Jordanian artists combine music, satire to voice their woes
Author: Mohammad Ersan
Posted February 25, 2018
Despite what its name indicates, “I Love Mulki” is not a song of love and devotion toward Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki. The song, which has gone viral on social media, mocks the prime minister with the lyrics, “Mulki [whom] I love, please increase my taxes. … Mulki [whom] I love, I want to fill my car with gas” — a clear reference to the new taxes imposed on more than 164 commodities, including gas, as part of Jordan’s 2018 budget.
Satire, rather than street demonstrations, appears to be the tool of choice for a group of Jordanians who want to have their objections to the government’s decisions heard. “I Love Mulki” was performed on the internet program “Tashweesh Wadeh” (“Clear Confusion”). Young Jordanians are glued to their screens every Monday at 9:30 p.m. to watch this show. A new episode comes out every week on YouTube that speaks of current events in a mocking way, often rewriting the lyrics of well-known songs such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or Los del Rio’s “Macarena” with new, satirical words.
The popular program, produced by production company FooqAlsada and presented by a group of 10 Jordanians from the northern city of Irbid, began in 2011, right at the beginning of the Arab Spring. In Jordan, where a series of relatively peaceful protests swept across the country during the Arab Spring, a group of young Jordanians felt a sense of responsibility to use satire to highlight and address the daily hardships of their fellow Jordanians.
The group initially called itself Group 350, in reference to the first salary they earned in Jordanian dinars, the equivalent of $493, Naser Jarun, the founder of the group, told Al-Monitor.
“[Our] group was made up of young men aged between 20 and 35, most of whom had degrees in information technology. We have resigned from our jobs to establish the company FooqAlsada, which we named after the cafe where we met [regularly]. So the satirical show 'Tashweesh Wadeh,' which addresses the daily social issues of the Jordanian people with a dose of cynicism and comedy, was born right there at a cafe,” Jarun said.
“With the Arab Spring, the people had more leeway to express their opinions and views, which opened the door to several satirical shows such as 'Molotov' and 'El Bernameg' [by Bassem Youssef] in Egypt. This was when we came up with the idea of FooqAlsada and our show 'Tashweesh Wadeh,'” said Jarun, who portrays a character named Khabibi, an Israeli who always ridicules the situation in the region, the Israeli-Jordanian relationship and the official Arab stances.
The show became a hit in Jordan, and the local Roya TV channel signed a contract with the young Jordanians to air the show. This gave the comedians further impetus and funding, which allowed them to turn their Irbid-based office into a production studio.
“The main ideas of each episode in the show come after brainstorming within the team in light of the current issues and official decisions that are of major importance to the Jordanian people. It is true that we are satirical in presenting our ideas, but we also try to raise awareness about political and economic issues, targeting especially the young people in the country,” Muaz al-Bazour, the main presenter of the show, told Al-Monitor.
Mohammad Zghoul, a member of the group, said they also use famous songs, whose lyrics they rewrite to satirize current political events. The group produced a song to the melody of the international hit “Despacito,” making fun of US President Donald Trump’s decision Dec. 6 to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Sometimes, the use of their songs for political criticism makes the original singers angry. For example, the new lyrics of the song “Enta Moallem” angered Saad Lamjarred, the singer of the original song.
The group has more than 1 million followers on their Facebook page. Abeer Abu Touq, a Jordanian social media activist, told Al-Monitor, “'Tashweesh Wadeh' was successful in shedding light on many critical issues of importance to Jordanians. [In one of the famous episodes], the young comedians raised questions about the translation of the gas agreement,” he said, referring to the Israeli-Jordanian gas deal last September. The group has poked fun of the government’s reluctance to provide the Jordanian parliament with the translation of the agreement for months so that the parliament can discuss the case.
Satirical author Kamel Nuseirat told Al-Monitor, “Satire and sarcasm have become a weapon in the hands of Jordanians, especially following the recent government decisions. But the officials seem to have become numb and indifferent to any criticism or curses from the people. They are only interested in making personal gains.”
Nuseirat called on the government to heed the cynical reaction of the people, as this is an indication of the high level of frustration among Jordanians vis-a-vis the economic conditions.
By focusing on Jordanians’ sense of humor and a satirical reaction to government decisions, FooqAlsada hopes to create a public reaction that will influence government leaders.
Mohammad Ersan is editor in chief of Ammannet.net and Radio al-Balad. He also reports for Arabi21 from Jordan, trains future broadcast journalists at regional symposia and has contributed to establishing independent broadcast stations in Istanbul and Syria. Ersan focuses on covering Islamist groups and political parties. He completed his bachelor's degree in journalism and media with a minor in political science at Yarmouk University.