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LEBANON, SYRIA: Activists furious over song beckoning women back to domesticity

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A set of song lyrics have set off protests in Beirut, and angry women's rights activists in Syria have urged the local radio stations to take it off the air.

The song at the heart of the controversy is "Jumhoriyet Albi," or "The Republic of my Heart" -- the hit single by the popular Lebanese singer Mohammad Iskandar released about a month ago.

"We have no girls here that work with their degrees," sings Iskandar in Arabic. "Our girls are pampered. Everything she wants is at her service."

It continues, "Assuming I agree that you work, what would we do about your beauty? Your job is taking care of my heart ... it's enough that you're the republic of my heart" 

Some outraged female listeners find the song insulting and a degrading demand that women stay at home and be good housewives instead of taking part in the work world.

"This is an example of how we are going backwards,"  Rebecca, a feminist activist in her 20s, told Babylon & Beyond. "Talking about how the women don't have an active role and just taking care of his heart. We're going back to the dark ages."

The song triggered a street protest in Beirut's Hamra district two weeks ago. A small group of young women and men carried banners denouncing and mocking the song. "Not to the kitchen," read part of a sign held by a demonstrator.

Lynn Hashem, one of the organizers, said that although it was Iskandar's latest song that motivated them to take to the streets in protest they were not targeting any singer in particular but rather the genre as a whole.

University student Sara, 24, said she had come out for the protest because Jumhoriyet Albi was for her the straw that broke the camel's back.

"This has been going on for ages, and this is a tipping point for me. These songs are insulting. They suck," she told Babylon & Beyond at the demonstration.

A Syrian women's rights group soon joined in the chorus. They've now asked Syrian radio stations to stop playing Jumhoriyet Albi and branded it as "an open call to abolish education for women and a flagrant invitation for violence against women," according to media reports

But there are also those who think the ruckus over the song is much ado about nothing.

"This is empty talk,"  said 19-year-old Lutfi, who is studying for his degree in biochemistry and working at a restaurant in Beirut. "It's nothing. Women already work in Lebanon. My boss is a woman for example."

Rebecca, however, said macho lyrics in popular music are reinforcing potentially dangerous attitudes. 

"There is a new wave of songs that talk about guns and ownership," she said. "Before, it was about friendship and love. Why is there is this new wave?"

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Activists recently staged a small demonstration in Beirut denouncing a popular song as sexist. Credit: Alexandra Sandels / Los Angeles Times

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