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Egypt's prosecutors take aim at pop stars

In Egypt, where popular music videos are offending public morals, charges of indecency are being filed against a number of dancers.

CAIRO — Rida al-Fouly, also called Salma, is known for her video clip "Sib Idi" ("Let Go of my Hand"). Suha Muhammad Ali, known as Egypt's Shakira, has a famous video clip called "Al-Kamoun" ("Cumin"), and Dalia Kamal Youssef, whose stage name is Radis, is the dancer in "Ya Wad ya Tqil" ("You Cold-Hearted Man"). On June 2, lawyers Mohammed al-Nimr filed charges with the general prosecutor's office against the three Egyptian dancers for incitement, immorality and indecency, crimes punishable by three months to more than three years in prison, according to Article 9 of Law No. 10/1961 on the Combating of Prostitution.

It all started March 25, when forces from the General Directorate for the Investigation of the Arts arrested Fouly on charges of incitement, immorality and indecency. The video clip’s producer, Wael Sadiqi, who holds Egyptian and US nationalities, fled to Tunisia then to the United States. He had lived there for 17 years from 1996 to 2013 and had done a series of documentaries in 2014 under the name of “Let Me Show You Egypt,” to promote Egyptian tourism. The film, dubbed in English, French and Arabic, was donated to the Egyptian state broadcaster.

On June 28, the Agouza Misdemeanors Court sentenced Fouly and Sadiqi to one year in prison. Fouly appealed the decision and on July 26 had her sentence reduced by the Agouza Appeals Court to six months in prison with labor.

On March 30, Sadiqi posted a YouTube message addressed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in which he recognized that his clip was vulgar. But he said that he had made it in response to the vulgarism in Egyptian cinema. Sadiqi said that he has completed 155 works of art and that no one paid him any attention because producers only want to make vulgar works.

He added in his YouTube message, “Not only is production monopolized, but we have been seeing the same actors for 50 years. And when their stardom started fading, they bequeathed their profession to their children and prevented the entry of strangers into the profession. All that Egyptian cinema offers today is spreading nudity and crime, which is destroying an entire generation.”

Expressing extreme disappointment, he added that he went to the United States in 1996 to learn about the film industry and bring his knowledge back to Egypt to serve his mother country. Sadiqi said he dreamed that the film industry would fill the treasury of the Egyptian state rather than the Suez Canal, which generated $5.405 billion in revenue in 2014.

On July 22, the General Directorate for the Investigation of the Arts referred the files of dancers Ali and Youssef to the general prosecution for investigation.

Mohamed Khairy, Ali’s lawyer, told Al-Monitor that his client is a member of the Actors Syndicate, is bound by artistic standards and pays her taxes, stressing that what she does is an art that is no different from what is shown in cinemas now. He criticized the double standard and pointed out that the General Directorate for the Investigation of the Arts is allowing satellite channels to broadcast video clips containing indecent scenes by major Egyptian stars without anyone facing prosecution.

Khairy demanded that all actors be held accountable for their romantic roles, that all nightclubs be closed and that all dancing in films be banned if his client is prosecuted under the incitement law.

Ashraf Zaki, the head of the Actors Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “I refuse to comment about dancers being charged with indecency because I would be the last one to defend them.”

Zaki said that the Actors Syndicate differentiates between freedom of creativity and indecency. On June 20, the syndicate issued a statement attacking the Ramadan serials for showing brazen and gratuitous scenes of nudity in nightclubs, corrupting public taste and cheapening creativity in the minds of the masses. Zaki said these practices distort the efforts of liberal artists and equates them with those seeking fame and money without offering any aesthetic, intellectual or social value.

Massad Fouda, the head of the Filmmakers Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “There is a tendency to stir up public opinion and to exploit works of art and artists’ behavior. For example, the series ‘Under Control,’ which discusses addiction issues, was introduced in the month of Ramadan and was charged with eight counts of incitement to immorality and indecency as soon as it was aired July 16. The charges were filed by non-specialists and were often not lawyers.”

Fouda added, “After the series ended, Ghada Wali, the minister of Social Solidarity, honored the makers of the series as the best drama production addressing the addiction issue from a very realistic point of view. So those lawyers who have been filing charges did not go to court, because they realized that they will not achieve the fame that they sought, as the makers of the series were honored [by the state].”

He pointed out that Articles 65 and 67 in the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 guaranteeing freedom are being ignored and that the charges against artists are being brought out of spite. If one artist is upset with her colleague, then the easiest way to punish her is to get a lawyer that would file a case against her for incitement, immorality and indecency.

Fouda added, “It is strange that there are licensed dancers who go to work in nightclubs and then are accused of inciting immorality. Dancers are supposed to dance. The law about incitement to indecency is vague and does not define incitement to immorality and indecency. So the law is uncontrolled.”

Fouda called for restricting these practices because there are no standard criteria that can be invoked in filing these charges against citizens and harming their public image, and some are simply looking for fame and money by filing these charges.

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