[DEBATE] : Fairouz in Syria
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Thu Jan 31 07:33:14 GMT 2008
Lebanese diva arouses emotion, controversy in Syria
Mon 28 Jan 2008, 23:19 GMT
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS, Jan 28 (Reuters Life!) - Legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz
performed to a sell-out crowd in the Syrian capital on Monday, defying
politicians who criticised her for going to what they consider enemy
The Arab diva, who burst onto the music scene on Damascus Radio in
1952, returned to the Syrian stage after an absence of two decades,
and moved many of her fans in the Opera House audience to tears.
She played the lead role in "Sah al-Nom", a musical satire about a
careless ruler who is challenged by a poor woman, and received a
standing ovation. The show was performed as part of cultural
celebrations in the ancient city of Damascus, chosen as the 2008 Arab
Capital of Culture.
"Fairouz transcends politics. In Damascus she has been always treated
as an empress," Syrian sculptor Mostapha Ali told Reuters.
Fairouz, who is in her 70s and is a cultural icon of the Arab world,
aroused controversy by accepting the invitation from the Baathist
government in Damascus at a time of increased tension between Syria
and its neighbour Lebanon.
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Fairouz of playing into
the hands of Syrian intelligence services he blamed for a series of
political assassinations in Lebanon.
Another Lebanese member of parliament said Fairouz should not perform
for "Lebanon's jailers", a reference to Syrian dominance and military
presence in Lebanon for most of the period from 1976 until Syrian
troops withdrew in 2005.
A group of Syrian political activists also called on Fairouz to
boycott Damascus, pointing to a renewed crackdown on dissidents. Just
one hour before the play began, intelligence officers arrested leading
opposition figure Riad Seif.
Ten other dissidents were charged earlier in the day with undermining
the state, and could face long prison sentences.
Syrian political commentator Ayman Abdelnour said Fairouz performed
for the Syrian people, not its rulers.
"The Syrians consider Fairouz one of their own. Before they studied
geography and went to school they learned about Syria's rivers and
mountains from listening to her songs," Abdelnour said.
Fairouz has not responded to the criticism. She last performed in
Syria in the 1980s, during the iron rule of President Hafez al-Assad,
father of current President Bashar al-Assad, when Syrian troops were
still in Lebanon.
The gaunt, enigmatic Fairouz with her trademark long red hair is
considered a national treasure in Lebanon. When she returned to
Lebanon's Baalbak cultural festival in 1998 for the first time since
the 1975-1990 civil war, Beirut's Daily Star newspaper described her
return as "catharsis on a national scale".
"The high point of my life was when broke through a crowd in London
and kissed Fairouz's hands," said leading Syrian painter Fadi
al-Yazigi, who has sought to organise joint exhibitions with Lebanese
artists to counter political tension between the two countries.
The late Egyptian composer Mohammad Abdelwahab called Fairouz "our
ambassador to the stars". She is Lebanon's biggest artistic export and
her recent collaboration with her son Ziad has appealed to a more
The musical she performed on Monday was composed by her late husband
Assi al-Rahbani and re-arranged by Ziad, whose musical creations have
ranged from political musicals to jazz. (Editing by Caroline Drees)
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