Al Durah and Egyptian Pop Music

Hat tip Diana Muir.

Earlier this month, The New Republic ran an article on a 51-year-old pop star sensation, an Egyptian named Shaaban Abdel Rahim Shaaban. He got launched on his political career by Islam Khalil, a song writer twelve years his junior. Khalil recalls the point at which he succeeded in getting Shaaban to work with him:

Khalil says he originally wanted to write songs for Amr Diab, one of the biggest stars in Arabic pop music, rather than Shaaban. “He was not very famous, but he was the first famous singer who asked me to write for him, so I did,” Khalil says. It took eight years for him to persuade Shaaban to go political. The catalyst was the shooting of Mohammed Al Dura, a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy who died in his father’s arms during a shootout between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian gunmen at the beginning of the second intifada in 2000. Khalil says the images of Dura’s death inspired him to do something he says he almost never does: He wrote an entire song straight through. In the late evening, he called Shaaban and sang the song’s first lines, “I hate Israel, and I will say so if asked. Even if I’ll be killed or imprisoned.” Shaaban, according to Khalil, liked it immediately and memorized it for weddings. “People were moved by it,” Khalil said of the initial response. “It was Ramadan, and everyone knew about Mohammed Al Dura.” By the end of the Muslim holy month, Khalil and Shaaban went to the studio and recorded the song, “I Hate Israel,” with phony crowd noises.

“I Hate Israel” became an underground sensation and is reported to have sold more than one million copies on cassette. It created a new archetype for Egyptian political music. It was far blunter than any of the pro-Palestinian music that was coming out at the time. The successful 2000 song “Jerusalem Will Be Ours Again,” by a Live Aid-style benefit of Egyptian actors and pop stars, treats Dura as follows: “This was a little Palestine child in his house. Is it his sin? This is his history and his ancestors and his land and sky.” Compare that with Shaaban, who gets right to the point:

I hate Israel, and I hate Ehud Barak,
since he is repugnant,
and all of the people hate you.
All of the time, Egypt forgets,
and has a lot of patience.

“‘I Hate Israel’ is my favorite,” Khalil says. “It is the reason for my success.”


Note the electrifying impact that the news of al Durah had on Egyptian culture. It inspired Khalil to new hights of “creativity”; decisively shifted Shaaban towards political music; produced extremely popular results; and, of course, if it were possible, hardened attitudes against Israel. The contempt for Barak — why him and not Ariel Sharon? — is part and parcel of the unanimous sense of outrage and indignation that the al Durah footage produced around the world: “I hate Ehud Barak, since he is repugnant, and all of the people hate you.” Shaaban sings the song at weddings. “It was Ramadan and everyone knew about al Durah.”

Also note that the New Republic reports the “death” of al Durah as if it were uncontested, and has him dying “in his father’s arms,” when what is most disturbing about the sequence is that, once shot (takes 4-6), the father makes no attempt to reach for or protect his son. Et tu Brute?

One Response to Al Durah and Egyptian Pop Music

  1. David Novick says:

    “I Hate Israel” is considered pro-Palestinian.
    Can anyone say “zero-sum?”

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