Bahrain: Marcel Khalife causes fury among Islamists



Marcel Khalife and Qassim Haddad cause fury in Bahrain’s parliament

Members of parliament in the small Gulf kingdom Bahrain attacked a performance by Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife and Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad as being a violation of Islamic morals and sharia laws

Controversy has emerged with a new work by the famous Lebanese musician and composer Marcel Khalife and Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad. The controversy revolves around the setting of an epic love poem entitled ‘Majnoon Laila’, or ‘Laila Wal Majnoon’, (which means ‘Laila and the Possessed’ or ‘Laila and the Madman’), to music, dance, song and drama by Marcel Khalife.

The performance premiered in Bahrain on 1 and 2 March 2007 as part of the inauguration of the annual Spring of Culture Festival which was organised by the Bahraini Ministry of Information. Marcel Khalife sang at the show while male and female dancers staged the relationship between the two famous Arab lovers, Laila and Qais.

Selected scenes from the ‘Majnoon Laila’ performance. Oud player Marcel Khalife is seen in the background at the right.

The show was attacked by fundamentalist members of the Bahraini parliament as being in violation of Islamic morals and sharia laws after an Islamic preacher, Sheikh Ali Matar, had complained in a prayer sermon that the Spring of Culture Festival features a play with scenes that “arouse [sexual] instincts” and “encourage debauchery”.

Parliament second vice-chairman Dr Salah Abdulrahman said the event included “sleazy dance moves” which were offensive to Muslims and non-Muslims.

On 13 March 2007 the Bahraini parliament voted to create an investigative committee look into the controversy. Islamists control three-quarters of the 40 seats in the parliament in Bahrain.

Defending freedom of expression

“This is a dangerous precedent that will take us back to the Middle Ages and the Inquisition,” said theatre director Khaled al-Roueie to Agence France Presse’s writer Mohammad Fadhel.

“We have resolved to wage a battle to defend freedom of expression and creativity, and we will mobilise all intellectuals and artists to confront this precedent, which risks undermining our liberties,” said Ibrahim Abu Hindi, who heads a writers’ association.

Mohammad Fadhel writes that the Bahraini press joined the fray, running editorials and interviews with thinkers and artists describing the parliament’s move as an attempt to “gag” citizens.

The Spring of Culture Festival runs in Bahrain until mid-April 2007.

Marcel and Qassim








Photos: Courtesy of Nagam Cultural Project 


Agence France Presse (AFP) / The Daily Star – 20 March 2007:
‘Culture fest in Bahrain sparks confrontation’

Gulf News – 14 March 2007:

‘Society to probe ‘religiously and morally offensive’ dance show’

Gulf Daily News – 9 March 2007:

‘ ‘Spring of Sex’ fury at show’

Marcel Khalife’s official website:

Aljadid – essay in Vol. 12, no. 56 (Summer 2006):
‘Mideast Political Paradoxes Put to Words and Music’

Video statement: ‘Majnoon Layla’
In this statement Marcel Khalife speaks (in Arabic language) about why artists must engage in the defence of creativity. 
See the video.

Click to see Marcel Khalife's video statement
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