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Fairouz… Us or Them? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Lebanese ambassador to the stars will sing in Damascus. This news item has caused a stir within the Fairouz fan base to which I belong.

This news excited the camp of “pure money” and “divine victory” on the one hand that considered this recent news item an accomplishment in its favour (that the star has joined the right side) whilst it provoked the people of enlightenment, freedom, and independence and those who reject subjection to the fundamentalist project under the auspices of the Baath Party.

In this regard, I will elaborate on the arguments of both parties that Fairouz, who is above all parties, should not pour out her benevolence in Syria. She should not perform the musical production “Sah al Nowm”[Good Morning] to the “Syrian jailer” as requested in a letter from her “fan” MP Akram Chehayeb from the March 14 Coalition. He wrote that the singer should refuse to perform for the Syrian President Bashar Assad since white doves cannot please or befriend lions.

In this case, is Fairouz a neutral artist or is she more than just a singer? Owing to what she represents in peoples’ hearts and minds through her songs and productions should she not be immune to defilement?

Nouhoud Haddad, popularly known as Fairouz, is a Lebanese woman who holds a special place in the hearts of Arabs, especially in the Levant region as she represents purity. She is only allowed to sing in areas that are unanimously agreed upon and it would be better if she didn’t sing about politics in the first place except in certain songs such as “Al Quds al Ateeqa”, “Ghaneet Mecca” and “Behabak Ya Libnaan.” The latter was a source of controversy between two sides in Lebanon as they conflicted over the common identity of the country.

Should “exceptional” artists such as Fairouz, or Omm Kulthum or Abdel Halim for example be deemed public property? This is undoubtedly a difficult question since there is no state of unanimity in politics, religion or social affiliations. And so where do these legends stand since they are considered uniting factors and Arab icons? It is a tough question; however, it seems that their uniting of “all” people lies in the human dimension (over politics) in terms of feelings of love, desertion as well as pure contemplation.

In this regard, Fairouz sang about love, sang in the memory of her childhood companion “Shadi”, condemned civil conflict in Lebanon and bid the “Prophet” farewell in “Orphalese”. Therefore, her art cannot be accused of causing divisions amongst people.

Similarly, Omm Kulthum sang “Al Adlaal” and resurrected the great philosopher Omar Khayyam and his quatrains [Rubaiyat]. The singer expressed complete love in her songs “Enta Omry” and “Seeret al Hob”; however she was not spared political songs from the monarchical period to the military coup perhaps by force, according to some of her fans, trying to make the most of both eras according to what realists believe.

The relationship between art and politics is unavoidable; an artist is an important and effective “tool” that can be more successful than hundreds of broadcasters and dozens of newspapers in the eyes of a politician.

This relationship between politics and art is somewhat complicated. It is a battle between fatal narcissisms; between the oppressive, invasive and violent “ego” of the ruler and the arrogant and supreme “ego” of the artist. Thus, smart politicians and rulers take artists into consideration ensuring that they do not hurt their egos. For that reason one would find that Jamal Abdel Nasser and [Abdel Hakim] Amer used to listen attentively, just like other members of audiences, to Omm Kulthum while she slowly and delightfully sang her songs.

However, invariably there is a crude political exploitation of art and artists which is a result of the coarse approach or due to the artists’ modesty. This always happens during regular official occasions since the audience’s expectations of the artist are of a member of a military marching band and as such the audience loses the ethereal quality with artists who are far removed from the environment of politics and interests.

Fairouz has always been a source of confusion since no one has been able to determine to which political trend she belongs. Some have said that she is a leftist like her son Ziad; whereas others state that she is in favour of the national Syrian party.

However Fairouz remained silent, singing only about love, Lebanon, the Levant and Mecca. At times she would sing religious songs and at other times she would sing the lyrics of Gibran Khalil Gibran, the great writer and artist who falls somewhere between poetry, revelation and art.

The relationship between Fairouz and Damascus is not a new one; the Damascus radio station had devoted Sundays to her songs and the songs of the Rahbani brothers since 1953.

In 1956, Fairouz performed in Damascus and sang a number of songs including “Jaadak al Ghaith”.

In 1961, an important concert was held during which Fairouz performed “Sa’ilini Ya Sham” that was written by the poet Said Akil, a symbol of the Lebanese Phoenician trend.

And similar concerts followed…

Therefore, the relationship is more complicated than to simply narrow it down to two sides, namely the supporters and the opponents in Lebanon. It is true that the current regime in Damascus is tyrannical however, when Fairouz sang “Sa’ilini Ya Sham”, Syria was also not democratic at that time. Syria left the United Arab “Nasserist” Republic in 1961 and was experiencing a stage of ambiguity until the Baath party took over power in 1963.

Artists have their own ways of paying respect and getting their messages across to their audience. The artist mostly cares about not losing his/her audience, which, at the end of the day, is an audience there to appreciate art, not politics; for Fairouz, the Syrian audience is one of her most loyal and oldest of audiences.

There are other examples of other artists of this kind who keep away from politics for example the Syrian singer Mayada al Hennawi who sang for Beirut.

The relationship between Beirut and Damascus is much deeper than politics; the greatest evidence of that is that many Syrians had lived in Beirut, most prominently the poet Nizar Qabbani who wrote the song “Beirut, Set Adunya” for the Egyptian singer Magda El Roomy.

It is difficult to say that there is a contrasting relationship between politics and art on one hand yet it is also difficult to affirm that the artistic and political fields do not overlap on the other hand. Art has always been used to support politicians as well as those who come up against them; however there is always a relationship between the two.

For whoever reads Edward Said’s ‘Homage to a Belly Dancer’ on Egyptian dancer Tahiya Carioca it is clear to see how an artist can express his/her political inclinations through art. Through her talent, body and in her own way, the glamorous belly dancer Tahiya Carioca symbolized the Egyptian leftist movement, liberation from colonialism and an anti-government stance.

When an artist uses his/her talent to serve politics, he/she is louder and more influential compared to the rest. Just like anybody else, some artists do have political inclinations whilst others do not. The Egyptian Director Youssef Chahine described Mahmoud al Maligi by saying that he is the greatest Egyptian actor however in the fields of politics and culture he is “weak” according to the interesting book by Hussein Ahmed Amin entitled “Shakhsiyaat Araftuhu” [People I Came to Know].

Now it seems that most actors and actresses belong to this category. We do not object to this since we are interested in their talent not their political discourses. Conversely, some of them have caused calamities when they “think” such as Haifa Wehbe who expressed that the person who causes her heart to skip a beat is the leader of the “resistance” [in reference to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah].

The history of Arab artists contains many political pages, some of which have been exposed whilst the majority are still obscure especially since they turn to the houses and presidential palaces using the easiest means: art and songs. Perhaps the day will come when the truth about this category of society is revealed. Until then, do not be harsh on Fairouz; she is neither with you nor against you. She is merely with us alone, namely, the followers of Fairouz.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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