NOTE: El-Ramly’s Salam El-Nisaa (A Peace of Women) is a nuanced adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, set in Baghdad only a few days before the US-led invasion. Here, a group of Iraqi women, some of whom have lost many male relatives during Saddam’s wars with Iran, decide to do everything they can to stop the new impending war. They unite under the leadership of Labiba. Labiba is El-Ramly’s Lysistrata figure; her name being Arabic for “the intelligent woman”. The Iraqi women even form an alliance with Western female/feminist activists, and the two groups manage to occupy the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. In terms of strategic significance for the war, it is the Iraqi equivalent to the Acropolis in Aristophanes’ play. The alliance of women is doomed from the start, first by the alliance of men from both warring sides against the subversive women (but, significantly, not for peace) as well as by cultural differences between the Western women activists and their Iraqi counterparts. By the end of the play, one of the Iraqi activists, Rahma (Arabic for “Mercy”) is totally exasperated at the “Western infidels” and thus decides to blow herself up at the building along with its occupants, a suicide operation she undertakes upon consulting her Al-Qaida-type sheikh.
The extract published here corresponds to Aristophanes’ infamous scene between Myrrhine and her husband Kinesias. The latter becomes the unhappy target of the women’s sex strike and is ultimately fooled and tricked by his wife. In here, Kinesias is transformed into Kamel (Arabic for “the perfect man”), one of the top officials in Saddam’s Baathist regime, while the wife is Mowafaqqa (Arabic for “the successful women).
Kamel: Many days have passed since then and they feel like months without her. I feel like a prisoner in that empty house! I guess men never know the value of their women unless they dump them. I can’t hold out much more. It’s as if I’m back to my teens again. (Waxing oratorical) I swear that no power on earth will stop me from fulfilling my mission as a man! It’s a right, a duty, no it’s an honor!
Labiba: (in theatrical histrionics) Who is it that has dared to penetrate our position? Is it a man that I see? Get away from here!
Kamel: Just who are you to throw me out? Don’t you know who I am? I’m Mowafaqqa’s husband. Bring her here at once!
Labiba: Kamel Bek? Oh, please forgive me for not recognizing you. It’s just that you look a lot more handsome than the pictures in the press!
Kamel: (laughs naively) Do I? Thank you. Maybe you could say that to my dear wife!
Labiba: Your dear wife speaks about you all day and all night. Oh man! This lady loves you more than herself.
Kamel: (giggles naively) No kiddin’?
Labiba: You bet! She always says “Compared to my Kamel, other men have nothing!”
Kamel: (giggles naively) Really! (suddenly alarmed) But how did she get to know about other men?
Labiba: From what other women say, of course!
Kamel: You mean you trade these stories the way we do?! This is outrageous! Please . . . Call my wife here at once!
Labiba: And how much would you give me for that?
Kamel: You’re charging me to help me meet my own wife?! How unbecoming of you as a lady! And how unbecoming of me as a man! What would you charge then to get me another woman?
Labiba: Listen here, pal! This is a time of sex strikes, and women are in such a short supply. So you should count yourself lucky. I’m actually violating the strike for your sake. As for the money, it will be a donation from you to the Women’s Movement for Peace. Our campaign slogan is “Spare a Dinar and Help a Whore!” . . . to straighten out, that is!
Kamel: I was going to pay anyway. I’m in such a terrible condition (correcting himself) I mean I’m in such a terrible hurry! How much do you want?
Labiba Not much! All that you have on you!
Kamel: Here you are! Beggars can’t be choosers!
Labiba: (snatching the money and putting it in under her dress in the manner of female street vendors) Wait here and I will have her meet you in total secret!
Kamel: Who? My wife?
Labiba: Yes, but note that visiting time is 15 minutes only. (She leaves).
Kamel: 15 minutes? Now that is really unfair! . . . I will be long done before that. (He moves toward the audience) Life is a bitch! The moment she left my home, all happiness left with her. Now I walk into that empty house and, boy, I miss that lovely smell of hers like crazy. I have no appetite for food or for anything else. Nothing seems to have a taste or meaning anymore. My longing for her is just breaking my heart.
Mowafaqqa: (appears, with other women standing behind her and giggling): Yes? What do you want?
Kamel: Mowafaqqa, how could you say that? I want you to come here to your loving husband!
Mowafaqqa: (shrugging her shoulders like an obstinate child) No, I won’t!
Kamel: I need you, Mowafaqqa! Please don’t make a fool of me in front of others!
Mowafaqqa: And why do you need me? You don’t want me!
Kamel: I don’t want you?! Can’t you see how “tense” I am! I am at the end of my rope!
Mowafaqqa: Poor darling! You really want me that much? (blows him a kiss in the air) Feeling better now? Have a good night! (She exits)
Kamel: No, Please don’t go! Come back to me, dearest! For my sake! For the sake of our son!
Mowafaqqa: (in “theatrical” histrionics) Oh, our son! Now you hit my weakest spot! Fine, then, I believe it is my duty now to heed your call! This is the sacrifice that every mother is bound to make. (she disappears)
Kamel: She looks younger and prettier than ever. She is sure acting cruel and flirtatious but, hell, this makes me want her twice as much! (Mowafaqqa enters)
Kamel: Why on earth do you cause yourself and me all this pain and misery?
Mowafaqqa: No! No! Keep your hands off me!
Kamel: Can’t you see how you’re destroying our happy nest? Come back home, Mowafaqqa!
Mowafaqqa: No way! I took an oath never to return home before peace is declared!
Kamel: And I promised you this already and even brought up the matter with . . . (pointing to the picture of Saddam)
Mowafaqqa: Oh, darling! . . . In this case I’m all yours and I will go home with you (she opens her arms for him)
Kamel: (Moves toward her quickly to embrace her)
Mowafaqqa: (Evading him while completing her sentence) . . . after the peace treaty is signed!
Kamel: Fair enough, but right now I miss you and I wish to be alone with you just for ten . . . sev. . . five minutes! And You? You didn’t miss me at all even for a single minute?
Mowafaqqa: Well, you know I don’t care a lot about these things!
Kamel: Oh yeah? That is news to me! I don’t mean to sound nasty or anything, but the last I remember you were the one who always complained. Listen! Why don’t you just say it straight out? You don’t love me anymore
Mowafaqqa: (at her most flirtatious) I love you now more than ever!
Kamel: Then what are we waiting for?
Mowafaqqa: I’m currently out of service! Please try again later!
Kamel: Baloney! Your “vacation” hasn’t started yet! I remember its due dates like the back of my hand!
Mowafaqqa: But I ‘m bound by this oath I’ve taken! Do you want me to perjure myself before God!
Kamel: I’ll handle it with Him! I will feed sixty, no, six-hundred poor persons to atone for it. Happy now? Now . . . let’s do it!
Mowafaqqa: Do it here?! You must have gone nuts! This is a government place!
Kamel: And the government is in the service of the people! Let’s lie down on this sofa!
Mowafaqqa: But it’s not big enough for two. You may have the sofa all to yourself!
Kamel: Then the floor should be big enough for both of us!
Mowafaqqa: Don’t be a pig! Can’t you see how dirty it is? I must go and get a rug! (she exits)
Kamel: Ok, but don’t be late! (He takes off his tie) Boy! This woman no doubt loves me and certainly cares about my comfort! (In an afterthought) And I certainly deserve it and even more! (He takes off one shoe).
Mowafaqqa: (Enters carrying a rug): Now you can sleep comfortably!
Kamel: (sitting down) I can’t feel any comfort until you lie down by my side! Come to me and make me happy
Mowafaqqa: Wait . . . Won’t you take off your clothes first?
Kamel: Ah! Good idea! (he gets up and takes off half of his jacket)
Mowafaqqa: Wait! I’ll prepare the bath for you!
Kamel: (holding her) No time for that. I will have to take a bath later anyway! C’mon! Take off your clothes!
Mowafaqqa: Impossible! It’s too cold here!
Kamel: I’ll warm you up!
Mowafaqqa: You’re shivering yourself!
Kamel: I’m shivering out of desire!
Mowafaqqa: Wait, darling! Let me get you a mattress!
Kamel: Who needs any mattresses?! I’ll be hot enough in a minute!
Mowafaqqa: No! I won’t let you do this to your health (she goes out)
Kamel: Ok, ok! Just don’t be late! Gosh! This woman loves me soooo much! And I do deserve it and even more.
Mowafaqqa: (enters carrying a mattress) Look what I have here for you! The prettiest mattress on earth! . . . Oops! What is this?
Mowafaqqa: We don’t have a pillow
Kamel: I do not need a pillow!
Mowafaqqa: But we must have a pillow!
Kamel: What for?
Mowafaqqa: To lean on, of course! Wait here! Don’t worry! I’ll be right back!
Kamel: (getting up while covered with the mattress) Give me a little appetizer, just a quick kiss!
Mowafaqqa: Patience, man! All in good time! (she goes out)
Kamel: Fine, but don’t be late! This woman really loves me. No doubt about it! And I deserve this love and even more! Besides, she’s just a woman after all. She is unable to live without a man!
Mowafaqqa: (returning) Here’s the pillow! Anything else missing?
Kamel: I only miss you. Come into my arms, my treasure!
Mowafaqqa: (About to lie down but suddenly stops) but remember what you promised me about the peace!
Kamel: I swear to it on my own life. Just come to me!
Mowafaqqa: My God! You look so handsome! I must put some perfume on you!
Kamel: No, Please! For the sake of your dear father!
Mowafaqqa: I swear by the life of your dear father I will perfume you, whether you like it or not! You don’t smell exactly like a rose! (she leaves)
Kamel: Ok! Ok! But please make it quick! . . . Or I may not live long enough! I’ve only got ten minutes left! This woman will kill me with all these rugs and mattresses and pillows of hers!
Mowafaqqa: Hands up! (Kamel throws his hands up in an automatic response. She sprays perfume under his arms. He laughs as if she were tickling him)
Kamel: (frowning suddenly) I don’t know that I like this particular perfume. It’s an American one!
Mowafaqqa: Oh really?!
Kamel: (Correcting himself quickly) but anything you give me, darling, would me make me quite happy, even if it were made in Israel!
Mowafaqqa: Wait! I must’ve lost my mind! This is a woman’s scent!
Kamel: No problem at all! It’s fine by me!
Mowafaqqa: Shame on you, man! Do you think I will have you smell like a woman while I’m here in your arms? Such an awful turnoff! (she exits)
Kamel: Damn the bloody man who first invented perfume! I guess this woman just doesn’t love me! Does she think I’m made of stone with no feelings inside! Or does she think I am as strong as Hercules or Samson? I wish I really were Samson . . . to pull down this entire building on her head! (Mowafaqqa returns) oh, Sweetie!