Arabic Video Clips Flirt with Desires of Egyptian Youth
By Amina Khairy

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 to seduction.

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 rooms.

"Star Wars" 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.

Conspiracy theory? 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 channels.

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 in hell.

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.

Amina Khairy is a journalist with Al-Hayat's Cairo bureau.

[printer friendly version]

Copyright 2005 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the
Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo and the Middle East Centre, St. Antony's College, University of Oxford, UK
E-mail: TBS@aucegypt.edu