"There is no Arab spring, the Arabs know only two seasons, winter and summer": this is written by the "American journalist" who is one of the regular customers of Nour, an Arab prostitute "from mother to daughter", in the play-monologue starring Hiam Abbass, the multi-talented Palestinian actress, from a text by Rachid Benzine, translated into English, at Carthage Theatre Days 2016, opening now in Tunis. Title: "In the eyes of heaven".
The play had its premiere at Kaai Theater in Brussels last March in a coproduction with Moussem, the Nomadic Arts Centre. This prostitute's monologue is an opportunity to show the reflection of the turmoil that Arab societies find themselves in, where libertarian impulses coexist - and collide - with the worst regressions, punctuated by the cry "Allahu Akbar".
Nour ("light" in Arabic) has followed the path of her mother, but she hopes to save from this fate her 14 year old daughter, for whom she dreams of graduation and success, provided she can manage to hold on for ten more years. Listening to a prostitute enumerating her clients and describing her meetings with them, says more about a society than sociology textbooks can. "My customers pay for what they could get for free from their wives, if only they could ask them. But what man would dare ask his spouse to piss in his mouth?"
In her solitude, Nour has only one friend, one lover, one brother, one accomplice: Slimane. A gay man. "He does not like that term. He prefers to describe himself as a "sex worker"". Slimane is also a poet, a radio host and a revolutionary, involved in the clashes that fill the city with fire and blood. He will eventually be eaten by a dog while Nour will have her throat cut by her client Osman, a Salafist with a long beard dyed with henna and with a mark on his forehead so spectacular "he must really hit the ground quite hard during prayers".
Nour, even though she is a prostitute, also prays, but she does so after revealing her hair, saying to God: "Why should I hide it, it's a gift that you gave to me, right?"
The text recited by Hiam Abbass is excellent, dosing out irony, pathos and sordidity in a balanced way. Rachid Benzine has succeeded his bet. The play, performed in English by Hiam Abbass and French by other actresses on other occasions, would benefit from being in Arabic, in order to reach a wider audience in the societies it is most relevant to. From Casablanca to Kirkuk, it would make furore, despite the issuers of fatwas.