Lebanese politics put diva in hot water

Ziyad Rahbani

Ziyad Rahbani

Lebanese composer, playwright and leftist Ziyad Rahbani sent shockwaves through Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world when he told al-Ahad news website that his mother, Fairouz, admires Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nassrallah.

The statement fueled angry reactions among many of the diva’s fans who are also discontent with the Shiite party’s armed involvement in the Syrian conflict alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime and/or the party’s affiliation with Iran.

On the other hand,  Shiite fans of the Christian diva, defended her saying that it is normal for someone like her who sang for Al Quds, (Jerusalem) to have such  a stand.

Ziyad’s statement garnered extensive coverage in the Lebanese press with some well-known journalists, such as Hazem Saghieh and Fawaz Tarabolsi, launching an aggressive attack against Ziyad and his mother whom many Lebanese, regardless of their political or  affiliation or religion , see her as a national symbol.

On his Facebook page, Lebanese writer Fawaz al-Tarabolsi said that Fairrouz and Ziyad’s support of Hezbollah comes in accordance with their support of Bashar al Assad’s regime over the years.

Saudi media outlets, such  Al Arabyia or Elaph, which usually carry an anti-Hezbollah agenda, gave cautious coverage and questioned Ziyad’s credibility on whether what he said was his own views or his mother’s. Realizing that its probably unwise to attack an iconic figure such as Fairouz, Saudi outlets opted to direct their anger against the son.

In response, Rahbani refused to backtrack and confirmed in a second interview, this time with Al-Mayadeen television, Fayrouz’s admiration to Nasrallah and the Resistance, a term used  to  refer to Hezbollah’s role in south Lebanon conflict with Israel (1982-2000).

During the interview, Ziyad said “Whoever attacks Fairouz and Nasrallah is defending Israel.”

He also indicated that his mother will probably be mad at him because  she does not like it when he discloses private matters like her political views. Yet, he justified the revelation by saying that in light of the difficult circumstances which the region is witnessing, silence is no longer a choice. Ziyad said that her decision to keep her political views to herself should change because “this is going to be a long war and she has to speak up.”

Fayrouz Fairouz over the years..

At the age of 78, Fairouz has not given any interviews nor made any stage  appearance for years.  Her media advisor,  Dhoha Chams  takes care of her PR, including this very recent crisis.  To many people’s surprise though,  Chams’s response was  unapologetic. In an op-ed  published by Al-Akhbar newspaper, pro Hezbollah outlet,  Chams emphasized  Rahbani’s right to speak on behalf of his mother, saying that he is the legitimate heir  of the Rehbani’s family and his mother’s legacy.

Ziyad’s father was the famous Lebanese  composer Assi Rahbani who passed away in 1986. Since the father’s death, Ziyad started to compose his mother songs.

The media advisor also explained that Ziyad’s revelation comes within his constant attempt to convince his mother to come out from her isolation. Chams mentioned several examples to demonstrate Fairouz’s conformance with Arab nationalist sentiment against Israel, including one incident in Jordan where she had a concert and threatened to cancel it if the Israeli ambassador to Amman were to attend. The  singer who is widely admired across the Arab region made several songs glorifying cities such as Jerusalem, Baghdad, Amman and others.

On his side, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, also dubbed as “Al-Sayed”,  indirectly cited Rahbani’s statement in a recent speech he gave to mark the assassination of a  senior commander in his party. The  Lebanese Daily Star quoted Nasserallah as saying; “We have reached a stage in the country when someone says he loves someone else this could lead to the country’s destruction,” Nasrallah sarcastically added: “No one is allowed to love.”

A photoshopped image of Fairouz wearing an Islamic dress while holding a Hezbollah flag has been trending by Lebanese on twitter. One tweet jokingly predicted that the singer’s new song will be a Latimyia, titled “I love you Nasrallah”. Latimyia is a sad song performed vocally without instruments by Shiite who beat their chest as part of their commemoration of  Imam Hussein’s death anniversary.

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Photoshopped image of Fairouz wearing Islamic dress and holding a Hezbollah’s flag.

From a PR perspective, Ziyad probably knew that Fairouz will weather the storm. The  singer’s record and wide popularity across the region has established her as an iconic figure and a story like this one would still not hurt her image in the public eye. So far, Ziyad’s assumption seems to be true as many of Fairous’s fans, in Lebanon and abroad, has rushed to defend her and what she stands for.

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However,  the debate over Fairouz’s political views highlights the sectarian tension in Lebanon that has been on the rise amid the spillover of Syria’s civil war. This kind of tension has politicized   everything in Lebanon including  art.

Whether it is true or not, Ziyad Rahbani’s story about his mother’s admiration of Hezbollah’s chief,  reflects the sense of insecurity among Lebanon’s many religious sects, whose fragile balance of power is increasingly endangered as the strongest political faction, Hezbollah, backs the Syrian government, and its Sunni and some Christians rivals support the Sunni-led Syrian insurgency.

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