Honey Sayed spins tunes and positive news in Syria

Popular 'Good Morning Syria' host provides a rare cultural bridge in the Arab world.

By , Los Angeles Times

It's the midmorning commute, and "Good Morning Syria," the nation's hottest radio show, is just hitting its stride.

"An opportunity is present," host Honey Sayed is giving her astrology report first in Arabic, then in English, "so take it, Leo."

On the other side of the window, DJ Abdullah Shaaban cues an oldie from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. "I got chills, they're multiplying," Travolta sings. "And I'm losing control."

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Newly instituted freedom on the nation's airwaves has transformed Syria's sonic landscape. Some say it is shaping the way people view themselves, part of a wave of global influences turning this nation, whose government is the most hostile to the West in the Arab world, into the culture most amenable to it.

At the center of this opening is Ms. Sayed and the "Good Morning Syria" program at Madina FM, the oldest of nine new commercial radio stations. All sprang up over the last few years with the approval of President Bashar al-Assad.

The new stations broadcast a supercharged melange of Arab pop tunes, thumping dance music, and hip-hop rhymes spliced with snippets of Western-style culture, like horoscopes and call-in programs. Talk show guests discuss sensitive topics like child abuse and homosexuality. Hosts like Sayed toggle between English and a relaxed informal Arabic rarely if ever heard here in the past.

It's indisputable that these are tough times for cultural understanding between the Arab world and the West. But despite the political and military tensions, the rhythms and textures of daily life here are increasingly meshing with those of Western nations.

On Wednesdays, Sayed brings a psychiatrist on air to discuss sex education, infidelity, domestic abuse, child molestation, and other previously taboo topics.

"It's Syria," says Michel Succar, Madina FM's manager. "Not Afghanistan."

Still, authorities closely monitor the media here for political provocations. But as long as they avoid talking about religion or politics and keep the discussion upbeat, they seem to be on safe ground.

"Even the news we give is always positive," says Sayed. "Never anything negative!" she exclaims, with a bubbly laugh that is her signature. "If they want negative, they can go to Al Jazeera."

Her show welcomes the unexpected. Once, a fan visiting from Lebanon called in and told Sayed he was standing outside the radio station. Employees invited him inside where he spoke live on the air.

Not exactly Howard Stern, but innovative by Syrian standards. "We go crazy on the air," Sayed declares.

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