What a coincidence! The same day Feiruz, the Lebanese Arab diva was playing for the first time in Damascus since more than 20 years, Riad Seif, a former Syrian MP was arrested for being a member of the Damascus Declaration, a political document asking the Syrian regime to end the emergency law imposed decades ago, and allowing more individual, political, social, and intellectual freedom.
While Syrians are still enjoying the eight representations of “Sah el Nom”, a play starring Feiruz at the Damascus Opera House, a fan of her told the BBC that “generation after generation, Syrians have listened to Feiruz songs and found in them an expression of their daily worries”. What this citizen hinted at is that many of Feiruz songs express as well worries from the kind of “political freedom”.
Since the moment Feiruz confirmed she would be singing in Damascus, she found herself at the heart of a controversy in Beirut. At a time of tension between the two capitals, many Lebanese consider her duty as a national symbol to come before her status as an Arab Diva. They still remember how “noble” her decision was when she decided to disappear from the Lebanese art scene during the civil war (1975-1990). She explained that her decision had one and only goal: To avoid being criticized as supporting one or the other of the warring factions during the bloody long war.
At First glance, there is of course no compelling reason for Feiruz to boycott the Syrian scene or any Arab art scene. Feiruz as a heritage and as an artistic value is beyond any artificial geographical boundaries in the Middle East. I hope to see her singing in Baghdad one day to relieve the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people. I hope to see her singing as well in Riyad, in Tripoli and any other Arab capitals where a people is oppressed by a regime similar to the Syrian Baathist one.
At the same time, it hurts watching Feiruz opening her show in Damascus the day Riad Seif is arrested. It hurts even more to know that neither Feiruz nor her composer son Ziad Rahbani realized they had been stabbed in the back by the Syrian regime, which chose to arrest Seif on that very specific day. But let’s suppose they had and Feiruz in retaliation opened the show with a dedication to the political prisoners in every Arab jail, would the Syrian dignitaries still be clapping!
No doubt Riad Seif had a ticket for this first show; anyone in the audience noticed an empty seat?