The Obama Endorsement You Haven't Heard About

A campaign blog.
March 20 2008 4:57 PM

The Obama Endorsement You Haven't Heard About

This election cycle has seen its share of kooky endorsers whose support the candidates would rather not have. But the latest celebrity to support Obama makes Louis Farrakhan look like Ted Kennedy.

The hugely popular Egyptian pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim , best known for his controversial political songs and outrageous style , will soon release a new track celebrating the end of Bush's presidency—and endorsing Obama. In an interview last week with Dar Al-Hayat, Rahim said that Obama is (roughly translated) "a good man, kindhearted, and better than Bush."

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Rahim, also known by his nickname "Shaabolla," gained international notoriety in 2000 when he released the song " I Hate Israel ." (The song’s subtitle, "But I love Amr Moussa," refers to Egypt's former foreign minister and head of the Arab League.) Since then, he’s had a rocky relationship with Egypt’s censors. They allowed "Israel" to be broadcast but banned his follow-up tune praising Osama Bin Laden. (Its chorus: "Bin Bin Bin Bin Bin Bin Laden.") Other songs he has rolled out include " Hey People, It Was Only a Tower " after 9/11, " Don't Hit Iraq " in 2003, and " We Are All Out of Patience " about the Mohammed cartoon controversy in 2006.

His new song, titled "Bye-Bye Bush," doesn’t come out till next week, but Rahim provided the lyrics to the first verse to Dar Al-Hayat :  

Before leaving, Bush wants to turn the world into a mess,
Since he is a bad omen, as if he was born in a fight,
Cursing you, Bush, or your father doesn't suffice,
It was a disastrous, black day when you were elected …

Back in 2003, Slate ’s Lee Smith argued that popular music is "the most powerful form of expression" in the Arab world, which is why governments use it so often for propaganda. Pop songs have played a critical role during events like the 1919 revolution, the coup of 1952, the 1973 war with Israel, and President Mubarak’s " election " in 2005. In the past few years, Rahim has become synonymous with this kind of "engaged"—or politically conscious—music. In other words, a lot of people are going to hear this song. (We'll try to post a copy of the song once it's available.)

Some commentators, most notably Andrew Sullivan , have made the case that a President Obama would change the way the world looks at America. The corollary to that, however, is that Obama would also draw a lot of supporters whose views he and most Americans consider abhorrent. Jeremiah Wright, for all his disturbing remarks, never said, "It was only a tower." Then again, Barack Obama has probably never heard of Shabaan Abdel Rahim.

With Mohamed Gamal Beshir

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.