Arabic content, equality, online Arab content, women

All Good Things Come in 7s. Not Really, But this List Does!


So. I spent the summer reaching the finales of ALL my favourite shows & then staring into the abyss, feeling empty & aimless not knowing quite what do with my eyes and ears.

See, my summer evenings were more homebound than I had originally envisaged – never mind that they were spent in various cities – all tempting with their share of debauchery to be had – but not by me. Instead, I found myself often hysterically clicking episodes on OSN Play, praying they are ones I had missed or new ones that have miraculously appeared; knowing full well in my heart of hearts that these are the very pen-ultimate and ultimate episodes that struck panic in my gut as I finished watching them the week before.

So…you can imagine my delight at stumbling upon new content I wish I had been across all year! And I’m not even talking about Netflix & Chill, nor about HBO, primetime or even the talkies people! I am talking about DIGITAL. From ARABIA! This really cool stuff, that is mostly funny and at times insightful, was and is being consumed on my iPhone on very low volume as I lay fully clothed on top of my bed (horror!) waiting for signs that my daughters have fallen asleep so I can go downstairs, feign interest in being an adult for 10-minutes before collapsing on the couch, lamenting all the work, DIY projects & self improvement exercises that I am not going to be doing that night at all.

To list but a few (well, seven to be precise) & in no particular order – except that they’re chronological, based on my stream of consciousness:

1- The Other Stories Project. Mostly an Instagram Stories feed that re routes you to the original project, The Other Stories Project is a very evocative, lyrical but extremely accessible and simple storytelling platform. Saudi Fatima Al Banawi, a multi-hyphenated-artist come actress, goes to different, often remote, parts of her home-town of Jeddah and gets people (namely female) to write one-page stories that she shares, curates and adapts into narratives that are both intriguing and relatable.

2- Barakah Yuqabil Barakah (Barakah Meets Barakah). Speaking of Fatima (see, I told you there is a logical flow to this list) her acting debut in Barakah Yuqabil Barakah delivers to us a Saudi rom-com coming of age first-time film that comments on the stale state that millennials in the Gulf state(s) find themselves in. This flick is clickable & ready to watch on iTunes.

Still image from Barakah Meets Barakah with Fatima Al Banawi & Hisham Fageeh

3- Shaffaf. Yet another Saudi surprise (I’m on a roll) comes in the state of YouTube series called Shaffaf where a young, satirical and very dynamic presenter interviews people on timely, often awkward or funny, topics and truly marks often quite revelatory insights with humorous but never obnoxious undertones. The one on mens rights is a favourite, so is the one on women’s rights but perhaps funniest is the episode on Kuwaiti musalsalat.

4- Marwan Younis / Begad. This Egyptian advertising & music enthusiast is seriously funny in his serial commentary on the good, but more so the bad & the ugly, in Arab (mostly Egyptian) audiovisual content. Anything from videos gone viral, to bootleg music videos (who could forget the one that maimed our video streams this summer) & advertising campaigns, this man hilariously spins into a funny but true series of smilies, metaphors & anecdotes. He even sometimes features his very cynical & sarcastic mother. Begad appears as videos on Facebook.

5- Brown Book. Some of you may be familiar with this beautiful bimonthly publication featuring curated content on everything ‘other’ yet prolific in art, design & culture from the Middle East. Originating from the UAE, perhaps one of its most tactile and consumable content are the short films offered on people & places of the region that are short & sweet audiovisuals full of inspiration & intrigue. is truly a gem easy to ingest & shouldn’t be missed.

Still image from film with Salma Tuqan

6- Kerning Cultures. This is a bit of a cheat, because it is not exactly a viewable narrative, but! It is entertaining as it is informative non-the-less. This podcast out of the UAE is investigative journalism at its most lyrical, & what more can you ask of a podcast (yas! a podcast!) that takes the time to tell you about everything from the charming backstreets of post – revolution Tunis to the traditions that migrate with those forced to leave their home. Kerning Cultures goes the extra mile for those who may not be able to listen but are willing to read by provides a full transcript of each episode!

7 – Hay El Matar. Ok fine, in the interest of full disclosure, this too is a form of audio content (audio narrative, scripted series, musalsal to be exact), but much like the entry above, it too has a stylised site to help make the listening journey have tactile a feel to it. Hay El Matar is a Syrian audio musalsal that comes in episodes that are around 15 minutes long & make for a great head-phoned break from the hustle and bustle of our messy lives. Telling a story of other messy lives, those of often young & memorable characters, at the brink of deciding whether to stay or to leave (some don’t have the luxury of choice) their small neighbourhood in war-worn Syria. With high production quality & contemporary, cool storytelling, this new rendition of an old tradition captures the imagination & will get you hooked.

Cartoon capture from Hey El Matar website




Seeing is Believing: In Search of [The Right] Heroines Part II

Speaking of finding the right female voices that I would like my daughter exposed to, I have been thinking a lot about aspirational women and how often (or not) we, in the Arab region, are given the opportunity to truly see them, hear them and, more importantly, to relate to their experience and aspire to be like them.

This subject matter is maimed with explosive sub-topics but I am interested in a few of them in particular.

  1. The ah-but-she-is-also-honourable manhole: One of the things that I find truly excruciating is in any formula against which a women is being measured, it feels like intrinsically, the biggest value in any such equations will be given to being ‘honourable’ (can insert varying but equally loaded synonyms here). While I understand the cultural context and recognise the virtue of the adjective, I feel that we are so set back in the female representation, let alone female equality agenda, that really – there are far more important adjectives that need to underpin our definition of the common heroines RIGHT NOW. I think that in a world with a word count, if we had to really pick our words, there are far more important and urgent ones to get in there. For me, the women I am looking for need to be loaded with the big guns to breast-stroke against the [backwater] tide of our contradictory social, economic and cultural norms. HONESTY, BRAVERY (see Reshma  Saujani’s Ted Talk), COMPASSION, WISDOM, ACCEPTANCE, HARD WORK and being an all round bad-ass is what we need to champion the cause of half of our communities. If a woman has the ovaries to stand up for what she believes and churn at it even if it doesn’t look like something familiar to most, then really; also being honourable is the over-the-top icing on the cake. Also, the problem is not so much in honourability itself, but in the way that we teach it to girls from a young age. It starts with be nice and be polite. And don’t get me wrong, I would love for both my daughters to grow up nice and polite, but seriously – these characteristics are nowhere in the Top Ten list of aspirations I have in mind to best prepare them to kick ass or zen out.
  2. The exhausting extinction of being casual/cool: Ok, granted, this may be arising from my slightly lazy sense of style and my diminishing ability to wear heals or keep the lipstick from running outside the almost inexistent border of my lip (I know, yes, I have discovered and now use the white wax lip-liner  thing to contain it all in, thank you). But really, truly, most women in the world, but more so – in our part of the world – who are accomplished, inspiring, aw-inducing, are often presented (not necessarily in reality) as a physical manifestation of a deliberate and big effort to look a certain way and exude a certain attitude. It’s about the ideas and values being projected onto these women and then projected by them via the various forms of traditional and social media. I know what image is coming to mind, the very groomed, made-up, power-suited, high-healed, I work out at 4.25am to fit everything in (figuratively and literally). And yes, I am talking about that typecast; but I am also talking about the other typecasts. What I call The Artiste with Attitude type and the Yoga All Damn Day typecast too. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising those actual women (how could I, I still wear jeans EVERYDAY and not in the cool but certainly in the casual ways of the 90s –  evidenced in pic below) and I am not hating on any of my fellow females. BUT, I am saying that what our phones, televisions, webpages and social functions platform are often these three archetypes and non of them are easily attainable without A LOT of effort – way too much for most (and lets face it, some serious doe as well). And so, for me, the issue lies in the notions of relatablity and attainability (Emma Watson said it well). If a young carefree girl is looking for her heroines, be it in the business world (of which, The National did a great story about one such heroine – Fida Taher), or in the arts or in sports, they should find images that are approachable, affordable, practical (yes PRACTICAL) and HONEST. It’s really tiresome being human on most days, let alone being a female, not to mention a lady (refer back to point 1 above); cant the media play a role in granting us access to cool women who can inspire us to be our regular selves? Is there no room for alternatives, true alternatives, for the looks that the commercial fashion and beauty worlds are trying to peg on us as walking, free branding mannequins?  (I will leave the half assed anti-capitalist banter for another time.)
  3. Oh Boy: I am giving it away right from the get-go. I am talking about the boys, THE BOYS, the men, the other half of the population. For one thing where are the fireworks and party hats celebrating the males who are championing women, the “equalists”, dare I say feminist men who are pioneering women’s rights / equality / empowerment, call it what you like, in the work place, in the educational space, in the home? More importantly, when we talk about female empowerment, why are we not including or even targeting boys and men? I am dreaming up a variety of scenarios as soft as reading books to boys with strong female characters, mothers having a Take Your Son To Work Day (and yes I am suggesting that include stay at home moms and having their sons shadow their juggling act). I am also imaging more hard-core scenarios; including sitting our sons down and telling them what a girl wears or how she acts never warrants them the right to grab her, and no I don’t mean it in the ’12 things to raise a respectful son’ BuzzFeed way, I mean it in seriously, repetitive, led-by-example, hand-holding, consequential, way of life kinda way. Not to mention things like expanding corporate training to ‘harassment in the work place’. But, my favourite in the short term is enforcing the March 8th International Women’s Day  ‘A Day Without a Woman ‘. Imagine wearing red and refraining (along with the rest of the females in your family or circle) from working or doing anything in any capacity and disappearing long enough for your contribution to the home and the workplace and to the economy to be palpable. SCARY STUFF, right? Here how it would look in America, so imagine how much more severe it would look in the MIDDLE EAST?! Anyway, the point is oh boy do we need our boys to join hands with us! In the end, it’s all about the Ying and the Yang and the fact that we are all but part o f the whole so what is the use in keeping female heroism between us girls! It can feel at times like preaching to the converted, and we really need to advance this centuries-old conversation. Gloria Steinem keeps us real with how she advises us not to burn out in the fight for equality.

I leave you with one of the grandmothers of Arab feminism, Nawal El Saadawi and her prolific and horrifyingly still distinctly accurate take on the struggle of our gender in our part of the world. Oh, and a picture of my Jeans.


equality, raising girls, Uncategorized, women

In search of [the right] heroines part 1.

I drive my daughter to school everyday. She is four and daily we sing along to the radio as she begins to ask me about the lyrics. “Why is this person ‘feeling complicated‘ mama? She is saying she ‘realises she is not alone’, that’s great! I will remember I am not alone now when I am sleeping in my room.” This cracks me up but I am also HORRIFIED.

It dawns on me that she is now actually, actively, listening to these random, run of the mill pop songs that I often just bop to, but never pay attention to the lyrics. So now I am paying attention. I am in full force anxiety.

How are these words and sentences about booty, sex and random crap building her conception of the world, of being female, of relationships? DEAR GOD! I love classical music, I love jazz, should I be putting those things on instead? Should we solely listen to feminist podcasts, or, do what we did in my childhood in Amman during the 80’s and just listen to Radio Monte Carlo and BBC Arabic?!

To be fair she loves Fairuz’s Tik-Tik-Tik Em Sleiman and ReMi Bandali’s Baba but seriously I cant keep her on this retro PC path too long because these songs from my childhood are starting to drive me absolutely CRAZY. Thank God for her father inducing an obsession with Alessia Cara’s Scars to Your Beautiful to replace my daughter’s renditions of Sexual by Neiked  (I know, I know the puns are in the names).

Right it’s Queen, The Beatles and Bela Bartok on repeat until I figure out a list of strong, female voices I want her to emulate.