I have to thank my friend @rafik to have distracted me from the tons of Syrian musalsalat I was passionately watching during this first week of Holy Ramadan. Thanks to him I watched today for the first time in my life an Italian musalsal aired on an Arab TV channel. The leading character was “Mr President” (that’s how they called him sometime: wait shabbab, he is the Prime Minister, not the President..yet!) Silvio Berlusconi.
Last 23 august, Berlusconi was visiting Tunisia to meet President Ben Ali and his friend and business partner Tarek Ben Ammar, with whom he coproduced Baaria, the latest Giuseppe Tornatore‘s movie to premiere at Venice Film Festival.
After a tour to the set of the movie, Berlusconi went for an exclusive interview to “Ness Nessma”, the flagship talk show programme of the new born Nessma TV, the Tunisian TV channel aimed at North African audiences. The channel is a partnership between Ben Ammar, the Karoui brother (that produced many successful shows, including the Maghrebi version of Star Academy) and Berlusconi himself.
Forthy minutes of an exclusive interview, the first time ever a Prime Minister of an EU country goes live to address the North African audiences and to wish the TV the best of success. However, Berlusconi is not new to use the broadcast media to address his fellow citizens -or “target audiences”- and he is not new to go live on his own TV stations to deliver public speeches. What is really new -stunning news- is that this time Berlusconi is doing this with Arabs. After Spain and France, this is the first time ever he goes to invest money abroad to set a TV operation. The news is even bigger since he is doing this with the Arab world, a target that he never cared so much about in the past.
The Arab world is strategic for Mr Berlusconi: he is about to visit Lybia on the 30th of august, while President Gheddafi was in Italy few months ago. His relation with Tunisian President Ben Ali has always been in a good shape – in his interview, he calles him “a true friend, whom I met at Bettino Craxi’s time when I was not in politics (..) and a real democrat”- and his commercial ties with Ben Ammar are longtime, back to 25 years ago – “we have in common a long term friendship and the passion for the “other half of the sky”, i.e. women”, says in the interview, which can be viewed on Nessma TV website.
Speaking about Lybia, when the host of the show reminds that he was the first European leader to officially apologize for colonialism, something that UK or France never did, he corrects him: “I did not apologize, I asked in front of Lybian Parliament to be apologized for having oppressed free people like the Lybians are, which is something that we shall not accept or repeat in the future”. Applauses from the audience.
The host, Fawez Ben Tmessek, asked him about Italy and its immigration policy, probably referring to the latest agreements between Berlusconi and Gheddafi on this issue. He answered that “we should condemn the criminal organisations that take advantages of people, and we have to fight them!whereas we should encourage the wish of finding better job opportunities within legality..this is the policy of my government”.
Then, speaking about the financial crisis, he says that “the government will never leave anybody alone not even during the crisis..that’s what we did in Italy..nobody will loose his job without having help and compensations”.
“The Italian government gives to whom looses his job 80% of his former salary, plus everything a family can need not to enter misery”. “That’s what I told my European colleagues, I was the first to say that we should help banks to recover, and not make the mistake Americans made by leaving Lehman Brothers’ to bankruptcy”.
Then he is asked about Obama: “We are lucky to have such a President..at the beginning we had some doubts, due to his scarce political experience, 4 or 5 years I believe, and at a local level”. “But when we saw him live, we had to change our mind since he says very intelligent things and he has a positive attitude towards the future”.. “Then he knows what irony is..Despite I am number one in this field!”.
If there is something bloody true in this interview is this last sentence.
He tells a joke about himself, mocking himself for being “the most intelligent man in the world”, he plays with the female host of the show by asking her phone number, and when she asks him the million dollar question:
“why…why..why…have you sold Kaka?”
he answers: “oh, did we sell Kaka??!!”.
This is irony, indeed. But when it comes to other people asking questions he is not really happy about, he can’t be so ironic I am afraid.
Today he sued Repubblica, one of the leading Italian newspapers, for having published the famous “10 questions” addressed to him. Those questions relate to his alleged relation with Noemi Letizia and the escort D’Addario, and at a general level to his peculiar way to mix sex, money and private affairs with the state politics.
He couldnt be so ironic with Repubblica as he was with the Arab audiences.
But the real danger, for Italians as for Arabs, does not lie in this irony or missed irony, and not even in his sex scandals he is not questioned about by Nessma (can you imagine asking this question in front of Arab families in the middle of Ramadan?!). The real danger is not in what he hides or states ironically: on the contrary, it lies in what he states very clearly, like the following sentence to salute the new born Tunisian TV (well, his own TV):
“A new born TV is always a miracle. Nowadays nothing can influence people like TV..the press is so far away from doing it”.
(then why being so bothered by Repubblica!)
The host of the show: “We believe in the “moderate” Arab world, there is no other private Arab Tv station to be born from a partnership with an European country. We did it, and we did with the emperor of private TV in Europe“.
“Do you believe that Nessma TV can change Maghreb just as you changed Italy?”.
Well, Mr President, that’s the question I am really scared for.
Are Tunisians and North Africans going to try the “tele-democracy”, just as we Italians did during the past decades?
Well, then, mabrouk.
However, Berlusconi is not the only one who has in mind a “moderate” channel for Arabs in North-African countries (an audience of 90 millions people, plus 6 millions in France and 2 millions in Italy). Other big players -as his former business partner Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, who controls Rotana network- has also got some brand new ideas for the Sub-Region soon to be seen on screens.