“Rights stuff”: how the World Cup is undermining Al Jazeera Sport popularity in the Arab world

Palestinians are switching off Al Jazeera and switching on Israeli TV. The incredible move has occurred for one reason only: football. As reported by AFP yesterday, more and more Palestinians are buying Israeli TV subscriptions to follow the Word Cup. A subscription to Israeli TV costs 25 dollars, against the 100 boxes asked by Al Jazeera Sport.

Many polemics arose all across the Arab world at the time when Al Jazeera announced to have bought exclusive rights for the World Cup and to be willing to “resell” the championship for 100 dollars to end-users.  A very high fee to bear for low income viewers in many places in the Arab world -which is not made up only by the rich Gulf states-. Together with this, Al Jazeera Sports has been strongly fighting piracy or “rebroadcasting” practises that were quite enough tolerated all across the Arab world. The AFP reports that “Harun Abu Ara, the head of Al-Quds educational television, a local Ramallah station, had to stop showing the matches a few days ago when he was warned against doing so by lawyers from Al-Jazeera“.

“Since we stopped rebroadcasting the matches we have received dozens of calls a day from customers who were used to watching them on our channel,” he said. “If we are prohibited from rebroadcasting Al-Jazeera, the natural result is that the viewers, especially the poor, are going to turn to Israeli television, because it is cheaper.”

It seems that Israeli TV is winning over this copyright war amongst Arabs. There is also a “jamming” war happening over the Arab skies: Al Jazeera has denounced that its AJ Sport TV signal was deliberately  jammed on Nilesat and Arabsat. Although the two major Arab satellite providers are declining the allegations, there is a very good chance for this story to be true. That wouldn`t be a surprise in the relations between Al Jazeera and the other Arab media players (and the governments backing them, i.e. mostly Egypt and Saudi Arabia). Politics have always played a major role in media relations in the Arab world, and this won`t be the first time, despite Nilesat (Egypt) and Arabsat (Saudi Arabia) deny accusations.

But this time the game is bigger, because Arab viewers are passionate football consumers. And because Israeli TV is taking advantage of an inter-Arab fight. Of course, not the first time this happens, too.

The whole “rights issue” related to the World Cup exclusivity to Al Jazeera Sport is something that looked so much promising at the beginning (in terms of profit and popularity) but now it is seriously risking to become a losing game for the Qatari station.

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On Khaled Said and his effects on Egyptian bloggers and activists..

Those days my Twitter feed is only two things: the World Cup and Khaled Said.

I prefer to focus on the latter, which is an outrageous episode in Egyptian modern state history, while its consequences on social web and human rights activism are becoming huge among Egyptian online users. Huge mobilisations happened all across the country in the past days, some of them being organised and coordinated online. I liked Mona Elthawy`s piece on Huffington Post which I would like to re-post here below.

I have to say that we recently had a similar case to Khaled in Italy. Stefano Cucchi was arrested by Italian police on 16th October 2009 because he illegally carried 20 grams on marijuana. He died in prison 6 days later, his body bearing evidence of heavy torture. Trial is still open and his family still asking for justice. Torture is something that unfortunately happening everywhere, including the alleged “First world” (Italy still supposed to fall in this category?!).

At least, as I can read from my Twitter feed and from Mona`s article,  Egyptian are very actively reacting on this even using social networks and protests are moving from electronic weblogs to the streets on the country.

Posted: June 25, 2010 10:02 AM on Huffington Post

by Mona Eltahawy

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for (i = 0; i Generation Mubarak/Generation Facebook


NEW YORK – When a young Egyptian died from what his family, activists and witnesses say was a savage police beating, many of his peers – the generation of Egyptians who have known no other leader than President Hosni Mubarak – protested and mourned in the way they know best: by going online.

Generation Mubarak is also Generation Facebook.

Two young Egyptian Facebook friends alerted me to Said’s death with a link to the page”I am Khaled Said” which was set up on June 11, five days after he died. It now has more than 225,000 fans.

Many Egyptians on Facebook changed their profile picture to one of Said alive – bright eyed, clean cut, looking barely old enough to shave despite his 28 years. Others switched to a picture of his corpse – teeth missing, lip torn, jaw broken and blood pouring from his head. His family has confirmed it is indeed his shattered body.

But Generation Facebook doesn’t just vent online. Facebook, Twitter andYouTube aren’t just for party pictures or flirting but have become slingshots aimed at a regime Generation Mubarak never imagined they could take on.

Social networking sites connect activists with ordinary people who are joining demonstrations in numbers unheard of in Egypt: a protest outside the Interior Ministry in Cairo was the largest jn living memory against police brutality.

In Alexandria, Said’s hometown, up to 8,000 Egyptians wearing black protested along the corniche; some recited verses of the Koran and Bible.

Generation Facebook moves to fill in the holes of mainstream media. Blogger and citizen journalist Mohamed Abdelfattah, recorded an on-camera interview with witnesses to Said’s death (it was picked up by an independent Egyptian daily) and filmed that Alexandria silent protest (it has gone viral).

Generation Facebook’s embrace of the social networking site has made Egypt its number one user in the Arab world and 23rd globally. Egypt has the highest number of blogs in the Arabic-speaking Middle East.

The Interior Ministry claims Said died after swallowing a pack of drugs. Activists say undercover police beat him to death after he posted an Internet video, which his family said showed police sharing the profits of a drug bust.

After the public outrage, including at his funeral in Alexandria which at least 1,000 people attended, a new autopsy was ordered but it just confirmed the ministry’s initial claim. Generation Facebook went into action: the Khaled Said Facebook page urged Egyptians to dress in black and to hold silent protests across the country.

Many Egyptians replaced their profile pictures with banners announcing the place and time of the protest they would be attending.

At anti-police brutality protests on June 12, activists held banners with a picture of Mubarak next to one of Said before and after his death. In power 29 years, Mubarak is the longest serving ruler in Egypt’s modern history. For every one of those years Egypt has been under a state of emergency that has turned it into a police state where torture is systematic and where there are an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 detained persons.

That juxtaposition of pictures of Said alive and dead chillingly brought home for Generation Mubarak what living under Emergency Law their entire lives has meant. If any thought arbitrary arrests and detention happened to others – political activists or the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood – they learned that Said was involved with neither.

If they imagined police brutality was confined to criminals or the poor, such as 13-year old Mohamed Abdel-Aziz whose battered body brought prosecutors to tears in 2007 as they examined his family’s allegations that he was beaten and electrocuted by police who arrested him for allegedly stealing four packs of tea, then Said’s shattered face was their wakeup call.

Occasionally a few officers are convicted of torture but they usually return to their jobs after cosmetic sentences. That won’t change as long as Emergency Law is in effect. A month before Khaled Said’s death it was extended for two more years.

Blogs and social networking didn’t invent courage – activists have been protesting against Mubarak for years – but have connected Egyptians and amplified their voices.

In 2007, two police officers were sentenced to three years in jail for sodomizing a bus driver with a stick. Evidence used against them included video the officers shot of the assault that blogger Wael Abbas posted to his site.

Dozens more videos exposing police brutality have gone online. There’s an anti-torture website with a hotline to report incidents. There’s another with advice on what to do if you’re tortured or beaten up by police.

Egyptians make another link – between Mubarak and successive U.S. administrations which for years have been his biggest ally and whose support has been vital for his 29-year political survival.

It’s not just U.S. administrations that have ignored Mubarak’s oppressive rule. U.S. media focus on Iranian demonstrators and online activists who deservedly garner headlines for their courage but those same media outlets largely ignore Egyptians because Mubarak is “our friend” and stands stalwartly against the kind of Muslim fundamentalists who run Iran.

“Khaled is our Neda,” Generation Facebook says, citing the young Iranian woman whose death in a post-election Tehran demonstration last year was captured by mobile phone.

If she was the everywoman whose on-camera demise shook our eyes open to the Iranian regime’s brutality, then Khaled Said’s shattered face could belong to any one of Generation Mubarak.

Follow Mona Eltahawy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/monaeltahawy

MBC on “Colloquial Arabic in Syrian TV Drama”

MBC has reported on the lecture “Colloquial Arabic in Syrian Tv Drama” that was given by Mr Wafiq al Zayim (“Abu Hatem” in Bab al hara) at the Danish Institute in Damascus.

You can find the  original report here.

ps I love this picture of the Danish Institute`s Director HC Nielsen and “Abu Hatem” together!

(picture by Ferhad Hammy, MBC)


وفيق الزعيم مع مدير المعهد الثقافي الدنمركي خلال ندوة “اللهجة الشامية”
فرهاد حمي – mbc.net

فاجأ طالب ياباني يدعى “تومي” الحضور في ندوة بدمشق بتقليد شخصية “أبو حاتم”؛ التي يجسدها النجم السوري وفيق الزعيم في مسلسل باب الحارة.

وطلب الزعيم -الذي كان يحاضر في الندوة حول اللهجة العامية وتطورها في الدراما السورية- من الشاب إعادة حركات التقليد أكثر من مرة، الأمر الذي أضفى بهجة على الندوة التي نظمها المعهد الثقافي الدنمركي.

وناقشت الجلسة -التي حضرها أكاديميون وطلاب أجانب يهتمون باللهجة العامية السورية- دور كتاب “طيب الكلام”، وهو قيد الإصدار لـ”أبو حاتم”، في مساعدة الأجانب الوافدين من الدول الأجنبية على تعلم اللهجة الشامية، لا سيما أنه يتضمن قاموسا للأمثال الشعبية والمفردات الدمشقية.

وقال الفنان السوري -في تصريحات خاصة لـmbc.net، في سياق تعقيبه على المحاضرة-: إن الدراما السورية في الوقت الراهن تحتل المرتبة التاسعة على مستوى الدراما العالمية، وذلك نتيجة غوصها العميق في الموضوعات.

واعتبر -في الوقت نفسه- أن مسلسل باب الحارة ليس الأفضل من بين الأعمال السورية، إلا أنه استطاع طرح مبادئ إنسانية وأخلاقية في قالب درامي جميل؛ ما جعله ينال الشهرة والانتشار على مستوى العربي و العالمي.

وأشار الزعيم إلى أنه على الرغم من تطور العصر وطغيان التكنولوجيا على الحياة اليومية، الذي أدى بدوره إلى تراجع العلاقات الاجتماعية والإنسانية، جاءت الدراما البيئية وعلى رأسها باب الحارة لتقديم وتصحيح الرؤية الأخلاقية، والعودة بالناس إلى القيم الاجتماعية الأصيلة.

وذكر أحد المواقف بهذا الصدد قائلا: “إن إحدى المواطنات الأمريكيات طلبت منه أثناء زيارته الأخيرة إلى أمريكا تقديم الشكر على لسانها إلى جميع العاملين في مسلسل باب الحارة، وذلك على خلفية تقديمه أفكارا تربوية مثالية تساعد الأهل على القيام بالتربية الجيدة لأولادهم”.

واعتبر الفنان السوري أن مقهى أبو حاتم يمثل المركز الثقافي لذلك العصر، حيث كان الجميع يتجمعون فيه لبحث ومناقشة الأمور والمشكلات التي تحيط بكل مواطن دمشقي، عبر المجلس التعاوني في ذلك الوقت، فضلاً عن تقديمه القصص والروايات القديمة عبر الحكواتي.

وفي السياق نفسه، قال هانس نيلسون مدير معهد الثقافي الدنمركي: إن الخطوة التي قام بها وفيق الزعيم بجمع المفردات والأمثال الشعبية في كتابه ستساعد الأجانب الوافدين على تعلم اللهجة الدمشقية.

وأشار إلى أنه متشوق جدا لرؤية الجزء الخامس من مسلسل باب الحارة بعد متابعته لأجزاء الأربعة السابقة، متمنيا تطوير لهجته العامية على اعتباره يعيش في سورية منذ فترة طويلة.

من جهتها وصفت الباحثة الإيطالية دونتيلا ديلارتا المشرفة على المحاضرة كتاب وفيق الزعيم بأنه مرجع حقيقي لكل الأجانب الذين يأتون إلى سورية لتعلم اللغة العربية العامية والفصحى، خاصة أنه فنان يعمل في الدراما الشامية ويتقن لهجتها بشكل جيد، مشيرة إلى أن دراسة اللغة من خلال الدراما التلفزيونية تعد مفتاحا لتقييم واقع المجتمعات العربية على حد قولها.

دوناتيلا تعد رسالة الدكتوراه حول صناعة الدراما السورية في جامعة كوبنهاجن، بالتعاون مع مركز الثقافي الدنمركي، حيث سبق لها إصدار كتاب حول المحطات الفضائية العربية، بحكم أنها تدرس واقع إعلام العربية من أكثر من عشر سنوات.

أم جوزيف مثال للتلاحم

وفي السياق نفسه، أكدت الباحثة الأمريكية روبيكة جوبن التي تحضّر بدورها رسالة الدكتوراه حول المكانة الاجتماعية للمرأة في الدراما السورية، أن طريقة تقديم النساء في مسلسل باب الحارة ليست كما يظن البعض على أنها بنفس النمطية، بل إن لكل واحدة منها خصوصية معينة تختلف عن الأخرى.

وأضافت أن شخصية أم جوزيف خير دليل على التلاحم بين الديانتين النصرانية والإسلامية، وهو ما يدحض النظريات الغربية حول وجود صراع بين الديانتين في المنطقة العربية، موضحة أن أكثر ما يميز باب الحارة هو الالتزام بالعلاقات الاجتماعية من خلال الأعراف والتقاليد والعقيدة الدينية، دون اللجوء إلى القانون والشرطة للتدخل في حل مشاكل الناس.

ولفتت إلى أن طريقة تقديم حفظ القرآن الكريم للأولاد الصغار في باب الحارة تبين مدى مصداقية تلك الفترة، مؤكدة أنها ستقوم بجلب طلابها من أمريكا إلى موقع تصوير باب الحارة ليتفاعلوا مع ذلك المكان بحقيقته على أرض الواقع، وأنها بصدد لقاء طويل مع الفنان وفيق الزعيم لإطلاعها أكثر على خبايا باب الحارة.

من جهة ثانية، وعد الطالب الياباني “تومي”، الذي يدرس اللغة العربية بجامعة دمشق، وقلد وفيق الزعيم، ببذل قصارى جهده لترجمة كل المفردات والأمثال الشعبية التي وردت في كتاب الفنان وفيق الزعيم إلى اللغة اليابانية؛ ليطلع من خلاله المجتمع الياباني على الثقافة الدمشقية.

Colloquial Arabic in Syrian TV Drama

Tomorrow 8th June at 8pm the Danish Institute in Damascus (situated in the beautiful area of Suq as-souf in Old Damascus) is hosting a lecture on “Colloquial Arabic in Syrian TV Drama” (Arabic only). Mr Wafik al Zayim, the famous actor who plays “Abu Hatem” character in “Bab al hara” TV series, is also a TV drama writer specialized in “Damascene drama” type and he is currently working on the script of next Bassam al Malla`s (Bab al Hara creator and director) TV musalsal “Khan al Shukr” (shooting should start right after Ramadan).

Mr Wafik has been studying the relation between Syrian colloquial Arabic (3ammia suryia) and TV production. He has just completed a dictionary of old Damascene terms that will be soon be released on Panarb market.

On “Bab al hara”… and the culture of Arab journalism

DDR wa rijal al hara, picture courtesy of Hikmet Daoud


Actually I didn`t want to write about this topic now, since there are much more important things happening in the world (particularly in the Arab world, see Gaza and #Flotilla issue), but some people made me think that I should anyway write down some remarks about the following issue.

So I was lucky enough, thanks to director Mo`min al Malla and his team, to follow some shootings of “Bab al hara 5” which are being held at Qaryia Shamyia, a “fake” Damascus that has been rebuilt out of the (real) chaotic and messy Damascus – a place where you basically can enjoy “Sham without Sham”, the beauty of its souqs, houses, squares, without having to bear with the noise, the dirtiness, the traffic, and all the “disadvantages” of a real big capital-. A  “sanitized” version of the Syrian capital that has been built for the sake of tourists and grown bigger and bigger after the increasing success of  “Bab al hara” (its headquarters studios are there).

“Bab al hara 5“`s shootings were a great experience from many points of view, both from sociological to strictly “TV production” perspective. It was extremely important for my PhD research and also for the great people I was able to meet there, actors, crew, and particularly Hikmet Daoud (the guy who designed all the costumes and created the “Bab al hara” look). More on my  PhD thesis, inshallah..and actually I will present a paper on “Bab al Hara” at WOCMES conference next July which then I will publish here, too.

What I want to talk about now is the article that was published on MBC.net few days ago. The journalist  interviewed me during the shootings and was very kind to me. Of course, misunderstandings happen all over the world, and usually the person who is interviewed is never happy to read his/her words once published cause he/she fells betrayed by the journalist.

I don`t feel this intentionally betrayed but I just want to underline some points that can look a bit “naif” on my side in the Arabic text (and it can be cultural or even language misunderstanding).

First of all, I`d like to point out that I didn`t get to “Bab al hara” because of the many articles I`ve read on Italian press as the MBC article says!

I`ve been studying Arab media for the past 10 years and more, I do read Arabic press, travel extensively around the Arab world, and for somebody who has studied the structure of Panarab media for a decade and published academic books about Al Jazeera (Al Jazeera. Media e societa` arabe nel nuovo millennio, Bruno Mondadori publisher,Milano, 2005), MBC, Orbit and ART (Media Oriente, edizioni Seam, Roma, 2000) it`s kind of natural at some point to start studying the content of media.

TV fiction (musalsalat) is an important part of this content, and I`ve been studying them (not only “Bab al hara” but the whole phenomena of Syrian drama) for a while now. Western press -not Italian!- mostly UK and US based has paid some attention of course to “Bab al hara” as a sociological phenomena. And in fact, what I was trying to convey to the journalist -and also to the crew of “Bab al hara“- is that myself as a Western researcher I`m interested to the financial, sociological (and linguistic) aspects of the drama, not to its characters or what did “fulan” or if Abu Shab is coming back or not:)

As for the specific of its linguistic aspects, I`ve been talking a lot about this issue particularly with Ustaz Wafiq al Zaiim who performs “Abu Hatem’. He is very much into “drama shamyia” and the use of Syrian dialect into musalsalat (next week we are hosting his conference on this very topic at the Danish Institute in Damascus). He recognizes that the dialect used by “Bab al hara” is a “standardized” one, who should be made understandable by everybody (and, I add this, particularly since its main audience is in the Gulf countries). We have been discussing a lot about the use of words like “3aghid”, etc. and its implications, linguistically and culturally speaking, and I`m grateful to him for his insights.

What the article doesn`t specify is why -as I said- most of the audience of “Bab al hara” -and the audience which counts- is in the Gulf, and not in Syria. In Old Damascus, where I do live, I`ve  never ever found anybody who agrees with the version of “damascenity” that is promoted by “Bab al hara”. Not even a shop owner of Old Damascus -and I`m not talking about press or university professors, elite i3ani- agrees that lifestyle in Old Damascus has ever been as the one “Bab al hara” advertises. Different people I`ve spoken with in the Old City of Damascus -people who don`t know each other- quote as the best representation of Old Damascus the one done by an almost unknown musalsal called “Al hsrum al shami”. This musalsal shows a very different Old Damascus, an “hara” which is quite far from the “hara” depicted by “Bab al hara” and its values of unity, solidarity, etc. Some people would quote “Ayyam shamyia” , by “Bab al hara” creator , director Bassam al Malla (the “architect” of drama shamyia`s success). But I would guess -just guess, nobody has numbers in his hands, as we all know that Arab TV studies do lack independent audience data so far- that the majority of “Bab al hara” audience is in the Gulf, and it is the Gulf to be so attracted by this “sanitized” and nostalgic vision of the past, much more than the Damascene or Syrian people.

Having said that -and having again pointed out that my PhD is on the Syrian drama industry, and not only on “Bab al hara” which, by the way, is a very interesting “industry case”-, I think there are many good sociological and media related reasons to study “Bab al hara” and not to “snob” it, as many wrongly do. It is certainly a media phenomena that deserves to be analysed in-depth. Anyway, I have to remark that among Syrian journalists this “objective” and sociological approach is still far to be accepted, as they are still caught in the “it is art -or not art” problem which I think we European have passed through many years ago, and “put into archives” after the 68th cultural revolution and its relation between the alleged “low-pop culture” vs the alleged “high culture”.

But the most important remark I`d like to make in respect to this article is that I don`t think “Bab al hara” represents a “barrier” to the culture of globalization, or something that fiercely opposes to it. On the contrary, “Bab al hara” is the prototype of globalization and of how it has penetrated so deeply in the entire world -including the Arab world- with its consumption values (media consumption being probably of the strongest among those values).

“Bab al hara” is a consumption spectacle made for media audiences in the very era of globalization. In my view, the typology of “return to the past” and “its golden values” of vicinity, proximity, solidarity, etc. is a creation that suits perfectly in the era of globalization and global consumption rather than a quest for “authenticity” and “non-contradictory culture”. We all know that every period has got conflict and contradictions, but the Past is always much charmer than the future, cause it cannot come back and it is always depicted with “nostalgia” and idealized, the same as “Bab al hara” does -and Qariya Shamyia does , too, emptying the “real” Sham from its mess and contradictions of present time-.

Unfortunately -and that`s another misunderstanding in the article- Old Damascus is starting to become similar to “Bab al hara” and Qariya Shamyia, i.e. “sanitized”‘. More and more restaurants and hotels are appearing for the sake and consumption of tourists and TV audiences that come to Syria to see the “real” Bab al hara. So the “real” Old Damascus is starting day by day to look little by little like the “Old Damascus done for TV”. But I guess that this,too, is a typical phenomena of globalization and its consumption patterns.

These are just some thoughts, and a blog is not the right place where to start an academic discussion. For the moment, I`d just like to thank the people of “Bab al hara” for making this “participant observation” possible. And next time I`ll do an interview I`ll remember to ask for the final text before publishing just to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

What actually has surprised me the most is not even this misunderstanding on MBC, but the fact that immediately after I saw the same article published on many different websites (Discover Syria, Damas Post, etc) with my name and the same picture taken by my friend Daoud, with just a quick remind of the “m b c net” website from where it was taken, but without any link and copying exactly most of the content of the MBC article without quotation…but I guess this is part of the problem I`ve already underlined in the previous post about “copy and paste culture” so much widespread in the Arab world…

La flotta della vergogna

Ieri non riuscivo a credere alle foto, ai video, alle parole che arrivavano da Internet. Devo dire che, stando in Siria e non guardando televisione occidentale, il mio principale mezzo per informarmi e` il web, e da un paio di giorni sul mio Twitter feed leggevo solo di questa #Flotilla o #FreedomFlotilla che tentava l`”arrembaggio” sulle coste di Gaza per portare aiuti a gente che vive in un ghetto. Conosco personalmente alcuni di quelli che facevano parte della #Flotilla, come la giornalista Angela Lano, da anni impegnata a fianco della Palestina con Infopal, e Manolo Luppicchini, che conosco dai tempi dell`universita` e che, da Genova 2001 a Gaza2009, e` stato sempre in prima fila, telecamera alla mano, e sempre pieno di coraggio.

Ieri sera, da Damasco, ho passato ore  d`angoscia con Lorenzo al telefono dalla manifestazione che c`e stata a Piazza Venezia, che mi aggiornava se si erano avute notizie di Angela e Manolo. Per ore i loro cellullari hanno squillato a vuoto, per ora abbiamo temuto il peggio. Per fortuna invece pare che stiano “bene”, l`ambasciatore li ha visti, sono trattenuti dalle autorita` ma in buone condizioni, pare. Hamdullilah, mi dico, meno male che Angela e Manolo ce l`hanno fatta. Ma la colpa di queste altre persone, morte in un`azione umanitaria, per portare aiuti a un popolo sotto assedio?

Non ci sono parole per quest`orrore e per l`arroganza con cui viene perpetrato da uno stato che ha ormai perso ogni parvenza di legittimita` e che mi pare duro chiamare “democrazia”.

Comunque..e` una cosa troppo grande, troppo grave quella che e` successa..e il mondo non sa che fare..il mondo arabo non sa che fare..Damasco ieri sera era sospesa in un`atmosfera ovattata fatta di televisori che vomitavano #Flottilla e bandiere del mondo intero, allineate in fila, pronte per la Coppa del Mondo di venerdi` 11 giugno che tutti aspettano con ansia e che questi nuovi eventi rischiano di “rovinare” in un Medio Oriente che non ha mai pace..