Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Washington, Damascus and Haifa Wehbe - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

All things come across to us as probable, from assassinating members of parliament, to calling for sit-ins, to smuggling arms and threatening judges and reporters.

Banning pop performances in Syria, however, does not.

I am, by no means, condoning bloodshed whilst condemning a ban on a pop act. I am merely saying that it was unexpected. Usually, once female pop stars are involved, it announces the end of killing.

Syria, who’s always made use of the likes of Hezbollah, needs not woo Haifa Wehbe and her ilk, whose Lebanese political orientations are divergent. For Damascus has marched into the domain of the people and seemingly wishes to convert the majority of its populace. The ban was hence nothing more than a message.

Meanwhile, another message was being sent from Washington to Lebanon. President George W. Bush has personally ordered punishment against those linked to opposition groups in Lebanon by freezing their assets in the U.S.

But why do Lebanese politicians worry about their assets in the US when they do not even have accounts in American banks? Furthermore, why do sought-after female singers, such as Haifa Wehbi, care about being banned from performing in Syria, which, to her, is probably little more than a tiny pit-stop in a massive tour?

The significance of the situation lies in the fact that it is a weaponless battle; whether it breaks out in a concert or an American bank, and regardless of how absurd, albeit incendiary it may be, as it will surely heighten the buildup to an inevitable confrontation between the two.

I asked an observer of American politics why the Bush administration was adamant on punishing those accused of undermining the Lebanese government, so much that the president himself ordered it, while none of those targeted had so much as a penny in American banks? It seemed like a joke, I told him.

It is not as big a joke as banning Haifa and Elissa, came his reply. Freezing assets is but an introduction to other methods that will soon be used against prominent opposition figures in Lebanon. Furthermore, the chase may branch out to Europe as sanctions tighten and include, alongside asset-freezing, travel bans and the like.

He called the list of targeted men “a message” that America is trying to send to other prominent businessmen active in Lebanon’s political scene who support Syria and Hezbollah, and who partake in Michel Aoun’s anti-government rallies. Most of these men have large commercial and financial interests in Europe and the U.S.

As for Syria, which has been accused a number of times of killing Lebanese reporters and MPs, it looks as though its only method of retaliation was to ban female pop acts from performing in Syria. Why? The reason officially cited was that these singers are sexually provocative. In truth, however, it was their political affiliations that begot the ban. Especially since the Syrian nightclub and cabaret scene is brimful with exotic dancers and equally provocative performances.

Meanwhile, Bush has stated in a letter to the U.S. Congress that the decree he had issued targets anyone who foments instability in Fouad Siniora’s government.

My only hope is that this battle stops at banning pop acts and asset-freezing, and steers clear of wars and assassinations. It is easy to undo the former; Haifa can easily sing in Syria on any other given day, if she so pleases, and the businessmen of Beirut can resume their trade in the New York Stock Exchange.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

More Posts