Jona Fras* holds an MSc in Arab World Studies from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and is currently conducting PhD research on colloquial Arabic and radio in Jordan. His musings on this can be found on his blog (https://areluctantarabist.wordpress.com/) and occasionally on Twitter (@jonafras).
During the final days of Muhammad al-Wakeel’s stint at Radio Rotana – when his programme was still called بصراحة مع الوكيل, “Honestly with al-Wakeel” – the host dedicated one Thursday session to an on-air interview with Rajae Qawas, a comedian best known for his work on the Arabic entertainment network Kharabeesh. They touched on many topics, including family, fan interactions, Kharabeesh’s online competitors (Saudis, apparently), and the use of Jordanian dialect in comedy. Eventually, the talk turned to Qawas’s imitation act, and Abu Haytham came up with a challenge.
“Could you do an impression of me?”
Qawas rose to it splendidly. Not as much the tone of voice – though he did nail al-Wakeel’s distinctive cadence, with rises at the end of phrases followed by over-extended pauses – as the way in which the star host tends to conduct his on-air interactions: reading out listeners’ names, responding to their greetings posted on social media, and re-phrasing and appropriating the problems from their call-ins to fit into his own personal performance arc.
And, to top it all off, a reference to al-Wakeel’s personal “Page” on Facebook.
صار عندنا على صفحتنا اكثر من مليون و نصّ (..) مشاهد و
we now have on our page more than a million and a half (..) viewers and…
(The (..) stands for a longer pause. Source: bi-SiraaHa ma3 al-wakiil recording, Radio Rotana, 10 April 2014)
A clever choice – especially given that, for the past few days, al-Wakeel had worked in his number of Facebook followers into just about every third sentence he spoke on air. “We’ve reached a million and a half followers on our Facebook page.” “A million and a half friends.” “More than a million and a half.” And so on, and so on.
A star, indeed, to be liked by so many.