Abdul-Jabbar Alsuhili arrived safely in Helsingborg with his family Wednesday 23 November. Bibi Hidén, Cultural Director in Helsingborg says: We are very happy and proud in the cultural committee in Helsingborg that we have welcomed our first ICORN writer. It is in line with the work we do for culture and democracy."
Since a young age, Abdul-Jabbar Alsuhili has been engaged as an actor, scriptwriter and director in all aspects of producing material for stage, TV and radio performances. He was born in 1989 in Sana in Yemen and received his degree in English and Communications Sciences in 2012 from Sana’a University.
When the Arab revolution broke out in Tunisia in 2011, he was quick to join the revolts in the streets. He became manager of Rwabiit, an organisation set up by Alsuhili and a group of friends in 2011 to produce TV and radio entertainment broadcasted mainly on YouTube. These were comedy shows to encourage young people to express themselves and comment on the political and social issues in Yemen. In lack of a cultural scene and arenas to reach a young public, Alsuhili and Rwabiit used drama and social media as means of engaging particularly young audiences and encouraging dialogue.
Rwabiit was hugely successful with a reported two million followers. Alsuhili worked also as a reporter and translator, and was the writer and director of a series of 120 TV and radio productions entitled ”The Team”, produced between 2012 and 2013, which were broadcast on Yemeni TV and radio.
Between 2013 and 2015, he acted and directed in a series of interactive theatre projects performed in villages and cities across Yemen as part of the National Dialogue Conference initiative that worked to create peace through dialogue. In 2014, he broadcast on YouTube a series of short satirical drama pieces entitled Leesh that criticised the government and leading public figures.
Comedy as weapon
To Alsuhili, comedy is an important means of expression at times of political tension and conflict. In May 2014, he was among the organisers of the Sana’a Standup Comedy show that encouraged Yemenis from across the country to audition to take part in live and videoed performances in a country where comedy is an undeveloped form. Its YouTube broadcasts have gained tens of thousands of views. Alsuhili went on to set up the #war_comedy platform that featured stand-up comedians using humour to address the war in Yemen, criticising all the armed groups and politicians involved.
As a member of the Youth Section of the Yemeni Shadow Government appointed by the Presidential Office, Abdul Jabbari provided input on arts and culture issues, ensuring greater participation by young people, and addressed the issue of corruption within the Culture Ministry.
Cultural activism --> terrorist cells
Alsuhili and Rwabiit were able to function for some years without problems. However, in August 2015, a group of armed men entered Rwabiit’s office in Sana’a and kidnapped four of the staff. Film production equipment was also stolen.
Alsuhili was in Jordan at the time, waiting for a visa to the UAE. The visa was refused, as were all applications from Yemenis following the September 2015 killings of 45 Emirati troops fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. Alsuhili intended to return to Yemen but on 9 September 2015, Houthi militia news broadcast a report claiming that large amounts of weapons had been seized at the Rwabiit offices, indicating that it had formed a terrorist cell. Friends contacted Alsuhili to warn him that militia were looking for him and other staff and that he should not return to Yemen. Most of the Rwabiit members were out of the country at the time.
Leaving the country
In 2014, he was granted a scholarship by the Goethe Institute to take part in a Cultural Management Training Program, which took place in Germany.
Abdul-Jabbar participated in theatre and workshops and became a cast member of the Kevin Spacey Foundation’s Home Grown Middle East Theatre project in January 2015, where 34 young actors from across the Middle East were brought together in Sharjah for two weeks, culminating in a performance of a play Dhow Under the Sun, performed in English and Arabic. Alsuhili appears in this CNN interview with Kevin Spacey.
In late 2014, he interned at the International Theatre festival in Hannover working on a program related to the Arab Spring. Also in 2014, the short movie The Incredible Sam that he directed with a friend won a British Council award.
In January 2016, he set up a network for Yemeni artists in Jordan to share their experiences and to increase their capacity to work with the Jordanian cultural centres, and to access grants and other opportunities. He also met with the UN envoy to Yemen, organising a meeting of Yemeni youth living in Jordan who provided recommendations and suggestions for how the situation in Yemen could be improved.
In Helsingborg, Alsuhili would like to volunteer in cultural and arts programmes, to exchange expertise he has learned in Yemen and through his work with the Kevin Spacey Foundation, Goethe Institute and others. He would also like to help overcome cultural barriers, and to stage events to bring together the Arab and Muslim communities in the host country, and would like to build bridges between the Yemeni organisations and those in his host country. And wishes that his family and himself to be able to return to Yemen when circumstances allow, bringing back with them ideas on how to improve their country, and tools that will enable young people to bring about change.
HD.SE: 25.11.2016 Helsingborg Komedin var revolutionens språk
HD.SE: 25.11.2016 Skådespelare och aktivist från Jemen blir Helsingborgs första fristadskonstnär