Oct 6, 2015

In Egypt: Freedom of Expression is Under Military Attack

The 'Egyptian Shakira (Suha Mohammed Ali) and her recent album is call "al-Kamoun"
In Egypt, freedom of speech has been worsening since the military has taken over control of the country after it ousted President Morsi, in 2013. Recently, an Egyptian court sentenced two women to six months in prison. The two performers are famous belly dancers and known as Bardis and Egyptian Shakira (Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal). Their charges are committing debauchery and promotion of immorality through their videos. If carefully watched, neither of the two videos contains nudity or promotes immorality. So, why the court has charged the two singers into six months prison? What is in the video that could be assumed offensive to Egyptians?

For Egyptian Shakira, the video clips starts with a scene where a dancer swings her hip while clinging to the wall. Then, the scene leads to a decorated room, more looks like a bar, or a nightclub, than a studio. The main character of the video is the singer who emerges with extravagant makeup. A few scenes later, the singer and dancers appear in school uniform. Thus far, everything looks normal, but what come next could be provocative parts for some religious viewers in Egypt, which could be one of the reasons that the court might based on its charges against the dancer. At one point, the singer appears in bare shoulders, while dancing in a close-up view for the camera, she bites and sucks her lips, which could be interpreted as deliberately and sexually enticing. In many Muslim countries, singing, dancing and demonstrating any sign of explicit sensual acts are forbidden and the consequences might be dire.

Another controversial part is when the singer holds a hot red pepper (felfel), which is among aphrodisiac spices in Arab culture and traditionally, it is considered one of the spices that men need for awakening sexual desire. This scene is aggravated towards the end of the clip where the singer closes her eyes, and acts in an orgasmic manner by adding a groaning sound affect towards the end of a verse and then lands on the floor, next to a white scooter. Though all these gestures seem childish and insecure, zooming in on red lips, moving hip in short skirts that reveal dancers thighs could be provocative to religious viewers, but again, it all indicate that the singers use them tongue-in-cheek.

By looking at some traditional belly dancers videos from the 1980s and 90s, in which the dancers appear in a more inadequately clothed, Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal Youssef are very modestly looking. Suha and Dalia are not the first to be prisoned. In July, another woman, Reda el-Fouly and her boy friend, who made a homemade video, was convicted of similar charge.

Similarly, in March, a well-known dancer - Safinaz - was sentenced to six months in prison. But what is different between these dancers and those dancers from twenty, or thirty years ago, is not how decent, or indecent they appear in their videos, rather it is the relative freedom of speech that once existed under the Hosni Mubarak role, which is now has gone.

While suppressing freedom of speech, in the time of Mubarak had been systematically motivated by political intentions, during the current regime - which leads by the military commander, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – suppression of freedom of speech is motivated by fear. The military ruling government which demonstrates itself as a savior of the “January 25, 2011 Revolution” is now cracking down not only on Muslim Brotherhood, human rights activist, secular and leftist elites, but also going after artists who even do not seem to be threats at all. The current military regime in Egypt carries out all these crackdowns and violence against its own citizens in order to establish itself an indisputable authority and as the only liberator and guardian of the Egyptian people since 2011. What is now happening in Egypt makes people nostalgic of the Mubarak era and according to what is coming out of Egypt and what analysts believe is as long as the country is being governed by the military and the clamp down is continued to such a horrific level, the prospect of freedom of expression will be grim and gloomy.

I wrote this post in the beginning of September, but for some reason it was lost among other files.  


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