The Elissa Controversy

Well, it's Friday, which means that it's time for one of my posts about Arab music videos.  I think today I want to talk about the controversy over a relatively old video clip "Ajmal Ihsas" (which you can watch here)  by the Lebanese singer Elissa.  The clip seems fairly unexceptional.  Sure, it showed more physical contact between the man and woman than is normal, but mostly cheek to cheek rather than anything more explicit.  So why is the Arab entertainment press full of pieces like "Did Elissa Go Too Far?"  Why was the video banned in Egypt?   Or why did this typically awesome al Bawaba piece (title:  "Alissa indifferent about being considered seductive"), focus on the "extreme controversy" surrounding the video?

When I watched the video, I found it pretty unexceptional.  Here's how it basically goes:  in the
opening sequence, he's trying to watch TV.  She's vaccuming in front the set, swaying her hips and singing, as he tries to peer around her to see the cartoons. Finally, he gets so angry that he throws his bowl of popcorn in the air.  The result:  Elissa is now sitting on the couch watching as he cleans up his mess.. with a rather knowing look on her face.
Elissavac1  Elissavac

In most of the rest of the video, he's nuzzling her, grabbing for her, trying to get her into bed.  She eggs him on, and then declines.   There's some sweet scenes in the bathroom (she's in hair rollers) and at a nice dinner, suggesting comfort and intimacy.   The music itself is pretty sweet (if not sickly sweet). 



So why all the fuss?  It isn't for explicit sexuality, not for graphic eroticism (as opposed to, say, various Maria videos - no naked girl sucking a lollipop in a bowl of cereal) - all of which could be found in plenty in other videos.  I wonder if it isn't because of the sexual and gender role reversals.  Throughout the video, it looked to me like Elissa was exerting sexual power over the man, causing him considerable frustration and even humiliation (vaccuming up the popcorn while she watches).   She's the object of sexual desire, a "seductress", but she never loses power in the relationship.  And the man, in his desperation and affection, is pretty passive and submissive.    Women on top, indeed.

It's worth noting, however, that nobody in the comment thread on Oghnia saw it in quite this way. The debate - 40 pages long! -  very nicely demonstrates the intensity and the issues raised by the video clip culture wars, though.    Some of the critics (all language and syntax as in the original): "I think Elissa has a very nice voice, and I really like her songs. BUT: Her latest video of AJMAL IHSSAS is really bad! Such behaviour is a disgrace for all arabic people and for the arabic TV too! It's enough that she's nearly naked on her concerts and her breast are always showed, but in the video it was too much! A little more and she woul go with the man in the clip to bed and sleep with him!!!!!!!! SORRY; BUT THIS IS WHAT I CALL A B#*$H!!!!!".  Or:  "To say it clearly: Elissa is acting like a prostitute!!! She sells herself in that Videoclip and shows her sexuality... And she doesn't even feel ashamed or somthing...SHAME ON HER PARENTS WHO DIDN'T RAISE HER WELL!! When I saw that Clip with my friend i was ashamed to see an arabic girl acting like that...!!! I WAS ASHAMED SO WASN'T ELISSA...obviously... It's good that the Video is banned!!! " 

And this: "It is clearly stated in the Quran that a woman should only reveal her adornment to her husband. If Elissa claims to be a muslim she should be able to find it easily. Music is also forbidden is Islam and again if Elissa claims to be a muslim she will find it. Allah has bestowed great beauty on the muslims but unfortunately people like Elissa get self satisfaction from advertising it to all men and women. Perhaps she can sing a song on Judgement Day to which all the prophets can dance to. REALISE WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS WRONG." (this last one does raise the interesting question of why this writer was watching the video in the first place...) 

Or this one:   "A meaningful clip is when u don't expose body... U r not expressing Arab women ,u r simply acting like American women. Cover ur boobs next time and don't copy people thinking of u that men might like u. I watched the clip when i went to my friend's house and i was shocked that such a singer is Arabian woman. That was not what i thought of Arab women. They r respectful and real ladies. I liked Arab women 'cause of their shines, their cover, and not exposing their bodies."

But on the other side:  "I have seen the video clip over and over trying to find what made all that fuss to find nothing." Another:Some of my fellow reviewers seem fixated on the fact that in Elissa's latest video "Ajmal E7sas", she is pretty cozy with her man. But why don't you assume this man is her husband, especially when they are standing and laughing in the bathroom with rollers in her hair? Get your minds out of the gutter." Another: "the clip was the BEST thing i have ever seen it was soooooo romantic and sweet without being sleezy and too much like some clips can be,and she didnt even have 2 get naked 4 it. i just love her, and good for her for doing such an amazing clip, she just showed how normal true loving relationships are like anyway." 

Another: "Come on you guys! All those who are against this are giving exactly the kind of attention Elissa's producers want..this controversy is making her FAMOUS--more than ever before. I agree that Lebanese, ARrabic, Middle Eastern culture--whatever you choose to call it--is getting washed by the West, but it is not because of one little video. This video may be the result of that, but we can't blame Elissa for our degrading morals.... The video is not completely innocent, but I don't think its causes reason for so much fuss. Don't blame one video for corrupting people, Elissa is not responsible..blame how the big money in Arab countries is spent..blame TV stations like Abu Dhabi that translate American TV shows instead of creating original Arabic perspectives. Thanks for reading this long rant, and can we please just stop trashing one measly little singer (no offense Elissa) for the destruction of our morals?"

I found this one interesting too: "Elissa is a very great singer,her songs are even greater, but she shouid also know that she still arabic no matter the religion. I want to say that she shoud be more respertive in hre video clips and photos. She also must consider the feelings of the arabic people in the region and the bad situation in the arab wrold in palestine and iraq. I love you eissa and i hope that you take care in other vidio clips and come up with songs about the palistinian " Intifada"."  In other words, get away from the culture wars and into "real" politics. 

This one was also really interesting:  "how many videos have u seen where arab men stand around and sing while they have a bunch of women dance like bimbos around him (i.e the tab leh video)? isnt that degrading to women? if our arab men can do that, y cant arab women have more freedom in their videos as well?" This comment was one of the only ones which seemed to see things the way I did above:  "My friends kept saying.."you have to watch this've got to watch it!"..I was expecting the video to be rated R or something since I heard it was banned. I was amazed when I saw it. Was this video really so bad that it could not be aired? I had seen plenty of other worst videos done by arabs that were aired and supported wtih no problem. I think the main problem people have with this video is that in this case, it is the female singer who is participating in showing affection. If it was a male singer and he was doing the same thing, I'm 100% sure the response would have been different."

Finally, interesting in light of the debates going on these days about Lebanon's identity, a big part of the thread turned into a pretty nasty argument over whether or not Lebanon was really Arab, culminating in this:"oh no elissa is half syrian...did u have to tell me that....y do u have to torture me.....its ok ill just pretend shes full lebanese....phew...(no offence to syrians) anyway she's still great....she obviously gets all her genes from the lebanese side ^_^"

An interesting skirmish in the culture wars, for your weekend consideration.

Posted on March 18, 2005 at 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Freund Lebanonism and music videos

Hit and Run's Charles Freund has some thoughts today on some popular Arab music videos and Lebanese national identity.  Also some older thoughts on the political impact of sexy music videos.   

Posted on March 15, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cartooning the Revolution

On the topic of the role played by "hot Lebanese babes" in the coverage of the Beirut protests, I just saw this great cartoon by the Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj (via Ahmed Humeid):


First panel (right): (looking at the Lebanese opposition) I love the opposition, I would die for her, I'm going to be part of the opposition in Jordan!
Second panel (left): (some prominent Jordanian opposition politicians caricatured in the background) ... never mind...

Here's how Ahmed reads it:

The image of cool girls demonstrating has not been lost on Jordan’s most famous cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, who produced some interesting work over the past few days. Emad Hajjaj is trying hard to find some middle ground between the Lebanese opposition and Syria. His position reflects the dilemma of many Arab artists and intellectuals. There’s something very appealing about people power toppling an Arab government. Then again.. Bush is supporting this particular revolution so maybe we should be against it and stand by Syria. So you see Emad Hajjaj’s position is not easy. His solution: make fun of the whole thing. His character Mahjoob plays the role of a Jordanian student at the AUB who’s salivating at the sight of the sexy Lebanese girls of the opposition. He just LOVES this opposition and wants to become a member of the Jordanian opposition. Next frame: the poor guy is totally turned off by the grim, ugly people in the Jordanian opposition. He runs away in disgust. Hajjaj’s depiction of the Jordanian opposition is right on! Apart from the typical Islamists and Arab Nationalists characters there’s also the cigarette-drenched-communist-feminist type! Truly hilarious.

Not much more to add - just thought it was interesting and wanted to draw attention to it.  I can sense dissertations on the gender politics of Arab popular movements being conceived all around me... it kind of sounds like microwave popcorn, in case you were wondering. 

Posted on March 09, 2005 at 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack

Strange Polls at Circle K

Jeff at Circle K has posted a poll in keeping with today's exciting times:  who's the most attractive female Arab pop singer?   Go help him find out the truth, if you have an opinion, or if you just want to see the pictures.

I voted for Haifa Wehbe.

Posted on March 08, 2005 at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Egyptians protest against... music videos

Amidst all the focus on Egypt's high politics, including the Kifaya movement, let's not forget that the Nancy Ajram Culture Wars are gathering steam as well.  Now we have some Egyptians taking to the streets to protest, not Mubarak, but rather sexy music video clips.  According to Elaph (via albawaba),

"Students at Alexandria University in Egypt have organized a silent protest, a first of its kind, on campus protesting the new wave of inappropriate music videos and cinema channels that contain too much nudity and consider it inappropriate for viewers around the Arab world. Most of the protesters, who belonged to religious groups, held banners that feature statements against most clips and slogans of music channels."


It then offers some details, in the inimitable Babawa style:

The Egyptian Musician Association has once again returned to the scenes and began executing its laws on the new wave of seductive music videos being aired. Videos by singers like Ruby, Lebanese singer Maria, Tunisian singer Najla and many others whose music videos are considered to be inappropriate containing too many provocative scenes.

Come music channels [sic, I swear to god] have banned Najla and Egyptian dancer/singer Bosi Samir and accused them of having erotic and seductive video clips. The music channel Melody Hits has banned their video clips from being televised on the channel. The two singers are being furious by the news, they believe that their clips are legitimate and there is nothing wrong with them.

Najla’s song "Bahh" which means "empty or nothing" was taken off the air after it was televised for ten days. The second shock came to the singer, when she got turned away from entering Egypt. She stayed in the airport for more than ten hours trying out everything she can, yet she wasn’t able to enter the country.

I'm telling you, these music video clips are emerging as a major site of cultural politics and an important point of contention surrounding the Arab satellite television stations. 

Posted on March 07, 2005 at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A courageous stand against half-naked Lebanese girls

In what I believe to be the first action of its kind, an Emirati lawyer has filed an official lawsuit against an Arab satellite television station broadcasting from outside the UAE's borders on the grounds that its broadcast of a video clip violated public decency standards.  The lawyer who filed the suit, Issa Abdullah Bin Haydar, declined to tell al Arabiya which station had been the target of the suit (*ahem* LBC *cough* .. no really, I don't know....).

Maria, popular Lebanese pop singer and video clip provocateur

On one level, this fits perfectly into the "Nancy Ajram Culture Wars" which has been an increasingly prominent theme of this blog (ever since I finished my book...)  - the battles over popular culture between Islamists and cultural conservatives, on the one hand, and the enormously popular video clips and the sexy young pop singers (of both genders). 

At another level, it raises potentially hugely important questions about jurisdiction and legal powers with regard to the ever more powerful Arab satellite television stations.  If a lawyer in the UAE can sue LBC (or whoever) because it aired a video with a naked girl in a bathtub, why couldn't Iraqis, say, sue al Jazeera in an Iraqi court for allegedly inciting violence, or Jordan sue al Jazeera in a Jordanian court for allegedly insulting the royal family (a crime in Jordan). 

I find both levels fascinating: the cultural struggle over the portrayal of sexuality and youth culture more generally, and the legal/political struggle over the Arab media.  I don't *only* keep blogging these things because I *ahem* "find Lebanese girls disarming", as a certain frequent commentor would have it!
UPDATE:  everyone else, they don't have my high minded excuse!

ANOTHER UPDATE:  ah yes, I had almost forgotten. Common values.   Senator Stevens,  meet Issa Abdullah Bin Haydar.  I'm sure you'll have a lot to discuss. 

Posted on March 02, 2005 at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Nabila quits being a slayer

From the always entertaining al Bawaba:  [Egyptian actress] Nabila Obeid quits being a slayer.

Hey, it worked for Buffy! *

(No, the story doesn't say anything about Buffy, or, for that matter, slayers, in spite of the promising headline.  Your point?)

In other news, Haifa Wahbi just put that uppity Rula Saed in her place! Thanks to al Hayat, we know that the popular uprising against Syrian occupation isn't the only Lebanese drama rocking the Arab world these days!  See, Rula was supposed to perform with Amr Diab at this charity event in Cairo, but then Haifa told them that she would perform for them for free on the condition that they cancel Rula.  And they did!   In case you're worried, al Bawaba reminds us that Haifa is still "living in a state of extreme ecstasy."  Not Rula, though!  No word on Amr's position on living in states of extreme ecstasy. 

What, you thought Arab politics was all "elections this" and "popular uprisings that" and "Islamic fundamentalists the other"?   As if. 

Back to those other events in Beirut and Cairo after these messages.

* if you don't get the reference here, then I'm sorry, but there's really no helping you.   

Posted on February 28, 2005 at 04:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Jumana: Have a nice weekend!

In my post the other day on "TV's Top Newswomen",  which claimed that on grounds of both beauty and brains al Jazeera host Jumana Nimour must be included in any top 10 list, I used the only photo of Jumana Nimour thatI could find on short notice.  But several readers suggested that it was not sufficiently flattering.  In response to reader demand, therefore, I am hereby supplementing it with one which more clearly states my case:

Jumana Nimour of al Jazeera

Maybe this will even satisfy Tony, who worries about people hating everything Lebanese.  We don't.  Either way, have a great weekend, everyone! 

Posted on February 25, 2005 at 05:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

TV's Top Newswomen

Via al Arabiya, I discovered that the New York Times has a feature today on "TV's top newswomen," "good to look at and good to listen to."  Christiane Amanpour comes in first, Lyse Doucet of the BBC places fourth (I can vouch for this one from personal experience, I'm happy to say), and Giselle Khoury of Al Arabiya places seventh:  "TV news needs more moderators like her."

I object to this exercise.

I could object on the grounds of sexual objectification of women, reducing these accomplished and brilliant professionals to their physical appearance.  Not really my style, though. 

No, I object because (as we've discussed previously) no rational person could leave Jumana Nimour of al Jazeera off of such a list.  Obviously another case of the pervasive bias against al Jazeera in the American media.


Anyway, anyone interested in slightly less objectifying approach to Arab women broadcasters should read Fatima Mernissi's essay in the Transnational Broadcasting Studies Journal. Mernissi correctly notes the centrality of strong, sexy women to the al Jazeera success:   "Promoting  strong female stars has proven to be a fantastic asset for the Saudis' most threatening TV rival. Al Jazeera is winning crowds every night through the eloquence of its news anchors Jumana Nammour and Khaduja Bin Guna, and economics expert Farah al-Baraqawi."

She also offers this great snippet:

This summer,I became terribly jealous of Muntaha al-Rimhy, one of Al Jazeera's most intellectually sharp anchor women: men were talking non-stop about her all along the sandy Atlantic beaches around Casablanca  I visit regularly. The reason was the talk show she devoted to probing "the reasons for the lack of sexual desire among spouses." And since the talk show's name is "For Women Only," what scared the male viewers was that only she and her three female guests were voicing opinions on this troubling phenomenon which they described as widespread and statistically   alarming. "Muntaha al-Rimhi," comments Ali Aziz, a male television columnist "decided to break a taboo on her Al Jazeera show, by inviting her all-female guests to probe the lack of sexual appetite (futur) between spouses. The three guests went into detail with their hostess, diagnosing the problem which is growing in prodigious proportions, according to them, and identifying its superficial and deeper reasons. The women dived into psychological explanations, unearthing the emotional as well as the educational dimensions of the problem." The word chosen by the show's hostess was a tricky one. She deliberately avoided talking about sexual impotence ('ajz) and used the wicked futur," which literally means "a loss of energy level, a sudden weakness." This left male viewers wondering."

Posted on February 24, 2005 at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Haife Wahbi reincarnated into a butterfly

A new weapon in public diplomacy?   A new front in the Arab culture wars?  I don't know... I just feel that it's my duty to reproduce this al-bawaba story on Haifa Wahbi in all of its insane glory.   You can pass the time by counting sexual innuendos!

"Haifa Wahbi reincarnated into a butterfly:

"Lebanese singer Haifa Wahbi is living a state of extreme ecstasy after winning the award for the most popular Arab singer at the Murex D’or Music Awards. ....
hAccording to the London based Elaph, Saeed revealed that the new clip for Haifa features an idea never presented before showing her in four different phases.   Haifa is seen born again like a butterfly, who begins the struggle to live. Saeed noted that the clip is in fact the story of Haifa’s journey, which features good and bad times and ends with her reaching her dream of being on top.   

"On a different note, Revlon Middle East has launched their new, sensual Sultry Look, especially for the Middle East  region and is inspired by the beautiful Arabic look. It was revealed that many believe Haifa is a symbol of beauty and how she has the power to influence the opinions of Western people showing them the extent of beauty present in the Middle East.


In case you're worried that Haifa's "power to influence the opinions of Western people showing the extent of beauty present in the Middle East" might in some way detract from the power of Nancy Ajram, the eponymous symbol of the Nancy Ajram Culture Wars, never fear.
From the same edition

"Nancy Ajram quenches her thirst with Coca Cola: Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram has taken advantage of her stay in Cairo and filmed the remaining scenes of her first television commercial for the International Soft Drink Company Coca Cola. .... nancy

"The singer underwent a major makeover to appear in a new look especially for the commercial.  Sources have revealed that Nancy received a wage of two million US dollars to take part in the commercial, which is one of the highest rates given to any Arab singer by an international company.


No word on whether quenching her thirst with Coke left Nancy living in a state of extreme ecstasy. 

What can we say about Haifa and Nancy... good soldiers in the culture wars...challenging the conservative sheikhs... and influencing the West through the power of their beauty...  and now they live in extreme ecstasy after reaching their dream of being on top. 

[Aardvark's note: I'm sorry.. this post is very silly.  Forgive me.  But I've spent so much fricking time cleaning up the html that I'll be darned if I'm going to delete it now!]

Posted on February 17, 2005 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Saudi Valentines

The Onion thinks it's being funny: "A new videotape of Osama bin Laden broadcast on the Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera Monday beseeched Allah to grant all Americans a "crappy Valentine's Day.""

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia's morality police are on the scent of illicit red roses as part of a clampdown on would-be St Valentine's lovers in the strict Muslim kingdom. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's powerful religious vigilantes, have banned shops from selling any red flowers in the run-up to February 14."

Truth, fiction, all that.

Posted on February 13, 2005 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Watching TV in Baghdad

The other day a reader currently in Baghdad casually let drop in an email something about how much of al Hurra was in English with Arabic subtitles.  Long pause, we let that sink in, and then I started wondering about that.  So my reader cheerfully agreed to keep a TV diary for a day or so just to see what al Hurra and the other stations were showing.  Without commentary, and with only light editing to protect his identity, I turn the Aardvark Platform over to my Baghdad correspondent:

Begin report:

I haven't watched enough Al Hurra for you to say much about what percentage is subtitled. I've turned it on 3 times in the past 2 days. This afternoon, there was a documentary on Marlon Brando's impact on cinema acting (english with arabic subtitles), yesterday I watched a rebroadcast of what I think was a BBC documentary on Taliban attrocities, including full footage of the woman being executed at the Kabul football stadium (english with arabic subtitles) and right now (2130 in baghdad) a moderated talk show/debate on darfur (arabic).   

At 1100 today (friday) it's showing a sports highlight show, with arabic voiceover. It was the Gillette world of sport show. The highlights package started with an explanation of how excited the people of jacksonville were about hosting the super-bowl, followed by a luge competition from Europe (a 5 minute package on luge --the longest I've seen outside of the olympics), then some cycling from australia and some extreme winter sports (jumping snow mobiles and trick skiing). No football, martial arts, or team handball in sight (someone should do a dissertation about the arab interest in team handball).

At 1130 did the news highlights for 5 minutes in arabic. Started with something on Rumsfeld, then Abu Mazen, then whitehouse reaction to the isreal ceasefire, something about what walid jumblatt is up to and something about post-tsunami india. Then launched into a half-hour program on the NBA -- "Jam!" in english with arabic subtitles. Some very fetching cheerleaders in the opening credits (if that won't make Arabs love us, I don't know what will) followed by the first feature, about that loveable lug from the Lakers, Vladi Divac, at home in Belgrade. I'll check in after the basketball show – maybe they'll have footage from Khadimiya for the first friday of Moharram.

1530 on Friday, Al Hurra is running a show on how US customs agents train with blackhawk helicopters and eavesdropping equipment to stop drug smuggling into the US. In english with arabic subtitles. The”journalist” dresses up in uniform and carries an M-16 to join a training mission.

A commercial break teasing the news starts with pictures of the bloody bakery in baghdad (an attack on a bakery this morning killed 11), rumsfeld again, then abu mazen again. Then back to the exiting world of US customs interdiction (a customs inspector explains to the gushing "journalist" how drugs can be hidden in shampoo bottles). 

Meanwhile, Al-Arabia is carrying the live press conference that may bring final Iraqi election results it's just started, but it's looking routine, so they cut away quickly to more general news.) Jazeera is carrying a piece on Arab language teaching and teaching of the Koran to Moslem schoolkids in England the word "Islamophobia" is used, but i don't really understand what's going on). As Al-Hurra's customs story drones on, Al Jazeera turns to the day's newspaper front pages, starting with the israeli ones: A story on reports of rising  attacks on jews in europe (from haaretz, i think), a story from haaretz about french complaints on Israeli arms sales to ivory coast (Haaretz), and a Jerusalem Post story on US relations. They then turn to leading Arabic papers -- the first is something about Saad
al-Faqih in Al Quds Al-Arabi


Top of the hour (1700 baghdad) all 3 are running arabic langauge programming. Hurra, to their credit is doing something on Tunisian team handball in its sports segment. While Al Hurra does sports, Al Jazeera carries a story on Condi in europe (some of her speech at the EU) then a story about anti-north korea protests in seoul (signs saying "Down with Kim Jong Il"). Arabia is carrying a 2 way with their reporter in Gaza (i think). After my review of the arab owned channels, i head back to al hurra: They're carrying an arab language story about the grand-opening of a new yacht marina in Qatar and a round-the-world sailboat race starting from there. The gulfie prince being interviewed seems excited.

One more lap through at 1715: Al Jazeera is carrying some kind of story about israel and the palestinians (not clear to me -- excited commentator talking by phone over people shopping in prosperous looking towns), Arabia is carrying a story on North Korea (probably about nukes) and then a story about the US lawyer for Omar Abdel Rahman, named stewart, being convicted for helping him smuggle tracts out of prison. There's a protest in her support at the courthouse. Back at Al Hurra (now 1724) they're on a commercial break advertising a pop music show called "Club Sawa" then back to the program -- a recap of a basketball game, some sort of Arab professional tournament, probably being held in Lebanon. It's looking like all sports news on Hurra today. The basketball piece is followed by a story on Egypt's most succesful soccer team Ahly (disclosure, i support Ahly) and its biggest fan, a taxi driver who leads chants at all the big games. His friend wears a tarbush with Ahly's logo on it.


1930 Arabia: News roundup. In a few minutes i see a piece on japan reaction to nukes in north korea, then sports (bare-shirt figure skater, the lebanon basketball tournament), i think it's the tail end of the 7 oclock news.
Jazeera -- Also at the tail end of a news program. Something on snow in afghanistan and conditions on the streets of Kabul -- folks seem pretty happy. Kids sliding down hillsides and throwing snowballs, then a newsroundup on the suicide bomibng at a shiite mosque today, rummie in iraq and abu mazen dismissing security officials.
Hurra -- News in arabic. Abu Mazen, gaza security; seems like hard news (the show before was english with arabic subtitles about the Green Tree Snake as an amazing predator).

p.s. the jazeera and arabia presenters are WAY hotter than any woman I've seen on Hurra so far.

Aardvark here: I probably should have taken out that postscript to protect my correspondent's honor, but hey, in light of the ongoing Nancy Ajram wars, all data is good data,  right? FWIW, I think that Jumana Nimour, who used to host Minbar al Jazeera and for some reason seems to be on leave right now, may be the most attractive woman on TV... seeing as how Mrs Aardvark isn't on TV, that is.   

But honestly, the Green Tree Snake... that's great. The BBG sends out an "Alhurra update" every couple of weeks which rounds up the political coverage that's been on the air, which mainly reassures us that Salama Nimaat is doing well, since he seems to be on  some show every other night.  But somehow they never mention the Green Tree snake.

One other thing... whose bright idea was it to have al Hurra profile Vlade Divac, a *Serb* celebrity,   About whom the following article was once written:  "Vlade's three-finger salute:  The Kings’ center is using the same sign language Serbs used to terrorize Muslims. And he’s OK with that."  I mean, nothing against Serbs (maybe a little something against the LA Lakers), but don't you think that Muslims, who remember that whole Bosnia thing pretty vividly, might not overly identify with a Serb?  Or maybe that was the point, to break down stereotypes?  Or was this some kind of inside joke from the Lebanese Phalangists who, according to the Arab gossip mill, run al Hurra?   Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that that was the point, and that it didn't just ever occur to them...

Anyway, thanks, Baghdad coorespondent - commenting on the Arab media is pretty addictive, eh?  Hope this is as interesting to you readers out there as it was to me!

Posted on February 11, 2005 at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Maria: latest front in the Ajram wars

My apologies for scarce posting or commenting recently.  I'm indescribably busy.   But here's a little something which jumped out at me today.

The latest front in the Nancy Ajram culture wars - pitting the religious conservative trend in Arab societies against the evidently unstoppable power of scantily clad young women in American-style music videos - is raging over the video "Lie to Me", by the singer Maria.   It's kind of a combination of "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police and Britney Spear's "Baby Hit Me One More Time":  an inappropriately provocatively dressed high school girl with a crush on her teacher.   

The Lebanese newspaper al-Safir ran a piece on January 12 called "Sex, Lies... and the Video Clip" which compared the video to a "porno" (yes, it was in quotes in the article);  today, an article called "About the "porno clip"" argues back.   

I don't have much to add, myself - I just find the whole juxtaposition of the socially conservative impulse in today's Arab political culture with the equally powerful forces of the globalization of culture endlessly fascinating.    The Arab media, whether in the political news of al Jazeera and al Arabiya or in the popular culture of music videos and Star Academy, appropriates the forms of American media, with great success.   

Don't ge me wrong, I'm not going all Tom Friedman here and breathlessly declaring that a world which loves smutty music videos will surely embrace modernity, democracy, and American foreign policy.  It can actually push in the other direction, at least in the short term.  The popularity and success of this "Westernized" culture enrages and threatens the cultural conservatives in the Islamic and Arab worlds, just as it does the James Dobsons and Pat Robertsons [update: and Secretaries of Education Margaret Spellings] of the American scene.  It gives them a wedge issue to push their conservative agenda, to mobilize their base against Western "cultural imperialism".  And, as in the United States, such socially conservative politics can find a real audience independent of attitudes towards the big foreign policy issues: in a recent public opinion survey, for example, Mansour Moaddel found that 64% of Egyptians considered "cultural imperialism" to be a very serious problem facing Egypt.  This is an immensely important culture war flying largely under the radar of the high-politics focus on Iraq, radical Islamism, Israel/Palestine, democratic reform, and so on... even if its political implications remain unclear.   

Posted on January 26, 2005 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saudi Arabia vs Star Academy

Another dispatch from the Nancy Ajram wars (which is now my generic name for the Arab pop culture wars).  Al Arabiya reports today that the main cell phone provider in Saudi Arabia is banning Saudis from using their cell phones to cast votes on the popular reality show Star Academy 2.   According to Al Arabiya, the state-owned company said that voting for popular singers on television violated Muslim values.   One suspects that Saudis will find other ways to cast their votes...

Posted on January 11, 2005 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Kuwaiti Information Minister Resigns

Nancy Ajram strikes again!   Her (or people like her) victim this time?   Kuwait's Minister of Information Mohammed Abu al Hassan, who stepped down in advance of Parliamentary hearings over his allowing "immoral" concerts in the country.   (Complicating the politics here, Abu al Hassan was the only Shi'ite in Kuwait's 18 member Cabinet, which is what Al Quds Al Arabi chooses to highlight in its headline.)

Islamists had been attacking Abu al Hassan for months, ever since he approved a "Star Academy" concert seven months ago (Star Academy is an extremely popular "American Idol"-type contest on LBC).  Several Islamist Members of Parliament had made banning these kinds of concerts an election campaign promise, according to al Hayat, and the issue then snowballed out of control.  He was set to testify before a Parliamentary hearing spearheaded by those Islamists today, and decided to submit his resignation instead. 

The Kuwaiti pro-American conservative columnist Ahmed al Rubi'i describes this as a great tragedy, and a dangerous sign of Islamist ascendence over the voices of reason.   And Abd al Rahman al Rashed interprets the resignation as a major blow against democracy:  "Mohammed Abu al Hassan was known as one of the most conservative Kuwaiti Ministers of Information, but this did not prevent him from leaving the victim of the demands of Islamist conservatives in the Parliament, injured dozens of times, which in democracy can be the harshest instrument of repressing freedoms.  What is the value of democracy if a representative of the people decides to protect the people from their right to choose... even intervening in television programming?"

So, in the great Nancy Ajram wars, al Rashed aligns himself with the sultry singers (and me, for what that's worth) against the religious conservatives - Bush backers, take note!   

UPDATE:  I realized that this was poorly articulated:  it isn't that the Nancy Ajram's of the world won a victory here - quite the contrary.  I just meant that Abu al Hassan was another casualty in the ongoing Nancy Ajram culture wars.  Sorry for the confusion - my fault!

Posted on January 03, 2005 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Janet Jackson and Nancy Ajram

Lebanese superstar Nancy Ajram made a rare appearance in the Egyptian parliament the other day.   According to al Sharq al Awsat, the Parliament was arguing over a proposal to lower the tax rate on parties and events targeted at Arab and foreign tourists when one grumpy MP launched into a tirade:

"This would only increase the interest in the parties of Nancy [and others] who appear on our satellite television screens with clothes which reveal more than they cover, and which agigate the boys, and arouse their base instincts!"  The tax cut should be opposed, therefore, "in order to protect the young men in the Arab world!" 

The young men in the Arab world were not available to comment;  they appeared to all be off watching Nancy Ajram videos or something.

(More serious arguments were raised about why pricy events for foreign tourists should get a tax cut when millions of young Egyptians couldn't find work;  but that's another, far less entertaining part of the story).

Nancy, major threat to Arab national security

Meanwhile, in Kuwait (according to al Arabiya), three Islamist MPs lashed out at the government today for failing to protect the morals and values of Kuwaiti society because the Minister of Information was permitting the airing of music videos and allowing musical performances over the holidays.  One suspects that Nancy Ajram had something to do with this. 

Why, just last year Nancy Ajram caused major problems in Bahrain, as five Islamist MPs "tabled an urgent motion in the Bahraini Parliament to ban the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram from performing in Bahrain citing her act as provocative, indecent and debaucherous."

This Nancy Ajram problem appears to be out of control!    

But what might seem like a problem can also be seen as an opportunity.  Because if anyone knows the all-consuming importance of scantily clad women singing on television, it's the Bush administration and American conservatives.  After all, it was only their forceful response which saved this great nation from the mortal threat posed by Janet Jackson's harrowing Super Bowl display. 

Janet, unbelievably major threat to American national security (I got the most work-safe picture I could find on google image search!)

If the Bush administration always seemed an unlikely candidate for promoting democracy in the Arab world, here we may have found an area of governance for which Bush's team is a natural source of advice and inspiration:  better censorship of female entertainers whose clothes reveal more than they conceal!   

Michael Powell, an Arab nation turns its agitated eyes to you. 

Of course, the Islamists might not actually need any advice or help on this one... but I'm sure they would appreciate the moral support.   Christianists and Islamists of the world... who ever said there was no common ground?

UPDATE:  why, yes -  I am completely swamped under grading with little prospect of finishing in time for Christmas.  What about this long, time-consuming to produce, and slightly addled post tipped you off?

NOTE:  Foreign Dispatches prefers Haifa Wehbi to Nancy Ajram.   Since he says that he rarely agrees with me, I offer this in the spirit of a temporary harmonic convergence:

Haifa Wehbe, also a threat to Arab national security.

It's like Britney vs Christina, or perhaps the other way around (Nancy's official website says that she's been possessed of an "innocent sensuality" since she started performing at the age of 4;  Haifa's clothes seem to do quite a bit less concealing than do Nancy's.  Both of them make pretty forgettable music, in my opinion).   Merry Holidays!

Posted on December 20, 2004 at 01:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Worlds collide

Buffy in Dubai... ah, the wonders of globalization.  Standing alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu, no less.   I wonder if she is planning to offer any of her insights into the war on terror?

Buffy in Dubai                                                               

Buffy demonstrates how to deal with terrorists.

God, how I miss Buffy.  And Angel.  And Firefly.

If it weren't for ABC Wednesday night (Lost AND Alias!), I don't know how I would get by.

Posted on December 10, 2004 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Egyptian Superheroes

This is just wonderful:  Leila sends me a San Francisco Chronicle piece, and her own thoughts, about a new Egyptian superhero comic series.  As she describes it, "Most of the characters live in a near future Middle East "which has overcome its religious differences after a long war;" the characters battle the remaining forces of extremism. There's Aya tracking a serial killer, Zein foiling an assassination, and Jalila chasing nuclear bad guys."

The cover of Jalila #2, as she fights off a band of terrorists.

It might be the first superhero comic of its kind, but it certainly isn't the first Arab comic book!  Fadwa Malti Douglas and Allen Douglas published a fascinating book about ten years ago (Arab Comic Strips, Indiana University Press 1994) which used a plethora of Arabic comic books as an entry point into exploring Arab popular culture.  Among their fascinating discussions were of the Egyptianized Mickey Mouse comics of the early 1970s, a 1973 comic book series glorifying Gamal Abd al Nasser after his death, a riveting discussion of "The Long Days" by Adib Makki - a loosely fictionalized account of Saddam Hussein's early life before the 1968 Baathist revolution, radical editorial cartoons, Islamic comic strips, and many more.  Highly recommended for anyone who share's the aardvarks eclectic combination of interests in the Arab media and comic books!

Posted on October 14, 2004 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Azhar censorship

According to various reports, Al Azhar has been granted new powers by the Egyptian government to confiscate and ban materials deemed un-Islamic.    As the AP story put it, "Justice Minister Farouk Seif el-Nasr's decision last month to empower al-Azhar with search-and-seizure powers - something normally reserved for law enforcement - came in response to al-Azhar's long-standing desire for more authority to confront and confiscate material that violates Islam as well as extremist writings readily available on the streets but printed without official permission."  Upon getting this new power, they immediately raided book stores and stands Saturday, confiscating hundreds of publications as well as audio and video tapes they claim do not conform to Islamic teachings."

This is a new twist on an old story. The Mubarak regime has long benefitted from a deal with the conservatives of al Azhar: they shore up his right flank by granting him religious legitimacy, and in exchange they get considerable power over the media, book production, and the rest of public culture.  Al Azhar has generally used this power to crack down on secular or even just controversial works - everything from Naguib Mahfouz to Nasir Abu Zayd to Nawal Saadawi.   This religious censorship has had a stultifying effect on public discourse, and has long been resented by liberal civil society.    

The twist now, though, is that Al Azhar's censorship is being turned loose on "extremist" Islamist publications.  Again, this isn't entirely new.  Marginalizing radicals by demonstrating the regime's Islamic credentials and denouncing radical interpretations of Islam is the core of Al Azhar's side of the bargain.   It did similar work in the 1990s when Egypt was cracking down hard against not only radical Islamists but also against the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.   But this does seem to be a significant escalation in the willingness of the Egyptian state to crack down on public discourse and restrict media freedoms. 

And the best part?  The move reportedly came with American encouragement, blessing, and congratulations.   What Egyptian liberals see as a dangerous threat to public freedoms, the Bush administration sees as the Egyptians getting tough on terror.  You say tomayto, I say tomahto. 

Posted on June 07, 2004 at 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Conspiracy against Sudanese girls

MEMRI, that delightfully inflammatory and irresponsible translation bureau dedicated to showing the worst, and only the worst, of Arab discourse, might have missed this beauty.  So I'll help out.  A columnist in al Sharq al Awsat today tells the story of a diplomatic crisis set off by a pop star, which turns into a metaphor for the degradation of Arab political culture.   It starts with Ragheb Alama, a famous Lebanese pop singer, being quoted as saying that "Sudanese girls are wild and blessed with beauty."  A plausible thing for a Lebanese pop star to say, perhaps, except that the Sudanese were not amused and Ragheb found himself in some hot water.   Ragheb then gave a press conference declaring himself sickened by this false news report, and declaring the journalist who wrote it to be... Mossad!  Definitely Mossad.   It was a conspiracy, you see, designed to drive fissures between brotherly Arab peoples.   And hey, that's kind of plausible too, right?  I mean, what with the Mossad's not doing any real intelligence work in Iraq, apparently, what else do they have to do but to plant rumours about Lebanese pop stars?    Anyway, the columnist, Mushari al Thaydi, spins this into a metaphor for how rotten Arab discourse is, and how everything gets blamed on the Mossad or the CIA.  The rest of the op-ed is actually kind of tedious, but MEMRI should love the whole "Arabs are a bunch of Mossad blaming conspiracy nuts" angle.  Me, I just found the whole thing pretty funny - and hey, after Janet Jackson can't American readers appreciate a good pop star manufactured scandal? 

Posted on March 30, 2004 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack