Macron’s visit to Fairuz signifies French esteem for Lebanon’s No. 1 diva

Macron’s visit to Fairuz signifies French esteem for Lebanon’s No. 1 diva
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Fairuz was born in 1934 with the birth name of Nouhad Haddad. (Supplied)
Macron’s visit to Fairuz signifies French esteem for Lebanon’s No. 1 diva
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Her family had settled in Beirut’s Zoukak El-Blat district. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 September 2020

Macron’s visit to Fairuz signifies French esteem for Lebanon’s No. 1 diva

Macron’s visit to Fairuz signifies French esteem for Lebanon’s No. 1 diva
  • Fairuz is seen by many Lebanese as a rare figure beloved across the political spectrum in a divided nation
  • Well known in France, the famous diva has received several French distinctions and held concerts in Paris

BEIRUT: Who does not know Fairuz, Lebanon’s “ambassador to the stars?” Who in Lebanon has never heard one of Fairuz’s songs? The legend of the Arab world is in the limelight now but for a reason other than her music: French President Emmanuel Macron visited her at her home in Rabieh, north of Beirut, on Tuesday when he arrived in the Lebanese capital for the second time in a span of weeks.

It came as no big surprise that Macron chose to meet Lebanon’s No. 1 diva instead of its feuding politicians or civil society activists. Many Lebanese still start their day listening to Fairuz’s songs and see her as one of the rare figures beloved across the political spectrum, a symbol of unity in a culturally rich and refined country now riven by disagreements.

Starting in the 1950s, Fairuz made her way, alongside the Rahbani brothers, Mansour and Assi (her husband), into every Lebanese household to sing for love, freedom and peace. Generations fell in love listening to her songs. The Lebanese people made it through the war with her patriotic tunes that were never too far away.




Fairuz’s wide repertory covers almost 3,000 songs, three movies and about 20 musicals. (Supplied)

Fairuz was born in 1934 with the birth name of Nouhad Haddad. Her family had settled in Beirut’s Zoukak El-Blat district. She took the first step of her career in 1947 by joining the choir of Radio Beirut.

Bowled over by her voice, the radio’s director, Halim El-Roumi, gave her the nickname Fairuz (Arabic for emerald) and hired her. That was where she met the Rahbani brothers. While married to Assi, she gave birth to four children: Ziad, Rima, Layal and Haali.

Together, they revolutionized Lebanese folk and popular songs, making Fairuz, along with Egypt’s Oum Kalthoum, the most famous voice of the Arab world.

Fairuz’s wide repertory covers almost 3,000 songs, three movies and about 20 musicals. Her career took off after her first concerts during the Baalbeck International Festival, where “she shook the columns of the Roman temples,” in the words of the former French culture minister, Jack Lang.

Despite being internationally renowned, Fairuz was little known by the general public. She voluntarily maintains this aura mystery, rarely giving interviews to the press. “Catherine Deneuve used to say that to be a star, one should always keep a bit of a mystery,” said Georges Bechara, a person close to Fairuz and who is passionate about her and her art.

“She does that by not being always accessible, which adds weight and sparkle to her presence. She does not take over television screens and magazine pages. The public adores her for her discretion and simplicity.”

Fairuz the artist is as complex as Nouhad the person. During her concerts, she adopts a fixed and cold posture. However, other versions of Fairuz exist: the cheerful, the mischievous and the joker. “In their operettas, the Rahbani brothers have often created characters similar to Fairuz such as Loulou, Zayoun and Qronfol,” said Bechara.

“Assi was able to perfectly understand the true character of his wife in order to create roles that resembled her. Fairuz was his muse and his son, Ziad, got his sense of humor from his mother not his father.”

Georges believes that Fairuz expresses herself through her songs without needing to expose herself to the media. “She has sung about love, life, death, the homeland, prayer, God … .The social side does not interest her.”

Since the beginning of her career, especially during the Lebanese war, Fairuz chose to remain discreet about her political opinions, in contrast to a lot of artists who were politically involved. “Fairuz sings for Lebanon. She never wanted to be with one party against another or support a politician against another,” said Bechara.

Throughout her songs, the Lebanese diva sings for peace and love. Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim, a Sunni or a Shiite, Moroccan or Iraqi, her voice reaches the depths of your being, transcending conflicts and identities.

In 2008, she caused controversy when she performed in Damascus while Lebanon was plunged into a deep political polarization between the two political camps of “March 8” (pro-Syrian regime) and “March 14” (anti-Syrian regime). She remains a national symbol that transcends political and generational divisions.

“Her character in private resembles that of our mothers,” said a person close to her “When she has visitors, she serves coffee and offers sweets and chocolates. She insists just like our mothers. She acts like any other woman at home, with the same Lebanese habits of generosity and hospitality.”

In public, however, Fairuz is withdrawn and very shy. She always has stage fright before shows. This is also why she avoids contact with the public and the press.

Another reason for this aloofness is Fairuz’s deep commitment to her private life, which has been filled with sorrow and torment. There is a dissociation between Fairuz and Nouhad. As a mother, the singer has been through a lot of hardships. Very few people know her deep wounds and daily battles.

Fairuz personally cares for her son Haali, who is disabled from birth, a situation that has never been easy for her. In 1978, her marriage with Assi ended along with their vibrant artistic collaboration. Her daughter, Layal, died in 1987 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Since 1979, her son, Ziad, has been composing her songs, introducing a new style for the diva that the audience was not accustomed to. This sparked a debate between those nostalgic for the romantic and popular songs of the Rahbani brothers and those adoring Ziad’s jazz-infused and more eclectic songs.




Over the years, Fairuz has received a number of French distinctions and held several concerts in Paris. (Supplied)

The relationship between Fairuz and the Rahbani brothers has always been the focus of much speculation. We still wonder who created whom? Was Fairuz the one who catapulted the brothers to fame? Or were the Rahbani brothers the ones who thrust Fairuz into the spotlight?

“She allowed the gifts of the Rahbani brothers to be interpreted. This is what we call the genius of the voice,” said Bechara. “Obviously, the lyrics and music of Mansour and Assi were exceptional. However, we must also admit that the sensitivity and the voice of Fairuz made it possible for the art of the Rahbani brothers to be consecrated. In fact, her son Ziad explained this. His mother often added her personal touch. Her voice created music. This is the power of Fairuz.”

Fairuz has generally had troubled relations with political leaders. She has always refused to hold a private concert for any head of state. “During the government of Charles Helou, the Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba visited Beirut in 1965,” said Bechara. “At the time, the Lebanese authorities asked Fairuz if she could hold a public concert at the Casino du Liban in honor of Bourguiba, a huge fan of the Lebanese diva.”

During the rehearsal, Bechara recalls, the Lebanese authorities asked the singer if she could go to the presidential palace for a private recital in the presence of the two presidents for security reasons. “Fairuz flatly refused to perform at the palace and the concert was canceled,” he said. “As punishment, the diva’s songs were banned from the Lebanese public radio. Fairuz eventually performed in Tunis, where Bourguiba finally got the chance to attend her concert.”

In 1976, during the Arab Summit in Cairo, as Fairuz prepared for a concert at the theater of “Andalusian Garden” (Hadikat Al-Andalos), Bechara said, “the Lebanese delegation, headed at the time by President Elias Sarkis, urged the singer to perform for the Arab heads of state at the presidential palace of Anwar Sadat. She categorically refused.”

“Fairuz repeatedly said that the best tribute she would like to receive during her life is having a theater named after her. President-elect Bachir Gemayel had promised her that. However, he was assassinated,” Bechara said.

Over the years, Fairuz has received a number of French distinctions and held several concerts in Paris. In 1988, President Francois Mitterrand made her a “Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters,” while President Jacques Chirac bestowed on her the “Knight of the Legion of Honor” title in 1998. It is now President Macron’s turn to honor her, which he has done with a visit to her home.


Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
Updated 17 min 47 sec ago

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
  • Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas
  • Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will reopen its cinemas at a reduced 30 percent capacity while adhering to coronavirus precautionary measures, state news agency WAM reported.
Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas.
Meanwhile, Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
“The Commercial Compliance & Consumer Protection (CCCP) Sector in Dubai Economy directed coffee shops to stop serving drinks in baby bottles,” DED said.
There has been a spike in new daily cases since the beginning of the year, largely due to the high number of tourists traveling to the country over the holiday period.

The UAE has recorded 2,959 new coronavirus infections, 1,901 recoveries and 14 deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands at 408,236 with 391,205 recoveries and 1,310 deaths.


Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source
Updated 29 min 46 sec ago

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: govt military source

DUBAI: Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours, government military sources said Saturday.
The Shiite rebels launched an offensive last month to seize Marib, the last stronghold in northern Yemen of pro-government forces who are backed by a Arab-led military coalition.
The clashes in the oil-rich province left 32 dead among government forces and loyalist tribes, while 58 Houthi rebels were killed in coalition air strikes, the sources told AFP.
They said heavy clashes broke out on six fronts as government forces were able to counter attacks by the Houthis who managed to advance only on the Kassara front northwest of Marib city.
The fighting also left dozens of people wounded, the sources added.
The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the surrounding desert.
It would also be a major setback for Saudi Arabia, which has been the target of increasingly frequent Houthi missile attacks in recent weeks.
Shrapnel from Houthi drones intercepted by the Saudis on Friday wounded two civilians, including a 10-year-old, in the southwest of the kingdom, the official SPA news agency reported.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib, as he announced $191 million in aid at a donors' conference.
"Aid alone will not end the conflict. We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war... so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war," he said.
The United Nations had sought to raise $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors, but only $1.7 billion was offered.


Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
Updated 06 March 2021

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
  • The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history
  • Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,”

NAJAF, Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the authority for most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history.
Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus cases and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to Iraq, aiming to comfort the country’s ancient Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other religions.
The meeting between the two elderly men lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy city of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
The meeting is one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day trip to war-scarred Iraq, where Sistani has played a key role in tamping down tensions in recent decades.
It took months of careful negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to secure the one-on-one meeting.
“We feel proud of what this visit represents and we thank those who made it possible,” said Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met top Sunni clerics in several Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, meanwhile, is followed by most of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority among Muslims but the majority in Iraq — and is a national figure for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a religious leader with a high moral authority,” said Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Sistani began his religious studies at the age of five, climbing through the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah in the 1990s.
While Saddam Hussein was in power, he languished under house arrest for years, but emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public role.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding better public services and rejecting external interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made a similar plea.
“May partisan interests cease, those outside interests who don’t take into account the local population,” Francis said.
Sistani has had a complicated relationship with his birthplace Iran, where the other main seat of Shiite religious authority lies: Qom.
While Najaf affirms the separation of religion and politics, Qom believes the top cleric — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — should also govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders said the visit could strengthen Najaf’s standing compared to Qom.
“The Najaf school has great prestige and is more secular than the more religious Qom school,” Ayuso said.
“Najaf places more weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a text encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would also endorse, but clerical sources in Najaf told AFP it is unlikely.
While the Pope has been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the jab, Sistani’s office has not announced his vaccination.
Iraq is currently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections and more than two dozen deaths daily.
Following his visit to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, common patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — where he will host an interfaith service, with many of Iraq’s other religious minorities in attendance.


Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo
Updated 06 March 2021

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

CAIRO: A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.
The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.
The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.
Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.
Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.


Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
Updated 06 March 2021

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday

Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
  • Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors
  • At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day

DUBAI: Israel announced it will further ease its coronavirus measures from Sunday, national daily The Jerusalem Post reported.
Students between grades seven and 10 will attend classes physically in green, yellow and orange cities, the report said.
The country’s “traffic system” has identified “green” cities as those with lowest COVID-19 cases, while the second lowest infection rates are “yellow,” followed by “orange” and “red.”
Israel had also required people entering cafes, restaurants and hotels to submit a green passport, which can be obtained through the health ministry for anyone who has taken the two shots of the coronavirus vaccine for at least a week.
But “children below the age of 16, who are not allowed to be vaccinated, will not be able to accompany their vaccinated parents,” the report added.
Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors.
Non-vaccinated people can only sit outside. Hotels will also reopen, allowing holders of the passport to access a wide range of activities.
At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day.
New arrivals will be required to quarantine and must present a negative COVID-19 test result and be tested on arrival.
Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center has warned that the country may witness another outbreak, as around 5 percent of Israel’s population have tested positive each day.
The health ministry said more than 4.9 million people have taken at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 3.6 million who have already taken their second shot.
More than half of the country’s 9 million-strong population have already received the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine since the inoculation drive began in December.
Israel has registered more than 796,000 cases of Covid-19, including over 5,800 deaths.