Parroting Argentina

This is live from Beirut, where I stumbled this morning on an unexpected ornithology reference.   I’ve been kept busy with political gossip and personal adventures during my stay here, which I will sift through and share shortly on Media Shack.  For the time being though, here is a short prelude to upcoming posts about Lebanon from Lebanon by Blackstar.

Do you remember where were you on February 14, 2005? I was in Vancouver enjoying the alcoholic aftertaste of stressful moot court competition.  Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq el Hariri was passing in his car in front of the Hôtel Saint-Georges in Beirut, a building he had eyed for years, when his convoy was blown up in a massive explosion.  Part of the reason I’m here these days, is so I can look at some of the political and legal aftershocks caused by this explosion. While I run around the city collecting business cards and showing off my newly printed one which cost me £1.25 the card, Beirut is gearing up full throttle to commemorate the assassination of its Golden Boy this Saturday.  Plastic chairs have been set up in the city center all over Martyrs’ Square in a pretty impressive symetrical alignment (almost putting to shame the geometry of Arlington Cemetary– and also making me wonder why the hell the urban planning of Beirut can’t be as meticulous as the chairs placed by the March 14 movement??)

In an effort to get supporters to show up on Saturday for this latest act in the country’s general political circus, the March 14 movement has been airing a very original advertisement on TV: the screen looks like the lebanese flag, with two horizontal red stripes and a white section in the middle, and a text showing up in black lettering scrolls down one line at a time in the white section.  At the very last line of the text, the same text is back read in reverse, scrolling up again one line at a time, for a completely different meaning.   Very clever.  Except that it turns out the idea is copied in its entirety from a political ad for Argentinian presidential candidate Ricardo López Murphy (The commercial  won a Silver Lion in the Cannes Lions Contest of 2006 in the category “Public Awareness Messages”). Check out the two ads here. And cheers to Omar Nashabe of Al Akhbar newspaper for passing it on.

Blackstar is a lawyer based in London.

Why No Stop in Cairo?

Iron Maiden, a  great band,  is  playing_Dubai February 13th.   I know for a fact, however,  that there are a lot of angry  rock  fans in the Arab world, especially Egypt,  who are wondering why Iron Maiden’s  Mid-East tour consist of just one city — Dubai — that doesn’t really qualify as “Middle Eastern.”     I just had a conversation with Mr Egypt, a rock fan and an Egyptian nationalist, and he’s more than a little annoyed that little upstart noaveuxe riche Dubai gets an Iron Maiden show while his country, the region’s cultural capital, gets nothing. 

This raises an interesting question — what prevents Iron Maiden, and in general other big rock acts, from playing Cairo or even a more expansive regional schedule?   After all,  big names have played Egypt in the past:  The Scorpions and Skakira have made appearances in recent years  and the Greatful Dead, one of the most popular rock acts ever,  did   three_epic_concerts in Cairo  back in ’78’.    So what’s the problem here?  

1)  The anti-Devil worshipping factor?    This was my initial assumption.   Egyptians have many positive qualities but they also have a tendency (generally speaking)  to be annoyingly judgemental of those who look differently.  They might not say it, but when many people see someone with long- hair and tattoos they are thinking “deviant, devil worshipping godless freak.”    Back in 1997, for example, 100_heavy_metal and rock music fans were arrested  on suspicions of satanic worship and many  politicians jumped on the soapbox talking about how much this was an affront to local morals. 

There is a debate within Islam about what kind of music, if any, is permitted.  Many Islamic scholars say its never permitted.  Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a moderate,   says  it ok as long as it has an Islamic message, meaning he considers almost all Arab pop music (ie Nancy Ajram, Amr Diab)  as problematic.   I’m not sure we could say Iron Maiden’s music has an Islamic message, but if you listen   closely to the lyrics of their classic_song, alot of Egyptians could at least  sympathize.    After all, it’s not as if they are Marlyn_Manson.

And Mark Levine makes a great point in his awesome book:   Unlike in the 1990s, today,  the Brotherhood is more concerned about making allies against government oppression, so they’re not going to make a big show about what kind of music people listen to. 

2)  Or is it a question of Business? 

I think this is the main reason no good rock acts come to Cairo.  It comes down to business and a lack of infrastructure.  After all, Iron Maiden is a band which draws crowds of 300,000 — in South America.  But once you’ve reached that stature you don’t go places unless your guaranteed of a certain degree of success but  Egypt just doesn’t have the appropriate music facilities for these kinds of acts.   Big name Arab singers don’t make the bulk of their money from touring  and perform much more low-key concerts on 1 or 2 k seat auditoriums. 

Second, I doubt concert organizers could guarantee the sale of 15-20 k tickets in Egypt, probably the minimum necessary to make it worthwhile.  Yeah, the  Egyptians who frequent the Harley Davidson shop in Zamalek would probably attend.  I definitely would if I was in Cairo.  I would be the first person in line to buy tickets.   Mr Egypt would probably be the second.  But this is a pretty small bunch, so, if I was in charge of scheduling Iron Maiden’s concerts, and my job depended on picking places that would sell enough tickets to make a profit, I would probably skip Cairo.