A new (Maghreb) female touch in Berlusconi`s Nessma TV

Mamnou` al-rijal (Forbidden to men) is a fascinating title for a new TV show. Especially if it`s for a women`s programme.

Fashion, beauty, glamour, interior design, jewellery, “cool” housekeeping: these are the issues that the new and modern North African woman should take care of, according to Tunis-based Nessma TV who launched the show on Dec, 14.A short promo is available on the channel home page, featuring the charming host Kaoutar Boudarajja dressed in a sexy outfit and promoting the show with a mix of North African Arabic and French.

Kaoutar will be not alone in hosting the first show ever which addresses to “the world of contemporary Maghreb women” as Nessma TV director Nabil Karoui has declared. She will be joined by other four anchorwomen from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria “who will invite in each episode art and media celebrities to discuss questions of particular interest and concern to women of the Maghreb”.

Karoui has stressed the fact that Mamnou` al-rijal will “focus on the rosy and positive side of Maghreb women, because the street is full of negative aspects”

Not going so far in time, in August 2009, that`s exactly what Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister and one of the owner of Nessma TV, had declared during his exclusive interview with the station in the occasion of its launch. A “moderate” TV station, appealing to the “Greater Maghreb” with light entertainment, lifestyle programmes, talk shows. Berlusconi invented Italian commercial TV in late 70s winning over an audiences once “under exclusive public TV monopoly” , so he knows very well what he is talking about. One of the host of the exclusive interview at the time asked him if “Nessma TV can change Maghreb just as you changed Italy”. Well, after slightly more than one year of broadcast I can`t say if Maghreb has been changed by Nessma, but certainly  Nessma has been stick to its original mission.

The style of its programmes, the language it is using (a “chic” mixture of French and North African Arabic), the faces who have become its testimonials -like Kaoutar herself who is also hosting the shows Ness Nessma and the Maghreb version of  Berlusconi`s Canale 5″Non solo moda“- are all working towards this idea of globalised, trendy and consuming-friendly “moderated” audience.

It is very hard to say that this is just television, at least when the partners involved in the business are people like Berlusconi, Franco-Tunisian media mogul Tarek Ben Ammar and (indirectly) Lybian leader Qaddafi – his controlled company Lafitrade got a share in Ben Ammar`s Quinta Communication since June 2009– .

The story is worthy to follow. Especially since it seems that next year Lybia will have a more tangible presence on Nessma TV screens -and notably on Mamnou` al-rijal which should be starting reaching out to Lybian women more directly- . According to Lybian journalist Reem Kadouri, Nessma TV seems to enjoy high viewership in the country so far.

“Ruwwad”, an ongoing dialogue with the community

Thanks to @fadig and @toosketch today I had the opportunity to visit Ruwwad, an NGO which is situated in a poor area of East Amman, mostly populated by Palestinians. I spent hours and hours sitting and talking with Samar, Fares, Tareq, together with Eman and Issa from the Jordan Open Source Association.

The key, simple concept they are working on is: don`t give money or education to people according to what you like and think, rather ask them what they want. And make it sustainable. Not money, but rather a mindset which helps to build up an individual, a free-thinker, maybe a self-entrepreneur. Ruwwad is the first NGO I`ve met in the Middle East who doesn`t work within a sort of “welfare” or “subsidizing” mentality. It rather establishes an ongoing contact with the community of the people living in Jebel Nathif and asks them what they would need to improve their lives. And this way they have built a secondary school, the post office, a library, a children workshop, a ceramics workshop, a computer lab, places where  an ongoing process of continuous education is happening.

I wish all the NGOs who got subsidized by Western countries would do the same. Listen to people and to their needs, instead of jumping there with a top-down approach.


A look into Amman`s growing cultural scene

Today I was out in Amman and had the opportunity to breathe the city`s growing cultural scene. Jordan is certainly not the most well known Arab country when it comes to cinema production. Nevertheless, since some years ago a group of very energetic and passionate people at the Royal Film Commission (RFC) silently started  building up a film infrastructure in the country. When I first visited RFC two years ago, I had the feeling that the place was plenty of good vibes. Hard working people, young people who are the real resources of this “non-oil” country, were restoring an old Ammani house in the beautiful area of Jabal Amman, building up a library and fulling it up with international and regional film titles. Local artists designed the screening room with talent and originality, and students were starting going there for workshops on filming, editing, scriptwriting.

Today I saw their first fully in-house produced movie “Transit cities” by Mohamed Huski (his first long feature film) starring Sama Mubarak (which I am quite familiar with because of her acting in Syrian musalsalat). I was happily surprised to see that the premiere was held at Cinema Rainbow, one of the oldest Amman`s movie theatres that they have recently restored. The restoration is beautifully done, and the cinema has an “arty European” kind of touch. Old cinema projectors are displayed and on the walls a brief history of the beginning of movie theatres in Amman is told. I am quite familiar with the history of movie theatres in Damascus or Cairo, but this is the first time I read about Amman and I was impressed by the number of screens that you could have access to in the Amman of the 50s. Unfortunately later on, in Jordan as much as in many other Arab capitals, cinema culture has decreased and almost disappeared for a number of reasons (mostly political). What reigns in the Arab world now is the TV, home screen culture, and musalsalat.. private consumption over public social opportunities to screen a movie.

I think RFC proved today that they are seriously trying to build a cinema culture in the country, both on the consumption and the production sides. There are two other Jordanian RFC produced films to be out soon, and this is the signal that something is happening in the country. Young people who are doing this deserve appreciation for the efforts and passion they are putting in it.

After the screening Eman Jaradat, one of the leads of Creative Commons growing community in Jordan, took me at the Amman stand up comedy festival, which is running these days for the third time in the country. Tonight it was the “Arabian night” with stand up comedians from the Arab region, mostly Egyptians and Jordanians.

Again, I was happily surprised by the talent and the passion of those youngsters. Ola Rushdy from Egypt delighted the audience with the irony of being a pregnant woman in the Arab world and with all the expectations that  one “who is expecting” generates -she is herself expecting a baby, performing on stage with quite a big belly-. Many different Jordanians stand up comedians have mocked the “Jordanian type”, his attitude towards food, guests , family and the Parliament. Facebook, of course, was part of the jokes, as much as TV, videoclips and pop cultures in the Arab world.

My favourite was a young Saudi -whose name unfortunately seems not to be written in the program- who delighted the audience by performing in various Arab dialects, from Jordanian to Lebanese to Kuwaiti to Sudanese, and linking every local dialect to a certain social “attitude” and behaviour. The joke started from the decision to dub the “Godfather” into Syrian dialect, as to give the American masterpiece a sort of “Bab al hara” touch.

Television is so predominant in the Arab world and dialect spoken musalsalat so widespread that there is now a kind of common background and a sort of “mood” related to each local variety of Arabic.

For me, it was very interesting to see how we can laugh about jokes made in different dialects, conveying different ideas of culture and social behaviour. Stand up comedy is a new language in the Arab world but, judging from the audience`s reactions today, quite promising in the Region.

If Amman continues to build on these activities and motivate its young crowd, it is very likely we`ll hear about “Ammani nights” again and again even more in the next few years. The Arab world needs to strengthen a cultural industry made up of local made original products, made by Arabs and in Arabic, I believe.