x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Jordan play that pokes fun at Arab despots has audience in stitches

Week after week, Jordanians pack the Concorde theatre in Amman where they shed their usual reserve to laugh uproariously at the shortcomings of their government and regional politicians still resisting the Arab Spring.

The Jordaian comedian Musa Hijazin, left, as Abu Saqr, Heorge Hijazin, centre, as Jordan's prime minister and Hikmat Daewish impersonating a senior official in the play Now I Understand You.
The Jordaian comedian Musa Hijazin, left, as Abu Saqr, Heorge Hijazin, centre, as Jordan's prime minister and Hikmat Daewish impersonating a senior official in the play Now I Understand You.

Week after week, Jordanians pack the Concorde theatre in Amman where they shed their usual reserve to laugh uproariously at the shortcomings of their government and regional politicians still resisting the Arab Spring.

The two-hour play Now I Understand You was inspired by the infamous words of Tunisia's ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a day before a revolt that forced him to flee his country and triggered uprisings across the region.

The main character, Abu Saqr, played by the popular Jordanian comedian Musa Hijazin, portrays an oppressive father of four who rules his household with an iron fist, dismissing the needs of his wife and children and denying them any rights of expression. With the domestic edicts he imposes on his family, Hijazin parodies the authoritarian regimes that have prevailed across the Arab world.

"The play is a message to Arab regimes that they need to learn lessons from the Arab Spring. Regimes need to listen to people and their demands before losing control," said the scriptwriter Ahmad Zubi.

"It tells the story of Arab people and expresses their feelings. I did not hesitate or fear anything when I wrote the script. But no matter how bold we are, we cannot be bolder than the millions of people who demonstrated for freedom."

Wearing a traditional red-and-white keffiyeh, or headscarf, and sporting a thick moustache, the stocky government employee Abu Saqr bans his family from doing many things.

"What's this nonsense talk I keep hearing about dignity and freedom? Where did you hear it? That's it, no more satellite television channels," he tells his wife and children, to eruptions of laughter from the audience.

But when his brother comes from Canada on a visit, Abu Saqr launches a torrent of complaints about almost everything, from the slow pace of reform and fight against corruption to the controversial nuclear plans and privatisation programme.

He uses metaphor to harshly criticise the government and make fun of ministers randomly appointed to please the politicians, regardless of their qualifications.

"Our government should be sent to prison," he tells his brother.

The play has drawn a diverse audience - even King Abdullah II and his wife Queen Rania have attended, as well as government officials, who were seen delighting in its satirical humour.

"Several officials have asked us if we censored the script. We told them that we did not remove one line," said Hijazin.

"We are trying to tell decision makers in the Arab world that they need to listen to their people before it's too late."

* AFP

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