Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yemeni excellence

الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام

[Note:  for the latest updates to the upheaval in Yemen, click here.]

I don’t usually allude to Arabic on these pages, for a number of reasons;  but currently we are witness to acts of stunning bravery and discipline in many parts of the Arab world.  In particular in Yemen, where a broadening coalition of workers, intelligentsia, and tribal peoples, add their traditional good-natured humor to the mix.    And here we see the long history of Yemeni political poetry  coming brilliantly to fruition  in a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk  of poetry, music, dance, and fist-pumping  all in one, performed recently in Taghyir Square -- literally 'Change Square', the recently bestowed nom de guerre of the esplanade abutting the University in San`aa, after Tahrir Square ('Liberation Square', as in Cairo) was pre-emptively occupied by government supporters.  (The words rhyme in Arabic; and in that sense, were a taste of things to come.  Think:  May '68, Paris.)

You would have to go back to the Berlin of the Weimar republic to find any comparably excellent mix of artistry and insurrection.   And even that is not really comparable, since Brecht and his buddies performed in the relative safety of fashionable cabarets -- not in the public square, surrounded by the police.

The principle performer is Muhammad al-Adra`i,

محمد الأضرعي

a comedian and activist from Dhamar.  Here, he chants a witty ironical poem, written for the occasion.   This, over an ostinato or basso continuo (“The People --  demand -- the fall of the regime!”), courtesy of the masses in attendance at this historic demonstration.   Towards the end, new themes join the mix:  the national anthem  (“Bilad al-Yemen”), and an anthem born of the Tunisian struggle, which has spread across the borders (“Idha l-sha`b yawman arâd al-Hayaa”).  This intricate blend is notable in itself, since  traditionally  Arab music has not been polyphonic.

Antiphony, by contrast, is quite characteristic of Arab political demonstrations, leading to much more interesting chants than the monotonous old monophony of our own antiwar demos during Vietnam ("Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" -- da capo al fine, ad nauseam).   Here the relation between the chant-leader and the mass audience is more complex, since he does not overtly share their point of view, but pretends to be President Saleh pleading with "his" people:    "Oh you who have been patient for a year -- it wouldn't hurt you to just sit tight another day.   Please, don't be precipitate -- even if the heat turns scorching.  Why the hurry?  Please, people, whaddaya say you just chill out -- say, for another thirty days."  (A veiled allusion to Saleh's thirty-two years in office.)  --  Solidly, stolidly, the demonstrators reply with the refrain  in one voice:  al-sha`b  -- yuriid -- isqaaT al-niDHaam !

[Update 25 III 11: ] This slogan, incidentally, has gone international.  It was the arrest of children in Syria for spray-painting it, that triggered the deadly riots and repression in Dar`aa (درعا‎)
Similarly, the simple central slogan in Cairo's Tahrir Square,  irHal  'Leave!  Depart!  Hit the road!'  resounds in Yemen as well, and is painted on arms and faces.   Often, though, with a Yemeni twist, in wry allusion to the profusion of local subdialects in that fractured land:  irHal ya`ni barra` ya`ni ... -- as it were, "Scram! (and if you don't know that word) Skedaddle! (and if that one baffles you) Vamoose!"

We salute the valor, vim, and determination of the people of Yemen. 
May that tortured land  become Arabia Felix once again.

[More here.]

And.... Bonus link:
Moroccan excellence

[For more Yemen-related posts, click on the Label "Yemen" below]

We alluded above to the esprit ludique of mai soixante-huit.   Something of the sort bloomed on Cairo's Tahrir Square as well, as recounted in a very interesting article in today's NYTimes:

[update 1 May 2011]
South of the Sahara, the popular protest chant comparable to the Arabic al-sha`b yuriid isqaaT al-niZaam -- or simply, "irHal!" is the French "Quitte le pouvoir !", originally from Ivory Coast. Recently this slogan has achieved prominence in Burkina Faso.

Si cela vous parle,
savourez la série noire
en argot authentique d’Amérique :

[update 1 Aug 2011]
Click here for a visual summary of events, simplified for the busy businessman.

[Update 31 Aug 2011]
Eat, dance, and be merry...

[Update 24 January 2015]  Well, it was nice while it lasted.  As for now, a Web of Enmity:

[Update 31 Dec 2015]  A bright spot in a currently somber landscape:

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