A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance in the Culture War: the MB's Tourism Plans; the Sheikh and the Belly-Dancer

I recently posted about some of the recent outbreaks of the culture wars between Islamists and secularists in Egypt and Tunisia.  In the past 24 hours I've encountered two stories that may qualify as cognitive dissonance. Here they are:

1. The Muslim Brotherhood's Party's Tourism Program. Despite all the speculation about the rise of political Islam killing tourism in Egypt by banning alcohol, bikinis, and perhaps even mixed beaches, the Muslim Brotherhood has insisted all along that it has no intentions of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Now, you'll be glad to know,the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has a tourism investment program that will actually promise to double tourism revenues. I'm not totally clear on the details, but there it is.

2. The Salafi and the Belly Dancer. Madame Badia Masabni opened her cabaret in Cairo in 1926, creating the modern form of the ancient art of raqs sharqi or the belly dance; at her cabaret on Opera Square such famous names as Tahia Carioca (who danced at King Farouq's wedding) and Nadia Gamal would achieve stardom. Two years later, in 1928, Sheikh Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the 1920s belly dancing and political Islam have rarely intersected without friction; Madame Badia's cabaret was one of the first targets attacked and burned on Black Saturday in 1952. The Egyptian belly-dance scene has gone downhill since the 1950s when a wave of puritanism (socialist then in motivation rather than Islamic) started imposing restrictions. Some fear Islamist dominance could spell its end. But perhaps not: popular Salafist Sheikh Muhammad Hassan has recently been promoting the idea of raising funds to replace the $1,3 billion in aid Egypt gets from the US. Now one of Egypt's best-known belly-dancers, who goes by the name Lucy, has announced she will donate her earnings from a forthcoming television drama to Sheikh Hassan. Sheikh Hassan's views on this do not appear to have been reported.

The sheikh and the belly-dancer each have their following but most of us doubt that they overlap all that much, though I understand the number of satellite channels devoted to belly-dancing has been almost keeping pace with the number of channels devoted to preaching. And perhaps on politics they can find some common ground. Lest I be accused of bias when it comes to Salafis versus belly-dancers, I am including both a video sermon of the sheikh's, with English subtitles, and a video of one of Lucy's performances, which doesn't require subtitles. You may watch either or both.

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