Elissa winning two Murex D'or Award 2013

A tale of two singers: Elissa and Fadel Shaker – the ambivalence of the Arabic culture


Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Elissa winning two Murex D'or Award 2013

Elissa winning two Murex D’or Awards 2013

A few years ago, Elissa and Fadel Shaker came together into a duet song called “Gowwa Al Ro7” (inside the soul); a romantic song of two lovers conversing how much they love each other. At that time, it was a perfect match for two of the most popular Arab singers who excelled in these types of songs. Fadel was no less romantic than Elissa, and his songs carried no less love.

Fast forward to the 23th of Jun, 2013 (yesterday), Elissa is on stage in one of the biggest celebrations of the TV industry in the Arab World, The Murex D’or, celebrating her success with two awards: Best Lebanese Singer, and Best Arabic Song “As3ad Wahdah” (the happiest). On the other hand, Fadel Shaker is sieged in a Mosque in the Lebanese town Seida, and fighting with a terrorist Salafi group against the official Lebanese army. On stage, Elissa appears in an extravagant white dress, she talks about how she doesn’t feel being the happiest tonight for one can’t help it not to be affected by the killings happening on the ground, but yet what makes her happy is the fact that this event is actually taking place and that people are still celebrating music and life. In a video that came out early in the same day, Fadel Shaker appears with a long beard, cursing Hezb Allah and his leader Hassan Nasrullah and threatening – actually promising that he will – to kill the mayor of Seida.

Seeing Fadel Shaker in video talking like that is mind boggling. I can never understand how a man who has an angelic voice and who has been singing for love for many years drops everything and becomes an agent of hatred and murder. I don’t want to play the devil advocate here, but watching other videos for him, he comes across to be sincere in terms of believing in the cause he is fighting for. One can’t deny the horrors happening in Syria, and the urges of wanting to stop the killings is totally natural, still the means of defending those innocent people are questionable. I would rather see him fighting with his voice, singing for that nation, singing for peace and harmony, that would be much more effective than joining the devilish game. That’s what Elissa is doing. She has never shied of speaking up her political stand. She probably hates Hassan Nasrullah and Bashar Al Asad even more than Fadel, but she expresses that in words, not bullets.

But looking at the photos of both singers above, I can’t help myself thinking about the gender divide in the Arab world. We regularly talk about the injustice women face in the Arab world, and that is totally true and I am an avid advocate for the fight against that injustice, but taking a closer look, one would wonder if men are in no less horrible situation. In fact, Arab men are on the track of a death discourse. The value of life has taken a backseat next to distorted values of honor and pride.

If one looks at the most Arab followed tweeps online, one would see the list is divided between the female lebanese singers and the religious Saudi leaders! In fact Elissa herself enjoyed more than 1,375,000 follower and is ranked at number 4 in terms of online influence in the MENA region according to Klout. In comparison, Fadel Shaker’s twitter account shows 147,830 follower. That is a huge indication of the polarisation taking place in the Arab world between religious and non-religious people and how men and women fit into that.

While no body can deny Elissa’s popularity, one can not also deny that there is a big side of the Arabic culture that looks down at her and what she represents. In her fist video clip she appears with no clothes, only a blanket that covers her body and moves along with the wind. The song, “Baddi Doub” was a big hit, but Elissa had to fight for years to prove herself and break out of the accusations of her using her body to overcome her weak voice. The “blanket singer” is still how many sees her today after more than 15 years of her career.  It is also true that her appearance in that clip opened the door for a new wave of singers that flaunted their sexuality and femininity to gain popularity, something that is rejected by many men and women in the Arab world.

If you look at Fadel Shaker’s singing career, he had to face nothing of that. After all, he is a man. He has been pretty much respected for his voice and his songs. Sadly, he asked people not to listen to his music for he believes it is forbidden (haram!). What is interesting is the reaction of people to that change. While many people have been cursing and insulting him for appearing like a terrorist and fighting the Lebanese Army, others on twitter have been applauding him for “repenting” and choosing Allah’s path. They see him as a hero who is fighting to protect his fellow Sunneh.

For me, I would vote for Elissa heroism all the way. We had a history of looking down upon female artists especially those who escapes the boundaries of the culture and celebrates their femininity. For some, it may be an over exposer of women sexuality and objectifying of the subject of women, yet it may very well be what were are missing these days; more women celebrating their gender expressions in whatever way they see fit.

I really wish Fadel Shaker was there yesterday next to Elissa on stage, receiving an award for celebrating life.

Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet: The axis of powers shaping Nancy’s gender identity


Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being.

Judith Butler – Gender Trouble

Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet

Sarah Walter’s lesbian romance novel ‘Tipping the Velvet’ takes us into an exhilarating journey of Nancy’s playful sexuality. It crosses the boundaries of the strictly heteronormative society of a Victorian England during the 1890s and shows the fluidity of gender in the context of different regulatory frames of desire, culture and class.

Walters divides the book into three major parts of Nancy’s life. Each part unfolds in a set of different events that helps shape Nancy’s fluctuated gender. She examines Nancy’s gender transformation against the powerful drive of desire, performativity, language, melancholia and class. In the first part she introduces Nancy to the world of male impersonators through the character of Kitty the performer, in the second part she examines the power of class in shaping gender expressions through the character of the rich woman Diana, and in the last part she places a matured Nancy into a world of philanthropy and social activism through the character of Florence.

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Sex and the Citadel

Salzburg Global Seminar: Advancing sexual expression and gender identity freedoms


Sex and the Citadel

Sex and the Citadel

I had a wonderful time in the past few days here at Salzburg Global Seminar, not just because of the lovely scenery of the Alps mountains or the beauty of the city of Salsburg but also because of the amount of people I got to know closely and connect with. People who came from all over the world (around 33 countries) to participate in a session that aims to set up a blue print for a more risiliant and healthy socieites of the future, societies that integrate within people with different forms of gender and sexual expressions without any prejudice, hatred, or violence.

The forum was pretty diverse and I am not talking here in terms of gender identities or sexual orientations only, but more about the diversity of the expertise and capacities of the participants; a large amount of successful professionals, political leaders, academics, activists, artists and media experts. One of the most impressive participants whom I grew to love and admire is the Egyptian author Shereen Al Feki. She presented her book “Sex and The Citadel” that sums up her five years of research about the contemporary sexuality of the Arab world. I realize that what she means by the “Citadel” is the institution of marriage and from what I heard about the book, it seems to carry the underline research to back up my observations of the Arab societies that I talk about in my book Aroos Amman (Amman’s Bride). It is all about the social obsession in marriage and how this institution is becoing harder and harder to achieve. Describing it as a “Citadel” is very smart and accurate indeed! I look forward to reading the book especially that she told me that she is interested in mentioning my novel in a potential update of her book (fingers crossed).

During the sessions, there been always this questions of identities and cultures and the validity of the acronym of LGBT in addressing the issues of sexual expressions and gender identities. I personally believe that such acronym is problematic  It is culturally biased in a way and restrictive and dividing in another. Those issues should go under the sexual expression and gender identities freedoms umbrella that is more inclusive in my opinion. For instance, I find no reason not to include the “W” in the Arab world, and here I am talking about women at large for they are more and more becoming to face a stronger aggression and hostility towards limiting and redefining their natural sexual expressions.

I would like to thank all of the staff at Salzburge Global Seminar for putting great efforts into organization such an important forum. The network built here is priceless and hopefully would help advancing human rights all over the world towards better societies for all of us. Thank you Klaus Muller (the chair organiser of the event)!

Last year, I participated in Stockholm Water Week and helped developing a young professional vision for the global food and water security and now I am helped coming up with a global statement to advance sexual expression and gender identity rights. It seems I am doing pretty well on the global front! Not bad at all. I guess that when you love the world, it loves you back 🙂