The Middle East Channel

Shakira vs. the democrats

Spring in Morocco means longer, warmer days, jacarandas in bloom, the taste of grilled fish, the smell of escargots wafting from street corners -- and music festivals. Nearly every city in the kingdom has one, designed to reflect its unique culture and musical taste. The Gnaoua festival in Essaouira attracts fans of jazz, rock, and fusion; L'Boulevard in Casablanca is popular with lovers of hip-hop; the Festival of World Sacred Music in Fez is for aficionados of spiritual music. But the largest, and the best funded, of all the music festivals in Morocco is Mawazine, which takes place in May in Rabat, the capital, and which features huge stars from across different musical genres. This year, Lionel Richie, Amr Diab, Kanye West, and Shakira are all scheduled to perform.

Ten years ago, Mawazine was a small festival that had trouble finding financiers for its sound-and-lights show, but it has quickly grown in size, dwarfing all the other musical events in the country. Its current budget is reportedly as high as $12 million. Perhaps not coincidentally, scandals and controversy have dogged it. Last year, for instance, there were calls by members of the PJD, a religious party in Parliament, to ban Elton John because his appearance would be "promoting homosexuality." (In the end, Elton John performed to sold-out crowds, and there have been no reports of Moroccan men suddenly turning gay as a result of their attendance.) In 2009, 11 people were killed in a stampede at Hay Nahda sports stadium, after a performance by the musician Abdelaziz Stati. (An investigation of the accident is still pending.)

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The Middle East Channel

Hope and change

The stunningly quick fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt had many observers in the West reaching for familiar historical analogies of momentous upheaval: the fall of the Berlin Wall or the revolutions of 1848. Those living in the Arab world likewise had their own set of analogies to add to the mix, from the Egyptian nationalist uprising of 1919 to the set of upheavals in the decade after the 1948 war that toppled a feckless republic in Syria and ineffectual monarchies in Egypt and Iraq -- and threatened the remaining Arab regimes.

But some five months after demonstrations began in Tunisia, those comparisons all seem overblown. Generals are running Egypt, Libya has descended into civil war, and dictators have fended off challenges in Syria and Yemen. Some regimes, such as Bahrain, anxious to cling to power, have chosen to manipulate their countries' ethnic and sectarian divisions. And many old problems, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seem to be reasserting themselves and may be even further away from being solved.

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