There has been mucho discussion of late regarding protest music or the lack thereof regarding war with Iraq. Nothing along those lines has really struck a chord here in the US, perhaps because the majority of Americans (and growing according to NY Times report today) support military action to disarm Saddam.
No, the place where the anti-war message has real resonance is – surprise! – the Arab world, where a new tune, “The Attack on Iraq” is all the rage:
- “Enough!” demands the singer, an Egyptian named Shaaban Abdel-Rahim. “Chechnya! Afghanistan! Palestine! Southern Lebanon! The Golan Heights! And now Iraq, too? And now Iraq, too? It’s too much for people. Shame on you! Enough, enough, enough!” [Washington Post]
Not sure what we have to do with Chechnya – looks like we are being tarred with the same brush as Russia AND Israel, an interesting combination.
- With a blend of anger, fear and humor, wrapped up in the staccato vernacular of Cairo’s streets, Abdel-Rahim has once again demonstrated his knack for touching a popular nerve in the Middle East, this time ahead of a possible U.S. attack on Iraq. By doing so, he has created an overnight sensation in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, another sign of the emergence of Arabic pop music in recent years as an arena for dissent and protest over Israeli and U.S. policy.
….A former laundryman and part-time wedding singer with a wet-perm look, Abdel-Rahim was catapulted to fame in 2001 with his song, “I hate Israel.” The manifesto — invective at Israel mixed with wry praise for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — played on surging resentment unleashed by the Palestinian uprising and what many Arabs saw as Israel’s disproportionate response.
Its opening line: “I hate Israel. I say it when asked.”
Given the bitterness that conflict has engendered, the inflammatory lyrics drew less attention than Abdel-Rahim himself, who is reviled by the Arab world’s cultural elite as boorish and bad-mannered.
With “The Attack on Iraq,” he goes after the same target. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “stays in a swimming pool,” he sings, “while the blood falls like rain.” “Look at Israel and its army,” he says. “It attacks and it kills, and why isn’t that too much?”
But fans of Abdel-Rahim say that, with an uncanny ear for today’s mood in much of the Arab world, he has captured more than the people’s anger. He chastises Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for not listening to other Arab leaders. He worries about “dirt-poor and pitiful” Iraqis who are always the victims. He suggests the United States is “spreading corruption and oppression” and trying “to achieve Israel’s dreams” in the region. And he laments the powerlessness of Arab governments.
….”Artists are frustrated. We are very angry. A bit of anger is beginning to creep inside me, basically because of the double standard of America,” said Nabil Sawalha, a prominent Jordanian satirist whose plays poke fun at everything from U.S. policy to Arab leaders. “The artist is a reflection of the mood. I don’t want to sing about love, love and love. The mood is very angry.”
Abdel-Rahim has what his fans describe as the added advantage of street credibility. He celebrates his working-class origins in a slum on Cairo’s outskirts. He boasts that he makes his clothes from the fabric Egyptians use to cover their furniture. His popularity has rattled Egypt’s elite, who dismiss him as without talent and illiterate, not to mention poorly dressed. But those very objections seem to endear him to fans, who point out — in the words of an Egyptian cafe owner — that “he says it like it is.”
Or like the Arab “street” thinks it is. Populism is very powerful where the populace is disdained by the elites.