CAIRO — A poem by Egyptian poet Badi Khairi lashes out at a British water company by calling its executives “sinners” and “parasites” — both of which are great insults in the Egyptian culture. The poem — titled "As-Sakkayin” ("Water Distributors") — narrates the woes of Egyptian water distributors after a British company starts selling bottled mineral water during the British mandate. Naguib al-Rihani, the founder of modern Egyptian theater, made it into a popular song and sang it, and singer Sayed Darwish used it in the renowned play “Walaw” ("Even So"), and when the song is played, often the audience joins in shouting “sinners” or “parasites.”
Contemporary poets and singers, however, need to be more careful than Khairi when it comes to swearing, fighting words, profanity and racy language. Earlier in March, the Egyptian parliament started discussing a draft amendment to the Penal Code that aims to provide harsher penalties including imprisonment for using lewd or offensive words, especially in artworks. The suggested amendment may send the offender to prison for three years for offending public sensibilities through lewd language, instead of a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds ($32) currently determined by law. Member of parliament Faraj Amer, who has drafted this amendment, told the local media Feb. 29 that the deputies intend to fight the use of insult and swear words especially in works of art. The draft now needs to go through parliamentary subcommittees, but no date is set.