Saturday, October 25, 2008

2008 : Women’s Year in Saudi Arabia?

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

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

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

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finger prints instead of photography for their ID could be interpreted as another step back in order to comply with outdated traditions.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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2008

Local salad and identity spoliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough with the "Arab street"!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nasser is back: a Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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