An Egyptian circus is now performing in Gaza. They plan on being there for an entire month. It may be the hardest audience this circus has ever tried to entertain.
Life in Gaza is everything but normal -- and a circus symbolizes the normal. Even while the performers went about setting up the big tent, rockets were booming overhead. Israel was hitting back at Gaza for the nearly hundred rockets that had been shot at them over the past few days.
Circuses are supposed to be mindless fun, but there is something strangely eerie about a circus coming to Gaza. In many ways, Gaza is a war zone. People are preoccupied with getting the basics. International aid groups are there providing the necessary minimum to the residents. And while there is a growing number of extremely rich Gazans who have made their millions by creating a smuggling trade, the vast majority of people in Gaza are terribly poor. And they are suffering. So bringing a circus there for a month might not be the best business move.
Joel Grey, in the opening song of the movie Cabaret, explains why it is important to none-the-less engage in this kind of culture and entertainment. In his character as the emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, Grey opens the movie and introduces the show to the movie viewer and the audience in the club. He sings:
Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Fremder, Etranger, Stranger,
Glücklich zu sehen,
Je suis enchanté,
Happy to see you,
Bleibe, reste, stay.
Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!
Leave your troubles outside.
So life is disappointing, forget it!
In here life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.
The idea is clear. In times of distress certain forms of entertainment can be extremely cathartic.
Although this circus is not a government-sponsored show, I have no doubt that the Egyptian government approved and even helped the company cross the border and set up their tents in Gaza. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in a coup in January of 2007 and since then Egypt has had a serious blockade against Gaza. But since the ousting of Mubarak earlier this year and the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood to power and the positioning of their candidate Morsi as president, relations have thawed slightly. That thaw is still only relative. One Egyptian general blames Hamas for a horrific terror attack that claimed the lives of 16 Egyptian soldiers.
Because of certain issues, the circus is taking on a Gaza-like character. That means that no women from Egypt are in the show as a response to the great concern that women would insult the sensitivities of the very religiously conservative Hamas. And because of the problems, especially the paperwork, that bringing a lion and a tiger into Gaza presented they, too, remained back in Egypt.
Tickets cost between $5 and $10. That might sound very inexpensive but it is still way too much for the average Gaza resident, who lives on $2 per day. Over a million and a half people live in Gaza. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The pictures and the video and YouTube of the circus looked like fun. The reports were that people leaving the performances were smiling and laughing. Since most people living in Gaza have never seen a circus, we should not expect that droves will be coming, nor should we be read too much into their reviews. But laughing and smiling is always a positive.
Let the show go on.