Beirut: The Syrian government has extended an official invitation to iconic Lebanese diva Fairouz, to perform at the 59th Damascus International Fair scheduled for August 17 to 26, 2017.
An ongoing and highly celebrated event since 1954, the Damascus Fair has always been a high-profile event in the Syrian capital, famed for the active commercial participation of countries from around the world and for the regular appearance of Arab celebrities like Fairouz and Egyptian icon Umm Kalthoum.
For seven years now, however, the fair has been suspended, due to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Damascus officialdom insists on coming back loudly this year, and sees a Fairouz comeback as tailor-made to fit the image it is trying to peddle through the media, that the country is recovering and that the war in Syria is coming to an end.
Damascus Fair was suspended for 7 years.
Ordinary Syrians from both sides of the conflict strongly associate Fairouz with the Damascus Fair, where she was a regular guest in the 1950s and 1960s.
Generation after another attended her concerts and plays on the fairgrounds in central Damascus, facing the present Four Seasons Hotel, linking the city’s two main roundabouts, Marjeh Square and Umayyad Square. Postal stamps carrying her image were issued during her performances, and fan clubs, known as “Fairouzioun” mushroomed in different towns and cities.
She was always received with red carpets by a long assortment of Syrian presidents, starting with Nazem Al Qudsi back in 1962. She boycotted Syria for years during the Lebanese Civil War, objecting to the country’s military presence in her country, and only made a comeback in 2008, two years after the Syrian Army withdrew from Lebanon.
After outbreak of the present conflict in 2011, she enraged her Syrian fans from the opposition camp when her son and composer, Ziad Rahbany, said that she was an admirer of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Fairouz did not deny the comments.
Residents of Damascus are very excited about the news, with one college student at the Faculty of Law telling Gulf News: “It would be a dream to see Fairouz performing again in Damascus. She is a pillar of our collective memories in Syria — a reminder of the good old days. Our parents watched Fairouz many times; we didn’t, and want the chance to see her before she retires. It is our right as Fairouz fans. We cannot go to Lebanon to attend her concerts; it is way too expensive for us. We want to see her right here in Damascus. This has nothing to do with politics. This is about Fairouz and Damascus, and not about the regime or the opposition.”
Now, an invitation has been delivered to her office, via the Ministry of Information in Damascus. According to sources in the fair administration, who spoke to Gulf News: “She gave an initial okay, but expressed reservations about the security situation, especially if she were to perform in open space, where she would be an easy target for mortars landing from the Damascus countryside.”
The source added: “To levy her fears, we promised to hold the concert indoors at the Damascus Opera House and not at the actual fairgrounds (which has been relocated to new premises in the city’s suburbs, on the Damascus Airport Highway). He confirmed: “She has not responded yet. We haven’t heard back from her, either positively or negatively.”
Fair Director Fares Karkoutly told Gulf News that an invitation has indeed been extended, and that organisers want to host Fairouz, but denied any response yet from the Lebanese singer.
Meanwhile, Fairouz’s daughter and manager Reema Rahbany wrote on her Facebook page that Fairouz has not yet confirmed attending the upcoming fair in Damascus, and nor has she declined it, asking fans not to believe whatever they read on social media networks. She was unavailable for comment to Gulf News.