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“Audio blogging” is the new ‘it’ thing in Egypt. Cheap and censorship-free in a country where the airwaves are controlled by the government, it’s not hard to understand its appeal. There are many new web radio stations out there, but perhaps one of the most interesting is Banat w bas, Girls Only, which began streaming their broadcasts over the internet in July 2008.
I logged onto their website, and although a little busy and uses images of women that are in no way representative of Egyptian women (Muslim or otherwise), it has had over 25,000 unique visitors in less than four months.
And with over 2,000 members on their facebook group, they must be doing something right.
Banat w bas’s slogan is “The first station ‘for girls only’ in the Arab world.” On their “About Us” page (which is titled “Why girls in particular?”) the station’s founder, 25-year-old Computer Science graduate Amani El-Tunsi, writes:
“I wish I can talk to people who understand me and speak to my mind. Who treat me as an independent entity who feels and thinks and dreams. In the street I want to hide from the eyes of men. Sometimes I feel that I am being punished for being a girl. In the taxi the driver stares at me in the mirror. If it’s crowded [men] use it as an excuse to touch me…Oh, I forget, I am a girl!”
In big bold letters they write: “This is not a way to live!!”
It is this frustration with the double standards of Egyptians society and the apathy of many Egyptian women to change their situation that drove El-Tunsi to start the station. In an interview with the English-language Daily News Egypt, she said:
“I wanted to reach out to other girls after witnessing how superficial a lot of them have become. They are only interested in hijab styles and make-up. It seemed that girls don’t work on improving themselves and consider marriage to be the ultimate goal. They think if they are married, they are successful.”
And although her statement lumps Egyptian women into one category, there is something to be said for her critique.
There are currently 30 people working at the station, and 10 of them are men. Two of them have a counter show titled “Tayeb! Wellad we Bas” (Fine! Boys Only) to respond to the rest of the show’s programming.
Out of almost two dozen programs, the most popular ones are “This is not a way to live!” “Screw you all,” and “[Equivalent to] 100 men.”
And even though some programs may seem frivolous to some (example: “How to be a model” is a show dedicated to Muslim women who wear the headscarf, advising them on how to become a “Hijab Model”), with the station shying away from the sensitive trio (Religion, sex and politics), there’s no denying that each show appeals to a certain segment of listeners.
And just like there are shows about fashion and how to tell if a boy really likes you, there are also shows that vent about the patriarchal society Egypt is, and how to change it.
I would like to see the station try and tackle some more thorny issues though. According to El-Tunsi:
“We are not qualified to talk about these issues. As for politics we don’t discuss it but we will discuss its social implications; regarding religion, I wanted the station to be for both Muslims and Christians and I felt we will not be able to present both in the station; and sex, well … we live in a conservative society and talking about sexual issues will give people the wrong idea about us, we would be misunderstood.”
But even though they’re not taking the initiative with regards to ‘tricky’ subjects, they are in other ways. The station has launched a “We don’t have unemployment” campaign, which aims to provide youth with contacts to training centers that provide them with necessary skills they need in the job market.
So what has the media reaction been like?
I’ve seen a couple of articles, one at IslamOnline and one in the controversial Rosa Le Youssef and both have been pretty positive (though the title of the latter :”The station tackles ‘Eib* topics” raised my hackles).
I called up El-Tunsi (who very kindly answered her phone just after midnight) and she told me that the media has been surprisingly positive. I asked her what media outlets have covered the stations and I was stunned by the list.
Three out of Egypt’s four main news programs on local and satellite channels have featured the show (Al-Beit Beitak, Al-Qahera al-yom, Al-‘ashera masa’an [This home is your home, Cairo Today, 10pm]) as well as a multitude of local newspapers and magazines such as Shabab (Youth) and Sayedaty (My Lady) magazines.
The international media has also been paying attention: Rotana, BBC, German Radio and “someone in Barcelona and someone in Washington” El-Tunsi told me.
“In the beginning [the press] reported that we were a bunch of anti-men women, but once they listened to the programs and realized that we had a goal and a mission, they changed their tune.”
But one has to wonder if the ‘girl only’ theme is a reason that catapulted the station into the spotlight. Partly true, acquiesces El-Tunsi. But, she says:
“We are a bunch of women from different backgrounds who believe in what we say completely. We don’t want to just rant; we want to bring about change. We speak the way youth speak today. We’re real.”
Good on them!
*A uniquely Arabic word that encompasses the words rude, honor, shame, and wrong. When someone oversteps certain limits they are told ‘Eib!’ Kind of like “you should be ashamed of yourself, this is wrong.”