A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 18, 2012

In the Land of Badia and Carioca, Egypt Arrests Owner of El-Tet Belly-Dance Channel

There was a time when the raqs sharqi or oriental dance, what is known in the West as belly-dancing, was above all associated with Egypt, with Lebanon perhaps a distant second. Madame Badia Masabni's Cabsrets on Opera Square and in Giza were frequented by British officials, King Farouq, and the elite. The most famous dancer of them all, Tahia Carioca, rose to fame at Madame Badia's.
Tahia Carioca in the 1930s or 1940s
But those days, when Carioca is said to have performed at Farouq's coronation (or wedding; the stories differ; one was in 1936 and one in 1938) as past as the monarchy itself. One of the first targets burned on Black Saturday in 1952 was Madame Badia's on Opera Square, and Carioca was jailed for a time under Nasser for calling for democracy. In the 1960s, Nasser's austere socialism mandated a gauzy covering over the midriff. But belly-dancing has remained popular, though increasingly limited to the nightclubs of the pyramid road and the expensive clubs of the five star hotels, where Gulf and Western tourists spend big money but which the average Egyptian cannot afford.

And now there is a different puritanism on the rise, of course. Yesterday the owner of the television satellite channel El-Tet, which broadcasts nothing but round-the-clock belly-dancing videos, was arrested and reportedly charged with "operating without a license, inciting licentiousness and facilitating prostitution." Baligh Hamdy reportedly sent videos from Egypt for broadcast from Jordan and Bahrain, which were then beamed by satellite back to Egypt, where El-Tet appears to have been quite popular. Other reports of the arrest here and here.

The belly-dance is a genuine folk tradition in Egypt, tracing back to the Ghawazee dancers described by E.W. Lane in his Manners and Customs; the popularity of the TV channel doubtless has as much to do with its being targeted as whatever actual offenses may have been committed.

Of course, even if the broadcasting authorities and the vice squad (apparently both were involved), manage to shut down the channel, it has a life of its own on YouTube. In protest of the latest attack on a genuinely popular art form now in decline, two of El-Tet's offerings, followed by one of the immortal Carioca from 1941.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks for this. Tahia Carioca was only a memory in my Cairo days, and I don't think I've ever seen her in a video.