What is a conservative radio

Young forum in traditional and conservative society : Arab radio revolutions

Monday evening, 9 p.m. in the Jordanian capital Amman: 21-year-old Tala starts her weekly radio show. With “Elephant in the Room” people have their say who otherwise often go unheard in the Middle East. Women who have experienced domestic violence, female students with mental health problems or today: an Egyptian homosexual who talks about the reactions to being gay in the Arab world. Hundreds of people are listening. Like every Monday now. In the announcement for today's edition of “Elephant in the Room”, the young guest is anonymized, there is no name, no photo. Precautions to protect both the connected Egyptian and the Tala radio station. With the exception of a few countries in the Middle East, homosexuality remains a taboo subject. Talking about it publicly can have dire consequences.

Behind Tala's program is “micro.radio”, a Jordanian internet radio founded in 2019. Dana and Sharaf are both in their twenties and launched the platform after over a year of planning. The two Jordanians were annoyed by the pop-heavy music scene in Amman and wanted to create something new. “There has always been a scene in Amman where there has been a lot of discussion about music, where techno and electro is heard. We wanted to make this niche heard and that's how we came up with the idea of ​​founding our own radio station, ”says Dana, who actually works as a designer.

In addition to the musical focus of micro.radio, Dana and Sharaf decided to offer a forum for people and topics that would otherwise not be heard in the still very traditional, conservative Jordanian society. In addition to “Elephant in the Room”, there is a program that talks about classical Arabic music and Middle Eastern history. In another, two moderators pursue the concept that there is no concept. For hours they simply talked about what came to the mind of the two speakers. As a listener, you feel as if you were sitting in the living room with a glass of wine with the moderators.

Micro.radio tries to represent the diverse interests of a young generation that does not feel represented by the established Jordanian media landscape. It is now broadcast almost around the clock, almost exclusively in English. In the past few weeks the number of listeners has increased enormously. In Jordan, too, strict exit restrictions have long been in place in order to contain Covid-19. People stayed home and listened to the radio. Just like elsewhere in the Middle East.

Audio formats and internet radios are experiencing an upswing across the region. The scene is growing almost daily, it is easy to lose track of things. "Radio Nard" broadcasts from Ramallah and "radiokarantina" broadcasts from Beirut, taboos are broken here too, and here too, young people from an Arab generation in particular have their say, which has been invisible to many in the West.

Abir Ghattas is Lebanese and has lived in Berlin for four years. The 32-year-old works for Human Rights Watch and is one of the hosts of the Weddinger discussion group “Hammam Talks”, which defines itself as a “monthly women's talk show”. Similar to the old Ottoman baths, the group should invite people to talk to others. Turkish hammams were also considered to be places where society meets, spends time together, exchanges ideas and organizes. Abir Ghattas pursues the same concept, only that Corona thwarted her. The talk format can no longer take place until further notice.

But Ghattas created an alternative and founded an internet radio together with her friend Rasha Hilwi. “Hammam Talks” quickly became “Hammam Radio”. The radio format is feminist; Men are welcome as listeners, but moderation is only provided by "people who identify as women," said Ghattas. Behind this is the concept of giving women a space: “Men are omnipresent, even though the current crisis shows that women are more important than ever. All of the systemically relevant professions are classic women’s professions, "says Ghattas, listing cashiers, nurses and teachers. Hammam Radio listeners live all over the world, and it is mostly broadcast there in English. Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait, as some of the moderators come from these countries. The talk is about horse breeding, LGBTQ issues and sexual abuse. Similar to the Jordanian micro.radio, the range of topics is diverse Origin of a new movement: "Radio is the perfect medium for these topics. Radio means protection, it is anonymous, you never see a face and still feel so close to the listener."

Moderator Tala also sees it similarly. With all these new types of radio formats, the aim is to encourage people to tell their own story, to think beyond previous boundaries and to shift cultural and social norms, says Tala. But now she really has to go, says the 21-year-old when she said goodbye. The next broadcast must be prepared.

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