and much more.8 For an event that is still unfolding like the Egyptian revolution, the documentation does not only serve as a historical record, but also as a living reminder of an unfi nished path, and of further steps that need to be taken. The power and immediacy of the image are further strengthened in a country with nearly 40% illiteracy rate, as the image tends to be among the most effective means of communication and documentation. However, it might be useful to also try to assess the volume of the population that has access to visual material through cyber space, and if middle-class Internet hacktivists are reaching everywhere with their visual messages. The expected answer is that such visual material on the Internet remains restricted to a relatively small section of the population. With a 40% poverty level, Egypt does not boast a high percentage of Internet use evenly distributed amongst its population. 9 If the mobility of visual material is enhanced by the use of digital media, while the majority of the population does not have access to the Internet, then it seems that the image has to turn (is indeed turning) mobile in other forms. Egypt has already been witnessing that in the form of graffiti, posters, and fliers posted and distributed on the streets, while mock car number plates with the letter-number combination “January 25, 2011” have been widely circulating, literally traveling along with means of transportation. A more interesting turn is exhibiting an even stronger alliance between the use of the Internet and the dissemination and mobility of visual material on the streets. Two particularly interesting initiatives that have recently been set up are “Chains of the Revolution” (Salasil al-Thawra)10 and “Lying Generals” (‘Askar Kazibun; see “Kazibun”). The

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latter features ongoing screenings of visual material exposing crimes of the transitional military regime in Egypt and stressing the principles of the revolution, which remain largely ignored by current policymakers. Although these two initiatives (and similar ones) are using the streets rather than the Internet as their platforms, they remain strongly linked to visuality and Internet hacktivism in that events are organized and coordinated on Internet social sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, while activities are visually documented and then uploaded to video-archiving sites. A more important link between digital mobility and ‘street’ mobility appears in the fact that the interactive visual materials used in such events (video clips, photographs, posters, cartoons, and the like) are largely derived from other Internet documenting and archiving sites, traveling with their strong visual character to a much wider audience. Notes 1. See Evgeny Morozov’s argument against the techno-utopian hypothesis. 2. Particularly on the Facebook page “Kollina Khalid Said” (We are all Khalid Said) named after a twenty-eight-year-old youth brutally killed by police agents in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, on June 13, 2010. 3. The term ‘hacktivism’ refers to a variety of Internet practices aimed at advocating social/political causes. In its strictest sense, ‘hacktivism’ is a moderately outlawed practice based on the development of “hacking-related techniques to disrupt an opponent’s or target’s Web site” (Earl and Kimport 73), such as site defacement, site blocking, denial of service messages, and other practices requiring a degree of software sophistication. However, the use of the term extends to cover a wider range of Internet practices that “could loosely be called progressive and anti-establishment” (McCaughey and Ayers 3). These are usually far less software-dependent, and therefore less disruptive or outlawed. Both conceptions of the term, however, stress the concomitant anonymity of ‘hacktivists’. I am using ‘hacktivism’ here in its wider sense, as the work of anonymous individuals or groups of individuals whose social/political protest is reflected in the production of various kinds of mediated digital material aimed at what amounts to “electronic civil disobedience” (Vegh 76). 4. The military took over from Mubarak and proposed some amendments to the 1971 constitution in preparation for issuing a temporary constitutional declaration to carry through the six-month ‘transitional’ period it initially promised. 5. The state systematically responded to such gatherings with exaggerated violence. An outstanding example was the huge attack on demonstrators in Tahrir Square on February 2 with camels and horses, which came to be called “Battle of the Camel” in the media. 6. See, for example, Ashcroft (xiv). 7. About 18.5 million voters cast their votes: 77% approved the constitutional amendments, while 23% rejected them. 8. See, for example, “Documenting the Revolution.” 9. Internet users form 26.4% of the total population in Egypt as of December 2011. See “Internet World Statistics.” 10. See, for example, “Salasil al-Thawra in Suez.”


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Works Cited Abdel Kader, Soha. “Traditional Means of Communication and Modern Mass Media in Egypt.” Ekistics 53.318/319 (1986): 224–30. Ashcroft, Bill. Post-Colonial Transformation. London: Routledge; Taylor and Francis Group, 2002. “Auntie Afaf.” YouTube. March 13, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAn4hrGp_ SU&NR=1. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Bourdieu, Pierre. Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market. Trans. Richard Nice. New York: New P, 1998. “Dinoqratiyya.” YouTube. May 1, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= yHjWcW5CNHM. “Documenting the Revolution.” Facebook. January 27, 2011. http://www.facebook. com / pa ges / % D8 % A A% D9 % 8 8 % D8 % A B % D9 % 8 A% D9 % 8 2 - % D8 %AB % D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%BA%D8%B6%D8%A8-%D8%A7% D9%84%D9%85%D8%B5%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1%D 9%83/149806038406853. Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2011. “The Guy Behind Omar Soliman.” February 13, 2011. http://knowyourmeme.com/ memes/the-guy-behind-omar-soliman-%D8 %A7%D9% 84%D8 %B1%D8 %A7%D8 %AC %D9 % 84-%D8 %A7%D9 % 84%D9 % 84%D9 % 89-%D9 % 88 %D8 %B1%D8 %A7%D8%B9%D9%85%D8%B1-%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86. “Haircut.” Facebook. February 5, 2011. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid= 149954911729790 &set=a.149954908396457.35111.149953341729947&type=3 & theater. Howard, Philip N., et al. “Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” Project on Information Technology and Political Islam (PITPI), University of Washington, September 2011. http://www.scribd. com/doc/ 66443833/ Opening-Closed-Regimes-What-Was-the-Role-of-SocialMedia-During-the-Arab-Spring. “Internet World Statistics.” http://www.internetworldstats.com/africa.htm. “Irhal.” Facebook. February 12, 2011. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1015 0385229305394&set=a.10150385228555394.620268.835715393&type=1&theater. “Irhal Ba’a.” Facebook. February 5, 2011. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid =146787982047776&set=a.146787842047790.29017.146782915381616&type=3& theater. “Kazibun.” Facebook. 2011. http://www.facebook.com/3askar.Kazeboon. “Kollina Khaled Said.” Facebook. June 10, 2010. http://www.facebook.com/ElShaheeed. McCaughey, Martha, and Michael D. Ayers. “Introduction.” Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. Ed. Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers. London: Routledge, 2003. 1–24. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “The Subject of Visual Culture.” The Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff. London: Routledge, 1998. 3–23. Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: Public Affairs, 2011. “Mr. Nanna.” YouTube. February 6, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ krqzZjHh9w. “Mubarak.” Facebook. February 5, 2011. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid= 150181088373839 &set = a.149960315062583.35112.149953341729947&type = 3&theater.

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“Peace Talks 1.” September 15, 2010. http://www.electronicintifada.net/content/ washington-peace-talks-democracy-need-not-apply/9030. “Peace Talks 2.” September 14, 2010. http://www.ahram.org.eg/index.aspx?issueid= 289. “Peace Talks 3.” September 21, 2010. http://www.horytna.net/articles/details.aspx?AID= 25405. “Peace Talks 4.” September 20, 2010. http://masrstars.com/vb/showthread.php?t= 202124. “Peace Talks 5.” http://www.google.com.sa/imgres?q=%D8%B3%D9%87%D9%8A%D 8%B1+%D8%B2%D9%83%D9%89+%D8%AA%D8%AA%D9%82%D8%AF%D9%85 +%D9%85%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%83+%D9%81%D9%89+%D8%B5%D9% 88%D8%B1%D8%A9+%D8%AA%D8%B9%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%B1%D9%8A%D 8%A9&hl=ar&safe=active&gbv=2&tbm=isch&tbnid=8izRFzD7iEiaiM%3A&im grefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fenferad.blogspot.com%2F2010_09_01_archive.html&do cid=XAycWCc8cCyWRM&imgurl=http%3A%2F%2F3.bp.blogspot.com%2F__d RVZ3R1lss%2FTJqpT4Vf8jI%2FAAAAAAAACRc%2FkVIPAhYX2ZM%2Fs160 0%2F63295_129412283775027_100001187684905_148932_5075218_n.jpg&w= 63 5&h=345&ei=l5Q6T6HIHsXLsgb_hNzYBg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=706&vpy= 158 &dur=2898 &hovh=165&hovw=305&tx=163&ty= 95&sig=1042514169646327 89681&page=1&tbnh= 89&tbnw=163&start= 0&ndsp=21&ved=1t%3A429%2Cr% 3A1%2Cs%3A0&biw=1366&bih= 620. “Qanat al-fil.” YouTube. March 14, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v = n98wY5Z1ZI4. “Rayya wa Skina.” YouTube. March 21, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v =_ 81HHL8NTs0. “Referee.” YouTube. Februar y 6, 2011. http:// w w w.youtube.com/ watch?v = 2C4lsYWKxvM. “Referendum.” http://www.google.com.sa/search?tbm=isch&hl=ar&source=hp&b iw=1366&bih= 620 &q= %D9% 86%D8 %B9%D9% 85+%D9% 88 %D9% 84%D8 %A7+ %D9 % 84%D9 % 84%D8 %AA%D8 %B9 %D8 %AF%D9 % 8A%D9 % 84%D8 %A7%D8 % AA+%D8 %A7%D9% 84%D8 %AF%D8 %B3%D8 %AA%D9% 88 %D8 %B1%D9% 8A% D8 %A9 &gbv =2 &oq= %D9 % 86%D8 %B9 %D9 % 85+%D9 % 88 %D9 % 84%D8 %A7+ %D9 % 84%D9 % 84%D8 %AA%D8 %B9 %D8 %AF%D9 % 8A%D9 % 84%D8 %A7%D8 % AA+%D8 %A7%D9% 84%D8 %AF%D8 %B3%D8 %AA%D9% 88 %D8 %B1%D9% 8A% D8%A9&aq=f&aqi&aql&gs_sm=3&gs_upl=3333l10451l0l11480l27l26l0l19l19l0l 956l2124l1.–1l7l0. “Salasil al-Thawra in Suez.” Facebook. January 19, 2011. http://www.facebook.com/ events/152619604850412/. San Juan, Epiphano, Jr. Racism and Cultural Studies: Critiques of Multiculturalist Ideologies and the Politics of Difference. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2002. “Shower.” Facebook. February 5, 2011. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=15067 4631657818&set=a.149960315062583.35112.149953341729947&type=3&theater. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picadore (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), 2003. “Sulayman’s Speech.” February 11, 2011. http://irbid.hooxs.com/t63412-topic. Vegh, Sandor. “Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests against the World Bank.” Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice. Ed. Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers. London: Routledge, 2003. 71–95. Whiteman, Maria. “Visual Culture.” Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Ed. Michael Groden et al. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. 924–26.

15 The Aesthetics of Revolution Popular Creativity and the Egyptian Spring Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

Introduction: The Indoctrination of Popular Imagination For many years, the Egyptian state apparatus has propagated an idyllic image of a monolithic Egypt headed to prosperity under the leadership of a president who comes from the masses, resembles them, speaks their language, and is therefore well loved by his people. The epitome of this image manifested itself in the 2005 presidential election campaign poster showing a robust Mubarak against a green background (read fertility and welfare), all set for the task of leading his people into the future they deserve (“Mubarak Electoral Campaign Poster”). This is a message which is further consolidated by the caption in the background of the image which was also the slogan for his campaign: Al-qiyada wa-l-‘ubur li-l-mustaqbal (leadership and crossing to the future). In this chapter, we argue that this iconic representation is at best faulty. Among other things, it masks the fact that the photo of the Mubarak it shows was retouched to show a resemblance of him at least twenty years younger, that no Egyptian would recognize his aging and failing president in this invincible image. It also masks the fact that this president with all his promises for change had in fact already been in power for close to twenty-five years, and that his promise of change was therefore anomalous, looking as if Mubarak was promising improvements on the Mubarak regime. It masks yet another fact, that for the fi rst time in twenty-five years Mubarak cared to have a campaign at all, the need for which had previously not existed. For the 2005 elections coincided with people’s demands for democratic change and of course American foreign policy’s pressure to see change happening in the region—albeit on the surface—symbolized by fair elections with several presidential candidates. This explains the threat Mubarak felt which instigated this show of alleged democracy and change. The presidential campaign poster that ignored all of this adamantly insisted on the image of the forever-young president who holds the promise of development and welfare. This is sheer brainwash! It is the state apparatus hegemonically propagating its own ideology in the Gramscian sense. In his Prison Notebooks, Italian thinker and activist Antonio Gramsci details the workings of hegemony. For Gramsci, ideology becomes the

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superstructure’s tool to control the base. The bourgeoisie, which controls the economic means of production, deploys cultural and civic channels—art, literature, media—to control the proletariat, propagating an image of itself wherein all is well with the world and whereby the bourgeoisie’s ideology is seen in a favorable light. For this formula to work, what Gramsci terms “the integral state” has to resort to a combination of dictatorship and hegemony that presupposes the active consent of the people. Coercion alone does not achieve this purpose and has to be sustained, supplemented, and supported by manipulative tools of social hegemony that eventually make the masses active spokespeople for the state’s hegemonic ideology. According to Gramsci, force and consent have to work in reciprocity, balancing each other, without either seeming to predominate over the other. As he puts it, “Indeed, the attempt is always made to ensure that force will appear to be based on the consent of the majority, expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion—newspapers and associations—which, therefore, in certain situations, are artificially multiplied. Between consent and force stands corruption/fraud” (83). These two factors—force and consent—are essential to the success of the model. In fact, Gramsci speaks of “two fundamental levels, corresponding to the dual nature of Machiavelli’s Centaur–half-animal and half-human. They are the levels of force and of consent, authority and hegemony, violence and civilisation, of the individual moment and of the propaganda, of tactics and of strategy” (169–70). The perpetuation of this combination can only reproduce the same hegemonic status quo. The loss of the masses’ consent leads to the “crisis of hegemony” embodied in the enlistment of large bodies of the base against the ruling class. Once this crisis is felt, the bourgeoisie reacts by reasserting its control in the form of suppressing resistance. Hence the importance of “organic intellectuals” in Gramsci’s theory, for through their role, which is to combine moral and intellectual responsibility with practical, organizational strategies, such intellectuals act as a safety valve to instill awareness among the masses and thus maintain resistance and subvert the well-seated ideology of the “superstructure” (134–61). Gramsci’s theory can apply to many autocratic regimes. But Gramsci could not have been more perceptive in his analysis than when it is applied to the Egyptian situation before the January 25, 2011 revolution. And at the heart of the previously mentioned iconic representation of the Mubarak regime lies a similar process of hegemony undertaken by the Mubarak state in its control over the masses. For in the thirty years that preceded the 2011 revolution, a tight network of apparati came to simultaneously repress the people and sugarcoat that repression to them as a natural development of affairs, and Egyptian masses came to live under the direst and most repressive political and economic circumstances, believing—through the workings of the system—that this was the best they deserved. Several factors facilitated the perpetuation of this ideology, the fi rst of which is the high illiteracy rate


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

in Egypt combined with the lack of general political and human rights awareness and engagement. This was magnified in the Egyptian case by the second factor which is the low income rates among the Egyptian population, a fact that makes the average Egyptian citizen more concerned on a day-to-day basis with making ends meet than with worrying over the country’s policies and strategies. The third factor which further aided the propagation of this ideology was the presidential discourse that presented the president himself analogically as a well-meaning leader/father figure who cannot provide for his citizens/family given the country’s/family’s limited resources and high population rate. Some Egyptians were coerced to accept this discourse, especially as the image was made in a language they could identify with given their own limited resources and the several mouths they had to feed. A combination of force, consent, and lack of education thus further helped mask the deceptive nature of the regime rather than expose it. In this state of affairs, Gramsci’s terminology and distinction between base and superstructure come to apply to the Egyptian situation in more than one sense. On one level, base and superstructure could be read as a symbolic denomination of the relationship between the governor and the governed, the people forming the base and the government representing a superstructure that exploits that base. On another level, the terminology could be applied in Gramsci’s original Marxist sense if one took into consideration the fact that Mubarak and his family have always been involved in lucrative suspicious fi nancial transactions directly related to the economy of the country in the form of privatization deals, arms trading, and natural gas exportation. This was further aggravated by the fact that the majority of his last cabinet was composed of affluent businessmen directly involved in these deals and with close ties to the Mubaraks. Either reading projects a clear case of exploitation masked, as mentioned above, as one of seeking the country’s best economic and developmental interests. All this coincided with a media discourse parroting the ideals of social justice and fair division of wealth, claiming that all was done for the poor and with their best interest in mind. That Mubarak would several times address the people using the ailing/aging father terminology—a father who would rather retire and pay more attention to his own person but cannot forfeit his responsibilities as the care-taker of the nation and of his “children”—only gives the measure of the degree of systematic brainwash tactics undertaken by the regime.1 And the role which the media played in selling this message was key to its perpetuation. For dictatorships thrive on the control of the means of dissemination of ideas: television, radio, newspapers, and so on. And for thirty years, Egyptians were saturated with a media image of Mubarak as hero, leading pilot of the air strike in the 1973 war—this fact alone coming to absolve him of any other responsibility or commitment to his people. Hammering this one fact into the minds of the people gradually came to replace their knowledge that the war was in fact more than one air strike, and that other lives had been lost for the liberation

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of Sinai and the peace accords with Israel, and ultimately Sadat’s and others’ role in all of this was drastically minimized.2 That this should coincide with the previously mentioned propagated image of Mubarak as caring president from the people and for the people was deployed to manipulate people into believing that Mubarak was in fact a president of their choice, a fact that has never been true since Mubarak was never elected in the fi rst place. Thus we came to see the production of such songs as “Ikhtarnah” (We chose him) in mainstream media, a song for which a host of popular artists were commissioned by one of Mubarak’s biggest allies, former Minister of Mass Media Safwat El Sherif (“Oberette Ikhtarnah al-‘asli”). Seeing their favorite artists repeating the word “ikhtarnah” in the fi rst person—we chose him—was enough license for many laypeople to feel that they too have in fact chosen him. This is but one example of how autocratic regimes come to control their people and propagate certain ideologies, but Egyptians have had to live with similar strategies bombarding them from several media channels for the past three decades. And any attempts to criticize the regime or hold it questionable were met with acts of heavy-handed explicit or implicit censorship ensuring nipping these attempts in the bud, representing this to the people as a matter of national security, simultaneously reinforcing the idea of the government/president as parental guide. To make things worse, in certain cases, the father/president would himself interfere to lift certain censorship measures or ‘pardon’ an alleged wrongdoer, thereby projecting the image of a benevolent and democratic father. 3 Interpolating the System Despite the preceding gloomy image, all was not dark in Egyptian society, and the past few years have witnessed a gradual move toward resistance effecting a rupture of the pact of coercion and consent shown above. The superstructure thus started losing the consent of the masses gradually. This took the form of political struggle embodied in limited strikes, sit-ins, and demonstrations by textile company workers in al-Mahalla governorate, political activists, university professors, journalists, and so on. And such social movements as Kefaya (Enough), the April 6 Youth Movement, and others came to surface and gain visibility. This coincided with a number of artistic productions that started to show in a critical sense the dire state of the nation. And a recurrent ending in many recent fi lms shows a blast or an explosion of an otherwise seemingly stable place that is, however, boiling under the surface, a clear anticipation of what was in store according to these fi lmmakers’ views.4 However, this had to be tolerated by the government as an outlet for people’s anger, giving the semblance of a democratic nation even as the government’s crackdown on political activists intensified. Yet despite this aggressive clampdown, loopholes came to be created in the fabric, and were further and further widened as the superstructure began to


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

lose more and more of the masses’ consent. And the image of protesters in Tahrir that the world has seen over the days between January 25 and February 11, 2011 is but the epitome of the dissent that had been building up and leading to it. When one looks back on the eighteen days of protest in Tahrir and the kind of media coverage that the demonstrations received globally, one realizes that the key characteristic of this revolution was how civilized it was. The demonstrators in Tahrir did not only protest and chant; they did so peacefully and artistically. Old and young, male and female, rich and poor, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise, Egyptians suddenly regained their sense of self-worth, of in fact being a nation with a long history of civilization and artistic production to which temple art and murals are witness, a sense that the former regime has constantly suppressed, favoring its own image of a helpless non-productive people. Thus the mind-numbing commercial art of low aesthetic value that characterized particularly the past ten to fi fteen years was replaced by a genuine, original, and meaningful kind of art that surprisingly was not produced by professionals. Rather, it was improvised and immediate, coming from the people and addressing the people. And the fi rst days of the revolution witnessed the circulation of amateurish lowbudget art clips by e-mail or on YouTube, shot with mobile cameras, using the square for set and the demonstrators for pseudo-actors. What characterized these clips was that they went beyond the simple documentation of the political event unfolding to a documentation of the artistic expression surrounding it: graffiti, outdoor installation art, songs, performances, and so on. That this was simultaneously done as political action of an unprecedented historic magnitude was taking place is a clear indication of how people naturally associated political change with artistic production and creativity. What this shows also is how the protesters in Tahrir Square have displayed an awareness of the government’s tools of control and have subverted them with artistic production. Tahrir became at one point an alternative, makeshift micro city where people protested, ate, got married, and—by extension—started creating their own cultural apparatus, not for pleasure or aesthetic purposes. Rather, it was an attempt to gain visibility and make one’s voice heard in the face of barricades, army tanks, snipers, and camels. Examining the kind of art that was produced during and after the revolution, one notes a number of common characteristics all pointing to the freshness and ‘rawness’ of the art that was produced. One, this was art intended and used primarily as part of an activist agenda. This could include voicing dissent and dissatisfaction, documentation, exposure of the former regime, dissemination of knowledge, or raising awareness. As such, much of this artistic production was characterized by a sense of immediacy and spontaneity. There are indeed a number of projects underhand now to document the revolution—feature fi lms, plays, and so on—yet it must be taken into consideration that the time that has elapsed since the revolution to date has not yet

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allowed for production of a large scale. Two, that immediacy and proximity have necessarily made of that art a natural reflexive response, far removed from other more consciously calculated modes of artistic production: roughly edited, haphazardly shot, often ending abruptly, and primarily amateurish in nature. Because of the above reasons, this art depended on very primitive tools, deploying what was accessible and available. Thus handheld and cell-phone cameras were the available technology. If it took using stones and pebbles to create immediate art, that is what was used. Tools depended very much also on what could be taken into the square given the political situation and the protesters’ primary goal of demonstrating to topple the regime. And thus people had to make various adjustments to the circumstances and make do with what was available. Natural, primitive, and spontaneous as it was, this phenomenon’s biggest achievement is that it created a new mode of artistic communication, namely, street art/performance—here exclusively used to refer to art that emanates from and highlights the public/popular versus state-sanctioned ‘official’ art. For mobilizing/connecting with the masses through art is a novelty to Egypt. True, there have been a few limited precedents of street art exemplified by the Korba street festival5 and the soft rock band Wust el-Balad’s performances,6 for instance, yet the magnitude and scale of production as it appeared in Tahrir Square was defi nitely unprecedented. Moreover, what Tahrir did was break the artist–audience setup. This was no longer a professional artist performing for a passive recipient. Rather, the boundaries were blurred and, as Tahrir-based engineer-turned-artist Hatem Abdel Razek has pointed out, this was art produced by non-artists, “this revolution has made artists out of all of us” (qtd. in Abdel Mohsen). This was also one of the very few times when art represented and celebrated living people and not an abstract concept, be it a nation, a president, or a victory. The nation has moved from being an absolute concept into a physical lived space, and that shift was demonstrated in the protesters’ direct engagement with that tangible space expressing their emotions artistically. In our view, this symbolizes a sense of ownership of the square—and the country at large— that manifested itself in a process of inevitable interdependence: The demonstrators’ sense of ownership of the place/space was embodied as a desire to ‘mark their territory’, to leave their sign on that space; the more signs they left, the more the space reclaimed could not be usurped from them. A perfect example of this is what happened in November–December 2011 upon attacks of demonstrators gathered outside the Ministry of the Interior, located on Mohammed Mahmoud street in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, in revolt against the police’s use of brutal force to disperse demonstrations by the families of youths who had lost their lives during yet other brutal confrontations earlier during the revolution. The police’s response to this was to erect concrete barricades around the ministry headquarters to prevent demonstrators from congregating once more. Soon, these huge stone blocks


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

themselves came to be the site of graffiti denouncing both the police and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). What was especially interesting about this graffiti art is the trompe l’oeil technique it used to produce an image of an open, unblocked street, clearly a mental obliteration of the physically blocked street.7 When this graffiti was later whitewashed, presumably by SCAF, more graffiti appeared accompanied this time with a slogan to be frequently seen in different Cairo areas: “Inta timsah w ana arsim” (You erase and I paint). Tahrir Art: Evolution of an Artistic Revolution Looking closely at the kind of art that was produced in Tahrir, we would like to identify three levels of artistic production, what we categorize as (1) artistic street engagement, (2) artistic street assimilation, and (3) artistic street mobilization. These three levels correspond to three identifiable degrees of consciousness moving along a continuum from the least conscious to the most.8 That is, in the fi rst category, art is produced by the people and for the people, spontaneously and reflexively, to address a certain need as it arises. In the second category, the street is deployed by an artist-agent in an attempt to engage with the people, empower them, and document the moment. In this category, a more sophisticated level is attained, yet the street remains the platform for which this art is produced and the motive behind it. In the third category, art is taken to a higher level of consciousness raising, mobilization, and social criticism, and the goal here is to ensure the continuation of the revolution, constantly reminding the masses that what was achieved is considerable but not yet complete. It must be kept in mind that all three levels can and do intersect and overlap at different points, depending on how immediately the art was produced and at what stage of an as yet constantly evolving revolution. In the remaining part of this chapter, we show how these three categories have manifested themselves through actual examples of art produced since January 25, 2011. Artistic Street Engagement In this fi rst category, artistic street engagement, people themselves were the producers. As pointed out earlier, this was people’s immediate and unmediated reaction to what was happening to and around them, and, faced with a need to express themselves coupled with a lack of tools for that expression, it was only natural that they restored to what was most readily available to them: a repertoire of political national songs that were especially pertinent as they required nothing but memory, more pertinent in their vocalization of the demonstrators’ sense of dissent. Since the beginning of the protests, news coverage on international channels that would show the protesters chanting slogans against the regime would simultaneously project them collectively

The Aesthetics of Revolution


and enthusiastically singing the songs of Sheikh Imam and Salah Jaheen. And the choice was telling in itself, for the variety of songs people dug out belonged to yet another, earlier revolution, the 1952 military coup that had earlier brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, and Salah Jaheen is seen in the collective consciousness as the bard of that revolution whose lyrics were sung by mega pop star Abdel Halim Hafez (the duo coming to represent the ‘voice’ of that revolution). That this should coincide with people’s recitation of the songs of Sheikh Imam—the blind singer associated with Marxist ideology together with activist-poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, most active in the 1960s, both having been dissenting voices who paid the price of their activism by undergoing political detention and being completely silenced during Mubarak’s rule—was very significant. It was as if people connected two seemingly unrelated eras and made of them their own blend: Jaheen representing the most vocal advocate of revolutionary ideology and dream, Sheikh Imam representing the marginalized, dissenting citizen—precisely the two factors at the heart of the 2011 protests. However, the growing impetus for self-expression soon came to bypass the use of retrieved art as people felt the need to express themselves in their own individual production. This fi rst took the form of graffiti drawn on the floor, the pavement, and the walls of buildings surrounding the square. As mentioned earlier, such art used very primitive tools and conveyed very direct messages through the repetition of humorous slogans that people came up with in spontaneous reaction to the changing situation on a day-to-day basis. Apart from being an important mode of self-expression, what such art came to represent also was people’s sense of claiming the space they inhabited for the eighteen days of the revolution. The midan (square) was no longer a place where cars drove by, rather the drawing on the floor changed it into a people’s territory, an open-air museum of sorts, whose every piece becomes valuable and cherished by the people and demands its own attention and space. 9 Another artistic manifestation in this category was shown through improvised stand-up comedy acts by regular people who decided on the spur of the moment to entertain fellow protesters and kill time as they waited for a president who did not want to abdicate. Any quick search on YouTube would show hundreds of uploaded material of such acts like Mr. Nana, an Egyptian doctor impersonating an Indian Sikh, talking to his audience in a Hindi of which he did not know one word (rather improvised Hindi-sounding gibberish) with a translator who comically interpreted what he was ostensibly saying to reflect critically and sarcastically on the political Egyptian situation. In one of his clips, Mr. Nana is referring to Ahmed Ezz, an affluent business tycoon closely associated with the former ruling National Democratic Party and Gamal Mubarak, currently in prison undergoing a number of trials and already convicted for some (“Mr NaNa”). Contextualizing the clip in its production date is very telling; on February 7, 2011, four days before Mubarak stepped down, Tahrir city was in full swing. This automatically characterized


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

the clip as a form of political dissent. That a citizen should create his own artistic niche in a corner in the middle of a square where other citizens were protesting and chanting slogans shows the seriousness and the potency of this kind of art, not only as art but as a political statement as well. Mr. Nana’s Sikh-inspired headgear, his improvised nonsensical accent, and the content of his number immediately attracted audience. And the importance of this lies in the various roles that a number like this performed, mobilizing and reassuring people through reminding them of the corruption that they have been victimized by as well as sustaining the spirit of protesters through the comic relief it provided—all of which can be gleaned from the audiences’ reaction, laughter, and rapport with the character in the YouTube clip. Artistic Street Assimilation In the second category, artistic street assimilation, a higher level of sophistication began to be shaped, and artistic expression started taking a more professional turn through the involvement of artist professionals. This itself happened in a number of stages. In the fi rst stage, artists like singers Rami Essam and Hany Adel, poet Ahmed Haddad, and others began going to the square both as protesting citizens expressing their own ideologies and worldviews as well as artists sharing with their audience what they perceived as a common goal, utilizing the tool that came naturally to them: their art. This marks a clear move toward the assimilation of what those artists found in the square, for here these artists began taking their cue from the demonstrators, producing art that depended on people’s involvement, used their language, and was very much suited to being repeated in the square. Ahmed Haddad is especially interesting in this context being the grandson of Salah Jaheen, mentioned in the previous category. Haddad’s presence in the square reciting such poems as “Makhtartaksh” (I did not choose you)—in direct response to songs like “ikhtarnah” (We chose him), previously mentioned in the context of Mubarak’s media control—embodies the voice of a new generation that has indeed not chosen Mubarak just as it symbolizes the generational move from the past represented by Jaheen to the present represented by his grandson. Importantly, artistic production of this kind signaled the beginning of this revolution producing its own artistic repertoire, rather than drawing on previous ones. For it was indeed Haddad’s generation that initiated this revolution, and hence their artistic production marks not only their participation in the political arena but also their imprint on the cultural scene. This category also included the assimilation of people’s slogans into artistic forms. Thus one began to see such work as Hamza Namira’s song “Irfa‘ rasak inta masri” (Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian), itself a slight modification of a slogan spontaneously chanted by people on the day Mubarak stepped down. Part of the song goes, “Hold your head up high . . . you’re Egyptian/You’re one of those who stood in the square” (Namira). The slogan

The Aesthetics of Revolution


came to be associated with a momentous event in Egyptian history and the sense of pride and achievement felt by the people upon toppling a deepseated dictatorial regime. That Namira should borrow that sense of pride and achievement and present it in artistic form, specifically alluding to the earlier days of the revolution (watch patrols, etc.),10 shows the different kind of awareness felt by artists toward both their art and their audience. This is one of very few times when art was documenting reality as well as copying it, all for the sake of the people, by artists who themselves felt the need rather than being commissioned to please an authority. In a similar manner, artists Hany Adel and Amir Eid collaborated to produce the clip “Sout el-horriyya” (The voice of freedom). The clip is interesting in that it shows how you can produce low-budget art (the shooting having mostly taken place in Tahrir with all the fi nancial and technical limitations that that imposed) that is both aesthetically pleasing and professional. In the clip, the artists’ role is consciously minimized as they are joined by protesters in Tahrir mouthing the words of the song, acting as singers themselves, and carrying written signs with the lyrics as sung by the artists, symbolically representing the Egyptian society across its social and demographic strata with all the variety that this entails. The clip marks a clear shift of focus; this is art where the audience is foregrounded, the artist blending with the audience, art where it is difficult to visually distinguish the artist himself from the rest of the masses, where all look the same and even carry the same insignia. Artistic Street Mobilization In the third category, artistic street mobilization, art is no longer content with assimilating the street. Art is now being used to mobilize the masses, commemorate and celebrate what they have sacrificed and gained, as well as ensure the continuity of the revolution by reminding people of what they have not yet achieved, and comparing it with the initial demands of the revolution. El-fan midan (Art is a square) is one example in this category where singers, poets, graffiti artists, and painters participate in a monthly street carnival in which members of the audience are also encouraged to contribute their own artistic input. Significantly, El-fan midan avoids the obvious midan, Tahrir Square. By opting to use other squares, the organizers—a group of artists known as The Coalition of Independent Culture—seem to signal their wish to spread the revolution and move it out of the confi nes of Tahrir, thereby sustaining revolutionary spirit by keeping the people who instigated that revolution engaged on the street. This is similar to the fi rst category where people produce their own art; however, it is more organized this time with the clear purpose of mass mobilization.11 Another example of such mobilization is the YouTube channel B+, also known as the “Bassem Youssef Show.” Bassem Youssef is a doctor


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

by profession who moved from treating the wounded in Tahrir Square to producing his own Jon Stewart–inspired show on YouTube. Youssef pokes social criticism at mouthpieces of the former regime by exposing their lies comically in his low-budget show which was initially shot in a spare room in his own house with a makeshift studio set. Youssef’s show is the fi rst of its kind, and the Egyptian YouTuber could most certainly not have produced such work under the repressive censorship of the former regime. That the show’s more than 5 million spectators guaranteed it a spot as a regular talk show on independently owned television channel ONTV is an indication of how it has resonated with the people and how more mainstream media have come to respond to the masses’ wishes. The move from YouTube channel to TV talk show has coincided with another move toward the mobilization of people through television. And Youssef’s speakers now widely vary from mock saboteurs giving instructions on how to bring down a revolution to political activists representing all the colors of the political rainbow in Egypt (see Youssef). In a similar manner, this third category also includes “Tahrir Cinema,” a project started by Egyptian British fi lmmaker Omar Robert Hamilton with its own website: Cinerevolution Now. The project is an attempt to mobilize people by showing footage related to the revolution right in the heart of Tahrir Square. It is also connected to a network of independent cineastes known as Mosireen (literally: “We insist”). In Hamilton’s own words in a blog post on the project, this is how he envisions its goal: “So we set up Tahrir Cinema. A screen to show people fi lms to do with the Revolution. Finished fi lms, raw footage, experimental documentaries—anything to help remind people why they’re here and what we can achieve when we work together” (Hamilton). The message is clear: This is a project that wants to keep the revolution alive. That it has moved from Tahrir to other squares and cities further reinforces this fact and the artists’ wish to decentralize their activist work, one of the project’s declared missions. And Hamilton’s invitation to people to share any footage they have as well as set up screening spots and contribute in any way possible, except fi nancial, is a clear example of how post–January 2011 art has assumed a different activist role (Hamilton). And it is precisely such activism that fi gures prominently in the work of singer Rami Essam. Essam has been in Tahrir since the beginning of the revolution, also participating in the El-fan midan festivals. His songs are an embodiment of art responding to people and people responding to it in turn. Essam incorporates slogans from the revolution into his songs, which he sings in the square in a call-and-response, demonstration-like manner. In his concerts—crucially timed to coincide with key demonstrations expressing basic demands of the revolution—Essam assumes a role similar to that of the leader in a demonstration. And his delivery of the songs reflects this role; Essam would sing part of the lyrics and wait for

The Aesthetics of Revolution


the audience to fi nish the slogan that he has started, the content of the songs malleably changed over time to reflect the situation—for example, demands for a serious trial for Mubarak or the handing over of power by SCAF, and so on. And in that relationship of reciprocal rapport, the boundaries between art and politics are blurred. Conclusion: Activist Synergies Egyptians have, over the months that elapsed since January 2011, witnessed momentous changes and experienced various frustrations as their political expectations and aspirations were not immediately or satisfactorily met. What was perceived in February 2011 as the fall of a regime and a transitional period toward democracy has come to be believed by many as a continuation of the revolution as SCAF has in many ways shown itself to be a mere extension of the same regime. And what was naively thought as the end of a revolution turned out to be the mere beginning of a struggle against a ‘counter-revolution’, in the eyes of many, spearheaded by SCAF itself. Parallel to this struggle, artistic expression has taken different turns and undergone several transformations. And just as the political situation in Egypt is still evolving so is the art still being shaped and reshaped in response to the events taking place. Hence, any analysis offered of the art that has evolved out of Tahrir can by defi nition only be incomprehensive. As new political allegiances emerge and change, new artistic synergies and partnerships evolve all the time. One example of such collaboration can be seen in the work of “‘Askar Kazeboon” (Lying military),12 a project that exposes SCAF by juxtaposing statements made by its members with real-life footage of violent military action against civilians disproving these statements. Kazeboon’s screenings take place on the street: three- to four-minute shows, followed by discussions with the audience, and often ending in marches denouncing SCAF. It is an example of using art (in this case, short documentary clips) in political struggle, where art is downplayed for the sake of activism. What is especially relevant about Kazeboon’s work is that their raw footage depends mainly on Mosireen, mentioned earlier. Though both projects share some of their members, each remains focused on its specific goal: the sustenance of the revolution and the training of new non-professional members to carry on the work and decentralize it out of Cairo in the case of Mosireen, the exposure of SCAF that would eventually lead to its handing over of power in the case of Kazeboon. Collaborations among such projects are examples of the vision and spirit of the youths who develop them, young people who see beyond limited differences insightfully and perceptively into the larger picture, where the bigger common goal is one. And it is invigorating to see that though the popular art that emerges may be temporary and transient, art for everyday use that could expire with


Walid El Hamamsy and Mounira Soliman

the expiration of the cause that begot it, it is precisely the spirit behind it that embodies the revolution itself. Notes 1. This discourse continued right through the eighteen days of protest and was resorted to by Mubarak in his various speeches addressing the masses (see, for example, “Hosni Mubarak’s Speech”). 2. It must be noted that even this media-propagated image of Mubarak as sole leader is itself illusory, as has been shown in the wake of the 2011 revolution. Mubarak’s most famous image alongside Sadat and others in the operation room of the 1973 war was revealed to have been a doctored image that in fact replaced General Saad El-Shazly’s image with that of Mubarak (Ezzat). 3. As has happened with journalist Ibrahim Issa who was accused of sowing unrest upon publishing information about Mubarak’s deteriorating health and alleged death. It was Mubarak’s ultimate pardon that saved Issa from serving two months in prison (“Egypt: Ibrahim Issa Pardoned”). 4. See, for instance, Youssef Chahine and Khaled Youssef’s Hiya fawda? (Is it total chaos?; 2007) and Sameh Abdel Aziz’s Cabaret (2008). 5. A street festival held in a pedestrian area in Heliopolis, one of Cairo’s upper middle-class residential quarters. Ironically, the festival is alleged to have been sponsored by the former fi rst lady, Suzanne Mubarak. For more on the festival, see http://www.demotix.com/news/1529/korba-festival#slide-1. 6. Wust el-Balad (literally meaning “downtown”) is a music band that had its debut performing on the streets of Cairo before moving to fringe performance venues and gaining more visibility and establishment. See their website: http://www. wustelbalad.com/. 7. The name given by the artists to this graffiti campaign is equally interesting: “Ma-fi sh gidar” (There is/will be no wall). 8. It must be noted that our categorization here is not diachronic. Rather, it is based on the content of these artistic productions, which may overlap at different points. 9. Indeed, this museum-like atmosphere could be observed with various degrees of intensity since the beginning of the revolution, depending on the political context of the moment. Many people visited the square in the early days of the revolution simply to experience this carnivalesque atmosphere, in itself a mode that turned out to attract and mobilize more people to join as protesters rather than voyeurs. Despite the passage of time, the square has not lost this quality up until the time of this writing, eighteen months from the onset of the revolution. This quality has been capitalized on by the government itself during the October 6, 2011 celebrations (commemorating the 1973 war) when SCAF decided to hold the festivities in the square, a perfect example of usurpation that equally stands witness to people’s ability to interpolate the status quo. 10. As lack of security intensified in the early days of the revolution and thousands of prisoners were let loose by the Ministry of the Interior to terrorize people and bring the demonstrations to an end, people had to literally guard their houses and other possessions by standing patrols in the streets during the night. The same phenomenon also occurred around entrances to Tahrir Square to guard against violent action by supporters of the Mubarak regime.

The Aesthetics of Revolution


11. The festival is held on the fi rst Saturday of every month and has gained popularity among the youth and kept up with the constantly changing political scene. For more information, see its Facebook page at http://www.facebook. com/media/set/?set=a.207646529264783.58246.201708456525257. 12. For more information on ‘Askar Kazeboon, see the project’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/3askar.Kazeboon.

Works Cited Abdel Aziz, Sameh, dir. Cabaret. Ahmed El Sobki Films, 2008. Abdel Mohsen, Ali. “Revolutionary Art: Tahrir Square Becomes Cairo’s Stage.” Almasry Alyoum. February 7, 2011. http://www.masress.com/en/almasryalyoumen/311846. Chahine, Youssef, and Khaled Youssef, dirs. Hiya fawda? [Is it total chaos?] Arabia Company for Production and Distribution, 2007. “Egypt: Ibrahim Issa Pardoned by Mubarak.” Menassat. October 6, 2008. http:// www.menassat.com/?q=en/alerts/4774-egypt-ibrahim-issa-pardoned-mubarak. Ezzat, Dina. “Saad Eddin El-Shazly: A War Hero Revisited.” Ahramonline. October 6, 2011. http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/23525/Egypt/Politics-/SaadEddin-ElShazly-A-war-hero-revisited.aspx. Gramsci, Antonio. Selections From The Prison Notebooks. Ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971. Hamilton, Omar Robert. “Tahrir Cinema.” Cinerevolution Now. July 14, 2011. http:// www.cinerevolutionnow.com/2011/07/tahrir-cinema.html. “Hosni Mubarak’s Speech: Full Text.” The Guardian. February 2, 2011. http:// guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/ 02/president-hosni-mubarak-egypt-speech?cat= world&type=article. “Mr NaNa in Egypt Funny.” YouTube. February 7, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=jYODwrBMnvk. “Mubarak Electoral Campaign Poster.” http://www.christian-dogma.com/vb/ showthread.php?t=145283. Namira, Hamza. “Irfa‘ rasak inta masri [Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian].” Insan [Human being]. Awakening, 2011. CD. “Oberette ikhtarnah al-‘asli [The original Ikhtarnah operette].” YouTube. May 26, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PD3p9vExvo. “Voice of Freedom (With English Lyrics)—Sout Al Horeya.” YouTube. February 17, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV9UY_8qABY. Youssef, Bassem. “Bassem Youssef Show.” YouTube. March 2, 2011. http://youtube. com/user/bassemyoussefshow?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&client=mv-google.


Omaima Abou-Bakr: Professor of English and comparative literature, Cairo University, Egypt. She received her education at Cairo University, North Carolina State University, and the University of California at Berkeley. She specialized in medieval Sufi poetry and comparative topics in medieval English and Arabic literature. Her scholarly interests also include women’s mysticism and female spirituality in Christianity and Islam, feminist theology, Muslim women’s history, and gender issues in Islamic discourse and cultural history. She has published a number of articles in both English and Arabic on poetry and medieval literary texts, historical representations of women in premodern Muslim societies, women and gender issues in religious discourses, and Islamic feminism. One published book in Arabic—Al-mar’a wa-l-jindar (Woman and gender; 2002)—deals with women’s intellectual efforts to create emancipatory and egalitarian discourses within an Islamic conceptual framework. Randa Aboubakr: Professor of English and comparative literature, Cairo University, Egypt. Her research interests include comparative literature, Egyptian colloquial poetry, sub-Saharan African literature, cultural studies, and translation. She is the author of The Conflict of Voices in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus and Mahmud Darwish (Reichert Verlag, 2004) and has been visiting Professor at Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany and the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, Poland. Nadra Majeed Assaf: Lecturer of English and dance, Lebanese American University, Lebanon. Her research interests include dance as a communicative medium, women in dance, third language acquisition, and discourse analysis as applied to nonverbal mediums. Assaf is the artistic director and founder of Al-Sarab Alternative Dance School, founding member and vice president of IDO Lebanon, a member of DBM, and a judge/instructor on several TV programs concerning performing arts. She has presented the following conference papers: “The Identity of Dance: A Modern Form of Communication” (2002), “Dance: A Discourse Mode” (2007),



and “Unfolding Modern Dance: Exploring the Measures of Communication in a Non-Verbal Medium” (2010). Assaf is also a published author of poetry. Walid El Hamamsy: Assistant professor in the Department of English, Cairo University, Egypt. He obtained his MA from the American University in Cairo and his PhD from Cairo University. His academic interests focus on popular culture, fi lm, comparative literature, and gender. His most recent publications include Revolutionary Democracy, a co-translation into Arabic of Thomas Jefferson’s political writings (Saqi Books, 2011), “Epistolary Memory: Revisiting the Traumas of Rape and Civil War in Women’s Writing” (Alif, 2010), “BB = BlackBerry or Big Brother: Digital Media and the Egyptian Revolution” (Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2011), and “‘Egypt . . . isn’t that in Switzerland?’: American Cartoons and the Egyptian Revolution” (Proceedings of the conference: “Shifting Borders: America and the Middle East/North Africa,” AUB; forthcoming). Walid El Khachab: Associate professor of Arabic studies, York University, Canada. He wrote a dissertation on Melodrama in Egypt and more than forty scholarly articles and book chapters on cinema, literature, and pop culture. One of his ongoing research projects deals with Middle Eastern diasporic artists. During the past few years, he extensively published and presented papers on the aesthetics of the veil in modern culture (fi ne arts, cinema, and literature). Maha El Said: Associate professor, Department of English, Cairo University, Egypt. She teaches poetry and American studies. Her research has focused on ethnic literature with a doctoral dissertation on Arab American literature in which she explored the formation of ethnic identities through the analysis of Arab American poetry. The impact of new technologies on literature has also been one of her research areas, where she studies how hypertext is the manifestation of postmodernism. As a Fulbright scholar at UC Berkeley, she researched spoken word as a political statement and a form of resistance literature. Both her papers “The Face of the Enemy: Arab-American Writing Post-9/11” and “A War for Peace,” published in Studies for the Humanities, explore the conflict between East and West as the Middle East becomes part of the ‘axis of evil’. She has given numerous talks on popular culture and its impact on Middle Eastern youth identity formation at New Haven’s Arts and Ideas Festival, the United Nations in New York, and New York University. As a columnist at the satirical weekly newspaper Idhak li-l-dunia (Laugh to life), she portrayed many of the paradoxical images of popular culture. Michael Frishkopf: Associate professor, Department of Music, and associate director of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology, University



of Alberta, Canada. He is an ethnomusicologist specializing in sounds of Islamic ritual, the Arab world, and West Africa. His research interests include social network analysis, action research, and digital multimedia technology. He has published an edited collection titled Music and Media in the Arab World (American University in Cairo Press, 2010), and has two books in progress: The Sounds of Islam (Routledge) and Sufism, Ritual and Modernity in Egypt: Language Performance as an Adaptive Strategy (Brill). Richard Jacquemond: Professor of modern Arabic language and literature, Université de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France. He is the author of Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State and Society in Modern Egypt (American University in Cairo Press, 2008). A keen observer of the Egyptian cultural scene, having lived in Cairo for more than fi fteen years, he has also translated fi fteen books from Arabic into French to date, mainly Egyptian fiction. Dalia Said Mostafa: Postdoctoral research fellow in modern Arab cultural history, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Manchester, UK. She teaches Middle Eastern literature and cinema. She obtained her PhD in English and comparative literature from the University of Manchester in 2007 and her MA in English and comparative literature from the American University in Cairo in 2002. She has published in both English and Arabic on the Lebanese novel, Arab cinema, and popular culture. Her current research centers on the image and transformation of the city in literature and cinema, with a focus on the cities of Cairo and Beirut. Her recent articles include “Popular Culture and Nationalism in Egypt: ‘Arab Lotfi and Egyptian Popular Music” (Journal for Cultural Research, 2012) and “Journeying through a Discourse of Violence: Elias Khoury’s Yalo and Rawi Hage’s De Niro’s Game” (Middle East Critique, 2011). Hania A. M. Nashef: Assistant professor, Department of Mass Communication, American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Her PhD was in English literature from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK. In addition to teaching, Nashef has had sixteen years of experience in TV broadcast. Her publications include The Politics of Humiliation in the Novels of J. M. Coetzee (Routledge, 2009), “Becomings in J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians and José Saramago’s Blindness” (Comparative Literature Studies, 2010), “Baal and Thoth: Unwelcome Apparitions in J. M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg and Disgrace” (Ariel, 2010), “The Blurring of Boundaries: Images of Abjection as the Terrorist and the Reel Arab Intersect” (Critical Studies on Terrorism, 2011), and “The Abject/the Terrorist/the Reel Arab—a Point of Intersection” (Global Media and Communication, 2011).



Iren Ozgur: Independent researcher who works on aspects of Turkish politics, Islamic social and political movements, secularism, and popular culture in the Middle East. Her doctoral dissertation, which focused on Imam-Hatip schools, provided the basis for her book Islamic Schools in Modern Turkey (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Caroline Rooney: Professor of African and Middle Eastern studies and director of the Centre of Colonial and Postcolonial Research at the University of Kent, UK. She is the author of African Literature, Animism and Politics (Routledge, 2000) and Decolonising Gender: Literature and a Poetics of the Real (Routledge, 2007), and co-editor with Kaori Nagai of Kipling and Beyond: Patriotism, Globalisation and Postcolonialism (Palgrave, 2009). She is currently the recipient of an ESRC/AHRC fellowship under the Global Uncertainties scheme and has recently published work on hip-hop in an international frame and on forms of pariah consciousness. John Carlos Rowe: USC Associates’ Professor of the Humanities and professor of English and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Irvine, US. He has served as chair of the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of California, Irvine, where he was a founding member of the Critical Theory Institute. His recent books include A Concise Companion to American Studies (WileyBlackwell, 2010), Afterlives of Modernism: Liberalism, Transnationalism, and Political Critique (Dartmouth College Press, 2011), and The Cultural Politics of the New American Studies (Open Humanities Pess, 2012). He has just completed a fictional memoir: Born in LA. John A. Shoup: Professor of anthropology, Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco. He received his BA and MA in Middle Eastern studies/Arabic from the University of Utah and his PhD in cultural anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. He has conducted field work in Lesotho, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Mauritania, on topics related to pastoralism, impact of tourism on local communities, traditional land use systems, trans-Saharan trade, and popular culture. He has authored and co-authored a number of articles and book chapters. His books include Culture and Customs of Jordan (2007) and Culture and Customs of Syria (2008), and the co-authored Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab States Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Arab States (2009), all published with Greenwood Press. He was part of the research team for the Baseline Survey conducted in the Middle Atlas region of Ifrane (2000) and the study on the impact of tourism in the Atlantic port city of Essaouira (2001–2002) published as Assessing Tourism in Essaouira by Al Akhawayn University (2002). He taught at the American University in Cairo from 1990 to 1996 and at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco from 1996 to the present.



Mounira Soliman: Associate professor of English and comparative literature, Department of English, Cairo University, Egypt. Her research interests include American studies, Middle East studies, and popular culture. She is the co-translator into Arabic of The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Saqi Books, 2011). Her other publications include Egyptian Women Artists (Women and Memory Forum, 2008) as well as a number of recent recent articles including “The (Un)wanted American: A Visual Reading of Arab and Muslim Americans” (Journal of American Studies, Seoul National University, 2011), “Artistic Interpretations of Downtown Cairo” (Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2011), “Representations: Children’s Literatures in Egypt” (The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, Brill, 2011), and “Palestine ← America → Israel: A Reading of America’s Role through Political Cartoons” (Second International Conference Proceedings, American University in Beirut, 2011). Dr. Soliman was a Fulbright Senior Specialist at Yale in 2008 and a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at New York University in 2005. Ted Swedenburg: Professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, US. He is the author of Memories of Revolt: The 1936–39 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (University of Minnesota Press, 1995) and coeditor of Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity (Duke University Press, 1996) and Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture (Duke University Press, 2005).


A Abbas, Basel (aswatt), 24, 26 ‘Abd al-‘Al, Ghada, 145, 150, 153 ‘Abd al-Quddus, 148, 149, 153 ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Amrani, 48 ‘Abd al-Wahhab, Muhammad, 48 Abdel Rahim, Shaaban, 7 Abdel Rashid, ‘Atef, 126 Abdel Razek, Hatem, 251 Abdallah, Khaled, 125, 127 ‘Abdoun, Ahmad, 121 Abdulla II (King of Jordan), 237 Abou El Fadl, Khaled, 125 Abou-Rahme, Ruanne, 24, 26 Abu-Haibah, Ahmed, 118, 121, 126 Abu-Lughod, Lila, 220 activist/activism, 13, 124, 257–258 adab sakhir/satirical literature, 145 Adel, Hany, 254, 255 advertising/advertisements, 8, 211, 212, 215, 217 Egyptian, 211–226 aesthetic homogeneity, 164 aesthetic innovation, 158 affiliations and loyalties, 221 Afghani-Americans, 190 Afghanistan, pre-Soviet era to Taliban, 189 agency, 82, 93 agriculture, 231 ahl al-salaf/ancestors/forefathers of 1st Muslim generations, 116 Ahl Kairo/People of Cairo (soap opera), 14 “Aicha” (French pop song), 54, 47 ailing/aging father terminology, 248 airport signs, in US, 192–193 Akman, Ayhan, 132 al-Ahram, 237

al-Ahram Weekly, 154 al-‘Aqqad, Mahmoud ‘Abbas, 148 al-Anka, Muhmmad, 48 al-Aswani, ‘Abbas, 155 al-Aswany, ‘Ala’, 144, 145, 149, 153 al-Atrash, Farid, 48, 55 al-Awlaki, Anwar, 189 al-Azhar, 125 al-da‘wah al-salafiya/salafi call, 119 “al-Harbah wayn”/Where to flee, 51 al-manhaj al-salafi/salafi method, 119 al-Sa‘dawi, Nawal, 4, 146 al-Sha‘rawi, Muhammad Mitwalli, 116, 119 al-Shaykh, Hanan, 44 Alex West compound, 220 Alexandrian Hellenistic intelligentsia, 155 Algeria, 48–49 civil war, 52 Rai, 46–58 youth riots (1988), 51 Algerian Cultural Day (Paris, 1986), 51 Algiers, 49 Alien and Sedition Acts (1798), 188 Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 184 ‘alternative communities’, 235 Amdyaz (wandering poets), 47 Amer, Du‘a’, 120 American/Americans, image of, 214 ‘American Autumn’, 196 American ‘dream’, 214, 215, 221 American exceptionalism, 195 ‘American Orientalism’, 184, 185 American studies, 184 ‘American universality’, 194 Americana (advertising company), 217 Americana Group (Kuwati franchise company), 217–218



Americanization/globalization, 220 Americanization/Westernization, 187, 211, 212, 215, 217, 221, 223 Amgad, Shaykh, 127 Amin, Galal, 214 Amina (Franco-Tunisian singer), 54 “Ana bakrah Isra’il”/ I hate Israel (song), 7 Andalusi (music), 49 Anderson, Benedict, 114 Anglo-American literature, 190 Antalya (Turkey), 133, 138 anthropologists, 80 Anti-Arab/anti-Muslim sentiment, 51 anti-art, 234 anti-fundamentalism, 55, 56 anti-imperalist, 186 anti-war protests, 183, 188 anti-Western rhetoric vs. Western-leaning mode, 214 Antoon, Sinan, 154 apparel, as ideology, 212 April 6 Youth Movement, 12, 13, 249 Arab dream, 215 Israeli(s), 36, 38 musics, 165 socialism, 213, 214, 215 ‘Arab Spring’, 196 tattoos (Iraq), 81 “Arabic Booker.” See International Prize for Arabic Fiction Arabic books downloaded, 147 Arabic language, 13–14, 151, 153, 234 Arabic Tattoos (book), 81 Arabic words, tattooed, 81, 83 Arabs demonizing of, 6, 221, 222 framed by Orientalism, 220 in Western media, 14 Arafat, Yasser, 41 archiving sites, Internet, 243 archeological sites, 239 Armbrust, Walter, 115 armchair aural-tourism, 162 arms trading, 248 art, 1, 8, 13, 247, 250, 255, 257 art-audience setup, 251 as part of activist agenda, 250 films, 50 illusion of, 234 low-budget, 255 photography, 80–81

produced by non-artists, 251 retrieved, 253. See also Tahrir art ‘artistic’ attacks, 239 artistic street assimilation, 254–257 Artspeak Gallery (Vancouver, BC) Women of Allah (exhibit 1997), 83–86 Ashcroft, Bill, 3 ‘Askar Kazeboon/Lying military, 242, 257 Aslolan Muhabbet/Love is the only truth, 134 Asmahan, 48 assimilation, US myth of, 194 aswatt. See Abbas, Basel asynchronous media, 163 Atatürk, 130 audience(s), 95, 255 audiocassette recording, 163 authority and hegemony, 247 autocratic regimes, 247 autonomy, 95 avant-gardes, literary, 158 awareness raising, 250 “axis of evil”, 6, 221 Ayres, William, 188 ‘Azazil/Azazeel (Yusuf Zaydan), 144, 156 Azharite scholar(s), 122, 125

B Baba Ahmad, Rashid and Fathi, 55–56 B-Boy. See Mughrabi, Muhammad Bakathir, ‘Ali Ahmad, 148 Balqasim, Butalja, 49 Barakat, Henry, 25 Barbes (album), 55 Barbie doll imitation, 224 Barenboim, Daniel, 34 “Barra, barra”/Outside (song), 56 barricades, concrete, 251 base and superstructure, 248 baseball caps, 221 Baskin-Robbins, 218 “Bassem Youssef Show”, 255–256 Baudelaire, Charles, 91 Bayrut al-gharbiyya/West Beirut, 65 Bayt al-zahr/Around the Pink House, 65 Baywatch (TV series), 220 beards, 124 beatboxing, 27, 46 Bedouins, 220 behavior, non-conformist, 91 Ben Ali, Zine El Abidine 237 bender (drum), 46 Berber tattoos, 81

Index Berman, 188 bestsellers, by Egyptian authors, 144, 145 Beur, in France, 51, 52 “Beverly Hills” (compound), 220 bhangara, 46 billboard chart, 162 bin Jadid, Shadhli, 50 Birmingham School, 3 Blackhawk Town (film), 54 Blade Runner (film), 56 blogging/blogs, 33, 145, 150 Bloomsbury Qatar Publishing Foundation, 154 body aesthetics, 80, 82 body/gender politics, 80, 95–96 boikutt (Ramallah rapper), 18, 25, 26 book clubs, online, 150 book market Arab, 149 Egyptian, 157 book promotion, in Egypt, 151 book signings, 150 border crossing, 2 Boumediène, Houari, 49, 50 bourgeoisie, 247 Muslim classes, 120 Boysal, Bahadir, 130, 132 on evolution of Büşra, 131–133 co-existance of Islamists and secularists, 140 brainwash tactics, 248 breakdancing, 26, 27 British-Arab joint literary ventures, 157 Brown, Dan, 149 Burgat, Francois, 114 Bush, George W., 7, 183, 185, 222 Büşra (comic serial character), 10, 130, 133–139, 140 Büşra (Turkish comic serial), 130–141 business tycoons, 156

C cabinet, Egyptian, 231, 248 Cairo Radio, 48, 113 California Gardens, 218 call and response, 256 calligraphy, 83, 84, 86, 88, 92, 93 Cambridge Film Festival (2009), 25 cameras, 251 Cemil İpeksi’den Sirra Kadem Melaike/ Disappearing angels from Cemil, 133–134 Çankaya (Turkey), 130


‘captivity naratives’, 191 Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts), 27 car number plates, 242 Caramel/Sukkar banat (film), 66–67 ‘carnival culture’, 238, 240 Carte de Sejour group, 53 “cassette” revolution, 173–177 cartoon(s), 6, 10, 233, 243 cassette sermons, 34 cell phone cameras, 251 censorship, 239, 249 Chains of the Revolution/Salasil alThawra, 242 Channels of Rage (documentary), 20, 33, 34–40 Chants, 234 Charles, Ray, 52–58 Chicago, (al-Aswany, ‘Ala’), 154 “childless couple”, 70 Chirac, Jacques, 54 Christian church/Christian oriental church, 155 Christian orthodox communities, 80 Christian teachings, 213 Christian televangelism, 118 cinema, 4, 65, 77 Cinerevolution Now (website), 256 circumcisions, 165 citation, 93 “City Stars” (shopping mall), 219 ‘clash of civilizations’, 183, 192 CNN, 221 Coca-Cola, 212, 215 Collapse (sound/video installation), 24 colonialism, 1, 47, 213 comedy arts, 253 comic posters, 90 comic relief, 254 commercial culture/art, 211, 250 commercialization, 11, 57 commodities, 217, 220 communication, 95 technologies, 114, 231 communism, 215 community ties, 67 compassion, 74 Constantine (city), 49 constitutional amendments, vote on, 240 consumer culture/consumerism, 212, 215, 217, 220, 221, 233 containment, 3 “coolness”, 212 Cooper, James Fenimore, 191



Coptic Church, 156 corruption/fraud, 247, 248 counter-revolution, 257 creativity, popular, 246–258 criminality, and tattoos, 81 critical paradigms, Western, 5 cross-cultural empathy, 36 culture/cultural Arab, 330 as commodity, 212 change, 2 consumption of, 3 Egyptian, 146, 220 elitist, 3 forms, 13 hegemony, 212, 221 high, 1, 2, 18, 80 icons, 6 imperialism (American), 192, 221 integration in Middle East, 95–108 layers of, 92 local, 217 myths, 6 notions of, 80 policies, 151 politics, 107 resistance/struggle, 2–4, 10 “schizophrenic”, 219 studies, 4–5 therapy, 192 traditional, 81 translation, 128 written, 152 youth culture, 13 culture, popular, 4–5, 12, 13, 80, 107, 226 as form of cultural resistance, 7–11 geopolitics of, 5–7 Customizing the Body (Sanders and Vail), 81 Cyril, of Alexanderia, 155, 156

D Dallas (American soap opera), 219 date rape, 133 DAM (rap ensemble), 19–23, 42, 43–44 “Mīn irhābī?”/Who’s a terrorist? (song), 20 dance, 8, 95–108 Dar Merit (publishing house), 144, 157 Dar al-Shuruq (publishing house), 144, 150 darabukah (drum), 46 Darwish, Mahmoud, 44 Da’ud, Sultanah 48

da‘wah (call for faith), 118 decency norms, 106 deconstruction & post-structuralism, 157 Delfina Foundation (London), 24 Dellali/My guide, 56 democracy, fatwa on, 123 demonstrators, 254 depersonalization, 83 derbakkeh, 29 Desert Rose (song), 56 detective novel, 144, 156 dhikr (chanting of God’s sacred names), 166 diasporas, 114 dictator, 232 Didi (Arabic music video), 52–53 ‘digital clowning’, 237, 238 “dinoqratiyya/“religio-cracy”, 241 discourses, ready-made, 82 Disneyland, 212 dissent, popular, 11, 250 divorce, 120 Diwan (album), 55 Diwan bookshop(s), 150 Diyojen/Diogenes (humor magazine), 131 DJing, 26 “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night”, 219 doctored images, 233 doctrine, Islamic and legal, 72 documentary films, 33–44 documentation, 250 Don’t Look Back (documentary), 22 “Douce France” (song), 53 Doueiri, Ziad, 65 downloaded Arabic books, 147 dramatic sketches, 235 Dream Land (gated community), 220 Dream 2 (TV channel), 120, 122 dress code, 217 drug use, 133 Dumas, Alexandre, 155 Dylan, Bob, 22, 214

E Eco, Umberto, 155 education, 95, 213 Edward Said: Emancipation and Reptrsentation, (Iskandar & Rustum), 184 Eid, Amir, 255 Egyptian/Lebanese pop, 56 Egyptian(s)/Egypt Americanization of, 223

Index cultural identity, 213 hybridized, 220 immigration abroad, 154 ‘Islamic identity’, 240 January 25, 2011 revolution, 195, 196 pantheon, 155 religious in nature, 240 sense of self-worth, 250 transitional military regime, 243 upper classes, 213 youth, 212 Egyptian Spring, 246–258 presidential elections (2005), 246 Campaign poster, 246 El Abnoudi, Abd el Rahman, 214 El-fan midan/Art is a square, 255, 256 El Shabrawy (foul restaurant), 218 El Tabei (foul restaurant), 218 Electronic Intifada, 18 electronica sound compositions, 24 Elephant News Channel/Qanat al-fil li-l-akhbar, 238 elites, self-Orientalizing Westernized, 80 emancipation, politics of, 222 émigré writers, 189 empowerment, means of, 81 emulation, of the West, 222 English language and names, 219 entertainment, 107 erotic love scenes, 76 eroticism, 85 Essam, Rami, 254, 256 Essaydi, Lalla, 80, 83, 87–92 ethics, Islamic, 126 ‘ethno-beat’ music, 46 ethnomusicologists, 163 existentialist fiction, 148 expression, freedom of, 237 extreme hate music, 36 eye, as symbol of female genitals, 85 eyewitnesses, 189 Ezz, Ahmed, 253

F Facebook, 13, 33, 150, 195 event, 232, 234, 235 groups, 236–237, 242 facial expressions, 92 Fairouz, 25 “false copies”, 213 family line and offspring, 72 relations, 65, 73


Farrokhzad, Forugh, 85, 87 Faruq, Nabil, 151, 156, 157 fashion models, 218 fast-food franchises, 211, 215 fasting, 135 father/president interference, 249 fatherhood, 65–71 fatawa/authoritative legal opinions, 113 fatwa-ruling TV programs, 123, 124 Faudel (Rai musician), 57 fava beans (foul), canned, 218 female body, veiled with writings, 87 magic powers, 91 preachers/da‘iyat, 122 subjectivity, 82, 92 feminism, Iranian, 87 fiction, 8, 151, 152, 155. See also realistic novel, historical novel, novels film(s), 8, 250 documentary, 9, 33–44 film-within-a-film narrative, 75 filmmakers, 68 fine arts exhibitions, 50 fiqh/Islamic law, 113 FIS (Front Islamique du Salut), 51–52 “Flava in Ya Ear” (rap tune), 28 FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale), 48, 49 Floodplain (Kronos Quartet album), 24 folklore, 4, 18 force and consent, 246, 247 foreign, 218 names and commodities, 219 Fouladkar, Assad, 65–77 France, racism in, 52 Franco-Maghribi community, 52 freedom of expression, 152, 237 Freidman, Thomas, 211 French Cultural Center (Cairo) Shaykh Yasin public concert at, 172–173 Freud, Sigmund, 85, 89 fusion, with Western popular styles, 162

G G-town (rap group), 26–29 Gangster rap, 219 Garcia Lorca, Federico, 76–77 Yerma, 76–77 Geffen, Aviv, 21 gender in Muslim societies, 65



politics, 65–77 relations, in Lebanon, 77 resistance, 10 roles and hierarchy, 89 generations (of avant-gardes), 158 Gharib, Usama, 145, 153 “ghetto-town.” See G-town (rap group) ghettos, urban, 22 al-Ghitani, Gamal, 148 Girgir/ Jocular, 132 global capitalism, 195 citizens, 221 market, 217 networks, 212 perspective, 95 re-Islamization, 115 South, 154 globalization, 114, 164, 211, 215, 221, 222 of cultural material, 128 trends and conflicts, 222 Gnaoua groups, 46 gnostics, 91 Goldman, Jean-Jacques, 54 golf courses, 220 Good Reads, 150 governor-governed relationship, 248 The Graduate (film), 214 graffiti, 4, 14, 27, 250, 252, 253 Grammy award, 162 Gramsci, Antonio, 246–248 graphic novel, 4 “grateful Arab”, 35 Grimzi, Habib, 52 Grisham, John, 156 ‘ground zero’ (Manhattan, NYC), 185 Gül, Abdullah, 130 Gülen community (Istanbul), 132 Gulf War (1990–91), 54, 55 Gulf War (2nd), 185 gun-boat diplomacy, 185

H “hacktivists”, 233, 235, 237, 242 Haddad, Ahmed, 254 Haddad, Qassim, 105 “Hadith al-ruh”/Soul talk, 117 Hadith ‘Isa ibn Hisham/A Period of Time, 152 haşema/full-body swimsuit, 137, 138 Hafiz, Abdel Halim, 214, 253 al-Hafiz (TV channel), 119, 126 al-Haggan, Ra’fat (spy code name), 156

hair, as metaphor of feminine divine, 91 haircuts, Titanic inspired, 219 Halachmi, Anat, 34 halal (lawful in Islam), 120 halaqah setup (study session), 116 Hall, Stuart, 4 “popular,” his definition of, 2—3 Hamid, Marwan, 144 Hamilton, Omar Robert, 256 hand hops, 27 Handala (cartoon character), 27 happiness, illusion of, 217 haram (forbidden in Islam), 72, 95, 120 Hardt, Michael, 219 Harrington, David, 24 Harry Potter, 149 al-Harrashi, Dahman, 48, 55 Hasan, Nidal Malik, 189 Hassan, Shaikh Muhammad, 115, 125 Hatufim/Prisoners of War (TV series), 193 al-Hawri, Bilawi, 48 al-Hayah (TV channel), 120, 239 heavy industry, 231 Hebrew language, 19 hegemony, political and cultural, 92, 246 Heikal, Hassanein, 215 henna culture, 80, 84, 87, 88, 89, 93 in Mauritania, 81 Hepburn, Audrey, 214 “high culture”, 1 highbrow/lowbrow culture, Egyptian, 146 hijab, 86, 101 al-Hilali, Sa‘d al-Din, 127 hip-hop, 2, 8, 9, 26 documentaries on, 33–44 Hip Hip Hourah (TV program), 53 al-Hikma (TV channel), 119 historical novel(s), 144, 146 history, unofficial/official, 242 Hitler, Adolf, 237 Hodeib, Bernadette, 6 Hollywood, 212, 219 Homeland (TV series), 192, 193 Homeland Security (US federal agency), 193 homophobia, 37 homosexuality, 133 Hosseini, Khaled, 189, 190 house-building, Palestinian, 23 human rights, 12, 248 humor, anti-Islamic, 134 humor magazines, Turkish, 130, 131–132

Index humorous slogans, 253 Huntington, Samuel, 183 Husayn, Taha, 148 Husni, Mustafa, 118 Hussein, Saddam, 237 hyper-reality, 226 Hypatia, 156

I I-AM (rap group), 52 Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, 222 Ibrahim, Sun‘allah, 148 Dhat/Zaat, 152 ideas and ideologies, 213 identities, male and female, 71 identity/identity formation, 65, 81, 200–221 ideology, apparel as, 212 Idris, Yusuf, 148 iftar tent, 135 ijtihad/independent reasoning, 126 “Ikhtarnah”/We chose him, 219, 254 illiteracy rate, Egyptian, 242, 247–249 illusionary world, 218 al-‘Ilm wa-l-iman/Science and faith (TV program), 149 images, 224 doctored, 233 still, 233 imagination, popular, 246–249 ‘Imarah, Nadia, 122, 126 Imarat Ya‘qubian/The Yacoubian Building, 144, 150, 153, 157 immigrants, 53, 55, 194 imperialism, cultural, 221 imperialism, US/Western, 184, 185, 186, 187 income rates, 248 “in-group”, 220 independence movements, 214 infertility, 70, 71 information technologies, globalized, 114 ink-mixing techniques, 81 “Innocent criminals” (song), 21 “intellectuals”, 1, 184, 247 professional, 184 intelligence agent, 156 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, 144–145, 157 internationalization of traditional Orient, 186–187 Internet, 23, 115, 117, 235 archiving sites, 243


connections cut off (Egyptian revolution 2011), 232 ‘wizards’, 231 internetworks, 164–165 interviews, mock, 235 intifada (2nd), 20, 21, 37 Iranian-American(s), 190 “Irfa‘ rasak inta masri”/Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian, 254 Islam, 69 intellectual issues in, 126 political, 117, 222 popular belief systems of, 75 return to, 215 “Islamic”/Arab culture(s), 5 Islamic banking, 223 Center (Manhattan, NYC), 185 da‘wah/call, 118 fundamentalism, 55, 56 heritage/identity, 222 religious commodities, 223 revival, 34, 113 rulings, on broadcast media, 123 teachings, 222 “televangelism”, 118 TV programs, 113–128 values, 77 Islamist(s), Turkish, 130, 131, 139, 140 Islamization, advocates of, 223 Islamophobia, 184 Israel, US support of, 221 peace accords with, 249 Israel-Palestine conflict, 38, 39 Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition, 23 Israeli identity, 40

J Jackson, Michael, 219 Jaheen, Salah, 253, 254 January 2011 revolution (Egypt), 151, 226, 250 jeans, 215, 221 Jews, Israeli, 19 Johnson, Lyndon, 214 Journalism/journalists, 185, 249 J. R. (soap opera character), 219 Jrere, Muhammad, 19, 22, 23 Judeo-Arab urban music, 48 “Just do it!” (slogan), 212 Justice and Development Party (Turkey), 130



K al-Kahlawy, ‘Ablah, 122 Kan ya ma kan, Beyrouth/Once Upon a Time: Beirut, 65 Kefaya/Enough! (political movement), 12, 249 KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), 218 Khaled (Rai singer), 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57 Khaled, Amr, 116–117, 118, 119, 120 Khalife, Marcel, 22, 101, 104, 105 “Khalīna Ndū’ak”/Let us taste you (song), 28 al-Khamisi, ‘Abd al-Rahman, 155 al-Khamisi, Khalid, 145, 149, 154 Khatib, Lina, 68 Khatibi, Abdel Kabir, 80 The Kite Runner (Hosseini), 189 Korba street festival, 251 Koresh, David, 188 Kronos Quartet, 24, 26 Kurdish tattoos, 81 Kurds, in Turkey, 133, 137 Kutub Khan (Cairo bookshop), 150

L Labaki, Nadine, 66 Lamma hikyet Maryam/When Maryam Spoke Out, 10, 65 Lang, Jack, 51 language departments (university), 5 language institutes, 219 language schools, private, 219 “Leatherstocking” novels (Cooper), 191 Lebanese American University, 67 Lebanon, 106 Civil war, 65 taboo issues in, 77 Leman/Mistress (Turkish humor magazine), 130, 131–132, 134, 140 Le Pen, Jean-Marie, 54 “Le quotidian”/Everyday life (song), 53 legal heritage, Islamic, 128 Leo, Van, 80 Levi jeans, 212 liberation struggles, 33–44 Liberté/Liberty (album), 56–57 lifecycle rituals, 166 life styles, 212, 217 Limon/Lemon (Turkish humor magazine), 132 Lindh, John Walker, 187, 188, 189, 191 Lion King, 237

literary groups, 158, 159 literature, 149, 153, 247 Little House on the Prairie, 214 “Liyatma’in qalbi”/So my heart is assured (TV show), 126 Local Angel (documentary), 40–41 “localizing the global”, 115 Lod, conditions, in, 22 logos, 212 “Lying Generals”/“Askar Kazibun”, 242 Lynch, Jessica, 191, 192

M Machiavelli’s Centaur, 247 Made In the Madina (album), 56 madh/praise poems of the Prophet, 47 Madonna, 219 Majid, Anouar, 114 Mahfouz, Naguib, 148 Mahmoud, Mustafa, 148–149 Majnoon Layla (dance performance), 10, 96, 101–105 “Makhtartaksh”/I did not choose you (poem), 252 Maktabat Madbuli (publisher), 144 male-female relationships, 153 “Mali Hurriya”/I don’t have freedom, 21 “Mall of Arabia”, 219 “The Man Standing Behind Sulayman” (Facebook groups), 236, 237 The Manchurian Candidate (film), 193 Mandaville, Peter, 114 manga, Japanese, 149 Mansur, Anis, 149 Maori empowering tattoos, 87 maqama, 152, 155 al-Maqamat al-Aswaniyya (‘Abbas al-Aswany), 155 marginality, and tattoos, 81 marketing strategies, 217 Marlboro cigarettes, 217 martyr/martyrdom, 84, 85, 86, 92 “martyrdom operations”, 21 marriage, 65, 73, 120 Masekela, Hugh, 165 Masr al-gadeedah/New Egypt (TV program), 127 masculine and patriarchal values, 70–75 masculinity, in Lebanese Muslim community, 65–77 Mas‘ud, Ballamu, 49 Mas‘ud Mu‘iz, 118 Materialism, displays of, 221

Index Mauritania, henna culture in, 81 mawalid/mulid (saints’ day celebrations), 166 mbalax, 46 McDonalds, 215, 221 ‘McDonaldized’ service model, 218 McFalafel, 212, 221 “McWorld”, 211–212, 220 McVeigh, Timothy, 188 meaning making, 92 Mecca-Cola, 223 media, 247 control, 21 corrupt, 238 discourse, 231 independent, 232 “new”, 231–243 technologies, 114, 118, 164 traditional, 231, 232 Megastores/Mega malls, 150, 219 al-Mehwar (TV channel), 120 mejdoub/wandering poets, 47 memorial services, gossiping during, 224 memorials, 166 men/males marriage in Islam, 72 merchandising, 212 Mevlevi whirling Dervishes, 91 middle class, urban, 157 middlebrow literature, 148 Middle East experts, 183 Middle East/North Africa, 5 Middle Eastern cultures (in US), 11 migrants, rural, 46 Mimar Sinan University (Turkey), 132, 136 “Min al-kahf”/From the cave (song), 25 “Min ‘ālif ‘ilā yā’”/From aleph to ya (song), 22–23 minarets, 6 Ministry of Information (Egypt), 231 Ministry of Interior (Egypt), 251 Ministry of National Guidance, 231 minorities, in the West, 115 misogyny, 37 misrecognition, 189 mobile phone service cut off, 232 technology, 231 mobility, digital and “street”, 243 mock TV interviews, 235 Modelden Modele/From model to model, 132


Mohamed Bouazizi, 12 Monroe, Marilyn, 214 monopoly, political, 128 moon motif, 81 Mosireen/“We insist”, 256, 257 motherhood, 65 MoveOn.org, 183, 188 Mr. Nana, 235, 253, 254 MTV, 212, 219 al-Mu’assasa al-‘arabiyya al-Haditha/ Modern Arab Foundation, 157 Mubarak, Gamal, 253 Mubarak, Hosni, 7, 144, 226, 237, 246 financial transactions of, 248 stepping-down speech, 236 Mughrabi, Muhammad (B-Boy), 28–29 multi/international corporations, 215 Murad, Ahmad, 156 Murad, Layla, 48 Mursi, Salih, 156 music(s)/musical Arab, 165 documentaries, 33–34 films, Egyptian, 48 globalization, 163, 165 Friedman on, 211 instruments, Arab, 49 internetwork, 165 ‘intervisuality’, 233 systems, 164–165 as therapy, 34 traditional and popular music, 163 videos, 52 edited, 233 world music industry, 164 musicians, Arab, 57 Muslim teachings, 213 Muslim societies, 65, 130 al-Muwaylihi, Muhammad, 152, 155 MWR (Palestinian rap group), 18 mystic rituals, 76 mystical poetry, 166 myth of assimilation, 194 US as a settler society, 194

N Nafar, Tamer, 19, 35, 36 Nafisi, Azar, 187, 189, 190 figurae of, 191 The Name of the Rose (novel), 155 Namira, Hamza, 254, 255 Napolitano, Janet, 193 narcotics and dealers, 20



narrative fiction, 153 al-Nas (TV channel), 119, 126 “Nas wa-nas”/People and [other] people, 126 Nass al-Ghiwan (Moroccan group), 57 Nassar era, 226 Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 253 National Democratic Party, 253 National Front (France), 54 national identity (US), 195 narratives, mythic, 191 nationalism, Egyptian, 213 nationalist ideology, 191 nationalization of Egyptian press and publishing, 145 ‘native informants’, 5 natural gas exportation, 248 Nazar (anthology of photography), 87 Nazif, Ahmad, 231 N’Dour, Youssou, 165 Negm, Ahmed Fouad, 253 Negri, Antonio, 219 neo-imperialism, 185, 186, 187, 192 Neshat, Shirin, 80, 83–87 Women of Allah (photo exhibit), 83–86 Nestorius, of Antioch, 155 Netenyahu, Benjamin, 237 networking, 33 New Christian Right, 118 Newman, Paul, 214 Nike shoes, 212, 221 9/11 attacks, 221 Nile News Channel, 238 “noise and smell” speech (Jacques Chirac), 54 North Africans (French), 51 Nostalgia, 217 novels, 4 detective, 144, 149 historical, 144, 155 realistic, 155 Nusayr, Amnah, 121

O Obama, Barack, 195, 237 Öcalan, Abdullah, 132 ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrations, 188, 196 Octoberfest (Tayibeh, Palestine), 27 oil resources (Middle Eastern), 185 On the Water Front (film), 214 online sex, 134

“open-door policy”, 215 Oran, 49 “organic intellectuals”, 247 organs, electric, 49 Orient (internalization of the), 191 Orientalism, 220 American, 4, 183–196 European, 194 Orientalist(s), 80, 83, 84 orthodoxy, of Islamic doctrine, 119 otherness, “up-played”, 162 Ottoman Empire politics, 185 Oujda (Morocco), 50 “Out” (video clip), 235–236

P painting, 4 Palestine/Palestinian(s), 4, 20, 26 British Mandate in, 186 expressive culture study, 18 rap, 17–30 solidarity events, 17 Palestinian-Israeli conflict, 6 Palin, Sarah, 188 palm (tree) motif, 81 Pamuk, Orhan, 155 Pan-Arab dream, 214 “paradox of doxa”, 69 patriarchal values/social order, 69, 74, 76, 77, 125 Patriot Act, 2001, 188 Payton Place (TV serial), 214 peace negotiations, 237 “Peace Talks”, Associated Press photography, 237–238 Penguen/Penguin (Turkish humor magazine), 131 Pennebaker, D. A., 22 Pepsi, 212 performance participants, 163 performing arts, 107 Persian script, 83 photo-and-video archiving sites, 242 photographers, female, 80 photography, 80, 92 Photoshop, 81 photo-tattoo, 83, 92 physicality, 95 piety, safe and tamed, 117 playback technology, 163 plays, 250 plots, predictable, 155

Index poetry/poems, 4, 23, 84, 166, 219, 254 police, Egyptian, 156, 239 political aims, 18 disengagement, 138 Islam, 117 parties, Islamist, 130 thriller, 156, 157 politics, 153 polycentricity, 114 pop culture, 211, 226 Pop-Rai, 49–50 ‘popular’ (term), 8–9 popular culture, 1–13, 17, 18, 107, 195, 211 portraits, 80 “Posha’im Chafi m M’pesha”/Innocent criminals (song), 20 posters, 243 post-nationalist era, 184 power-relations, cultural, 123, 211 posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 194 POWs/Prisoners of War, 193–194 preachers, Islamic, 117 president as “leader/father figure”, 248 presidential discourse, 248 Presley, Elvis, 214 press, Bahraini, 10 Egyptian, 231 Prison Notebooks (Gramsci), 246–247 privatization deals, 248 problems, real-life, 120 pro-democracy aspirations, 33–44 producers/consumers, 211 products, Chinese made, 226 propaganda, 247 Prophet Muhammad, cartoons of, 141 Prophetic sayings, 134 protest music and poetry, 24, 36 protests/protesters, 232, 250, 254 ‘proto-novel’, 152 pseudo-autobiography, 155 public libraries, Egyptian, 146 public opinion, 233 public space, 231 publishing industry Egyptian, 10, 144, 145, 151 Lebanese, 145

Q al-Qaeda, 183 qaraqab (Iron castanets), 46


qasbah (reed flute), 46 Qasimi, Muhammad, 52 Qattamiyya Heights (compound), 270 Quran, in English translation, 87 Quranic verses, 134

R racism, 37, 52, 53 Radio Alger, 48, 49 Radio Cairo, 49 European Local Service, 214 Ragab, Ahmad, 152 al-Rahman (TV channel), 119 Rai, 46–58 Algerian, 9, 48–49, 55 Boumediène and, 48–49 music festival (Wahran), 51 as political movement, 54–56 “spring”, 50–52 Rai, French, 52–54, 55, 56 Rajagopal, Arvind, 217 Rajul al-mustahil/Man of the impossible (book series), 156, 157 Ramallah, 25, 29 Ramallah Syndrome project, 24 Ramallah Underground (RU; rap group), 23—26 Rambo, 219, 221 rap/rappers/rapping, 2, 9, 26–27, 42 battles, 35 Jewish-Israeli, 19 lyrics, 18–19 Palestinian, 17–30, 42, 43 rap-equals-struggle approach, 18 Rayya wa Skina/Rayya and Skina (musical comedy), 238–239 readership, in Egypt, 144, 146 Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Nafisi), 187, 189, 190 realistic fiction, 152, 153, 156 rebellious “coolness”, 220 recording studios, 50 referendum (post-Mubarak), 233, 240, 242 regimes, autocratic, 247 Reina (Istanbul nightclub), 130 religion, commercialization of, 224 religious books, 146 broadcasts, “showbiz” model, 118 conflict(s), 95 discourse, 124, 128 hymnody, 166



liberal ethics, 222 nationalism, Islamic, 221 observance, 113 practices, 119 resurgence, 114 scholars, female, 121 symbols, 223 Remington rifle, 84, 86, 93 remixes, 233, 239, 240 resistance, social and linguistic, 9, 19, 29 suppression of, 247 revenge, ‘visual’, 236, 238, 239 revolution, social and cultural, 12, 246–258 documentation of, 250 revolution, Tunisian, 234 rhyming, 26, 27 Ridan (Maghrabi artist), 53 Riri (baby food formula), 239 al-Risalah (TV channel), 123 robe style, 91 rockers, Franco-Maghribi, 52 RU. See Ramallah Underground Ruby Ridge (Idaho), 188 Ruthven, Malise, 118

S Saab, Jocelyne, 65 al-Sa‘dani, Mahmud, 152 Sadat era, 226, 249 Safar Barlak (film), 25 Saffarzadeh, Tahereh, 84, 87 Safinat Nuh/Noah’s Ark (Khalid al-Khamisi novel), 154 Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies, 213 Sahara (album), 54 Said, Edward, 5, 34, 44, 183–196 as text-bound intellectual, 195 Blaming the Victims, 184 columns, in Arabic journals, 184 Covering Islam, 184 Culture and imperialism and Orientalism, 11, 183–196 Out of Place: A Memoir, 184 saint/saints’ day celebration, 166 salafi media, 113, 119, 123–127, 128 Salih, Su‘ad, 121, 122, 126 Santana, Carlos, 54 Sanusi (Colonel), 51 Saraya, Usama, 237 sarcasm, 238 satellite channels, 163 satellite religious programs, 128

satirical literature, 145, 151, 152, 153, 156 Saudi Wahhabi culture, 119 SCAF, 259 “Saudizing” public religiosity, 128 “schizophrenic culture”, 219 scholars, Western, 8 school and university books, Egyptian, 146 Schwarzenegger, Arnold, 219 science fiction, 157 Scott, Ridley, 56 Scott, Walter, 155 secularism and Islamism, Turkish, 10, 137, 139 secularism, Western, 221 secularists’ fear of religious takeover, 241 self-identity, 224 self-illusory hedonism, 217 self-Orientalizing Westernized elites, 80 self-publishing, 151 separation wall, Israeli, 26 September 11, 2001 events, 183 serial killers, Alexandria, 235 Shab Bilal, 57 Shab Hasni, 55 Shab Khaled. See Khaled Shab Mami, 50, 56, 57 Shab Sharawi, 57 Shabbah Fadilah, 57 Shabbah Zahwaniyah, 57 shabab (boys), 49 sha‘bi (popular) music, 48 Shadia (singer), 48 Shahin, Mazhar (Shaykh), 126 Shaklaha bazit/Looks like it messed up (‘Umar Tahir novel), 145 El Sherif, Safwat, 249 shaykhat, 46, 49 Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami, 167–168 concert, French Cultural Center, Cairo, 172–173 in London and Paris, 168–171 Shaykhah Remitti al-Ghilzaniyah, 47–48 Sheikh Imam, 252 Shimoni, Ya’akov “Kobi” (Subliminal), 19–20, 34–38 shopping centers, 219 Shu‘ayb, Afaf, 239 Shu’fat (refugee camp), 26, 28 “sign-value”, 220 al-Siba‘i, Yusuf, 148, 149, 153 Simon and Garfunkel, 214 Simpson, O. J., 221

Index simulacrum, 213 simulation, 224 Sinai, 249 singers, women, 47 sit-ins, 249 Six-Day War, 214 Slingshot Hip Hop (documentary), 17, 40, 42–43 slogans, 254 advertising, 212 from revolution, 256 humorous, 253 soap operas, 214, 219 social justice, 248 networks, 150, 163, 164, 195 pathways, 163 social/political criticism, 152 social repression, 237 social system, inhumane, 77 socio-political thriller, 144 soft-rock band, 251 soldier(s), Israeli, 21 songs, intifada, 21 Sontag, Susan, 233 soundscapes, 36 SOS-Racisme, 53 soukous, 46 spiritual brotherhood/fatherhood, 166 Spring of Culture Festival (Bahrain, 2007), 101–107 stage names, 48 staging characters from behind, 91 Standard Arabic, cheers and chants in, 234 status quo, hegemonic, 247 “status symbols”, 220 star motif, 81 stereotyping/stereotypes, 6, 152 Stewart, John, 256 still images, 232–233 Sting (British singer), 56 stormtrap (rapper), 25, 26 “street”, the, 13 street art, 8, 251, 255 strikes/striking, 124, 249 struggle/resistance paradigm, 17 subjectivity, female, 82–83, 89, 93 subjectivity, production of, 92 Subliminal (rapper). See Shimoni, Ya’akov “Kobi” sub-literacy or illiteracy, 120 sub-Saharan African popular artists, 165


“Subterranean Homesick Blues” (song), 22 suburbia compounds, 220 Suez Canal, 185 Sufi inshad/hymnody, 166 Sufi music, of Egypt, 162–177 Sufism, 86, 166 suicide bombers, 21 Sukkar banat/Caramel (film), 66 Sulayman, ‘Umar, 236, 239 Sundance Film Festival (2008), 17 Super Bowl (2008), 56 superstructure, ideology of, 247 Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), 252 “symbolic violence”, 69–70, 224, 237, 238 symbols, 212

T “taboo” issues, 69, 77 Taco Bell, 218 TACT (Tel Aviv City Team; clothing company), 37 tagging (or graffiti), 26–27 Taha, Rashid, 48, 53, 54–55, 56–57, 58 Tahir, ‘Umar, 145, 151, 153 Tahrir Art, 252–257 artistic production, levels of, 252 1) artistic street engagement art produced by and for the people, 252 2) artist/agent engagement & empathy for the people, 252 3) consciousness raising, mobilization, social criticism, 252 political national songs, 252 “Tahrir Cinema”, 256 al-Tahrir (TV channel), 126 Taliban, 106, 183 talk show, 256 “Tashweesh”/Interference (song), 24, 26 tattoo(s), 8, 80–92 ambiguity of, 88 artists, 81 as “magic skins”, 83 as mark of gender, 81 as script, 82 calligraphic, 84, 86, 87, 93 culture among women, 81 as “full suit”, 83 in the West, 81 in traditional societies, 81 Maori, 87



religious, 80 symbolism of, 80 Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women (book), 81 Tattooing the World (book), 81 Tattoos in American Visual Culture (book), 82 Tawfiq, Ahmad Khalid, 151, 157 Utopia, 144, 156, 157 Taxi (Khalid al-Khamisi novel), 145, 154, 157 Tayibeh brewery (Palestine), 22 Taylor, Elizabeth, 214 “technological determinism”, 115 techno-savvy population, 231 “techno-Utopian hypothesis”, 231 teenager series, 156, 157 television channels, 8, 113, 117, 231 Islamic, 113–128 private, 120, 122 religious programs on, 115–119 terrorism/terrorists, 6, 20, 220, 221 textile workers, 249 TGI Friday, 218 thrillers, 156 Titanic (film), 237 Tillman, Patrick Daniel ‘Pat’, 191, 192 To Sir with Love (film), 214 The Tonight Show, 53, 56 ‘tradition’ vs. ‘modernity’, 1, 82 translation, growing role of, 158 Trenet, Charles, 53 trompe l’oeil technique, 252 Tunisian revolution, 234 Tupac, 44 Turkey and Kurdish citizens, 133, 137 Islamists in, 139 polarization in society, 136, 137 political and social fabric of, 139 veiling in, 130–141 “Turuq”/Roads (song), 27–28 TV commercials, 218 TV programs/stations, 8, 163 24 (US series), 192 Twitter, 33

U ‘ud (musical instrument), 48 ‘ulama/expert religious scholars, Azhari, 126 Um Kulthoum, 2, 48, 214 ummah/world Muslim community, 114 “satellite ummah”, 115

uneducated classes, 80 UNiTE to End Violence against Women, 25 university professors, 249 upper middle-class, 80 USAID, 215 “use-value”, 220 Utopia (Ahmad Khalid Tawfiq novel), 144, 156, 157 Uykusuz/Sleepless (humor magazine), 131

V values, Islamic, 77 veil(s)/veiling, 83, 86, 87, 90, 130, 224 as political symbol, 130 banning of, 6, 133 “postmodern”, 80–93 in public places, 136 Venice Biennale, 24, 26 Vertigo (Ahmad Murad novel), 144, 156, 157 victims, 69 video(s), 22, 28 archiving sites, 235 clips, 233, 236, 243 viral, 238–239 ‘Vietnam Effect’, 194 violence, “symbolic”, 69–70 ‘visual revenge’, 236, 238, 239 visualization, 10 and civilization, 247 of Egyptian Revolution of 2011, 233–234 vocabulary, “Islamic”, 134 vocational training, 231 voyeurism, 5

W Wahhabism, Saudi, 125 Wahid, Amina and Jimmy, 52 Wahran/Oran, Algeria, 46, 49 Wahrani (musical style), 48 “Wala yhimmak ya rayyis”/Don’t worry, president (song), 214 wannabe global citizens, 221 Wassef, Hind and Nadia, 150 “weapons of mass destruction”, 185 Weather Underground, 188 weddings, 166 West-Eastern Divan orchestra, 34 West Side Story (film), 214 Western culture(s), 1 musics, 163

Index Westernization, 213, 217 of Arab elites, 80 When Maryam Spoke Out/Lamma hikyet Maryam (film), 65–77 as allegory, 76–77 ‘white pride’ music, 36–37 “white racism”, 51 wife, second, 73 Winslet, Kate, 237 Wise, Lindsay, interviews with Ahmad Abu-Haibah, 118 Who’s a terrorist?/“Mīn irhābī?” (song), 20 women, 90 in Muslim societies, 65 preachers/shaykhat, 122–123 WOMEX trade show, 162 working class, North African, 46, 57 world music inshad/hymnody, 171–173 world music globalization, 162, 163, 165 World Trade Center (New York), 221 World War II and Rai lyrics, 47 World Wide Web, 115 written culture, Egyptian, 144–159 Wust el-Balad (music band) performances, 251


Y “Ya rayah”/ Oh traveler (song), 48 Yacoubian Building (al-Aswany novel), 144, 154, 157 Ya-Ray—Khalid and Friends (album), 54 Yawm akhar/A Perfect Day (film), 66 ‘yea sayers’/‘nay sayers’, 240 Yerma (play), 76–77 youth camps, 235 youth, Muslim, 116 Youth Without Borders, 44 YouTube, 22, 24, 28, 33, 232, 235, 250, 253, 256 YouTube channel B+, 255

Z Zamzam Cola, 223 Zor Zamanlar/Hard times, 137 Zaydan, Yusuf, 145, 156 ‘Azazil/Azazeel, 144, 155 al-Nabati/The Nabatean, 155 Zinnar al-nar/Ring of Fire (film), 66 Zionists, 20 Zirar, Malakah, 121 zouk, 46