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Nduwash bel malgy: Performing the Civil in Post-Revolution Libya

  • Sijal Institute for Arabic Language and Culture #1 15 Umar Ibn al-Khattab Street Amman Jordan (map)

Early October 2014, a time during which Libya was unofficially partitioned, with two governments seated in two cities, each claiming legitimate authority over an increasingly disunified nation state, a musician resident in Tripoli went on television and sang a silly song. With an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a friend on electric bass, Fuad Gritli delivered a straight-faced performance, belting out lyrics that belied the apparent lack of irony in his demeanor. Named after the fact, “I Shower with a Pitcher” [nduwash bel malgy], the song describes daily circumstances in “free” Libya, offering a scathing if comical critique of the “state” while inadvertently also referencing the recent “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” and its many responses. Recordings of the television performance circulated on social media and generated much commentary among Libyans in and outside of the country, ranging from giddy enthusiasm (“LOVE IT FUAD!”) to utter disdain (“Art in Libya is dead.”). Dozens of fans uploaded photos of themselves holding empty cups and buckets, some with hashtags calling for a Libyan “malgy challenge.”

The 3-minute song opened out into a forum for humor and debate; through their various engagements with the initial performance and its aftermath, Libyans constructed alternative spaces for something like democratic participation at a time in which the more official channels for dialogue and representation seemed to have descended into farce. In this paper I take Gritli’s “I Shower with a Pitcher” performance and its environs as an entry point for an analysis of the quotidian in contemporary Libyan politics. During a period in which the civil - declared absent prior to the 2011 revolution and expected to blossom afterward - has been overshadowed by the military, and Libyan cities and towns have been divided into a checkerboard of sites controlled by warring factions, how do media and arts shape the way Libyans far from each other interact? What kind of politics can these remote exchanges produce during civil war?