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Video of Female Arab Anchor Shutting Down Rude Male Guest Amazes Western Viewers

MARCH 13, 2015

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    Open Source

    By ROBERT MACKEY

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    When a Lebanese television host, Rima Karaki, abruptly ended a live interview with an old friend of Al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zahwahri, two weeks ago — cutting off his microphone when he told her to “be silent” and let him continue — her station, Al Jadeed, was so pleased with her performance that it proudly posted the clip on YouTube, where it earned praise from dozens of her fans.

    Ms. Karaki’s no-nonsense style — she scolded the guest, the Egyptian sheikh Hani al-Sibai, for disrespecting her after pulling the plug — was already familiar to regular viewers. In an interview with the Lebanese magazine Fit’n Style a week earlier, she had acknowledged that some critics of her style “accuse me of being ‘disrespectful,’ ” for addressing her guests by their first names and for frankly sharing her opinions during interviews. To those critics, she had an answer that would not sound out of place from an American cable news host: “Some say that I am not objective; I call it honesty.”

    Within days, the video began to circulate much more widely, after it attracted the attention of translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, a pro-Israel monitoring group that regularly adds subtitles to clips of Islamists saying outrageous or embarrassing things.

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    Rima Karaki, a Lebanese television host, ended an interview with an Islamist lawyer in London after he told her to “be silent.” MEMRITVVideos, via YouTube

    The Memri-subtitled version of the clip, featured on dozens of news sites in the English-speaking world over the past week, seemed to gain traction, and millions of views, in part because of how the power dynamic between the female host and her male guest was presented, or rather, misrepresented. Dozens of reports asserted incorrectly that the video showed Mr. Sibai, who lives in exile in London, provoking Ms. Karaki by making a “sexist” remark and saying that it was beneath him to be interviewed by a woman.

    That her final, dismissive gesture bore an uncanny resemblance to a common emoji of a sassy young woman no doubt helped make Ms. Karaki into an instant icon of a supposedly cowed Arab woman asserting herself.

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    Lebanese TV host shuts a man down after he says it's beneath him to be interviewed be a woman http://t.co/FskZVIVl9S pic.twitter.com/UqYKzw3Ysh

    — Jo Barrow (@JoBarrow) March 8, 2015

    As Kareem Shaheen reported from Beirut for The Guardian, Ms. Karaki said she was not sure if her gender had anything to do with the “very authoritarian” tone the sheikh adopted when she asked him to wind up a long digression into history, but many viewers of the clip “have hailed her for standing up for women’s rights against a patriarchal religious establishment that sought to subjugate them.”

    This impression might have been aided by the misreading of a visual cue by viewers unfamiliar with the freewheeling world of Arab news channels: Ms. Karaki, whose telegenic hair is usually uncovered, wore a head scarf, somewhat loosely, to interview the Islamist.

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    A promotional clip for the Lebanese television host Rima Karaki. Aljadeedprograms, via YouTube

    As the subtitled copy of the video started to rack up views, Ms. Karaki’s station even featured it in a new commercial for her program.

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    Video of the Lebanese television host Rima Karaki shutting down an Islamist guest, in a commercial produced by her station. Aljadeedprograms, via YouTube

    The viral success of the video prompted several Arab observers to suggest that the reaction revealed more about Western misunderstandings of the Middle East than about gender dynamics in the region.

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    Lebanese presenter shuts down cleric part of patronising Arab woman does everyday thing that will astound you stories fetish. Stop it.

    — Nesrine Malik (@NesrineMalik) March 9, 2015
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    Nesrine Malik, a British writer born in Sudan, suggested in a blistering opinion article for The Guardian that while Ms. Karaki’s response to her rude guest “was indeed satisfying and righteous — the man was an irritating windbag — you clearly have never watched Arab television news if you think this is a unique event. It is quite often carnage, with presenters and panelists talking over each other, hurling insults and abuse, sometimes even coming to blows.”

    The way the video was reported on in the Western press, Ms. Malik argued, was “part of a now established genre that morphs the everyday behaviour of Arab and Muslim women as being something impressive and counterintuitive. The images of female Kurdish fighters in their fatigues sent the western media into shivers of orientalist reverie. The story of the Emirati female pilot who participated in the air strikes against Isis also took on exaggerated proportions — as if she was a mascot rolled out as an additional insult to Isis because she was a woman.”

    The Western “fixation on Arab women as exotic creatures whose value is derived solely from their imprisonment in a gilded cage,” Ms. Malik added, “is the creepiest of obsessions.”

    Ms. Malik’s commentary was echoed by Riya Al’Sanah and Abubakr al-Shamahi at the new Pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, who pointed out how easy it was to find multiple clips of female hosts putting obnoxious male guests in their place.

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    For people shocked at Arab female presenter bossing it here's Dina Abdel-Rahman schooling pro-Egypt army guy in 2011 https://t.co/O2Nr4iWoaS

    — Abubakr Al-Shamahi (@abubakrabdullah) March 10, 2015
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    Arab female presenters showing their authority? It's normal, & here's 4 videos to prove it http://t.co/kbe6Ie9PkG via @alaraby_en

    — Abubakr Al-Shamahi (@abubakrabdullah) March 11, 2015

    The Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro made the same point in a mock analysis of a video clip showing Arab women smiling on live television.

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    Female Arab TV Presenter Smiles Live On Air http://t.co/YbpWxqwcgi via @sharethis

    — Karl Sharro (@KarlreMarks) March 10, 2015

    “Most Arabs now await Western media to put this event in context for them because they’re still not quite sure what to make of it, and they are now anxiously awaiting articles explaining what it means in American and European media outlets,” Mr. Sharro concluded. “It is expected that the video will go viral.”

    In fact, as two previous clips translated by Memri — from Saudi and Egyptian television — suggest, video of such confrontations are almost a viral genre unto themselves.

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    An Egyptian television host, Riham Said, removed her headscarf during an interview with a cleric in 2013. MEMRITVVideos, via YouTube Continue reading the main story
    A female Saudi television host laughed at a conservative guest during a discussion of Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers. MEMRITVVideos, via YouTube

    Apparently undisturbed by questions about just what the viral success of the clip in the West meant, Ms. Karaki’s channel closed the circle this week with a news report on her new international fame.

    A Lebanese television channel's report on the news of its own anchor's rapidly spreading international fame. Aljadeedonline, via YouTube

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