Since the start of 2018, Egyptian courts have sentenced at least three women singers to prison for music that was considered to be immoral and insulting to Egypt.
“Freemuse is concerned about the increasing number of women artists that are being imprisoned and prosecuted in Egypt. We call on the authorities to implement measures to protect the right to artistic freedom of expression in Egypt and reverse the current trend of suppressing women’s right to artistic freedom in the aim of combating ‘indecency’ and ‘obscenity’,” Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said.
One of Egypt’s most popular musicians, Sherine (real name Sherine Abdel-Wahab), was sentenced by a Cairo court to six months in prison and a 10,000 Egyptian pound fine (460 euros) for “spreading false news” and “insulting the country” on 27 February over a joke she made whilst performing at a concert in the United Arab Emirates, reported BBC.
After being asked whether she has drunk from the River Nile by an audience member, Sherine responded by saying that drinking from the river would “give me schistosomiasis”, a disease obtained from polluted water. The Egyptian Musicians Syndicate also prevented Sherine from singing and obtaining permissions to hold concerts until investigations against her were completed, reported The Guardian. She remains on bail.
Another female musician, Laila Amer, was also handed a prison sentence by Egyptian authorities on 27 February for “inciting debauchery and immorality” in relation to her “suggestive gestures and dancing” in the music video for her song “Bos Omak” (Look at Your Mother). The musician was sentenced to two years in prison alongside the director of the music video who received a three-month sentence, reported The Washington Post.
The head of the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate, Hany Shaker, called the video “an insult to the Egyptian people” and said he had cancelled Amer’s membership, whilst the lawyer who filed the complaint against Leila Amer called the video a “great risk” and a “moral disaster”, reported The Independent and Metro. The case is open to appeal.
Earlier in 2018, pop singer Shyma saw her two-year prison sentence reduced to one after appeal on 1 January, reported Egypt Independent. The singer received her initial sentence on 12 December 2017 for “inciting debauchery and immorality” and “publishing an indecent film” in her music video for song “Andy Zoroof” (I Have Problems), which authorities considered to be too daring and suggestive. Additionally, the singer was ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds (approx. 475 euros). The director of the video was also handed the same sentence in absentia. On 16 November 2017, the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate withdrew her annual license because of the “pornographic” video.
For more information on Egypt’s practice of silencing women artists and the challenging environment for all artistic expression in the country, read Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom 2018 report, which will be released on 15 March 2018 at 09:00 CET.