Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.
Bassem Youssef: Egyptian comic back on air, back in trouble
He’s been dubbed the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” and Bassem Youssef’s satire was considered a state enemy by the Muslim Brotherhood and then-President Mohamed Morsi. Now Youssef is back on TV with the first episode of his show El-Bernameg since the army’s June 30 ouster of Morsi. Sticking to his calling, which sees the powers-that-be as perfect comic material, Youssef didn’t hesitate to attack Egypt’s current military leadership (in particular Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi). And just that quickly, he is now facing charges for insulting government officials.
Youssef’s first show following a four-month hiatus seemed to offer a breath of fresh air for some in the stifling environment of journalistic repression, hyper-nationalism, violence, and international marginalization. Journalist Diana Moukalled argued that Bassem Youssef’s comedic spirit amid such bleakness offers Egyptians a third option, “outside the Islamists’ and military’s umbrella.” Another Egyptian woman, Moukalled writes, concurred in a tweet published after Youssef's show: “They asked me if I am with the Brotherhood or with Sisi. I told them I am with Bassem Youssef.”
Youssef’s future now remains no more sure than before. The comedian and his producers have long known that their show could get them in trouble, despite its usual disclaimer: “This show is sarcastic, comic, not factual, not objective, not neutral. Its contents and events are imaginary.” And in this first post-coup episode, Youssef finished the show by referencing the possibility that he will be silenced again: An arm appeared from below his desk, grabbing his notes and insistently replaced them with a new script. When Youssef threw the script away, the arm slapped him.
Police shooting exposes Tunisian tensions
A young man who refused to stop at several checkpoints in the chic Tunis neighborhood of Ennasr was eventually shot by police in front of a local junior high school. Rumors circulated wildly while security forces, news outlets, and even ministry spokespeople gave radically different versions of events.
The shooting illustrated first the incredibly tense situation in Tunisia, as negotiations around the current government’s impending resignation begin under a state of emergency.
The unreliability of Tunisian news outlets was also on clear display in the wake of this shooting, as the man shot in Ennasr was initially reported dead and then injured. News and social networking sites variously described the man as: a Salafist; a Libyan; a “bearded man” accompanied by four other “bearded men”; a well-known local musician; and finally a Tunisian traveling with two men who were French/Russian/Chechen, one of whom had a pierced ear. Various news reports indicated that the young man refused to stop because he: had a molotov cocktail and other explosives (related to his supposed Salafi Jihadism); was armed; had been smoking a joint; had been drinking and had a bottle of alcohol in his hand. One Twitter user sarcastically thanked the media for its “excellent” reporting, ending with a rebuke.
Merci aux médias qui nous ont assuré une excellente couverture des événements de #Ennasr ! Shame on you.
— A.A (@Scoulino) October 25, 2013
Saudi satire video: “No woman, no drive”
On Oct. 26, dozens of Saudi women took to the streets — in their cars — to demand women’s right to drive. Sixteen of them were fined for their participation in a movement that has taken root in the past two years but originally dates back to 1991. Though initial demonstrations were intended to be numerous, threats from government officials as well as the movement’s website (www.oct26driving.com) being hacked led organizers to call for individual women to brave driving only if they felt able.
And the tune initially playing on the hacked site of the Oct. 26 demonstrations? A song created by Saudi comic Hisham Fageeh, satirizing the recent debates in Saudi Arabia around the ban on women driving. Entitled “No Woman, No Drive,” the song riffs on Bob Marley lyrics to poke fun at the righteous opposition to women’s right to drive. The hacker apparently first missed the song’s irony, vowing on the site’s home page to “pursue anyone who supports this driving campaign through all means available to me.”
With 5.5 million views to date, the song melodically lampoons conservatives’ reasons for opposing women driving using no musical instruments — just voices, hands, mouths, and … beards. In reference to concerns that driving could affect women’s reproductive organs, Fageeh and friends sing, “Say I remember when we you used to sit, in the family car, but backseat / Ova-ovaries all safe and well, so you can make lots of babies.”
No more monkey business in Indonesia
The governor of Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta is forbidding the use of monkeys as street performers, for both humanitarian and safety reasons: concerns about diseases and animal abuse as well as potentially distracting motorists. The macaques, typically chained, perform strange and often over-the-top acts for tourists, such a riding bicycles while wearing doll outfits as well as dancing. Their teeth are often cut to prevent them from biting their owners, leading to terrible tooth infections. The Jakarta Post writes that owners often beat the monkeys and pull them around using ropes tied around their necks.
A video published by BBC Arabic shows images of chained monkeys, kept in small cages, as well as photos of banners produced by the “Jakarta Animal Aid Network.” The network’s website informs visitors that it is looks to “raise enough money to buy an island where we can release former Topeng Monyet dancing monkeys that have been saved from torture on Jakarta’s streets.” Forty monkeys have already been saved, according to the site, and are awaiting the new refuge.
A poster republished on the site promises that a donation of only $30 would buy 25 square meters of the island the association hopes to buy.
Libyan language battle
Libyan youth held demonstrations this week at an oil and gas site west of Tripoli to demand the recognition of the Amazigh language (also know as Berber), the mother tongue still spoken by some in North Africa descended from pre-Arab peoples. The Libyan General National Congress — the interim legislature — is set to hold a session on the contested issue of Amazigh language this week.
The congress had previously failed to adopt a law guaranteeing Amazigh language education, continuing the pre-revolutionary tradition of pro-Arabism. Other post-revolutionary protests, however, had born fruit, including that of the Toubou (speaking Tebu) and the Tuareg (speaking Tuareg, a major dialect of Berber), demanding national recognition alongside the Imazighen (Berber peoples). All three of these languages were then officially deemed “authentic linguistic and cultural components” of the Libyan national identity.
The Imazighen, as well as the Toubou and the Tuareg, have a long history of marginalization under the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years. In mid-2010, before his fall from power, Gaddafi went as far as to say that Amazigh were “ancient tribes” that “no longer exist,” saying that it was “pointless to try to use the language of these tribes which have disappeared.”
Amazigh, as well as Tuareg and Tebu, cross the imagined borders between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, sometimes complicating their relationship with the countries that integrate them into their nationalist identities. Despite this, both Morocco and Algeria have integrated Imazighen as official national languages.
The four-fingered Rabaa sign is again causing a stir in Egypt, where it first emerged with the help of Turkish soccer players into an international sign of support for deposed Egyptian president President Mohamed Morsi and the anti-coup movement. Social networkers have previously poked fun at the Rabaa sign, exasperated by its defiant symbolism following the August military crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The Rabaa sign commemorates the massacre of hundreds of Morsi supporters in August 2013, including inside the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo.
Now, the stakes for displaying the Rabaa sign seem to be rising amid Egypt’s hyper nationalist public discourse and its regime’s total intolerance for criticism. Some in Cairo's legal apparatus are apparently inclined to treat the Rabaa sign as the tool of the turncoat, as indicated in a retweet by IkhwanWeb (a twitter feed linked to the Muslim Brotherhood):
— Abdullah EL-Haddad (@AbdelHaddad) October 28, 2013
At the same time, even a gold medal did not save an Egyptian athlete from being suspended after appearing in a Rabaa T-shirt and making the now famous four-fingered gesture during an international competition abroad. Egyptian kung fu competitor Mohamed Yusuf was deported from a tournament in Russia in late October and is reportedly awaiting questioning in Egypt. He may be prevented from representing Egypt in the upcoming Kung Fu World Championship.