What is up in Egypt? In Cairo, Mustafa Bakri, was deposed as editor-in-chief of al-Ahrar following the failure of the mutiny he led in the halls of the Liberal Party to depose of its leader, Mustafa Kamal Murad. Bakri stormed the party headquarters with 600 armed followers and had himself voted president. For a few days, two versions of al-Ahrar competed for space on the newsstands. Bakri’s paper made a vain stab at seeking Mubarak’s support by turning even more obsequious than the state-run press. Meanwhile, deposed party head Murad published his own loyalist edition attacking the Bakri cult of personality before the police finally moved in and ended Bakri’s short reign. What triggered the coup? Bakri was reacting to charges that he had sanctioned unethical journalism under his watch. It seems that one of his staff had set out to expose bureaucratic bumbling in the registry of births, where a less than alert clerk dutifully recorded what the deceitful reporter said was the birth of the reporter’s child to…Jihan Sadat!

Things do not seem much better outside Cairo, where imported chewing gum was allegedly the cause this summer of teenagers temporarily going insane. Within minutes of popping the gum into their mouths, otherwise chaste Muslim girls were climbing into the backseats of cars with strange boys and giving themselves over to unspeakable urges. But how did such a vile, moral-numbing poison get into Egypt in the first place? The Israelis, of course.

The current crop of alleged Israeli campaigns to target Egyptian youth culture updates the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the MTV age, with Nasserists running neck in neck with Islamists for Al Miskin’s annual most creative conspiracy award. And the winner is…Muhammad al-Ghayti. This obscure polemicist beat out a packed field with his 1995 book A Scandal Whose Name is Sa‘ida Sultana: Danna the Israeli Sex Artist. The book uncovers the “real” story behind the Israeli-Yemeni transsexual diva, Danna International. Known in Cairo as Sa‘ida Sultana (once known as Yaron Cohen), pirated copies of her cassettes are big sellers on the black market.

The Cairo market is apparently drawn to Danna’s hybrid of Western (“house”) and Eastern rhythms, which mixes in vocals sung in Arabic, English and Hebrew. While her fringe Tel Aviv gay bar (“perverts club” in al-Ghayti’s account) camp persona hardly resonates with any particular Egyptian teenage subculture, some do seem to read the suggestiveness in her voice — coquettish and forward at the same time is how anthropologist Ted Swedenburg describes it in his forthcoming account of Danna (in the April 1997 Musical Quarterly). Al-Ghayti is less entranced with hybridity, apparently. He weaves a remarkable web, tying Danna to other “deviants,” including Madonna and Michael Jackson (the “black pig”) in league with the Zionist lobby, Elvis, James Dean, the Masons and Jews generally, and the late Rabin government. Danna is but the last in a long line of Israeli singers bent on stealing and perverting the Arab cultural heritage as a means to destroy Egyptian society from within.

Recent discussions of Danna on the electronic “queerarabs” listserv have led its members to consider the story of another, better known, singer, Dalida, a one-time Miss Egypt who grew up in the Cairo neighborhood of Shubra in the 1930s before moving to Paris. Muhammad al-Ghayti might want to log on. Although Dalida is popular in the Arab world, and performed by request for Algerian leader Ahmad Ben Bella, her most intense fans are found among France’s gay community, for whom she is Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand and Maria Callas rolled into one. “Hardly a night goes by in a Lyon gay club without at least one song of Dalida’s being played,” according to popular culture writer David McMurray. While Dalida sells respectably in the Egyptian market, she was placed on the official Arab boycott list in the 1960s for performing in Israel (and singing “Hava Naguila” in Casablanca!). When Sadat first landed in Jerusalem, the Israelis welcomed him by playing Dalida’s then stupendous hit, “Salma ya Salama.” While Dalida was protesting discrimination against gays in France, the left in Egypt was charging Dalida with complicity in the Camp David accords.

The real trailblazers on the Arab world’s transsexual frontiers are…the Saudis. Back in January 1960, a Saudi citizen named Ahmad made history by crossing gender borders to become the kingdom’s, if not the region’s, first post-op transsexual, Hamida. This saga of “modernization&rqduo; was reported in the Mecca paper, al-Bilad. Popular interest in the case was so great that people were paying as much as five riyals, instead of the usual three qirsh, for the issue.

How to cite this article:

Al Miskin "Al Miskin International/Tainted Love," Middle East Report 201 ( ).
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