It is true that, limited by the time, I am mainly interested in the current affairs and news stories of my country. It also goes without saying that, I am biased to Tunisian cultural production such as books, movies and plays. But, when the opportunity arises, as it is the case with the Tunis Book Fair, the Carthage film Festival, the Carthage Theater Festival, or when traveling I do not hesitate to have a look on the creations of other countries.
I lately had the opportunity to read the Saudi book : "Girls of Riadh"by Rajaa Alsanea and guess what ? I also watched the Saudi movie "Baraka meets Baraka", the same week. And I absolutely think that both the book and the movie somehow meet in many aspects; Especially when it comes to the theme of love. They both deal with love stories and the relationship between the two sexes in a country characterized by the dominance of the Shariaa law. They both break the prevalent stereotypes about the life in that country. Indeed, so many people think that it is just a country made up of oil wells, terrorists, and women dressed in black from head to toe. They always forget that it has also to do with human beings with feelings , hopes, and dreams .Human beings that are struggling to live as such. Both the book and the movie remind us that love relationships exist everywhere , even in one of the countries that is considered as the most retrograde in the region.
The Girls of Riadh is a 300 pages book, depicting the life of four Saudi young girls: Lamees, Michelle , Gamrah, and Sadeem. Everyone of them has her own story, temper , personality. The book is written in the form of e-mails. It mainly shows the hardships lovers go through in a society that allows the two sexes only limited freedoms and that has very specific expectations and demands. The direct contact between unmarried men and women is almost inexistent but the advancement of new technologies started to progressively change that situation and to offer the youth a space to share their thoughts and feelings. It mainly shows that despite all those limitations and barriers, young women resist and struggle to live the way any human being does. Through the pages of the book, we see them in universities facing the wrath of the Islamic religious police, in their work places struggling to prove themselves, and we sometimes see them driving cars !
When I read the book , I had a thought to a very special friend and I am here talking about Manel Sherif. Indeed, I had the opportunity to meet her during the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2012 and I had been particularly heart broken when I heard her story. I could not believe myself when she said that the first time she had the opportunity to listen to a song she was at least 18 or so and that this happened thanks to Internet.
"Baraka meets Baraka ",on the other hand recounts the love story of two young persons in Saudi Arabia. Yes it is a love story set in Saudi Arabia. It ironically shows the hypocrisy of that society imposing tough laws on love relationships and preventing the youth from having a "normal' life. It shows the discrepancy between the existent material comfort imported from the western countries and the actual life characterized by restrictions, barriers, and strict laws about how men and women can interact. There, a simple date can turn into a very hard enterprise and a nightmare.Again, the role of social media and Internet is stressed . Thanks to these tools the twenty something men and women can keep in touch and interact. Moreover, flash back sequences showing the state of affairs before the appearance of Wahhabism introduce a critical tone to the movie. The young generation seems to blame their predecessors for the present state of affairs.
If you want to know more about the life of the youth in Saudi Arabia, I vividly advise you to read the book and watch the movie. They are both captivating and interesting.