Iraqi news agency uses “influencer marketing” to gain recognition

 

A snapshot of Why News website.

A snapshot of Why News website.

للقراءة بالعربية اضغط هنا

Iraq has been generating news headlines everywhere for more than a decade now, yet this same massive coverage has not been welcomed by many Iraqis who are gradually turning away from using the traditional media as a reliable source of news, in favor of social media.

In a country like Iraq where sectarian and political rifts continue to steer the balance of the power, news coverage has been often filtered by the agenda of the ruling political parties or even regional players who fund many of the country’s media outlets.

In their quest of unfiltered content many Iraqis have turned to social media as alternative. The past few years has witnessed the rise of several Iraqi bloggers particularly on Facebook, where 70 per cent of Iraqis have an active account.

Frustrated with the conditional freedom of the local or Arab press, some Iraqi journalists also decided to expand their message beyond the sponsor using the same platform to reach out to a wider audience.

Despite the fact that some local traditional media, newspapers or broadcasters, have started to incorporate social media, audience reaction has not changed since the content remained the same.

Yet one news agency seems to have utilized social media differently and effectively to market its content. Why News (ynewsiq.com), is a newly emerging local news agency that has garnered popularity among many Iraqis despite its relatively short life. Within less than a year the agency managed to make a buzz particularly during the recent crisis of created by the invasion of “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant” (ISIL) of Mosul and other parts of the country.

By using “influencer marketing” as a strategy, the Iraqi news agency is using both journalists and bloggers to reshape the way local media market operates.

A group of Iraq’s most influential journalists and bloggers and media analysts have been contributing to the agency’s newsgathering and content on regular basis. By leveraging these influencers the agency managed to build its credibility and expand advocacy for an independent transparent press.

The majority of the contributing writers or correspondents are offering their content for free to help reduce expenses spent on hiring staff to gather the news or analytical reports.

 

This approach also helps the agency to build its brand as a reliable news source. By virtue of the fact that these influencers are choosing to publish content on its website, they are actually signaling their approval of it.

 

Since the agency has content from a wide range of Iraqi influencers based inside and outside and from different age groups, each of whom shares his or her content with their diverse groups of followers on Facebook or Twitter, which means more people are visiting the agency website.

 

In return, the agency is offering the influencers a chance to expose their uncensored content to wider circle of audience through its website which also has build so far a significant percentage of organic visitors.

 

Much of the credit must be given to the professional young leadership of the agency for selecting the right group of influencers and managing to build and maintain a healthy transparent relationship with each one of them to ensure the flow of quality content.

 

Like many promising media projects in Iraq, the challenging aspect for an agency like Why News remains the funding. The online ads, which are usually cheaper than other media ads, bring very little revenues.

 

Despite the fact that a considerable amount of the content is produced by the influencers free of charge, the costs of maintaining the website as well as the costs of hiring technical and editorial staff remain challenging, but hopefully the fruits of their labor, which already started to pay off, will ease that problem.

النوستالجيا: تسويق الافكار بعدسة الماضي الجميل

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سماح المؤمن

(النوستالجيا) او الحنين الى الماضي في بعض أو جميع مفرداته، هو شعور لطالما تخلل احاديثنا مع العائلة والاصدقاء أو رفقة الجيل الأكبر سناً، حباً من أحد الطرفين أو كلاهما في استرجاع ذكريات أثيرة ودوا لو أن عقارب الزمن تعود الى الوراء لتستنسخ منها المزيدفي مثل هذا النوع من الأحاديث التي عادة ما تتشعب، ينفض المتحدث الغبار عن عالم “وردي” يقترب في مخيلته ولاسبابا غالبا ما تكون شخصية، من المثالية لكنه ليس بالضرورة كذلك

وفي العموم تنتهي تلك الاحاديث بحسرة يتوجها المقطع الشهير لسيدة الشرق أم كلثوم “عايزنا نرجع زي زمان، قول للزمان ارجع يازمان”! واضعا خاتمة حزينة لمشاعر مريحة استمرت ربما لدقائق. وقد يفطن الكثيرون إلى أن هذا الطابع من الحنين أصبح في الأونة الأخيرة يحاصرنا حتى خارج أسوار البيت والمقهى والعمل، بل يكاد يكون ختم يمهر إعلانات التلفاز والكليبات الغنائية وتقارير الصحفيين وبوستات مدونو وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي وصفحاتها

وكما هو الحال في الشرق، يمتد نطاق هذه الظاهرة ليطال الغرب أيضا، فهذا الشعور بالحنين أمر إنساني يتشارك فيه العراقي والمصري والأمريكي والياباني والفرنسي والمكسيكي وإن اختلفت دوافعهم في بعض التفاصيل. في نهاية الأمر، الجميع من وجهة نظر خبراء الاعلام الاستراتيجي والتسويق الدعائي، مستهلكون يشعرون بالقلق من القادم ويجدون راحة في استذكار الماضي بما يوفره بساطه السحري من آمان نفسي

وكي نبسط الموضوع أكثر، فالعراقي يجد راحة في استذكار الأيام الخوالي التي لم يكن يخشى فيها على حياته وحياة أسرته ولم يكن هناك تهجير أو نازحين والغالبية من النساء تواكب خطوط الموضة ورب الأسرة يملك أن يسافر مع عائلته صيفاً إلى لبنان وكلنا نعيش في “ود ووئام”. والاميركيون يتوقون لأيام الازدهار الاقتصادي الخالي من ضجيج الإلكترونيات، عندما كان العشاق يذهبون لمشاهدة أفلام هوليوود وهم يجلسون في سيارات الفورد المكشوفة الفارهة ويملكون شراء تذكرة مباريات كرة القدم الامريكية او البيسبول

ويستثمر الكثيرون توق المستهلك لاستنساخ تجارب الماضي تلك عبر منتوجات تمد جسور الثقة بين الماضي والمستقبل. و لعل ذلك هو السبب وراء نجاح إعلان تجاري كالذي خرجت به شركة (بيبسي) للمشروبات الغازية في مصر، عندما انتجت في رمضان المنصرم إعلان (يلة نكمل لمتنا). الاعلان الذي جمع مشاهير مثل اعضاء (فرقة الفور أم) وفريق عمل مسرحية (المتزوجون)، سمير غانم وجورج سيدهم وشيرين، وبعض نجوم الرياضة والفن الاخرين، جاء بعد دراسة لحاجة المستهلك المصري لنوع من الاستقرار المرتبط بتلك الايام دون اقحام لاي رموز سياسية من تلك الحقبات باستثناء هولاء الفنانين الذين يتفق الجميع على ودهم. لقد استثمر منتج العمل حنين الناس للماضي فشحنهم بجرعة عاطفية رومانسية عززت خلال فترة الاعلان الزمنية، مشاعر الوحدة الوطنية التي هم أحوج لها من أي وقت مضى جراء وضع أمني وسياسي متأزم

ربما يسأل الكثيرون مالذي كسبته شركة (بيبسي) من ذلك؟ الشركة قدمت نفسها عبر هذا الإعلان كراع للسلم الاهلي يهمه بقدر الربح التجاري، كسب احترام المصريين. بفضل هكذا إعلان، تصبح الشركة مرتبطة في أذهان المصريين بقيم إيجابية تضيف لسمعتها التجارية في السوق المصري الكثير. ولا يقتصر الأمر عند الاعلانات والكليبات الغنائية بل يتعاده لكتاب الاعمدة الصحفية وحتى مدونو السوشيل ميديا وفق سياق وتوظيف ذكي وإن كان أحيانا فطريا، يهدف لتبسيط الفكرة موضوع النقاش ودفع المتلقي لتغير تعاطيه معها

ربما أفضل مثال للقارىء العراقي هو ما تقدم عليع بغض صفحات الفيسبوك، كصفحة (بغداد)، بين الحين والاخر من وضع صور لمفردات من الماضي القريب. الصفحة التي تحظى بمتابعة نحو نصف مليون متابع غالبا ما تلجأ لوضع صورة لقطعة شوكلاته يفتقدها السوق، أو صورة لمضيفات الخطوط الجوية في الثماننيات، أو صورة لسيدات عراقيات غاية في الاناقة من حقبة الستينات أو صور العائلة المالكة في العراق وهي في جميع الاحوال تواكب ما تفعله صحفات اخرى حققت نجاحا جماهيريا باتباع نفس الاسلوب الذي يتماشى مع هدف الصفحة. وقد يلاحظ أن بعض الصور كتلك التي تجسد معالم المدينة، يكون لها مردود مضاعف على العراقيين خارج الوطن مما يعزز دور الحنين في التجواب الايجابي مع ما تقدمه الصفحة

و مما لا شك فيه أن استثمار ذكريات المتلقي وتعلقه بمفردات الماضي التي ضاعت في سوق الحاضر هو إسلوب يسهم في زيادة مبيعات البضاعة محل العرض، معنوية كانت أم مادية، غير إنه يجدر التذكير أن تبني هذا القالب بكثرة قد يفقد الاثارة مع مرور الوقت، فيشعر المتلقي، خصوصا من لم يعش ذلك الماضي، بالرتابة والملل وأن البضاعة اصبحت فاقدة لصلاحيتها بحكم الزمن فيشيح بوجهه عنها

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Nostalgia, booming trend in Arab marketing

للقراءة بالعربية اضغط هنا

Marketing communications have witnessed a radical change in the Arab world in recent years with many advertisers leaning towards using concepts that relate to people’s aspirations and their thirst for stability and prosperity; two lost commodities in the post-Arab spring era .

More and more companies  are now relying on integrated communication strategies that try to avoid the traditional direct messaging .  Perhaps among the most booming trends that characterizes the Arab advertisements these days is nostalgia . TV commercials of famous brands are extensively depicting positive values associated with past times.

Pepsi Masr (Egypt)’s recent TV commercial is a good example of such successful employment of nostalgia. The company launched its Ramadan 2014 campaign with an ad that remind the Egyptians of the glories from the near past, bringing together some of the Egypt’s best entertainment icons such as 4Ms (musical band), Samir Ghanim, Sheeren, George Sedehom, Najwa Ibrahim, Hosham Abbas, Hamid al Sha’ir,  Boogie & Tamtam (TV muppet show) and others. The ad shows all these stars recalling or browsing old photos from their shows and the old times.

PepsiMasr is capitalizing on its last year TV commercial which had the same title (Yella Nekamal Lametina  – Let’s Complete Our Gathering), but this time with a different cast.

This year’s TV commercial is already making buzz among Egyptian social media users. A hashtag that has the campaign title in Arabic  (يلا_نكمل لمتنا# ) has been trending on twitter and Instgram with many users tweeting about their own memories.

Many Egyptians are tweeting old pic showing their families and friends  just like in the ad.

Many Egyptians are tweeting old pics showing their families and friends just like in the ad.

Communication theories and related psychological studies suggest that remembering the past triggers positive feelings that usually make people feel younger by exposing them to something that they are familiar with such as images that are not necessary product-specific.

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Despite the fact that these kind of ads could alienate certain audience group such as the younger generations that are not familiar with these past icons, the success they are making in the Arab world indicates that many Arabs  are fed up with the violent status quo and longing for the good old days.

It is worth to mention that some wide-range of Arab columnists and bloggers,  specifically those in Egypt and Iraq, are also using “nostalgia” as a theme in their writings to provoke attitude-change.

Published by (Why News), an Iraqi news agency, on Aug 31

Egyptian song capitalizes on Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, goes viral

UAE Singer Hussian al Jasmi

UAE Singer Hussian al Jasmi posing with the Egyptian Flag

  اضغط هنا للقراءة بالعربية

 نشر بالعربية في موقع وكالة واي نيوز العراقية يتاريخ ٣ يونيو ٢٠١٤ 

The Arabic translation of this article was published by Way News, an Iraqi news agency on Jun 3 2014

Despite the considerably low turnout for the Egyptian presidential elections (46 per cent), fans of UAE singer Hussain al Jasmi claimed that his song, “Boshret Khair” (Good Omen) ten days before the elections encouraged many Egyptians to vote. Launched on May 16, the song gained more than 13 million views on YouTube so far.

Written by Egyptian Ayman Bahjat Qamar, the song capitalized on the global success of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” including Arab countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon and most recently Yemen.

Al Jasmi’s song adopted a similar style of Williams, especially the  cheerful music which was composed by Egyptian Amro Mustafa. The lyrics which were written by Egyptian Bahgat Amar call on Egyptians from some of the country’s major cities to participate in elections.

While the video does not show the singer, Al Jasmi, it features ordinary Egyptians from different provinces dancing happily in streets and holding signs that encourage people to vote in.

 

Al Jasmi’s success prompted some journalists and social media users to initiate a twitter  hashtag campaign to grant the UAE singer  Egyptian citizenship.

As happened with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, Egyptians posted tribute videos capturing their happy moments while dancing to Al Jasmi’s song. Some of these videos went viral prolonging the momentum of  the song.

One version shows a woman wearing Niqab belly dancing in the middle of the street to the song, and a crowd of people gathered around her cheering.

Another shows what appears to be a group of policemen belly dancing to the song. Others used montage movie scenes showing  famous Arab and western celebs dancing to the song. U.S President Barack Obama was the theme of one of those montage clips.

 

 

A hashtage of the song name, #بشرة_خير (Boshret Khair) has been trending with users posting videos and photos of people dancing to the song.

 

The song also has a serial now made by monologist and satirist  Akram Hossni, also known as Abu Hafidha, the name of the TV character he presents in  a weekly show “Yes’ad Allah Masa’ikum” (Pleasant Evening). The monologist  used the same music with new lyrics calling on Egyptians in cities that Al Jasmi’s song forgot to mention.

 

 

Egypt’s classic singer, Hani Shakir, criticized the song clip saying that it shows the country as one big “cabaret ” in reference to all the dancing Egyptians it features.

Aside from the song artistic value, it certainly had some of the magic formula that makes many videos go viral. One ingredient is that it tells a compelling story on how significant the elections are in shaping Egypt’s modern history. Regardless of what kind of product you are trying to market, a compelling narrative could be your way of selling the story.

Additionally, the song managed to create an emotional engagement by making people dance or clap or smile every time they listen to it. A sad song/video could also have similar impact.

According to Kevin Allocca, YouTube trends manager, described tastemakers, creative participating communities, complete unexpectedness, as all characteristics of a new kind of media and a new kind of culture where anyone has access and the audience defines the popularity.

In this context, the song was a subject of discussion of many daily Egyptian and Arab TV talk shows such as Amr Adeeb’s “Cairo Today“, whom, with other TV hosts, served as tastemakers.

The Egyptian entertainment community tweeted and shared jokes about it so did the social media users.  All these factors combined together with the timing of the song, the significance of the theme for the Egyptians, has helped it go viral. However there are no guarantees that even if you still used this same exact formula that your video would go viral..one can only try !

 

Iraq’s electoral ad campaign: No winners !

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اضغط هنا للقراءة بالعربية

Published by Al Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper  on April 12, 2014

Nearly 9020 Iraqi parliamentary candidates on Tuesday (April 1st) kicked off their campaigns in preparation for the elections due to take place on April 30th.

Thousands of posters adorned the streets of the Iraqi capital Baghdad and other provinces. The war of the posters is expected to worsen as the date of election approaches, even though many observers have little faith that these would change voters’ convictions in a country ruled by sectarian and tribal loyalties.

There has been great deal of criticism of these ad campaigns in the traditional and social media that also included Iraq’s Independent Higher Commission of Elections (IHCE).

Choosing April’s fool day as a date to launch the official campaigning was certainly not the ideal choice. Some local newspapers and social media users mocked the choice saying it speaks for candidates’ personalities whom they described as “liars”.

Choosing the right timing is a highly specialized art. It can help or hinder any campaign. Planners need to check holidays, special days, and events in order to take advantage of specials days, which can bring added incentive to accelerate or disrupt the candidate’s   momentum if poorly chosen

A glimpse at these posters reveals that the ad professionals, if any, who were behind these designs failed to demonstrate any creativity to cut through the political fog.  It also shows that many of them have opted for an easy way to win the voters’ approvals by simply highlighting their candidate’s tribal and sect affiliations.

Tribal and families ties with well known social figures or political officials were recurrent in many posters. For instance, one poster for a candidate from Kerbala province indicated that he is a nephew of Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki. Likewise, some conservative female candidates used photographs of their male relatives instead of their own, abiding to strict tribal and religious customs that forbid women from showing their faces.

Endorsement of grand clerics and senior army officers were another common theme that many candidates sought to include in their printed materials or Facebook pages.  One candidate, who is part of PM Nuri Al Maliki’s list “State of Law,” published on his Facebook page a photo of himself presenting an appreciation plaque to an Iraqi army brigade commander, something which many saw as a violation of the rules set by the IHEC.

In a clear indication of how sectarian basis and religious convictions rule the country, some candidates included in their printed material religious symbols such as the book of Qu’ran while some posters indicated that the candidate was ordered by prophet Mohammed to run. One poster suggested that the candidate was originally a Christian and chose to convert to Islam.

School credentials, particularly the candidate’s field of study or job title were a recurrent line in many posters, yet some had spelling or typo mistakes.

However, the most notable thing about candidate’s banners and posters their usage of slogans and designs which many of which seemed boring and staid affairs.

In an election campaign, slogans are highly important as they usually mirror and underscore the candidate’s ideas and thought process, i.e. it should tie to the campaign message and explain in few catchy words why this candidate is running for election.

It is also highly preferable that slogans would tie to core human values that everyone should desire such as fairness, equality, safety, and stability.

A slogan must be memorable. It needs to be short and snappy.

Few electoral lists and alliances remained consistent with their poster design. Members of these alliances seem to have different slogans, logos, colors and fonts, from those used by the leaders who had a better quality of design.

It is important however, to emphasize that actions speak louder than words.  No matter how good the ad campaign is, there is little it can do to improve a politician’s credibility among voters who have had enough time over the past years to test his potential and real capabilities.

Many of 2014 candidates are part of the current government or parliament, which is widely seen by the people as corrupt. Accordingly, the credibility of these candidates is severely damaged by their failure to accomplish what they have been promising over the past years.

Source credibility plays a big role in communications. PR specialists believe that people are more likely to be persuaded if the person doing the persuading is seen as an expert and trustworthy and someone with goodwill.

In this context, Iraqi candidates need to highlight in their ad campaigns these three factors in mind. To persuade the public since many of them seem to have unfavorable record in all three areas, their mission is going to be difficult. Those with certain physical attractiveness or charisma should emphasize these characteristics In fact; some communication theories suggest that attractive communicators are more successful than unattractive ones in changing beliefs, as are people who are generally likable.  The same can be said about gender and ethnicity of the candidate which PR theorists say matters highly in political communication.

In the context of Iraqi elections, in which ethnicity and sectarian lines are of supreme importance,  the smartest PR specialists may find it challenging to overcome sectarian affiliation.

Iraq’s nation branding: lost opportunity !

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(Read in Arabic) اقرأ المقال بالعربية 

On Sunday (Jan 26) , Iraqis across the country and even abroad celebrated  their national soccer team’s winning of the Asian Football Confederation Championship for under 22.  In the final match, Iraqis managed to beat their traditional  rival, the Saudi team 1-0.

The victory came in a time when many observers believe that the country is sliding towards the brink of a civil war provoked by the recent Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).occupation of two cities in the Anbar province and Iraqi government attempts to dislodge them.

The final match against Saudi Arabia meant a lot for some Iraqis, many of them whom believe that the Saudi Kingdom, which refuses to acknowledge the Shi’a government of Nuri al-Maliki, is funding the Sunni insurgency.

What made the situation even worse is that Iraq has recently decided to withdraw from the 2014 Gulf Cup, an international soccer tournament between countries from Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf.  It  was originally going to be hosted in its southern Iraqi city of Basra, but was moved to Saudi Arabia under pretext of  safety and infrastructure concerns raised by the Saudis. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a weekly televised speech that the tournament change was “prejudiced against the rights of the Iraqi people,” Al Jazeera reported.

Sunday’s match embodied a rare show of unity where Iraqis from different sects and ethnic groups took to the streets with spontaneous celebrations displaying their country’s flag over the cars and dancing till late hours of the night.  Fans also took the social media with videos and photos echoing national sentiment and pride.

Yet the same match highlighted the depth of the sectarian conflict which has swept the Middle East and spilled on to the football pitch.

Ahead of the game, some Iraqi news and social media sites exchanged photos of alleged Saudi fans carrying a banner that reads in Iraqi dialect: “Iraqis you will be dreaming if you think you can win today”.

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Saudi fans carrying a sign that reads “Do you want to win Iraqi? Your dream is too hard to become true..!”

In return, Saudi fans exchanged on twitter a photo shopped image published by Iraqi news website, Al Nahar, showing the Saudi team dressed like extreme Islamists with a caption that reads: “Daish team”, the Arabic abbreviation and pejorative  term for  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (ISIS).

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Photoshopped image showing the Saudi “clerics” team of ISIS (Right) vs. Iraq’s national team (Left) coached by PM Nuri al-Maliki (Photo courtesy of Iraqi Al-Nahar online journal)

Over the past ten years, Iraq national soccer teams have managed to bring people together like nothing else can. The memory of winning 2007 Asian Cup in Jakarta is still fresh many fans’ minds. Back then the sectarian violence was at an all time high in the vacuum left by Saddam’s overthrow, the victory allowed Iraqis to feel that they had reclaimed football and saw Shia, Sunnis, Christians, Muslims,  Kurds and Turkmen join together in a national celebration. The youth national team also did well in the recent World Cup held in Turkey when it reached the semi finals.

Despite all these successes and the national team’s popularity there has been hardly any initiative to capitalize on such success for a national  branding and unity campaign which seems essential for a country like Iraq where national identity is lost midst the political and sectarian divisions.

Nation branding is meant to build a an image or perception for a country that usually serves two purposes: one is to promote the country’s image internationally to attract investors and tourists, and second to promote it domestically to the its own citizens. In the case of Iraq, these two purposes seem critical as it seeks to expand its economic growth globally and to inspire national pride and unity, or bring an end to violent sectarianism.

However, the most crucially factor for Iraq now is the second function of nation branding and that is promoting a consistent and distinct national identity to a domestic audience. This means that citizens need to be treated as carriers of the campaign message. They must live the brand.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi government has done very little to capitalize on the national soccer teams’ victories. Initiatives are usually restricted to financial rewards to the team members and perhaps photo ops with them to win fan’s support for election campaigns.

What the Iraqi government ought to do is to engage those players in around -the – year schedules to  get them to play against well-known teams whether in tournaments or friendly matches while building an comprehensive ad campaign around them. Such a campaign could help produce the momentum promoting  an  Iraqi sense of belonging, unity, pride , and eventually contribute to that international aspect of the campaign.

While the tactics of the nation branding may vary, the brand story has to stay true to the changes the country is trying to make.It should be rooted in honesty.  In Iraq’s case, using the soccer national team would make a believable story . The purely Iraqi effort the players and their local coach made to win the championship stands as  evidence that when sectarian divisions and differences are set aside, progress  can be made.

Published by Baghdad-based independent Al Aalam Newspaper on Feb 5 2014

Iraqi columnist challenges taboos with fictional characters

Saleh al-Hamadani (Courtesy of his Facebook page)

Published in Arabic by Al Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper on Feb 16, 2014

As the 2014 general elections approach in Iraq, some Iraqis fear that the Islamic parties will continue to tighten their grip over the parliamentary seats and the government. However, a new generation of writers relying  purely on self-effort  is trying to stop the Islamic tide by raising a culture of political awareness.

Among those pops up the name of Saleh al-Hamadani, a sarcastic columnist who tries to promote a civil secular state where all Iraqis, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or gender, are equal before the constitution and law.

What makes Al-Hamadani stand out from the rest of his colleagues is his tactic  which combines between  traditional and digital media.

Born in Al Nassiryia 1969, Al Hamadani holds a bachelor degree in biology from the Collage of Education in Baghdad, 1993. He currently teaches biology in an intermediate school in the conservative city of Karbala, the second holiest destination for Shiite Muslims around the world.

His journalistic career started right after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2013 with several op-eds he wrote in local dailies such as Al-Mada, Al Sabah and online journals such as Ketabat. Currently he writes a daily column in AlA’lam, a newspaper that was closed for a while due to financial issues allegedly incited by the political parties.

To expand his audience and avoid media censorship, the teacher started using Facebook as an additional platform to reach out for the 77 percent of Iraqis who, according to a recent survey, have Facebook accounts.

As in his daily newspaper column, his Facebook posts challenge his followers to think out of the box and beyond their allegiance to the sect or tribe.

"I'm an Israeli, I read..", an op-ed that has stirred interests and controversy

“I’m an Israeli, I read..”, an op-ed that  has stirred interest and controversy

For instance, Al-Hamadani does not hesitate to give credit to a city like Tel Aviv for its liberal cultural environment and mocking a religious city such as Najaf for attempting to promote reading culture with only one small library building.

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“Rationing religious holidays”, a controversial op-ed by Al Hamadani.

He is also among the few in Iraq who dare to criticize the highest religious authority of Shiites, al-Murja’yia, for not urging the local authorities or followers to ration religious holidays that usually mark death anniversaries of Shiite Imams.

On many occasions, Al-Hamadani’s enthusiasm for a civil state comes disguised in some fictional characters he created and made famous among his readers and Facebook followers.

Many of the fictional comic scenes he creates take place in a family setting where a married couple debate in a southern Iraqi dialect a trivial matter, yet there is a symbolic connotation lurking underneath the surface.

Hamadani’s fictional stories inspired from every day life. (Photo courtesy of artist Wasma al Agha)

Kawghid (translates in Iraqi dialect as trash paper) and her husband, Haji Mankhi, are two main characters who often reflect the attitude of the common simple people of Iraq, particularly those in the southern part of the country where tribal taboos are as authoritative as religion.

Through a witty dialogue between the two, Al Hamadani compels his Iraqi readers to identify with these characters and their feelings about what is happening in Iraq. The conversation captures that duality of the Iraqi personality and the clash between the Bedouin and civil values inside it.

In one scene, Kawaghid aspires to convince her villager-husband of travelling to Tbilisi, Georgia, one of few countries that grants Iraqis tourists visa. When asked by her husband why she wants to go there, Kawaghid replies that she wants to see how it feels to wear a bikini while lying on a beach. To convince her husband, she tells him “beer is so cheap there that they sell it in gallons.” The husband, tempted by the mention of the beer, asks her in a way that shows he is being persuaded : “what are the rules of prayers when travelling?”

Aside from the comic setting he cleverly weaved, the conversation underlined the personal conflict of many Iraqis who seem to be torn between their desire for civil liberties and their fear of breaking taboos.

In another scene, Al-Hamadani tackles what many Iraqis talk about privately, but the media and the authorities try to avoid: President Jalal Talabani’s health conditions. For almost a year now, Talabani, 80 years,  has been recovering from a stroke that has prevented him from carrying out his presidential tasks. The scene opens up with Haji Mankhi chit chatting with a friend about the president’s sick leaves and how long he can extend them. Cunningly, Al-Hamadani highlights the impotence of the political partners who fail to agree on a candidate to replace the president even after a year.

Yet, Al-Hamadani’s most popular character of all is his fictional second wife, Um Hussam, who embodies the dream of every Iraqi man. In her early 40s, Um Hussam is extremely beautiful lady who is dominated by one passion and that is beatifying herself further to please her husband, Al –Hamadani, with whom she is in love head over heels.

Unlike the rest of his characters, Um Hussam refrains from discussing politics except in rare occasions when the husband insists. This past Ramadan, Um Hassam surprised her fans in one scene when she started talking in an Egyptian dialect. Al Hamadani’s use of the that dialect was meant to voice his admiration to the liberal movements in Egypt that rebelled against the Muslim Bothers government. In general though, Um Hussam’s stories are meant to offer the reader a break from politics and the daily bloodbaths in the streets , yet in many times they end up touching upon simple people’s dreams.

Arabic Reads: Um Hussam in a moment of contemplation says "Flirting should not be restricted to men"

Arabic Reads: Um Hussam in a moment of contemplation announces: “Flirting should not be restricted to men”.

Two Facebook groups named after Um Hussam and Kawghad are continuously growing with members thanks to Al Hamadani who has been diligent in updating them with the two women’s latest adventures almost on daily basis. He also has around  4000 followers on his Facebook account.

Fictional love scene with Um Hussam

Fictional love scene with Um Hussam, inspired from  the Egyptian cinema classics

From a communication perspective, Al Hamadani’s fictional characters and their stories are an application of the narrative theory  by Walter Fisher who argues that all forms of communication that appeal to our reason are best viewed as stories shaped by history, culture. In other words, if you want to communicate a message tell it through a story because people are easier  to be convinced by a story than a direct message.

While it is hard to argue that Al-Hamadani’s efforts to promote a civil secular environment will translate into a tangible outcome when the Iraqis cast their votes in April 2014. However, the buzz he is making, and the amount of impressions his Facebook posts are  gaining, will  reinforce his reputation as one  of Iraq’s leading sarcastic writers particularly if he managed to stay politically independent.

Besides his powerful sarcastic narrative , Al-Hamadani’s success  relies on his boldness in addressing sensitive issues, such as  Islamism, without being affiliated with any of the current political entities which many Iraqis nowadays view as corrupted.

كاتب ساخر يتحدى التابوهات بشخصيات افتراضية

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مع اقتراب موعد الانتخابات التشريعية والمقرر إقامتها في ابريل المقبل، يراود بعض العراقيين القلق من أن تسفر نتائجها عن إحكام الإسلاميين قبضتهم على مقاعد البرلمان مجددا ومعه الحكومة؛ غير إن تلك المخاوف لم توقف مسعى جيل جديد من الكتاب الذين يعملون بجهد فردي خالص لإيقاف زحف تلك التيارات من خلال التأسيس والترويج لثقافة مدنية

وهنا يأتي أسم الكاتب صالح الحمداني في مقدمة تلك المحاولات، إذ يسعى عبر حسّ صحافي ساخر إلى الترويج لمفهوم الدولة المدنية التي يتساوى فيها جميع العراقيين أمام سلطة القانون والدستور مهما اختلفت طوائفهم وأعراقهم وديانتهم. ورغم أن الكثير من الصحافيين الصاعدين يشاطرون الحمداني الغاية ذاتها، إلا إن أسلوبه الفُكاهي وقدرته على التواصل مع قراءه عبر وسائل الأعلام التقليدية والحديثة، تجعل الكفة بلا أدنى شك تميل لمصلحته

ويحمل الحمداني الذي ولّد في قضاء سوق الشيوخ في مدينة الناصرية (جنوب العراق)، عام ١٩٦٩، شهادة بكالوريوس في الأحياء من كلية التربية في «جامعة بغداد». ويمارس مهنة التدريس لمادة الأحياء في إحدى ثانويات البنين في كربلاء، والتي تُعتبر ثاني أهم قبلة للمسلمين الشيعة

بدأ الحمداني مشواره مع الصحافة منذ زمن ليس بالبعيد، وبالتحديد بعد سقوط نظام حكم صدام حسين، حيث كتب لصحف محلية يومية مثل «الصباح» و»المدى»، فضلا عن موقع «كتابات» الالكتروني قبل أن ينتقل الى صحيفة «العالم» المستقلة التي اضطرت للتوقف عن الصدور لفترة وجيزة إثر مشاكل مالية قيل إن أطراف سياسية كانت وراءها

ولتفادي أي توقف مشابه أو مقص رقيب، فضل مدرس الأحياء الاستعانة بجدران الـ«فيسبوك» مستثمرا شعبية الأخير بين العراقيين، حيث ذكر تقرير صدر حديثا عن «ميديا أرب إدفايزر» بأن ٧٧ في المئة منهم يملكون حسابا مفعلا على الموقع الأزرق

وكما في عموده اليومي في صحيفة «العالم»، فإن ما ينشره الحمداني على «فيسبوك» يأتي دوما في إطار حضّ القارئ والمتابع على التفكير خارج الصندوق، وبعيدا عن قيود الولاء للقبيلة أو الطائفة. فعلى سبيل المثال، لا يتردد الحمداني في عقد مقارنة متجردة بين مدينة إسرائيلية وأخرى عراقية، وهو أمر قد يبدو صادما لأتباع الخطين العروبي والإسلامي

وبينما يكيل المديح لمدنية تل أبيب لإشاعتها بيئة ثقافية تحضّ على القراءة، يستغرب الحمداني من محاولة مدينة النجف، ذات الطابع الديني المحافظ، التنافس على لقب مدينة الثقافة العربية رغم إنها لا تمتلك مقومات ذلك «سوى بناية مكتبة قديمة وصغيرة»، حسب ما يقول

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الكاتب، عاد ليوجهه سهام نقده هذه المرة نحو السلطة الأعلى دينيا في العراق متمثلة بالمرجعية الشيعية في النجف، أخذا عليها عدم حضّها للسلطات أو مقلديها على ترشيد العطل الدينية التي ترافق مواكب زيارة الأضرحة والعتبات المقدسة في شهر محرم والتي عادة ما تؤدي الى تعطيل مصالح العمل الرسمية والخاصة لأيام

وفي مناسبات عدة، يأتي حماس الحمداني لدولة مدنية علمانية متخفيا وراء وجوه شخصيات افتراضية من صنعه، عادة ما يحركها ضمن مشاهد كوميدية بلهجة عراقية تشي برمزية ذات مغزى. هذا الحماس يقابله تفاعل يُبديه قُراء الحمداني مع شخصياته الافتراضية التي ذاعت شهرتها مثل الخالة «كواغد» التي يعني أسمها باللهجة العراقية الدارجة الورق البالي أو المستخدم، وزوجها «حجي منخي»

إذ يُجسد الاثنان الطبقة البسيطة من عموم الناس، بالأخص تلك التي تقطن جنوب العراق حيث للأعراف والتقاليد العشائرية نفس سلطة الدين

ويسعى الحمداني عبّر الحوار الذي يضعه لـ«منخي» و«كواغد» أن يصل بالقارئ إلى حد التماهي مع تلك الشخصيات وما تشعر به حيال الوضع في البلاد، فتأتي كلماته مقتنصة لتناقضات الشخصية العراقية بما تحمله من قيم قبلية وأخرى تتوق للمدنية

في أحد المشاهد التي صاغها الحمداني، تحاول «كواغد» إقناع زوجها القروي بزيارة تبليسي عاصمة جورجيا، واحدة من الدول القليلة التي تمنح العراقيين هذه الأيام تأشيرة دخول سياحية دون تعقيدات. وعندما يسألها الحاج «منخي»: «لمَ تبليسي؟» تبدي «كواغد» رغبتها في تجربة لبس «البكيني» والاستمتاع بشمس الشاطئ من دون أن تنسى ذّكر كم هو زهيد سعر «البيرة»

«الحاج منخي» الذي فرجت أساريره عند ذّكر «البيرة» يُجسد قمة تناقض الشخصية العراقية عندما يبادرها بالسؤال عن مواعيد الصلاة في تبليسي

في مشهد آخر ينقل حوار، جمع «الحاج منخي» وصديق له، ما يدور من همس في البيوت العراقية هذه الأيام فيما تتجنب السلطات والصحافة الحديث عنه، ألا وهو الغموض الذي يلف صحة الرئيس جلال طالباني الذي مضى أكثر من عام على إصابته بأزمة صحية أقعدته الفراش

الحوار الذي صاغه الحمداني بفكاهته المعهودة يؤشر لعجز النخبة السياسية في التوصل الى بديل ينوب عن طالباني والخرق الدستوري الذي يشكله ابتعاد «فخامة الرئيس» كل هذه المدة عن القيام بمهامه الرسمية من دون مسوغ دستوري

وتبقى «أم حسام» الشخصية الأكثر شعبية لدى قراء الحمداني لما تحمله من خصال افتراضية تداعب مخيلة كل رجل عراقي. إذ تتحلى المرأة الأربعينية، طبقا لوصف الحمداني، بجمال تحسدها عليه كل نساء الحيّ، حيث تقضي جل يومها في التزين والتبرج لزوجها الذي تعشق، ويجسده افتراضيا هنا الحمداني نفسه. وعلى عكس باقي شخصيات الحمداني، لا تحب زوجته الافتراضية الحديث في السياسة إلا ما ندر وتحت إصرار الزوج، لكن ذلك لا يعني أن تخلو كلمات الحب من بعض الرمزية الذكية. ففي شهر رمضان الفائت، ومع اشتداد موجة التظاهرات التي اجتاحت المدن المصرية ضد حكم «الإخوان»، ظهرت «أم حسام» في مشهد جديد مع الزوج الحبيب، لكن المفاجأة كانت في لهجتهما التي جاءت بالمصرية العامية، في إشارة أراد منها الكاتب الإشادة بمنجز الليبيراليين في مصر

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في العموم، تسعى حكايات «أم حسام» خصوصا تلك التي يخص بها جمهور الـ«فيسبوك» أن توفر محطة استراحة للقارئ عندما تلامس أحلامه البسيطة، بعيدا عن تخبصات السياسة وحمامات الدم التي تشهدها شوارع المدن في العراق

وتحت ضغط محبي «كواغد» و«أم حسام» انشأ الحمداني مجموعتين (غروب) على الـ«فيسبوك» باسميهما، حيث يقوم بتحديث آخر مغامراتهما في شكل دوري يكاد يكون يوميا أحيانا إذا ما توفر الإلهام. كما تحظى صفحة الحمداني «الفيسبوكية» بمتابعة نحو ٤٠٠٠ مواطن رقمي

ومن منظور تحليلي، فإن ما يقوم به هذا الكاتب الحكواتي عبّر أسلوبه السردي الفكاهي وشخصياته الافتراضية يقع ضمن إحدى نظريات الاعلام  التي تعرف بنظرية السرد (Narrative Theory)

التي يقول صاحبها والتر فيشر، إن «أنجع طرق التواصل مع إي جمهور لإيصال فكرة أو رسالة معينة، هو أن تضعها في قالب قصصي لان الأفراد على وجه المطلق يستوعبون الفكرة ويقتنعون بها كلما جاءت بشكل قصة يتماشى مضمونها مع ما ألفوه حولهم»

ورغم صعوبة التنبؤ إن كان مسعى الحمداني للترويج لدولة مدنية سيؤتي أكله عندما يحين موعد الاقتراع في 30 ابريل المقبل، بيد إن الاهتمام والتفاعل الذي يحظى به على صفحات العالم الافتراضي وخارجها يؤشران على نجاحه في التأسيس لسمعته ككاتب صحافي لامع يتقدم صفوف الكثيرين ممن سبقوه في مجال كتابة الأعمدة الصحافية والنقد الاجتماعي الساخر. يبقى أن نقول إن وصفة نجاح الحمداني تظل مرهونة إلى حد كبير على جرأته في التطرق لمواضيع مهمة، كظاهرة الإسلام السياسي، من دون الانجرار وراء تيارات حزبية أو الانتساب إلى مؤسسات صحافية ذات أجندات مشبوهة وهو ما نجح في تجنبه حتى الآن

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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Snow Spurs Content Creation on Arab Social Media

Severe weather conditions  have caused disruptions throughout the Middle East  with countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan experiencing  the heaviest snow storms in years.

However,  the snow storm dubbed Alexa was an opportunity for some Arabs to create  content that tickled our funny bone and managed to generate buzz.

Photos of snow swept the social media particularly in Egypt where people joked that the snowfall was the magical work of Gen. Abdel Fattah  el-Sisi.  See translated caption below.

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Arabic caption reads: “God Bless El-Sisi..he turned the country into a European state in two months” (photo courtesy of El-Masrawy)

A  scene still from the classic “Bayn el Qasryan” (Palace Walk), a movie based on a novel with the same title by Noble prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, was the theme of another cold weather joke. The photoshopped  still showed “Si el Sayid, the cruel husband,  practicing  his absolute  authority over his  obedient wife, Amiena. Contrary to her character  in the movie though, Amiena this time decides to stand up for herself. See translated caption below.

Si el Sayad (Right): Did you wash the dishes, Amiena? Amiena: You really don't have shame, Si el Sayad !

Si el Sayad [Right]: Why didn’t you wash the dishes, Amiena?
Amiena [Left]: You really don’t have blood (Colloquial for you don’t have shame), Si el Sayad ! (Photo Courtesy of El Masrawy)

The joke was  meant to reflect how the cold weather prevented many housewives from doing their daily chores which their husbands take for granted .

Among those who successfully capitalized on the weather conditions was the Egyptian journalist and TV host of “Manshet”, Jaber el Armoti. The host surprised his spectators on  Thursday when he appeared bundled in a blanket asking his audience to donate for “Blanket for Needy”, a charity campaign.

The episode which was uploaded to YouTube generated more 50,000 views while a twitter hashtag that has the TV host’s name in Arabic, (القرموطي#), is still trending.

"In August, El Qarmoti will present the show in his underwear

One user tweeted “Does that mean that in August, El Armoti will present the  show wearing his underwear only?”

Do you remember, Gamhir from Bassem Youssef’s show? She made a short but sharp-witted  appearance capitalizing on El-Armoti’s blanket video.

Comedian actor Khalid Mansour, known for his portrayal of Gamhir,  posted on his twitter and Facebook accounts a  still for one of Gamhir’s popular sketches in which she appeared snuggling up in bed with a blanket.  The other half of the photo showed El Armoti bundled in his blanket.

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Mansour jokingly wondered if El Armoti was trying  to compete with Gamhir !

Yet, it was the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, who generated the biggest buzz. While touring the capital Amman to oversee efforts to clear the snow off the streets, the King rushed to help the driver and passengers of one car who got stuck in the Amman snow Saturday.

A YouTube video showing the king as he pushed the car together with few other people, uploaded by the Jordanian news website Khabarni, was broadcast by several Arab satellite channels including Al-Arabyia and is still trending on different social media platforms by Jordanians and other Arab users.