A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The "Harlem Shake" as a Protest Form in Tunisia and Egypt

There's a quote attributed to the anarchist and revolutionary Emma Goldman: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." She apparently never exactly said that, but it's a revealing remark.

On the other hand, the latest trend in Arab revolutionary activism seems something else again. The "Harlem Shake," a dance craze that started earlier this month on YouTube, and has joined "Gangnam Style" as something for various groups in various countries to emulate with their own local interpretation, has now created controversy, and some clashes and arrests,  in both Tunisia and Egypt.  The latest move came this afternoon when demonstrators in Cairo announced they would do the Harlem Shake in front of Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, with one explaining:
Abdallah Salman, dressed in a Mickey Mouse mask and an Egyptian galabeya, said he came mainly to “have fun”. He said that after exhausting all the means, he is now resorting to a new way of protesting. “We have tried revolution, marches, strikes, and now we’re trying something new,” Salman added.
Already at least four Egyptian pharmacy students have been arrested, apparently for dancing in their underwear,  while in Tunisia, in Tunis and in Sidi Bouzid, protestors trying to film the dance have clashed with Salafis who consider it immoral.

What to make of all this? Youthful exuberance meeting Islamist puritanism and creating conflict? A new revolutionary tactic or just silliness? I have to admit it doesn't seem to rank up there with storming the Bastille in terms of effectiveness, and especially in a conservative society like Egypt's it may alienate many people.

This is the film that started the controversies in Tunisia:

And here's an Egyptian one filmed at the pyramids:

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