In the early days of the Tunisian revolution, back in December 2011, Tunisian rapper El General (Hamada Ben Aoun) wrote a song called "Rayes Lebled" (president of our country). In it, El General hurls his pain and frustration at longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, urging him to see that the Tunisian people "are living like dogs" and they "drink from a cup of suffering." Shortly after, authorities arrested 20-year-old El General and interrogated his music after he posted the song on Facebook. "I'm only telling the truth," he reportedly told police when asked about his lyrics.
Hip-hop and rap have grown popular in the Middle East in the past few decades, despite being a Western construct. Libyan Ibn Thabit has written and produced anti-government songs since 2008. Not much else is known about him; he's kept his identity private out of concerns for his family's safety. During the Libyan revolution, however, his music turned into the unofficial soundtrack of the Libyan rebels. He's best known for "Nedaa lishabab Libya" (a call to Libyan youth)--a song urging Libyans to fight against Colonel Moammar Gaddafi, calling for an end to his 40-year-long, iron-fisted rule in Libya.
"The fear barrier has been broken," says Syrian-American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum in an MSNBC interview. "So even if the dictator doesn't necessarily step down, the fact that people are out there, and speaking about issues that they, for so long, were quiet about and were afraid to speak about, is in and of itself a triumph."
Hip-hop artists are tapping into that, said Offendum. Most recently, Offendum collaborated with One Legacy Radio producer Sami Matar on "#Syria," a song about the Syrian revolution. It was released via YouTube this past Monday, March 19, garnering over 45,000 hits since then and over 100 shares and counting on Facebook, earning comments praising it as "powerful" and "a message long time in the making."
The song starts with the most famous revolutionary slogan, coined in Tunisia, and chanted by protesters across the Arab world - "the people want the regime to fall." The oft-repeated mantra, directed at Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad, turns into the chorus of the song, as Offendum begins to rap about Syrian unity, probably in reaction to the multitude of sectarian and ethnic divisions in Syria currently plaguing the opposition movement to Assad.
His lyrics are direct, resolute and somewhat confident. "Thus far a truce has proven elusive. But martyrs are tightening the noose," Offendum references the persistent violence that clouds Syria's future, and a growing list of casualties pitting even the apolitical Syrian against the government.
The song abruptly ends, transitioning into a protest chant that has turned into the unofficial anthem of the Syrian revolution. The lyrics simply state, "It's time to leave, Bashar. Freedom is near." Syrian authorities reportedly killed the singer, Ibrahim Qashoush, shortly after he performed that song.