An Interview with a Hero of the Intifada

The recent rounds of violence in the West Bank in the past few weeks – sparked by assaults on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by radical Israeli groups in mid-September, and now ongoing with regular deadly crackdowns on Palestinian protesters by the IDF as well as isolated assaults targeting Israelis – has, of course, hardly gone unnoticed on the far side of the Jordan river. Jordan has a large population of ethnic Palestinians, but perhaps more important for regime-friendly media in the Kingdom is the fact that the Jordanian state still claims formal custodianship and administrative control over the Haram al-Sharif (which houses both al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock). When events in the occupied Palestinian territories are mentioned, it’s often difficult to judge whether what is involved is actual compassion for the Palestinian cause – or interest in the Jordanian public’s opinion regarding it – or merely a rhetorical strategy pursued to shore up the Jordanian regime’s legitimacy.

On 11 October, Hala Akhbar – “Hala News,” a recently established ‘news’ offshoot of Radio Hala – published a recording of an interview the star broadcaster Muhammad al-Wakeel had made with Ziyad Abu Hlayyil, a Palestinian man who had challenged Israeli soldiers on the margins of a demonstration in Hebron. Video footage of the event – see the al-Jazeera-sourced clip below – was subsequently shared widely on social media as an example of anti-occupation heroism (in what some observers have already dubbed a new intifada). In the clip, Abu Hlayyil yells and pushes at the soldiers, telling them to not shoot at “the kids,” refusing their orders to move away and giving generally irreverent responses – including “you can’t arrest me” and the (racist) “go back to Ethiopia” (reference to  Beta Israel members of the IDF). He loses his balance and falls to the ground at the end of the clip – though apparently not suffering significant injuries, as he confirms in subsequent interviews.

This act was, ostensibly, why al-Wakeel had invited Abu Hlayyil to speak with him in the first place. But from the very beginning of the interview, it was clear that the story would be subjected to a somewhat different framing than that of a heroic Palestinian man single-handedly resisting occupation forces. This was still the basis of Abu Hlayyil’s “message” – the pitch, if you will, through which his tale was presented as one worthy of attention. But to appear on a show such as al-Wakeel’s, on a radio station run by the Jordanian army, this tale had to be subsumed under a different narrative: one where heroism, sovereignty, and ultimately agency are assigned not to Palestinians, but to their Jordanian “protectors,” embodied in the twin public personas of the Army and the King.

~

 

There are two talk-based techniques in the interview that make this very clear – one more rhetorical, the other reflected in quite minute details of language. First, thanks and praise for the king of Jordan and the Hashemite leadership are constantly on Abu Hlayyil’s lips.  Looking closely just at the beginning of the interview: Abu Hlayyil’s first turn, after al-Wakeel greets him, involves extensive praise for Jordan, its security agencies, and in particular King Abdullah II, as if he were the ultimate agent of anti-Zionist activity in the region:

[0:48-1:57]

ZAH: Good morning to beloved Jordan
Good morning to the Jordanian Hashemite government, and with honour also His Majesty the King Abdullah II, son of Husayn, Guardian of Jerusalem and the noble al-Aqsa [Mosque]
Good morning to the Jordanian tribes, good morning to the “ever-vigilant eyes” of safety and security from the sister[-state] Jordan
And I would like to speak with you, ((sir))

MaW: ((Yes))

ZAH: Also with all respect to my Majesty, Abdullah, His Majesty the King Abdullah II, father of Husayn
Who has risen up in glory and threatened the Zionist forces with – with – with cutting off relations if they continued to desecrate the sanctuary of Jerusalem
Also we should not forget last year, when Netanyahu’s gangs began to prevent all worshipers from entering Jerusalem, and my Majesty ordered that all roads be opened for entry, and especially in the blessed month of Ramadan

MaW: Yes

Similar praise for Jordan and its government recurs several times – e.g. at 2:16, 5:02, 9:06, 14:46 in the Facebook video above – so extensively that it nearly equals Abu Hlayyil’s account of his own experience (the ostensible topic of the interview). Throughout this, it is never clear what exactly Abu Hlayyil is thanking King Abdullah II for. He resorts mainly to vague, formal terms of reference – such as “loyalty of the free [Palestinians?] to the Hashemites,” “heroism,” “protection,” “positioning,” and so on – which defer, or at least put at a slight distance, criticisms one might have of Jordan’s acts in the drama of the occupation. This is, in turn, a crude but effective way of asserting the legitimacy of the Jordanian monarchy: stating its formal role as the protector of Palestine and the Muslim holy sanctuary in Jerusalem, without ever delving into the messy details of what actually substantively fulfilling such a role might imply – but still upholding, in talk, the Jordanian regime’s impeccable political position, its deep dedication to the Palestinian cause.

The second, less evident technique is that of linguistic accommodation. The argument is on slightly shakier grounds here, given that a lot of the particular elements of colloquial Arabic which Abu Hlayyil uses and which are widely stereotypical of (male) Jordanian speech – in particular, using [g] for the Standard Arabic equivalent (q) – are also traditionally present in southern Palestinian dialects, and indeed around Hebron where Abu Hlayyil comes from. There are still some points, though, where I would argue Abu Hlayyil’s deference to a Jordanian style of speech shines through – in particular, the handful of instances where he uses the distinctly ‘Jordanian’ second person plural pronoun form -ku instead of the more standard -kum. This is essentially an echoing of al-Wakeel’s usage – which, in turn, invokes a markedly ‘Jordanian’ speech style. A linguistic concession, then, to the host’s speech, which mirrors the more explicit discursive concession of authority to the Jordanian regime – for which al-Wakeel, let us not forget, also stands in as a communicative proxy, as the primary voice of the radio station of the Armed Forces.

~

For Radio Hala, at least, stories of Palestinian heroes are never just that. The ultimate hero, the ultimate agent, is always Jordanian: the authority of the state, the king, the army, as vocalised by the host, deferred to symbolically and linguistically even when voices from the West Bank are actually given their own space to speak. Interventions such as the Abu Hlayyil interview are, ultimately, less participations of Palestinian voices than they are re-affirmations of a particularly Jordanian state authority – to all, actual and imagined, domestic and foreign, audiences of Jordanian radio.

An Interview with a Hero of the Intifada

Gender and Emphatic Colouring in the Arab Homeland

Phonetic details can, sometimes, make all the difference. A few days ago, the Lebanese pop singer Elissa released a version of the popular Arab nationalist anthem “Mawtini.” (There’s some info on the song on its Wikipedia page; its lyrics are a poem written by the Palestinian poet Ibrahim Touqan (brother of Fadwa), and it formerly served as the anthem of Palestine as well as being the national anthem of Iraq since 2004.) Elissa’s effort was bound to stir up some reactions all by itself; it isn’t often that tacky female singers choose to tackle such deep-grounded symbols of Arabist (and pro-Palestinian) belonging. At least in Jordan, though, what attracted the most critique was Elissa’s alleged mispronunciation of the lyrics. A single consonant was at issue – but this was enough to arouse the ire of a gaggle of social media commentators, and draw out broad-ranging responses regarding gender, language, and the current state of the Arab nation.

Some phonological background first. Arabic – Standard, and all of its dialect variants – features a series of sounds that linguistic analyses like to call “emphatic.”  Phonetically, this involves both ‘pharyngealization’ – that is, constricting the pharynx or the epiglottis while pronouncing the sound – and ‘velarization’ – that is, raising the back of the tongue upwards so that it is in contact with the velum / soft palate (sort of the place where the tongue touches the roof of the mouth when you’re pronouncing or g). (For those mad souls who want more details, there’s a pretty thorough explanation of the phonetic issues in this 1972 article.)

emphatic schema

(A sketch showing differences in tongue position between an “emphatic” and “non-emphatic” sound. The dotted line (emphatic) touches the back of the mouth; the straight line (non-emphatic) does not. From Ali and Daniloff (1972); LINK)

The sin that Elissa committed was pronouncing one of these sounds – the alveolar stop, /ṭ/, ط (Taa’) in Arabic script – apparently without emphatic coloring. Even this might have been written off as a one-time ‘error’ (though more on whether it even is an error below) – if the mispronunciation didn’t occur in the very title of the song; which also serves as the refrain (and is repeated a total of 12 times throughout the lyrics). Instead of موطني، people claimed – which means “my homeland” – Elissa was singing موتني. mawtinii, not mawTinii.

Listen to the track above; you can judge for yourself. (Fingers crossed it will stay up for a while; the YouTube version has already been removed on Friday, apparently following a copyright claim.) The responses, in any case, were striking. Ro’ya TV’s news website did a roundup (as they sometimes do, for contentious issues) of social media comments. These include a few tweets and Facebook posts from Lebanon praising the recording, but many more critical ones from Jordan (and a couple of Gaza) taking issue with Elissa’s purported mispronunciation. (The writer of the roundup piece, ever diplomatic, characterized the enunciation as “delicate,” in “Elissa’s own special manner.”)

In many of these comments, the authors exchanged the “soft,” non-emphatic ت <t> for ط <ṭ> – not just in the title of the song, but in other words as well. فلسطيني falasTiinii “Palestinian,” for example, is normally spelled with a <ṭ>; in one tweet, Elissa was claimed to now have become فلستينية falastiniiyya, with a <t>. Another claimed that Ibrahim “Tou’aan” – توئان; the surname is properly spelled طوقان، with a <ṭ>, but suffered a change to <t> here, in addition to the stereotypically feminine and Lebanese shift from <q> to the glottal stop (<ʔ>) – did not die; rather, he “committed suicide after he heard Mawtini.”

The target here wasn’t just an isolated mispronounced sound, but purportedly ‘feminized’ variants of Arabic more broadly. To be expected, perhaps, from a Lebanese starlet such as Elissa; although, given that her error was conspicuously located in a self-consciously  nationalist song so often invoked as a symbol of Arab strength and resistance, the ‘corruption’ of “Mawtini” here seemed to be indicative of something deeper.

55428d7cdc498

(Elissa wearing a T-shirt with a misspelled “Mawtini.” Image via: LINK)

First, though, to clear the matter of whether it’s incorrect from a linguistic standpoint. Phonetically speaking, I’d say it’s at least up for debate. The release of the t – that is, the point at which the tongue leaves the roof of the mouth to allow airflow through – may be closer to the non-emphatic version; but if we consider the word as a whole, the preceding syllable – maw- – definitely has some ’emphatic’ coloring. (I’m pretty confident a phonetic analysis would confirm this; perhaps somebody with better skills than me might be able to check the formants in Praat or something…) The most marked feature of /ṭ/, the retraction of the tongue – the dotted line in the picture above – happens; just earlier than expected. It’s called “leftward emphasis spread” – basically, anticipating the ’emphatic’ sound before you actually pronounce it. Due to the particularities of human oral physiology, this kind of pre-coloring may actually be more likely than spread of emphasis “rightward” (i.e., following the “emphatic” sound rather than preceding it). Normally, you’d still expect it to sound different; but the traces are there.

It might be a phonetic peculiarity; non-normative, and possibly non-standard. But from a purely phonological perspective, it doesn’t mean that Elissa is not pronouncing the Taa’, or exchanging it for the non-emphatic version. It’s just that all the phonetic features that some of her listeners might expect aren’t present. In other words, she’s not pronouncing the lyrics as if she were actually saying mawtinii; it’s just her mawTinii that is different. (And it most certainly does not mean that Elissa is unable to enunciate ‘deep’ sounds altogether, as some commentators have claimed. The rest of the song features a couple of quite impeccable emphatic r-s, as well as /q/ in its standard form, [q], in its proper place, as opposed than the stereotypically feminine glottal stop.)

The song’s male chorus, by the way – see from about 3:10 in the video clip above – features a pretty much identical pronunciation of mawTinii. But of course, Elissa’s voice is the one fronting, and hence the more exposed.

On @anghami in less then hour #mawtini

A post shared by Elissa (@elissazkh) on

 

And that may, in fact, be the heart of the matter. A female singer attempting an Arab nationalist song will always be putting herself in the crossfire. Fully exposed, as a transmitter of the nation’s values – putting herself, metaphorically, in the position of the model Arab, the Palestinian longing for strength and independence – she needs to be nothing less than perfect. Even the most minute phonetic details become subject to scrutiny.

Double standards might be invoked here: the stereotypical position of women as ‘repositories of the nation’s virtue,’ and hence held to task for every slight or slip. But even for more sympathetic commentators (such as Hiba Jawhar) who say that “it’s not Elissa’s fault,” there was no doubt that Elissa’s pronunciation was, first, non-normative; and, second, indexical of femininity. The association with gender, though, is a higher-level one – perhaps almost incidental. Rather, the basic value conveyed by a non-emphatic pronunciation in place of an emphatic one – as with [t] for /ṭ/, or [ʔ] for /q/ – is that of ‘softness’; delicacy, in a sense, but one which also stands for degradation of linguistic rules, for people too meek or feeble to enunciate the more forceful sounds of Arabic.

Since Elissa is, in fact, female, all this comes round again, compounded. When a widely valued nationalist song that suffers linguistic degradation, it’s not too big a step to imagine the downfall of the nation as well. And if Arab women can’t even pronounce “Mawtini” correctly anymore, where is our homeland headed?

Where, indeed. For her most hardened critics, even an emphasis-perfect rendition by Elissa might not have been enough. As it was, though, it was phonetics that provided the ideal point of departure for critiquing her supposed transgressions – and the wave of responses it inspired proves just how deeply, and how scrupulously, Jordanians care about their homeland’s language in this day and age.

Gender and Emphatic Colouring in the Arab Homeland

The Nation’s Mornings

In the sound texture of Jordanian morning radio shows, human voices tend to take center stage. Mostly it’s the hosts, ranting on current affairs, or reading out news, or greeting listeners; or guest voices, studio guests or callers, speaking about their problems or topics the broadcasters have put up for discussion. Accompanying all this talk, though, there’s a constant undercurrent of music.

For Arabic-language stations, the songs played are (pretty much exclusively) Arab in origin: Egyptian and Lebanese pop, for the most part, with some Jordanian domestic production, and the occasional classic by Fayrouz or one of the great Egyptian singers thrown in. After a while, it all starts to sound the same – though this is less due to clichés of Arabic pop (though these certainly exist!) than the simple fact that the actual repertoire of songs being played is quite limited.

Much airtime is taken up by what could be called “patriotic” or “nationalist” songs: a playlist of approximately two dozen tracks, sung by Jordanian artists in Jordanian colloquial Arabic, all of which in some way praise either Jordan as a country or its institutions. These tend to be repeated over and over, to the extent that you could hear a single song being played several times in a single day. (This is especially likely with a station such as Nashama FM, which tries to make playing “Jordanian” music a central part of its image; but it’s true of others too.) I’ll be looking at some of these songs below, and try to explain why it’s so imperative for morning shows to play them – over and over again, every single day. Listeners’ tastes might play a part here; though what I think is more relevant is the role such songs play in putting the Jordanian nation into being.

Army and King

Some tracks make no secret as to their allegiances. Consider the following tune performed by Omar al-Abdallat – with the title جيش أبو حسين، “Abu Hussein’s Army”:

From the bagpipe-laden intro onwards, it’s clear this is an army song. Abu Hussein is, of course, King Abdullah II – father of the (since 2005) heir apparent, Prince Hussein – seen also in the photo in the YouTube video embracing al-Abdallat. The bagpipes and heavy drum rhythm are complemented by the lyrics, with ample references to marching columns, and gunpowder, and waving flags, and the valiant “guards of our borders.”

This song extols the Jordanian army in general terms; others are more specific, dedicated to particular divisions (or indeed other branches of the state apparatus such as the police). This track, also by Abdallat, praises Jordan’s air force – literally, نسور سلاح الجو، the “Eagles of the Air Force” – and has received quite some air time in recent weeks in light of the media obsession with Muath al-Kasasbeh (and Jordan’s subsequent airstrikes on ISIS territory):

“Where they fly, over the desert / Above the clouds, over the seas.” “Defending the skies of the kingdom, supporting the ground forces.” Morning shows feature such songs every day – even on stations which aren’t explicitly linked to Jordan’s army apparatus (such as Radio Hala). Music clearly meant for people proud of their nation, and all those who serve to protect it.

The Sweetest Country

Marches and martial tunes may not be to everyone’s taste. But there are other songs, equally patriotic, that can do the trick. Many of these seem to be songs composed and recorded for Jordan’s yearly Independence Day celebrations that have gradually built up into a ‘validated’ repertoire from which morning show producers are now able to make their picks. One popular track is راسك بالعالي “Your Head Held High,” sung by Diana Karazon:

Still, a hard-hitting rhythm; but there are no explicit military references here. The lyrics are more neutrally ‘patriotic,’ praising Jordan as a country, honoring the beauty of its physical features – and especially its people, whom the refrain addresses directly:

راسك بالعالي مرفوع الهامة

انت أردني أهل الكرامة

Your head up high, your head raised up

You’re a Jordanian, of the noble people

The obligatory YouTube slideshow also includes the usual suspects: shots of the Jordanian flag, Amman’s landmarks, Petra, and Karazon herself wrapped in a red shmagh.

Yousef Arafat’s احلى بلد “The Most Beautiful Country” falls into much the same category. Here the melody is softer, drifting more into conventional pop, and includes a chorus of childlike voices singing janna, 7anna – “paradise,” “longing” – only confirming about the land Arafat is gushing over (“sweet Jordan, to her we sing our praises”; “this country is the most beautiful, the dearest…”):

These songs’ lyrics refer mainly to place: Jordan as a land, with borders and defined territories, a North and a South, and so on. There are others, though, that add the dimension of time. Not history – that would perhaps be too contentious – but time in its ordinary, ‘regularized’ form, as experienced by Jordan’s citizens. Saad Abu Tayyeh’s يسعد صباح بلادي “Happy Morning to My Country” fits so well into the morning show lineup it could easily have been written specifically to ‘wake up the nation’ by being played on the radio:

“A happy morning to my country / People of the mountains and the valleys / City-dwellers and Bedouins / All who live in our homeland.” Abu Tayyeh goes on to mention coffee, and canaries, and našaama “on their horses,” all beautiful visions of a land readying itself for a new day. Any land, in theory, but the particular assembly of imagery (the ‘joining together’ of urbanites and nomads, and not to mention the word našaama) that it’s Jordan we’re talking about.

Making Jordanian Audiences

Marketers might argue this is all a matter of taste. Jordanians like Jordanian music, after all, and all the radio station is doing is catering to listeners who like to be told how great and glorious “their” country is.

But radio audiences are never simply discovered. Globs of radio consumers don’t just exist naturally before coagulating around programmes or playlists; they are made, brought into being through the very act of listening to the same things together at the same time. And since these songs are addressed to ‘Jordanians’ – patriotic Jordanians, at that; those who truly care for their army, their King, or at least their country – playing them is an attempt to bring together precisely the kind of audience that can fit into this category. This is, then, what the classic-format morning shows strive towards: a listenership familiar with, and appreciative of, music that praises the homeland. Those who refuse to do so can just tune out.

Danny Kaplan has written on how commercial radio stations in Israel use music in order to mark out times of “national emergency,” or other nationally significant periods of time such as memorial days. The music plays during these times forms a closed, and distinctive, repertoire: the songs are in Hebrew, praise the homeland, and contrast markedly with the usual offerings of foreign pop. On Jordan’s stations, though, something comparable is being played every morning – not just in moments of national crisis. With a pinch of cynicism, we could say that Jordanian national identity is so artificial, so precarious, that radio needs to affirm and promote its presence every morning, over and over again, in order to keep the fiction going.

This also fits with official state anxieties about Jordan lacking a unified national identity. Though I’m not sure whether Jordanians themselves feel as much of a lack of belonging as is sometimes claimed, the issue has certainly been high on the official powers’ agenda – including identity-focused campaigns such as “Jordan First” and “We Are All Jordan” (the motivations for which have been described in some detail by Curtis Ryan here).

Maybe the constant morning repetition of the same patriotic songs is less an official conspiracy than a way to present one’s national loyalty, in what is for most radio stations their most ‘visible’ timeslot. Kaplan’s Israeli example makes for an interesting comparison, but the parallels only go so far; especially since, unlike in Israel, Jordanian ‘nationalist’ songs don’t contrast that much with the standard music background of Arabic-language stations. Perhaps it’s just another marker of a media field that, despite its apparent format diversity, tends to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jordan’s political leadership.

Whatever the reason, today you can hardly listen to a morning show without hearing at least a few of the songs mentioned above. At such times, the hosts’ practice of constantly babbling over their chosen music background feels almost a blessing.

The Nation’s Mornings

The Father by Day, the Son by Night: Nashama FM and Haytham al-Wakeel

Among the radio stations that boast of their Jordanian credentials most proudly is Nashama FM. It’s there in the name itself: nashaama نشامى , the plural of نشمي nashmii, is a word that could be translated literally as something like “gentleman,” “knight,” or “champion,” but it’s also strongly associated with Bedouin values of generosity and valor. Add to this the fact that it’s used regularly in the media to refer to valiant members of the Jordanian state apparatus – the nashaama of the Armed Forces, the nashaama of the police, and so on – and it’s easy to see how it fits a Jordanian nationalist framework that places a high value on (what have come to be understood as) Bedouin ethnic and identity markers.

Other aspects of the brand only confirm this further. Nashama’s logo (see below) proclaims the station to be “100% Jordanian,” and uses the seven-pointed star copied from the Jordanian flag – with inverted colors (red on a white background instead of vice versa), but still perfectly recognizable, and another distinctive Jordanian symbol. (Of the flag’s four colors, green is missing from the logo, though it is present on the station’s Twitter and Facebook profile pages.) Even the station’s media kit claims a unique compatibility with the “cultures and values of Jordanians” – whatever these might be – and promotes itself as providing proper “Jordanian” music of the kind that is “much closer to the heart and mind of every Jordanian than any other.”

NashamaLogo-White&Red-NEW-JPEG

(“Nashama FM 105.1. Jordanian, 100%.” Source: Nashama FM website)

Nashama’s morning show, إبشر (literally “Be Happy”) – hosted for the past few months by Ammar Madallah (follow this link for a telling photo) – is pretty much par for the course. Over a selection of highly patriotic music, the host offers his comments on current affairs; reads out messages sent by listeners – especially those that include some kind of praise the King, or the army, or other branches of the state – and reads out headlines from local newspapers. In the vein of other “service programmes,” like Hala’s al-Wakeel Programme or Fann’s Wasat al-balad, it also features call-ins from listeners, and occasionally phone conversations with government ministers or other officials.

So – apart from the name – what’s there to distinguish it? Outside of the morning programme, Nashama’s playlists do appear to be slanted a bit more heavily towards Jordanian music than that of other private stations – though that’s more a matter of degree than of absolute difference.

It does, though, boast an afternoon show hosted by Haytham al-Wakeel. Son of none other than, yes, the great Muhammad al-Wakeel – also known to his listeners as Abu Haytham.

A Voice to Lead You Home

When Haytham’s show was first announced – a result of a slight restructuring of programming that Nashama underwent at the beginning of the year – one Facebook commenter immediately remarked how fortunate listeners are, as they can now hear both representatives of the al-Wakeel clan on the air – every weekday!

الأب بالنهار وبالليل الإبن

The father in daytime, and at night, the son

Father and son do, in fact, complement each other quite neatly. The elder Wakeel’s Programme runs in the morning, from 7 to 10 AM, while Haytham’s timeslot is in the afternoon between 4 and 6. Both fall squarely in the times a commuting crowd would be most likely to tune into the radio, either in their own vehicles or (often, perforce) on public transport. The name of Haytham’s programme,  تي روّح , “Tii Rawwih,” brings this up directly by including the verb روّح rawwaHa, “to return home.” (Hayat FM’s afternoon programme is similarly explicit: it is called ترويحة، tarwiiHa, a noun derived from the same verbal stem – literally “the act of returning home.”)

Like most shows in the same programming slot, Tii Rawwih features music, call-ins on select topics, and the host’s own miscellaneous musings on the events of the day.

(“It’s time to start our evening with Haytham al-Wakeel… Listen and be a part of the sections and subjects of today’s “Tee Rawwih” programme!”)

After days of preoccupation with the martyrdom of Muath al-Kasasbeh, at the beginning of this week, a new issue finally began to move into the Jordanian media spotlight: the upcoming cold weather front. (The initial idea – bandied about already at the end of January – was to name it Falha, but given everything that had happened in the past week Jordanian media rather settled on Karam, which is the name of Kasasbeh’s eldest son.) So, on his 9 February programme, the question Haytham posed to his listeners was: how do you think the authorities will act in dealing with the upcoming storm? Are all the preparations we hear so much about going to be effective? Will they do as well as they have during Huda?

كل الإحترام (..) وقفة إجلال وإحترام للأجهزه الحكوميه اللي تعاملت مع المنخفض الجوي السابق (..) اشتغلوا بمهنيه (..) بتنسيق (..) أكيد منْوَجّه إلهم تحية (..) والله يعطيهم ألف عافيه

Respect… all honor and respect to the government agencies that dealt with the previous weather front… they worked professionally… they coordinated… for sure we give them our greeting… and God give them strength a thousand times over

(Source: tii rawwiH recording, Nashama FM, 9 February 2015)

The calls that made it on air seemed to agree with the host’s observation – similar to what his father had said in the aftermath of Huda – that, if there had been problems, they were caused by citizens not obeying government instructions, rather than official agencies not doing a good job. Haytham then turned to another favored bugbear of radio show hosts: the spread of unverified information through social media – what is derisively called إشاعات، “rumors,” as opposed (implicitly) to the reliable news spread by professional journalists and officially licensed media sources. Again, listeners were asked to call in with their views on the issue; and Haytham also encouraged them – several times – not to post any piece of information on their social media profiles unless they’re “100% sure” that it was true.

يعني شخص يكتب عنده معلومه (..) انت بتروح بتنشر نفس المعلومه اللي هو كتبها (..) طيب انت عارف شو المصدر لهذا الشخص؟ عارف انّه حكى صحّ؟

Okay so a person writes a piece of information… you go and publish the same thing that they’ve written… right so do you know what this person’s source is? Do you know what they’re saying is true?

(Source: tii rawwiH recording, Nashama FM, 9 February 2015)

Once again, the callers supported him. One older man called in to say that he’d been hearing rumors for “70 years” now, and had never believed a single one of them. Trusted sources only. A woman described how she feels bombarded by all sorts of information – from her friends, mostly, on social media – but, also, only takes heed of proper outlets.  “You only trust information from the government then?” was Haytham’s question. Well, of course! Even at work – when her colleagues talk about all different sorts of things, controversial things, politics and so on – she never joins in the debates…

Such discussion – if it can even be called such – is very much confined; sanitized, almost, never going far from the boundaries the host had set through his own reflections and opinions. Though, all in all, this isn’t much of a departure from what happens on most other stations with afternoon programmes. Light topics, accompanying people on their drive (or ride) home. Like the morning show, it’s a very well defined genre. Haytham’s voice may be distinctive – resembling, in some ways, his father’s, with his deep cadence and occasional booming laughter, though with slightly more colorful variation in pitch at times – but his topics and style hardly bring anything new to the afternoon broadcast scene.


 

Two points, I think, that can be drawn from the Nashama case. First is the impression of social tightness one gets when looking at the field of Jordanian radio. Not just the father-son link; even more generally, many broadcasters know each other well, and it’s easy for them to switch to another station to present their programmes, usually with little fuss or changes in style or language. In the past year or two there have been some high-profile shuffes among the morning show stars – al-Wakeel the Elder’s move from Rotana to Radio Hala probably the most notable – but Haytham also hosted a programme on Farah al-Nas before starting his current show, and Ammar Madallah (Nashama’s morning voice) had as his previous home Amen FM, the official radio station of the General Security Directorate (= the Jordanian police force).

Ammar Madallah (left) in the Nashama studio with a guest. From Nashama FM’s Facebook Page

The second point relates to the density of the Jordanian radio field. There are a large number of stations with very similar programming schemes – morning, daytime, and afternoon shows; each with their dedicated host, usually with call-ins and text messages – playing a very similar repertoire of Arabic-language music. The language used is also very similar, the kind of high-level Jordanian (really, Ammani) colloquial that has in recent years become the implicit norm in media.

Still, even here, there are nooks that stations can insert themselves into, targeting (or, indeed, inventing) ever more finely tuned listener segments. With its name, and its image, and its music choices, Nashama FM takes the ‘real Jordanian’ part of the audience to its furthest possible extreme.

For the moment, at least, this seems to be viable move; though I get the feeling this might tell us just as much about the cultural coordinates of the Jordanian media scene as it does about its purported listenership.


(Thanks to Abla Oudeh)

The Father by Day, the Son by Night: Nashama FM and Haytham al-Wakeel