The incredible rise to fame of Abla Fahita

Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita is all set for its first live performances in Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Season festival. (Instagram photos)
Updated 11 July 2019
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The incredible rise to fame of Abla Fahita

  • As the controversial puppet star from Egypt performs in Jeddah, we look back at her career

CAIRO: Fans of the controversial Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita can catch the star’s first live performances in Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Season festival this week.

The satirical character first appeared in 2010 in an online commercial for a telecoms company. She proved so popular that she was given her own TV show, “Abla Fahita Live from the Duplex,” appeared in other commercials and released a number of songs.

In 2013, Abla was embroiled in a controversy when Egyptian Ahmed Spider accused the character of conspiring against Egypt after appearing in a commercial which he claimed contained a coded message about a planned attack. The claims were investigated but no action was taken.

“Abla Fahita Live from the Duplex,” which began in 2014, was welcomed by many Egyptians as a replacement for Bassem Yousef’s satirical news program “The Show” after it ended, and many members of the team from the Yousef show worked on Abla’s program. 

Big-name guests who have appeared on the puppet’s show include Egyptian composer Amr Mustafa, actor Asir Yassin and singer Hani Shaker.

Abla also joined forces with Arab Idol judge Hassan El-Shafei in 2014 to write and record the song “Ma Maestlhoshi.” It was a huge online success, racking up more than 20 million views on YouTube.

The Jeddah performances are not the puppet’s first appearances outside of Egypt; Abla appeared at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

In March 2018, Egyptian channel CBC announced that Abla’s TV program was being indefinitely suspended. It has yet to return.

Of course, the question everyone wants an answer to is who is the puppeteer behind Abla’s success? A member of the TV show’s production team told Arab News that the person is not famous or a known name, but refused to reveal any more information.

“Yes, we know the person but we swore we would not expose the character to people,” he said. “The program has been very successful in Egypt, and as a team we were working like a beehive to make it work.”

Abla’s appearance has changed over time as new versions of the puppet appeared. At one point she announced that she would travel abroad for plastic surgery. She then appeared in a few videos with her face covered, before unveiling a completely new look and style.

Saudi journalist Mees Hammad said that Abla’s performances in Saudi Arabia are good news in light of the increasingly open attitudes in the Kingdom to the performing arts, and Arab arts in particular.

“Fahita will be a great success in the Kingdom, because she is a very funny puppet and has a lot of popularity in the Arab world, especially after her appearance in her previous shows and on the red carpet at the Dubai Film Festival.”


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.