Leading Arab artists recently attended the Arab Festival for Radio and Television in Tunisia where they collectively expressed concern over the future of the arts given the recent change of governments in Arab Spring countries, particularly Tunisia and Egypt, where popular revolutions unseated long-standing autocratic regimes and paved the way for democratically elected Islamist-oriented governments.
Leila Eloui and Hind Sabri are two of the most famous faces in Arab TV and film in the Middle East.
During the festival, the two stars sat on a panel discussing the role of the arts post-Arab Spring and shared their hopes and fears.
Sabri is a 33-year-old Tunisian actress who gained fame after appearing in Egyptian films and TV soap dramas, including the the 2006 blockbuster : The Yacoubian Building, a film based on a novel under the same name by renown Egyptian dentist turned novelist Alaa al-Aswani. She also appeared in a 2011 Egyptian drama based on the real life story of a woman living with AIDS.
The situation in which we are living, both in Egypt and Tunisia, I don't see much difference as the two are similar, we can’t deny that the arts have been affected, Sabri told a room full of journalists in the Tunisian capital, Tunis on Monday (December 24).
We would be lying to ourselves to say it has not been impacted, and naturally, artists today are in a state of waiting until the vision becomes clearer. The situation is unclear at the moment in terms of the arts and the creative world, she added.
Meanwhile, Eloui, a 50-year-old Egyptian actress who has starred in at least 70 films, multiple TV soap dramas and has been honored for her work in Egypt as well as internationally, expressed optimism and said the role of the arts in the Arab world would continue to be to tackle critical societal and political issues.
Many people are asking me, “After the revolution, what will the arts be offering? It will offer what it did before the revolution, what did art show over the past 30 years?” Eloui said during a conference on the sidelines of the festival, which takes place every two years in Tunisia and is organized by the Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU).
The festival aims to develop radio and television production and upgrade quality as well as monitoring trends across radio and television in Arab countries.
It showcased works that were critical of corruption and some that dealt with social needs, and we will continue to do so.
Just because the revolution happened doesn't mean all of the problems have been resolved. No, the revolution continues, we have yet to achieve all the goals of the revolution and if you allow me, I would like to speak not just on Egypt, but across all Arab countries, we have yet to achieve the Arab Spring, but we have hope that we will, she added.
In late 2010, a popular revolution in Tunisia unseated the country's long standing President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, off his 23-year rule. The movement caused a domino effect ripping across other Arab countries, namely Egypt, Libya, Yemen and the ongoing uprising turned-conflict in Syria.
In countries where the Arab spring was successful, the revolutions have given way to democratically elected governments that are dominated by Islamists.
Over the past two years, many have feared for the repercussions this could have on their industry, from traders wary of losing investors to artists who rely on their liberal-oriented craft for survival.
But Tunisian theatre and TV star Fathi Haddaoui said people are putting too much pressure on the outcome of the Arab Spring in relation to the arts.
The revolution is no guarantee for art, the proof is that the biggest art works were created in democracies as well as under dictatorships. I am almost certain that it is the worst dictatorships that boost the artist, make him suffer and feel frustrated and creates feelings that inspire creation. There is an impression today that because we had a revolution we will now create excellent cinema and song works, that is not true, he said.
In September 2012, Egypt’s Islamist leader Mohammed Mursi, who won elections in June promising to be a president for all Egyptians, called for a meeting with a number of Egyptian artists and intellectuals. The call came weeks after a spate of verbal attacks by Islamist preachers on evening TV shows and across other media against Egyptian actors and intellectuals. Many refused to attend the meeting.
Egypt’s media, once tightly controlled by the state, has become a free-for-all platform for ideas, theories and advice, which can range from the ignorant to the bizarre and to what some see as outright dangerous.
Much of the talk is the largely innocuous and inevitable product of democratic reforms promoted by the revolutionary movement of the Arab Spring, opening up space to new voices.
But some Egyptians are concerned such freedoms are being exploited by hardline Islamists and self-appointed religious experts to extend their influence in a society still finding its feet after months of turmoil.