Cause to question
When does a pop star become "generation king"? Salonaz Sami takes issue with the idolisation of Tamer Hosni
Demonstrations in Egypt have been few and far between since the late 1970s. It wasn't until the fall of Baghdad and, at more or less the same time, the coming into being of the Kifaya movement, that Egyptians took to the streets in any numbers. Yet no one expected that, in 2005, the phenomenon would carry over into an altogether different realm. Having been charged with forging a passport to avoid conscription, together with pop singer Haytham Shakir, the pop icon Tamer Hosni -- singer-composer-actor -- was undergoing trial when droves of cars, filled mainly with teenage female fans, appeared around the Abbasiya Criminal Court, yelling, with the same passion as protesters, their support for the pop star, and declaring that they would do anything to save him; the "protest" blocked traffic for two hours, and news of it made it to the front pages of most newspapers. It was but one of several aspects of a wide-ranging campaign: sms messages, e-mails, fliers circulated in sporting clubs and university campuses. Advertising the march on Abbasiya, one e-mail said, "It is only for girls, and you have to have a car with his picture on it." Half-jokingly, several other moves were planned: a bicycle march, a barbecue in front of the court, and throwing biscuits at the riot police. Hosni was sentenced to three years in a military prison, later reduced to one, and finally released in August 2006. But the notion of Hosni as a national cause prompting protests had already been established, generating much comment.
Among other events, there was a case in which a woman demanded divorce on the grounds that her husband was too jealous of Tamer Hosni, after said husband tore up her posters of the singer and confiscated his two albums. The woman claimed that she had not realised the extent of her husband's jealousy even though she admitted to spending hours listening to Hosni and wearing black in mourning for his imprisonment. In the trial Hosni, though he admitted to obtaining forged documents, refused to submit them; he blamed his inability to enter the army on his father abandoning him at an early age -- something that was made much of by sympathisers. Born on 16 August 1977 to a Syrian mother, Hosni had been an actor since the 1990s when he was featured on a Free Mix tape produced by Free Music, owned and managed by "the star maker" Nasr Mahrous, with whom Hosni eventually signed a contract in 2002, releasing his first hit, Habeebi wenta be'eed (My love, while you're away). In 2004 Hosni released his first studio album, Hob (Love); his third album, Ya bentel-eih (Naughty girl), initially scheduled for June, was released while he was doing time. But it was in the course of promoting his film Omar we Salma (Omar and Salma) that producer Mohamed El-Sobki called Hosni "generation king", the appellation that has provoked the greatest anger and speculation. How? When? Why? And, most importantly, which generation? What might be Hosni's importance to society, in the end? The discussion raged through the internet. "He is being treated like a hero," wrote Salma Mubarak, a student, "and for what? Someone who was found guilty of so shameful a crime cannot be the king of anything. If this is a joke, it's a very bad joke."
Kareem Icy, guitarist and vocalist, was even more dismissive: "I don't think he's a good singer. His voice is ordinary, his range limited. And if you know nothing about this, you can see what I'm saying by simply comparing his voice to that of Om Kulthoum or Abdel-Halim Hafez, or any very good singer." His music is likewise too mawkish, whether in terms of instruments or beats, Icy went on: "The guy did nothing for society, nothing to make him worthy of idol status. You can't put someone in that position just because his love songs have made a few girls crazy." But Hosni is not the only one to blame; it is equally the work of an undiscriminating audience incapable of telling a good voice, or indeed good music apart from bad. Musical cognition -- a biological ability that varies somewhat may contribute to differences in taste, he says, but it s a worldwide phenomenon that people praise an artist, especially a bad artist, rather than anything they have consciously appreciated. It is a result of the craving for idols, especially false idols, Icy says: "If you read the discussion forums on his fan sites you'll be shocked." Indeed, on one such site, the topic was Hosni's eyebrows -- what if he decides to pluck them? Hosni may well have been liked for his music, but the obsessive, hysterical worship to which he is subject -- placing him beyond blame, beyond criticism, and forcing his phantom into many people's lives -- can only be a sickness. "It's one thing to like a bad artist," Icy says. "I have nothing against him personally but from my understanding of music I can tell you he is a weak artist, whether as a composer or a vocalist. He deserves no adulation whatever for his art."
It was arguably the wrong step to bad Hosni's song videos on national television following his conviction. "Somehow," says Ahmed Mustafe, a student, "he became king. I've always accepted the fact that someone like Hosni, with neither experience nor talent, should have fans. Each to his own. But when I find people defending what he has done, it really angers me."