As this month’s edition went to press, social networks and underground media were buzzing with the news of the arrest in Beirut of Zeid Hamdan, the lead singer of Zeid and the Wings, one half of production duo Soapkills, and the producer behind the work of Hilba, who in turn featured in last month’s cover documentary Arabic Fusion.
The arrest was over the 2007 song General Suleiman, which the authorities claimed defamed Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman, a former chief of the armed forces.
It seems odd to be arresting Hamdan over a four year old song that he and his band have been performing ever since, but seemingly on this occasion a vigilant Lebanese customs official took exception to a DVD containing a home made video that an Italian director had posted to a Lebanese ad agency.
The arrest turned out to be a short-lived affair, with Hamdan released less than 24 hours later, but it did raise some interesting issues.
As the region seeks to nurture a thriving creative community, with organisations like twofour54 offering training in a host of creative and media-focused careers and every major (and not so major) city in the region seemingly required to develop a Media City/Cluster/Hub to be taken seriously by its neighbours, it seems farcical that probably the most liberal nation in the region is arresting singers for innocuous four year old songs that advise the General to “Go home” in the very last line.
It’s hardly the sort of rage that saw punk rock unleashed on the world, and you would have thought Lebanese authorities would have more important things to worry about given their recent history (none of which was caused by singers, to my knowledge).
It’s hopefully an isolated incident, and the swift release is something to be thankful for, but it may be worth reminding the region’s great and good that if they want to become a hub for creative people, they shouldn’t be too surprised if they do creative things from time to time!