On October 9, 2014, a suicide bomber detonated himself in central Sanaa, killing dozens of innocent people. Upon reading the news coverage of this terrible event my thoughts leapt back to a series of plays that I had seen performed in Sanaa in the spring. Most of these performances took place under the aegis of the annual celebration of World Theater Day, known locally as the Festival of Yemeni Theater. Five months prior to the explosion in Sanaa, a surprising number of the festival’s plays had made references to suicide bombing.
On May 11, 2013, armed tribesmen stormed the Cultural Center in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, demanding that the activity in progress immediately cease. A minister of the Yemeni government was whisked away by underlings from his front-row seat and out a side door; the assembled crowd quickly dispersed, some nervous, others titillated by the unexpected disruption. The tribesmen exited in triumph, leaving the central participants in the evening’s presentation stunned, angry and bereft of an audience.
Was it an act of terrorism? A reprisal for a drone strike? An attempt to derail a high-level cabinet meeting?
The Arab uprisings have brought major challenges, as well as unprecedented opportunities, to the culture industries. According to a flurry of celebratory news articles from the spring of 2011 onward, protest art is proliferating in the region, from graffiti in Egypt to hip-hop in Morocco to massive photographic displays and political cartoons gone viral in Tunisia. These articles then adopt a predictably ominous tone to express the concern that resurgent Islamist forces represent a danger to arts and culture writ large.
We at MERIP are shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of Anthony Shadid, an extraordinary reporter, wondrously talented writer, judicious analyst of Middle East affairs, warm, generous person and good friend.
In between sojourns in the Middle East, Anthony served on our editorial committee from 2000-2002. A fuller tribute will appear in the upcoming issue of Middle East Report. For now, we reproduce below the list of his writings for the magazine, including this dispatch from Iraq under UN sanctions, which demonstrates some of the reasons why his later work on that country would be nonpareil.
Our deep condolences to Anthony’s family and to his many friends and colleagues.
Soon after the tattered curtains part in Baghdad’s Sheherezad Theater, a boisterous Baghdad comes to the fore.
The frenzied strains of an Iraqi pop song herald the appearance of a cross-dressing belly dancer, seductively clad women and a wiggling and jiggling government official, and suggest the presence of drink and drugs in the office of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Animal Resources. On stage come a secretary who works as a pimp, an effeminate deputy minister who loves his wine and women, and his boss, who goes nowhere without an escort of prostitutes.
Born in 1941 in a village overlooking the Mediterranean just above the port city of Tartous, Syria, Saadallah Wannous attended local schools until the age of 18 when he was awarded a scholarship to study journalism at Cairo University. He later attended the Theater of Nations in Paris.
Algeria’s Islamist challenge to secularism and the populist revulsion against the corruption of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) form the background to “Fatma”, a one-woman show which premiered May 23, 1990, at the El-Mouggar theater in Algiers. “Fatma’’ recounts a day in the life of an Algerian washerwoman who is a maid and a servant to the state, to her employers and to her family.