Public Outcry Sways Lebanon Censors


In a breakthrough for the Lebanese art scene, multimedia artist Rabih Mroue’s critically acclaimed play How Nancy Wished That Everything Was an April Fool’s Joke made its national debut on August 30 at Beirut’s Masrah al-Madina Theater in the city’s trendy Hamra district after public outcry following its ban by government censors. The play was originally intended to open August 18 at the popular gallery Art Lounge but was shut down by the Interior Ministry’s General Security censors just days prior to opening. Mroue and his cast—which includes his wife and frequent collaborator, Lina Saneh—were informed that the ban was issued due to the controversial nature of the play, which was seen as potentially agitating the country’s already fragile political situation. Mroue submitted the script to censors in July after several Beirut venues had run-ins with officials due to sexually or politically explicit works. Expecting censors to force him to edit only portions of its content, he was shocked when the play was banned outright.

Co-written with Lebanese playwright Fadi Toufic, How Nancy Wished is based on four fictional fighters from real-life militias who retell their stories of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), accounts of which are still fiercely contested. Incorporating both fact and fiction, How Nancy Wished also underscores differences among Lebanon’s current opposing factions, with each fighter representing armed divisions of political parties now facing off in anti- and pro-government confrontations that threaten to ignite another civil war.

Ashkal Alwan, Lebanon’s leading non-profit arts organization, which co-produced the play, publicly denounced the government’s ban after it was issued on August 14. The organization rallied substantial support from the local cultural community, the media and even culture minister Tarik Mitri, whose lobbying of the Interior Ministry was influential in having the ban lifted on August 27. Artists, curators and writers cited the hypocrisy of arts censorship occuring in a country that prides itself for its liberal attitude toward mass media, where political grievances and criticism are aired freely. How Nancy Wished debuted at the Nishi-sugamo Arts Factory in Tokyo in March as part of the Tokyo International Arts Festival and is scheduled to tour internationally in the coming months.