Performing Samba in Beirut
Citizenship, Precarity and the Lebanese State
In this article, I will present a case study of singer and dancer Leila Khoury, a Lebanese-Brazilian performer who lives and works in Lebanon. I will examine how her struggles with aspects of Lebanese legislation are indicative of broader governmental attitudes towards performing artists and foreigners in general and reveal institutionalised prejudices toward women and people of colour. These laws are the Nationality Law and the ‘Artist Visa’, the latter of which is part of the broader kafala (sponsorship) legislative framework. The ‘Artist Visa’ reinforces societal clichés regarding dancers and also serves to reify globally circulating stereotypes of Brazilian women and Latin American women in general. In Leila’s case, this visa system plus her inability to obtain Lebanese nationality, thanks to the outdated and sexist Nationality Law, has resulted in her living in a situation of precarity. Despite these restrictive laws, the demand for foreign performing artists by the Lebanese entertainment industry remains high, due to both the commodification and global circulation of genres like samba, and also in part due to the still-enduring problematic status of female professional performance in Lebanese society.
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