- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP)

The Arab world’s hugely popular music-video industry often features sexy performers in revealing clothes crooning about love.

But the first clip to be produced fully in Saudi Arabia has a message of a different kind: You can be cool and devout.

The video is unusual because it was made in a country where the religious establishment considers music un-Islamic and bans it in public places. And the main cast includes a Saudi woman, something rare in a work produced inside the kingdom.

However, in a sign of Saudi impatience with the restrictions, “Malak Ghair Allah” or “You Only Have God to Count On” was a hit when it was introduced at a popular mall in the western seaport of Jiddah last week. Hundreds of people showed up to watch it on a giant screen in the mall’s main hall.

“People didn’t stop clapping. Some had tears in their eyes,” Kaswara al-Khatib, the video’s director, said.

The video is expected to air on most of the Middle East’s more than 30 music satellite TV channels this week. Despite fears among the Saudi clergy over the corrupting influence of music videos, the clip had implicit government approval. The credits thank “those who helped make this work a success,” including the Information Ministry.

“You Only Have God to Count On” uses upbeat music to tell the story of a successful man who strayed from the path of true Islam. He smokes, flirts with women (although he’s engaged) and doesn’t join his colleagues at work in performing the five daily Muslim prayers.

Things slowly start to go bad: He has a flat tire and problems at work, and his fiancee leaves him when she sees him talking to another woman. He then has a serious accident while recklessly driving his motorcycle. After he recovers, the man starts to pray, stops smoking, wins back his fiancee and excels at work.

Significantly, the man sports a hip goatee and doesn’t grow the big, bushy beard favored by fundamentalist Muslims. He still wears T-shirts and jeans and sticks to his old friends, including a man who favors the much-frowned-upon ponytail.

“I wanted the youths to understand that it’s not the looks that count. It’s what inside that matters,” Mr. al-Khatib says.

“The video also has this message: Don’t give up and think, ‘I sinned, therefore I’m going to hell,’ ” the director adds. “Think that there’s a God and he is always there to help you.”

Though there’s no lack of production crews, dancers and singers in Lebanon, Egypt and other Arab countries that produce music videos, things are different in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom follows the strictest school of Islam, which bans the mixing of the sexes and all forms of entertainment, including music in restaurants, concerts and movie theaters.

Mr. al-Khatib, 37, who heads an advertising agency, has previously produced music videos, but this is the first that is an all-Saudi work. It was filmed along Jiddah’s boardwalk on the Red Sea, a popular hangout for young people.

The lyrics of the song, performed by Muhammed al-Haddad, say in part: “If things go bad … if your dreams have been lost … you only have God to count on.”

Mr. al-Khatib says that for the lead female part, he had to get permission from the parents of Ruwaina al-Jihani before he could cast her in the role of the fiancee.

“They consulted with the extended family before giving their consent,” Mr. al-Khatib says.

Miss al-Jihani appeared covered in the traditional black cloak and head cover, with only her face showing. One shot shows her all in white at her engagement.

Mr. al-Khatib says that although music is controversial in Saudi Arabia, he has heard fatwas (religious edicts) from non-Saudi clerics who say music for a good cause should not be illegal.

Plus, Mr. al-Khatib says he wanted to give Saudi youths an alternative to music videos produced abroad but popular on satellite TV.

“The problem is not the music. It’s how you utilize it,” the director says.

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