Songs of spring: Arab musicians fine-tune protests

Throughout the Arab spring, street protesters voiced their demands and troubles in various forms, from slogans and banners to violence and vandalism. But for some, music has become the ultimate means of protest.

­Yet a politically charged song can easily backfire on the singer.

They came on to the Arab street in their millions, inspired by the call for change. Their hopes for a better future struck a chord for all, but it did not take long before disappointment and fear set in.

“The happy times in the French Revolution lasted one year, and then it was the chopping-off of the heads of people,” Arab musician Muhammad Jabali said.

But this time around it took even less than a year. In Egypt, the military rule that replaced Mubarak does not only come from the old order, it has been criticized for changing precious little in the lives of ordinary people.

“Now we understand that they cannot fulfill their aims. It is impossible,” a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, told RT. “Egypt is too big, too complex and has too many new political parties.”

For artists everywhere, the music they helped to write plays on as the only reminder of the social changes promised by the protests.

“My music reflects people’s grievances and the status quo in the country,” says Egyptian rapper Marwan Lefty.

But for now, those grievances are far from resolved. A song made Syrian singer Ibrahim Qashoush a national hero with his call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, and he paid the ultimate price for his protest lyrics.

Ibrahim was found floating down a river with his throat slit. His Adam’s apple and vocal chords had been cut away – a clear message to those who dare to raise their voice against the Syrian president. The protest song had silenced its writer. And those who enthusiastically chanted after him understood the meaning all too well.

“We are now facing the twilight time of the revolution. It will depend a lot on what will happen in Syria,” Muhammad Jabali told RT.

But what will happen in Syria remains uncertain, and in Libya, the story continues to unfold with no clear picture yet of how the story will end. YouTube is awash with protest songs that have sprung up across the Arab world.

“Today the most powerful style, protest, means of expression, is hip hop, street poetry,” another Arab musician, Walaa Sbeit, explains. “Just make the words, make a beat at home from your lousy computer – and you express yourself. It’s that easy.”

In Tunisia, where the Arab spring began, another song has come from the heartbeat of it all. But despite the toppling of its president, the country remains consumed by social and economic problems.

“I don’t think the protesters can achieve their aims, it is impossible. Too difficult,” Zvi Mazel concludes.

And so, while the music plays on, the hopes are fading that the revolutions would bring real change, and the only harmony to be found is confined to the airwaves.