Meet the New Middle East-- Cool, Sexy and DevoutBook - 2006
Two thirds of the population in the Middle East are under 25 years old and, though many now have university degrees, there aren't enough jobs to go round. They're having a collective quarter-life crisis. In the months before turning 25 herself, Allegra Stratton set out to meet them.
She visits Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Dubai, Kuwait City and Damascus -- moving with the Middle Eastern ripple of change: Iraq's first post-Saddam elections, Lebanon's Cedar Revolution, Mubarak's decision to hold multi-candidate elections and Kuwait giving women the vote. She looks for youth culture as we know it -- hip-hop artists, pop musicians and film-makers -- but soon discovers these are a minority pursuit. Instead, a massive video industry of airbrushed, heavily produced, scantily clad singers hold the affections of young Arabs. And there's a contradiction. Many of the fans of these semi-naked popstrels are also very devout. 'Muhajabah' means one who veils. These veiled but sexily dressed young women, then, are the Muhajababes.
Allegra gets locked into a painter's studio and sits at the back of Pop Idol auditions; she saves a businesswoman from a fatal spelling mistake and meets the region's most famous single mother. All of them -- members of the Muslim Brotherhood and of sports clubs alike -- talk of the same Islamic revival. But though it's dressed up as trendy Islam, is it still religious conservativism? When Allegra returns, she discovers the answer to this question may lie closer to home than she thought.