A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Bad Year for Belly Dancers as Egypt Charges Two More for "Inciting Debauchery"

 It's proving to be a difficult year for belly-dancers in Egypt,  two years after the Muslim Brotherhood lost power.. Late this week two more were charged with "incitement to debauchery" (التحريض على الفسق) (link is in Arabic; for English accounts see here), based on videos they had posted. Just a short time ago (though I didn't mention it here) another dancer and her manager were charged with the same crime, and earlier, the dancer Safinaz (also known as Safinar) was sentenced to six months in prison for "insulting the Egyptian flag"; that sentence was recently upheld by a court.

Safinaz' Flag Outfit
I had posted about the Safinaz case in March; be sure to read the two comments by commenter "anonymous," on the political context.) Insulting the flag is a crime in Egypt, and I guess incitement to debauchery must be, too, though I don't know what the legal definition may be. (American courts would call it "unconstitutionally vague," but in Egypt vagueness may be the intention.)

Earlier this month, dancer Reda El-Fouly was charged with incitement to debauchery, along with her partner Wael Elsedeki (who some reports say has fled the country), posted a YouTube video  that soon went viral; she's facing a year in prison. The video, Sib Eddi (Hands Off) is suggestive but pretty mild by Western music video standards; yes, she shakes her assets in a low-cut dress and teases the viewer, including closeups of bouncing cleavage, but nothing that couldn't play even on puritanical US broadcast TV:

OK, it's suggestive (and the still is focused right down her cleavage), and the cleavage closeups  are meant to titillate (pun intended), but there's no nudity. It's a tease. Mild by Western standards, but is this really a belly dance, or a shake-your boobs-at-the camera-dance? The true Eastern Dance or raqs sharqi is about controlled movement of the whole body, by all means including but not limited to the breasts.The video is not a crime punishable by law in my view (though Egyptian prosecutors disagree) but it may be a crime against a longstanding tradition of genuine artistry and control.

Now, before I discuss the two latest arrests, let me pause to note that to call this "belly dancing" in the land of Badia Masabni and Tahia Carioca suggests the debasement of the art in modern times. I've touched on the classical age of belly dancing before, and posted videos showing the classic works by great artists of the 1940s and 1950s such as Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal (or even better, Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal together) not to mention the masters of the 1960s through the 1980s such as Nagwa Fuad and Fifi Abdou, dancers who really put the belly in belly dancing with amazing muscular control, rather than dancing around bouncing halfway out of a low-cut dress. Reda El-Fouly is weak tea indeed, by those standards. Incitement of debauchery? Nah, not really. (If this is illegal, why is superdiva Haifa Wehbe, who regularly shakes her generous assets, not doing hard time?) El-Fouly is relying on a single (well, obviously double) asset rather than the coordinated skill of her whole body. Compare this video to the Fifi Abdou clips above. There may be a belly dancing Gresham's Law at work here. I don't think either the classics or El-Fouly clips "incite debauchery," but the former are erotic and the latter just suggestive unless you're a horny 17-year-old male, in which case you consider everything, including moss on a north-facing rock, somehow sexy and masturbate to it.

End of rant. The two arrests this week were of two dancers who go by the names of Bardis and "the Egyptian Shakira" (obviously to distinguish her from the international singing star). They were arrested at a club, or two separate clubs depending on the report, in the Giza neighborhood of Mohandeseen, but again for videos posted online. Here's a news clip of them being loaded into a paddy-wagon

They were initially ordered held for four days, but may be sentenced to much longer. It isn't clear what videos produced the objections in these two cases. Some of their dance videos can be found on YouTube, though I don't know if they're the offending ones. You can search for them if you like, but if you;re in it for the art search for Samia Gamal or the others mentioned earlier instead or check out the links above. I may not consider their dancing up to snuff, but I don't really think jailing young women for dancing what was once a respected (if now declining and somewhat debased) art form is really Egypt's biggest problem right now.

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