Yemen: Singer threatened to be killed if festival is allowed

13 February 2008
The First Aden Singing Festival stirs controversy in Yemen. A new fatwa (religious edict) bans music concerts in the country, and the famous Syrian singer Assala Nasry has been threatened that she will be killed if she enters the festival’s stage as scheduled on 14 February 2008.

“We warn Asalla that if she does not change her mind about this concert, she will suffer the same [fate] as Benezir Bhutto,” said a message which was allegedly sent from a Yemeni al-Qaida cell to several media houses in Yemen.

“We will not allow the corruption of our society. This is how we will save our youth from these depravations, which are contrary to Islam. We ask all Yemenis to oppose the concert and we confirm that al-Qaida will not allow it [the concert] to go through,” the message read.

The statement referred only to the 38-year-old Syrian singer Assala Nasry, and not to her singing partner, the Egyptian star Isam Karika who is slated to sing with her on stage.

Yemeni Islamists have defaced billboards promoting Assala Nasry’s concert, and an Islamist lawmaker has dubbed her planned concert as an “invitation for vice”. However, the parliamentary authorities in Yemen have officially condemned the threats against the festival and the singer, and security sources have questioned the seriousness of these threats.

Assala Nasry has stated that she will ignore the threats. On her official website she explains that in the past she held a performance in Algeria and the conditions there were just as dangerous and complicated, and as such, said the singer, she has “strong faith in God and is not afraid of anything or anyone.”

Stadium festival
Assala Nasry is invited to Yemen to perform at the First Aden Singing Festival – a new festival in Yemen’s former capital, and the first of its kind organised by the Aden governorate.

It is to be held in the 22 May Stadium, and more than 400 prizes will be given to the audience. In addition to 400 cell phones and one million Yemeni riyals divided amongst twenty winners, a grand prize of a Hyundai car will be given away.

The Aden festival is sponsored by several Yemini banks, tele-companies and media houses, as well as the governorate of Aden, and VIP tickets cost 100 US dollars each. A third of the concert proceeds are donated to the aid of the Palestinian people in Gaza and to cancer health care in Yemen.

Public disagreement over festival
Yemeni Islamist MPs Fuad Dahaba and Haza’a al-Maswari called for the cancellation of the song festival, claiming that such a thing is forbidden by Islam and are a violation of the constitution.

“We have to play a significant role to stop the concert Asala will hold in Aden because it is a violation of sharia (Islamic law). Holding this concert ranks as an invitation for vice,” Dahaba was quoted by the news agency Reuters to have been saying in a statement circulated through mobile telephone messages.

According to Reuters’ reporter, Dahaba’s call was echoed by several prayer leaders in their Friday sermons who also criticised other art forms and activities they see as sacrilegious.

“What do we need in Yemen? Do we only lack art and singing, or do we lack for the simplest requirements of living?” asked Dahaba. He added that the basic necessities of life have become impossible to obtain. “Education and health are miserable and dying while we have been spending our money on useless things that do not suit us as Muslims or as Yemenis,” said the Islah Party member according to several international news agencies.

Support of the festival
However, opposition MPs, media personnel, artists, and others have raised their voices in support of holding the festival, and have accused the Islamists of trying to interfere with Yemen’s joining the Gulf Cooperation Council. They see Fuad Dahaba’s call as a sign of a rising Islamist tide in the region.

Poet Ali al-Mugri (or ‘al-Maqari’) has been quoted as saying that he sees the proposal to ban the festival as a clear sign of the miserable situation of the theology that the Islamic states and Muslims have fallen to, where some Sheikhs are trying to prohibit singing, music and art.

Ali al-Mugri, who performs songs inspired by Islamic ideas, said that Yemenis welcomed Asala, and added that Islam was key to the evolution of several art forms in the region – a view shared by many Muslims.

Ban on music concerts
In 2007, after concerts separately held in Sana’a by artists Ragheb Alama and Nawal Al Zughbi, a group of religious scholars, Ulema, issued a fatwa (a religious edict) which banned music concerts in Yemen, considering them a call for vice among Yemeni’s conservative society. The fatwa statement was hung on the walls and entrances of many mosques throughout the country. Among the signatories of the fatwa was one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, Abdel Majid al-Zindani.

Sheikh Yahya al-Najar from the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance, however, criticised these attempts to issue fatwas and said there is no article in the Yemeni constitution that prohibits festivals. He added that Islam never prohibits singing unless it includes pornographic material, adding that the Prophet Mohammed himself had attended singing with the daff drum.

The ministry secretary stressed that issuing fatwas is the charge of the Fatwa House only and should not to be issued by those who like to trigger conflicts. He further mentioned that such campaigns are aimed at stalling the development process and damaging tourism and other activities that build the economy.

“They have been trying their utmost to hinder the activities of improving the economy either through issuing fatwas, inciting the public or through shedding doubts,” said Sheikh Yahya al-Najar.

‘Cultural renaissance’
The director of the Aden cultural office, Abdullah Kudadah, considers the festival as a primary step for creating a tourism culture that will contribute to the economic and cultural renaissance of Yemen.

He further mentioned that this concert with Assala Nasry and Isam Karika is among several proposed festivals for singers from different Arab states, as well as the fact that Yemen is launching four new satellite channels.

“Music is an international language. We know how the ancient Arab tribes used to celebrate their poets because they used to believe that their poets would promote the tribe. The success of a poet is the success of the whole tribe,” said Kudada. He added that Ukadh used to be the forum for all Arab poets from different Arab regions.

About Aden and Yemen
Aden is formed around a natural harbour, and the city has long been considered a strategic port for international trade, playing an important role in the history of ancient and contemporary Yemen. During 20 years, from 1970 to 1990, it was the capital of South Yemen. With the unification of northern and southern Yemen in 1990, Aden was no longer a national capital but remained the capital of the region, the Aden Governorate. The city was besieged and pretty much destroyed during the civil war in 1994, and then the troops from north conquered the city one of the first things they did was to destroy its brewery.

Islamic militants have long been present, and visible, in Yemen. Al-Qaida conducted its first known terrorist attack in Aden on 29 December 1992, bombing a hotel where US servicemen were known to have stayed. Two Austrian tourists were killed. On 12 October 2000, the bombing of the US warship Cole occurred in Aden.

Yemen is ruled by a secular US-allied government that joined the American “war on terror” after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Similar incidents
The tv-network Al-Arabiya mentioned in their report from Yemen that in Bahrain in 2003, a similar situation was created when Bahraini Islamists fought pitched battles with police during a protest against a concert by Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram. Her performance there was deemed immoral, and several lawmakers sought to ban her show in Bahrain’s capital, Manama.





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Assala Nasry



About Assala Nasry
Assala Nasry, 38, was born in Damascus, Syria, and has composed 20 music albums. Her prominent career as a singer has made her famous in the Middle East as ‘one of the most revered Arab voices’. She masters the majority of Arabic dialects.

She is married to the Palestinian-American film director Tarek al-Eryan. She was granted a Bahraini citizenship in 2006 by Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, following a concert in celebration of Bahrain’s independence day.


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Listen to Assala Nasry’s song, 
‘Sawaha Qalbi’

Sources, Reuters, and the articles below.


Al Bawaba – 13 February 2008:
‘Asalah Nasri ignores threats by extremist’

Yemen Observer – 13 February 2008:
‘Fundamentalists campaign against art festivals’

Al Arabiya News Channel – 12 February 2008:
‘Yemen Islamists try to stop Syrian diva’s concert’

AKI Adnkronos International – 11 February 2008:
‘Yemen: Al-Qaeda sends death threats to famous singer’

Web links

Assala Nasry’s official home page:

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