Egypt now looks set to inherit the coveted title of Arab country with the most absurd restrictions. Having made little progress in combating an Islamist insurgency, the Sisi regime has turned its attention to the “threat” posed by atheists, gay people and – increasingly – musicians.
A Muslim country frowning upon music is no surprise, as music is haram in Islam; but what is astonishing is the reference to “the Sisi regime,” particularly given the glowing attention Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received worldwide several years ago with his declaration “we are in need of a religious revolution.” He stated…
It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!
Then, after after Islamic State bombings at churches last April, Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency.
Sisi seems to have mastered the gift of words and putting on an act for the world. During the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, Egyptians denounced Obama’s support for it. Sisi even stated of Obama: “You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that.” Yet in a surprise statement in 2015, Sisi stated that the Muslim Brotherhood can play a role in Egypt, which was widely viewed as a “softening” of his position toward the MB. Then after Trump Presidential victory, Sisi praised Trump for his “true understanding” of jihad terror and the “realities” of the Middle East.
The reality in Egypt is that Coptic Christians began fleeing the country by the tens of thousands since Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi took over in 2012, creating a “new climate of fear and uncertainty.” Then when Morsi was finally toppled by a military coup in 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood blamed the nation’s Christians, and attacks upon them intensified, causing Christian Copts to lose faith in Sisi, viewing him as a failure and no better than his predecessors. The Islamic State also stepped up its attacks on Christians in Egypt, causing a renewed exodus which “intensified fears for the future for Christianity in the Middle East.” Still, no action from Sisi.
Meanwhile, “Sherine Abdel Wahab, one of the most popular Egyptian singers… is charged under an article in Egypt’s penal code which bans statements liable to ‘disturb public security, spread horror among the people or cause harm and damage to the public interest.'” Laila Amer, the third female singer to face criminal charges, is now jailed.
Amid the aggressive jihadist insurgency in Egypt, rather than devote action against it, the Sisi regime is showing a hardline Islamic approach in its crackdown on musicians, atheists and gays. All the while, Christians continue to be massacred.
As Saudi Arabia relaxes its rules against cinemas and women drivers, Egypt now looks set to inherit the coveted title of Arab country with the most absurd restrictions. Having made little progress in combating an Islamist insurgency, the Sisi regime has turned its attention to the “threat” posed by atheists, gay people and – increasingly – musicians.
This week brought the arrest of Laila Amer, the third female singer to face criminal charges since November. She has been imprisoned since Tuesday following a complaint from Ahmed Mahran, a vigilante lawyer who claims that her recent video performance poses a “great risk” to Egypt. Mahran also filed a criminal complaint against fans who waved rainbow flags at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo last September.
Amer’s song (see video above) features a housewife complaining about her mother-in-law. Some her movements are sexually suggestive and changing a single letter in the song’s title, Buss Ummak (“Look at your mother”), would turn it into an obscene Arabic expression.
Amer has now been expelled from the government-linked musicians’ union, the Syndicate of Musical Professions – a body tasked with preventing performances of “abnormal art”.
Meanwhile, Sherine Abdel Wahab, one of the most popular Egyptian singers, is facing trial over remarks made at a concert in the United Arab Emirates. Referring to one of her hits, a patriotic song called “Have You Drunk From the Nile?”, she joked that drinking Evian water would be healthier.
She is charged under an article in Egypt’s penal code which bans statements liable to “disturb public security, spread horror among the people or cause harm and damage to the public interest”.
The musicians’ union also banned her from performing in Egypt, pending further investigation of her “unjustified ridicule towards our dear Egypt”.
Last month Shaimaa Ahmed, known to her fans as Shyma, was given a two-year jail sentence (later reduced to one year) for “inciting debauchery” by suggestively eating a banana in a music video.
These cases are just high-profile examples of a more generalised assault on musicians’ freedom which also includes last-minute cancellation of concerts for strange or unexplained reasons, censorship of lyrics, banning live performances of specific songs, and “security” vetting of performers.
In an article for Mada Masr earlier this week, Hessen Hossam suggested the aim is partly to appease conservative elements in Egyptian society but also to harass performers who the regime considers politically suspect.
Describing one example of the cancellations, Hossam wrote:
“Earlier this month, on December 8, a concert by Egyptian rock band Cairokee, whose stardom rose along with the Egyptian revolution and who haven’t shied away from declaring their opposition to the regime throughout the years that ensued, was set to take place. The sold-out and highly anticipated event … was cancelled only one day beforehand.
“No explanations or written orders were given to the band, they were only informed by the managers of the venue … that the concert was no longer happening because of the ‘trouble with Jerusalem’, in reference to US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem only a few days before.”
A second attempt to hold the concert, on December 22 at a different venue, also failed when the venue was commandeered for a military funeral.
At the end of October the Ashkal Music Festival featuring Arab and African artists with a popular following in Egypt was also cancelled at short notice. The reason, according to Mahmoud Youssef, one of the musicians’ managers, was that some of the performers could not get permits from the government’s Censorship Board. He told Mada Masr:
“Right now, any political or revolutionary content is being censored or rejected. The board considered the Palestinian band 47 Soul a ‘rebellious’ band, and Tinariwen are known for their opposition to the Qadhafi regime in Libya before and during the revolution. Even though these artists are not openly political in their performance or lyrics, their political backgrounds and ideals are not welcome by the Egyptian state.”
It seems the authorities have stepped up their monitoring of musicial activity in the wake of the moral panic surrounding Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in September. The band’s lead singer is openly gay and several members of the audience were seen waving rainbow flags (which several members of parliament are now attempting to ban)……