The Veil : an extremely short Arabic language play rendered in English


The Veil : an extremely short Arabic language play rendered in English

(Mansour Bushnaf)

Translated from Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

In this short play, Mansour Bushnaf turns his sharp eye and his searing critical mind to the vexed question of the interplay of the secular and the religious.


[An Arab nightclub with male and female customers. The men are wearing black suits with red neckties, which look like official uniforms. The women are wearing tight pants. A waiter in a white suit and bow tie is handing out drinks.

A woman is singing—or rather lip-synching—the song Salimah ya salamah by the Greek-Egyptian singer Dalida.

Two other women contort their bodies in dance. The men cry out lustfully.

The women blow kisses to the air. The men pull dollar bills out of their pockets and throw them at the women’s heads. The women give kisses to the men now, instead of to the air. Something goes wrong with the playback system, confusing the singer, whose lips come to a halt. The men’s lips freeze on the women’s lips.

A long silence.

The waiter heads backstage, and a few moments later the voice of an old man loudly exhorts about the torment of the grave.

The men remove their lips from the women’s. Everyone lowers their heads.

Silence and people staring into the void.]

Male customer: “What’s this? Stop the tape, boy! We’re not in a mosque.”

Female customer: “This is a nightclub, a nightclub, a nightclub . . .”

Another male customer: “There’s no power or strength save in God, I ask God for forgiveness, I seek refuge in God.”

A third male customer: “Leave him alone. We need him. We’re doers of evil.”

[All of them freeze in astonishment, staring into the void while the old man’s voice drones on about the torment of the grave.

Things slowly grow dark.]



The old man’s voice persists: It has grown louder and taken on the form of a threat.

The singer takes off her clothes piece by piece and flings them at the men’s heads. They deeply breathe in the smell of the clothes, but they’re somewhat distracted by the old man’s voice. The singer has taken off her entire outfit, but we discover that a black gown had been concealed beneath her clothes—she remains completely covered.

The singer stands there on stage, shy and pious.

Silence and astonishment and everyone’s mouths agape.

The other women take off their dancing outfits piece by piece and throw them at the men’s faces. The men tremble, as if the clothes were snakes.

Shy and pious, the women stand there in black gowns that had been concealed beneath their dancing attire.

The men take off their suits piece by piece and throw them at the women’s heads.

The women groan in disapproval.

The men stand there, shy and pious, in black robes that had been concealed beneath the suits.

An outpouring of tears and grief from all the customers.

The waiter in his white suit pushes a trolley with small whips on it.

He gives a whip to every man and a veil to every woman.

The men raise the whips. The women bow their heads to the men, and to the whips.

All the angry men freeze.

The voice of the old man continues to flow.

Things slowly grow dark, turning to black.

The end

About Mansour Bushnaf

Dissident Libyan playwright and novelist Mansour Bushnaf started his literary career in the 1970s; his twenty plays have been performed and read across Libya. He was imprisoned for twelve years by the Gaddafi regime for his play When the Rats Govern. His first novel, Chewing Gum, was published in Cairo in 2008 and translated into English in 2014 and French in 2017, but remains banned in Libya.