A voluptuous female
swings her body back and forth in an atmosphere torrid with
sex. She revolves around a respectable middle-aged gentleman
seated behind a desk and surrounded by heaps of papers. The
female bends her trunk and straightens her lower limbs in a
desperate attempt to convince the gentleman that she's got it
all: fat in the right places, silicone in the aging spots, green
lenses on the otherwise dark eyes, and a much appreciated dedication
She then starts to
squeak vulgarly: "Let's clarify matters before we sneak
up to the roof." On the other side of the screen, in what
seems to be a different room in the same house, a middle-aged
lady, the gentleman's wife, wraps her hair up in a bundle unaware
of the crisis waiting happen in the next room.
Let Us Put The
Dots On The Letters meaning "Let's Clarify Matters"
is one of the hundreds of songs aired hourly on the dozen or
so Arabic satellite TV channels tailored to the latest trends
of pop music and the most updated version of globalization.
The song is performed
by an oriental dance turned singer called Pussy Samir. Despite
the huge bubble that the Clarification song generated
in the few weeks following the time it was first aired, and
in spite of the instant wealth and fame that fell upon its makers,
it was still a bubble, no matter how big.
That bubble and hundreds
of other similar bubbles are side effects of a simple yet powerful
equation that currently dominates the musical arena in the Arab
world: one man plus many women with a great deal of music and
not much in the way of words and ideas make a contemporary Arabic
video clip. And a contemporary Arabic video clip is one of the
few indications that show that Arabs, or at least some of them,
are slowly coming to terms with the New World Order and globalisation.But
this kind of understanding leaves millions of other Arabs shocked
and unable to understand what is going on in their own living
is the clarification chosen by Al Wafd daily opposition
newspaper columnist Gamal Badawy to describe the TV satellite
situation in the Arab world. He goes on to criticize the multitude
of chat programs, competitions, and songs that help to create
nothing but "a superficial, empty, culture."
Badawy is convinced
that "Arab governments support this style of media, if
not by being themselves business partners in these channels,
then through encouraging them. The goal, according to Badawy,
is to hypnotize the already snoozing Arab mind and drive it
away from issues that really count and problems that actually
matter. "Arab governments want people's minds driven away
from the horrific hazards of politics and economics. Such hazards
would bring the governments nothing but headaches" (Al
Wafd, 28 October 2004).
Another popular theory
adopted by many to explain to the Arab satellite song boom is
Western imperialism and the cultural colonization of the Arab
and Muslim world.
Maybe. But what is actually happening is that governments are
spared the headaches that would definitely result from their
people's interest in and awareness of details of their political,
economic, and social realities. Instead, people go back to their
homes everyday from their hideous jobs of the sort that everybody
does but is not interested in, and they start looking for some
sort of low-cost entertainment. Government employees come back
from their low-paying, ambition-killing jobs, students return
after long hours of lectures and tutoring in subjects they will
probably never remember after graduation, the unemployed return
after hours of trying to pass the long empty useless hours in
cafes and shopping centres. And then the show begins.
Nancy Ajram, Elissa,
Haifaa Wahby, Ruby, Basma, Dareen, Linda, Carol Samaha, Nicole
Saba . . . and the list goes on. Extensively beautiful females,
with extensive intervention of plastic surgeons, and extensive
participation of tens of female dancers competing with the likes
of Britney Spears, Madonna, and Janet Jackson when it comes
to daring sexual dances. All this leads to more disturbance
of the audience, most of whom have never gone beyond the borders
of their city.
In other words, millions
of young, deprived men and women are constantly and increasingly
exposed to the lavish and wild life styles portrayed by the
video clips. Huge houses, beautiful gardens, exquisite furniture,
posh cars, cool clothes, and last but not least seductive, semi-naked
(according to Egyptian standards), girls jumping about everywhere.
Others feel nostalgic
to the past, for gone are the days when oriental dancers like
Taheya Carioca and Samia Gamal stood out there performing their
supposedly "sexy" dances in black-and-white Egyptian
movies. They were dressed in special costumes exposing their
tummies and thighs, yet they were rarely regarded as "obscene,"
"unethical," or "inviting to immorality."
Moreover, they were out there in an age when one had to get
out of bed, wash, get dressed and go to a cinema to watch a
movie. Even when television started making its way into Egyptian
households in the early '60s, they were an exclusive luxury
available only to a minority.
Now, roofs of buildings
in both "five star" and "no star" Cairo
neighbourhoods boast of endless rows of satellite dishes. Coffee
shops, posh and popular, have their customers hooked to Melody,
Mazzika, Melody Hits, Rotana, and their sister satellite music
It is a love-hate
relationship between Egyptians and the "virtual" world
offered on the satellite. People spend hours watching video
clips, and yet do not spare an effort to criticize what they
watch. No matter how much they criticize or how negative it
is, they always return to that sofa positioned in front of the
TV asking for more.
Female high school
and university students, most of whom wear headscarves, follow
the fashion and make-up trends of video clip singers closely.
Yet this does not contradict their belief that video-clip makers
are sinful and that they will definitely be burning in hell,
unlike themselves with their pious hijab (headscarf).
Their male counterparts
also watch video clips closely but for different reasons, obviously.
However, they share the same belief regarding the singers' fate
Arabic video clips
are part and parcel of life in Egypt and the Arab world. They
are hated and condemned but sought-after and watched. People
view them as a "foreign element" that they can enjoy
and criticize. Religious authorities call for a complete disregard
of them, parents fear their effect on their sons and daughters,
coffee shops consider them a major business attraction, and
academics and observers analyze the phenomenon, linking it sometimes
to globalization, often to a New World Order, and always to
unknown, foreign powers.
is a journalist with Al-Hayat's Cairo bureau.