Within the highly wired world of the urban Middle East, the latest and most potent means of political communication are short videos that are disseminated either via YouTube or from cellphone to cellphone.
I’m writing this from Egypt. Everyone here agrees that the video images of the hanging of Saddam Hussein played a huge role in stirring up anti-US and also anti-Shiite feelings among many of the Sunni Muslims who make up the majority of the Arab world’s people.
Now, a well-known Kuwaiti singer called Shams has come out with a new 5-minute video called Ahlan! Ezayek? (“Hi! How are you”), which is a hard-hitting anti-Bush satire. She energetically sings and performs a well-known Egyptian popular song of romantic repudiation. “Hi! How are you… You think you’re so great? I never want to see you again!” while hamming it up with a dizzying array of props representing aspects of Bush’s policy in the Middle East. And yes, that includes Washington’s “information” policies, too, with repeated visual references to newspaper stories and to round-table type TV talk-shows…
I’ve remarked before on the complex relationship between pornography and war. In this video– which was apparently shot in Cairo and used remarkably high production values– Shams does her own mocking (and I would say, extremely feminist) riff on that relationship… She sashays provocatively up to a cardboard image of Bush at the “presidential” podium before she takes over the podium herself… She stands dancing and primping in a sand desert in front of huge letters spelling out “DEMOCRACY” before hitting into the sand various heavily armed US soldiers undertaking operations all around her… She wanders with a “lovelorn” look around a sound-studio full of (male) talking heads hung from puppets’ strings around a table, and being manipulated by members of the Bush administration before, with a wicked smile, she snips the string of one of the puppets. (The string/rope left swinging there at the end is an eery visual reminder — same lighting and all– of the videos of the Saddam execution.)
You have to see how she blows the blond toupee off the head of an ageing Arab male journo, provocatively fans herself with the card holding her “detainee number” as she stands in a police line-up, or disports herself langorously along the top of the large letters “GUANTANAMO” laid out in front of (an image of) the White House…
In the fast-paced denouement of the video a cowboy-hatted Bush propositions her on top of a castle built in the sand in the form of an economist’s graph showing, I think, oil-price rises. She swats Bush off the castle (more Saddam hanging imagery here), then throws down on top of him a stone block that turns out to be an “E” that is rapidly joined by all the other letters of the word “LIBERTY”… which is then itself immediately placed behind iron bars… Finally, from a fortune-teller Shams learns that her future is to walk happily off into the sunset with… Naji al-Ali’s iconic, Kuwaiti-born child, Handala. (And if you don’t know who Handala is, or what he represents, then you probably need to find out. Hint: “old-fashioned” pan-Arab nationalism… )
Anyway, if you have a fast internet connection, check out the video and see what you think.