Egyptian singers get prison time for joking about the pollution of the Nile and making “debauched” videos

We take it for granted in Western democracies that we can make fun of everything, including the government and politicians. But of course that’s not the case in much of the world, including Egypt. But it’s even worse: a popular Egyptian singer, Sherine Abdel Wahab, was just sentenced to six months in prison for joking about the pathogenicity of the Nile River.  As the BBC reports (see also PRI):

Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel Wahab has been sentenced to six months in prison for joking about the cleanliness of the River Nile.

Sherine, one of the country’s most famous singers – and a judge on the Arabic version of The Voice TV show – told a fan that drinking from the famous river might give them parasites.

“Drink Evian instead,” she joked.

. . . On top of the legal case against her, the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate announced that it had banned her from performing over her “unjustified mockery of our dear Egypt”.

From PRI:

The World: Tell us about the song that got Sherine in trouble?

Mona Eltahawy: Well, the song comes from this Egyptian phrase that basically says if you drink from the Nile you’re going to come back. Every country has its own version of this. And the song is basically a song for the love of Egypt. And apparently, what happened at one of Sherine’s concerts that landed her into this trouble, was that a fan requested the song “Have you Drunk from the Nile,” and Sherine joked, “Well, you know you’re better off not drinking from the Nile because you’re going to get bilharzia — which is a waterborne disease from a parasite that is found in the Nile that has long plagued Egypt. So, she was making a joke and she was saying, “You know, you’re better off drinking … ,” and she says the name of a mineral water company. So, it was a joke.

So, just to be clear, bilharzia, or some people call it schistosomiasis — this waterborne bacteria — Egypt has made great strides, as you say, in reducing it. But it’s still dangerous to drink from the Nile, right? I mean, that is a problem.

It is dangerous to drink from parts of the Nile world. You go in, and you will get the parasite that carries this disease. And so you know, she was joking, but she’s joking about something that is real. And I think what it reminds Egyptians of is that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, our current president, who is from the military and who is military-backed, is showing an increasing sensitivity to any kind of criticism. So, it’s not just unknown university students who are picked up in the middle of the night and forcibly disappeared. And we’ve had hundreds of such cases, but this is also a kind of muscle flexing and saying, “Look, even the most famous pop stars are not immune from this.” This is a message to everyone: “We can get whoever we want.”

But wait—there’s more. Another singer, Laila Amer, was just sentenced to two years in prison for making a video that the government said “incited debauchery and immorality.” The director and another actor were also convicted, but given shorter sentences. From the BBC:

The controversy surrounding Sherin’s case was followed by the arrest in January of Laila Amer, over a video for her song Bos Omak (Look At Your Mother)

Its name is an apparent pun on an Arabic profanity.

The video showed Amer dancing and making suggestive gestures – something the lawyer who filed the complaint called a “great risk” to Egypt and “an attack on society”.

News agency EFE reported that Amer’s defence in court was that she had simply followed instructions from the director and producer.

The director was sentenced to six months in prison, while another man appearing in the video alongside Amer received a three-month sentence.

Here’s that salacious video, which is as tame as milk compared to some music videos in America. I see hand gestures, but nothing “suggestive”. But of course I’m not Egyptian. Yet that doesn’t matter: the regime in censorious, and nobody deserves to rot in jail for two years for a music video. Seriously, do you think this video is a “great risk” to Egyptians, much less “an attack on society”?


  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Sounds like drinking from the Nile could give one Nefertiti’s Revenge.

  2. Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Fantastic duck imagery, I was transfixed.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    That vid’s an affront to decent production values and narrative technique, but “suggestive,” it’s not.

  4. GBJames
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink


  5. glen1davidson
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Bos Omak (look at your mother) is apparently a pun on kos omak (your mom’s pussy), one of the most offensive phrases to use against someone.

    Well, censorship, how can anyone be pushing for that here?

    Glen Davidson

  6. Posted March 3, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    So sad that the Arab Spring has come to this.

    • Richard Portman
      Posted March 6, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Beyond sad. And poor Syria, destroyed for nothing.
      And sad for me because I understand parts of this video.

  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    So we don’t have free speech busting out all over Egypt. I am just guessing but would think drinking the tap water in about any hotel in Egypt could be a problem as well. I can’t imagine drinking water out of any river in the U.S. would be the thing to do.

    • boggy
      Posted March 4, 2018 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      Nor the Ganges or the Thames.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 4, 2018 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        Last year (2 years ago? ; not sure) a comedian swam the length of the Thames (defined how?) for some charity fundraiser. I didn’t waste attention on the details (who, why, results), but I do recall that he was given some prophylactic medication, but nothing major. Swimming lengthwise down a major river is likely to lead to more exposure to waterborne pathogens than the occasional glass of untreated water.
        I wouldn’t advise that in the Ganges. I wouldn’t advise that a tapeworm took a swim in the Ganges, for fear of catching something nasty.
        Do tapeworm get parasites? I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

        • Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          I was told by a biology teacher in CEGEP (IIRC) that almost all animals have bacterial parasites …

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted March 5, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

            A proposition I’m perfectly happy with. Evidence OTOH, is likely harder. I would be surprised if any “wild type” organism had been autopsied and “plated” without showing some evidence of bacterial (and/ or protozoan ; microbial, generally) content. Animals specifically bred under “germ free” conditions are a different question..

        • boggy
          Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          Thames swimmer was comedian David Walliams who in 8 days in 2011 swam from Lechlade to Westminster, a distance of 120 miles.He raised £1m for charity.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted March 5, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

            Hmmm, at my swimming speed, that would be about 15 hours a day in the water. Got to give the guy some credit for stick-to-it-ness.

  8. Christian
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Well, I guess no one makes it to the top of an authoritarian regime with his sense of humor still intact.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like to be too light about this, but I feel compelled to post this.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 5, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      From the depth, like Excalibur emerging from the lake (or the Kraken waking, or the Big Yin’s “Little Brown Jobbie” skit) I recall “the Sand Dance“.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I posted a tweet yesterday from MEMRI. A young man was kicked off a TV show, and yelled at multiple times to go immediately to see a psychiatrist and more. All he said was he was an atheist.

    • Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      Where did that happen?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted March 4, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Egypt. The tweet is in my next post, but things in the real world have stopped me from finishing it.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 4, 2018 at 3:24 am | Permalink

      I didn’t see that tweet.
      Isn’t Egypt one of the countries with the death penalty for atheism? Or is the penalty for apostasy and/ or proselytisation to leave Islam?

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        It’s just on Twitter. The post that it’s in hasn’t been finished sorry. Hopefully later today.

        If you’re imprisoned for atheism in Egypt currently it’s always called something else. Egypt doesn’t have Sharia, but I’m pretty sure Islam is in the constitution, so it’s technically possible. Because the army are currently in charge, it’s not likely – el Sisi is a secular Muslim. Not all police stick to the law. Some are faithful to the previous regime – the Muslim Brotherhood – who introduced Sharia, but el Sisi is opposed to Sharia, but not Islam.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 4, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          It remains enough that I think more carefully about travelling to/ through Egypt these days. I’d still do it, but I include the factor in my pay rate calculations.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted March 5, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

            Good call. It’s a lot more dangerous than it used to be imo.

          • Posted March 11, 2018 at 4:25 am | Permalink

            They abducted and tortured to death Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni because he had contacts with trade union activists.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted March 18, 2018 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, we were asyluming a Columbian trade unionist back in the mid-90s. Until the police caught up with him and deported him. He survived about two hours after being forced off the plane at Bogota and handed over to the local police. According to them, he walked out of a side door to the airport, missing the dozen-odd people waiting for him.
              Face down in a ditch with a single bullet in the back of the head.
              “Maybe he had genuine grounds for fear in his home country after all,” as the politicians who denied him asylum in the UK, Germany, Denmark and Norway, then the UK again might grudgingly admit.

  11. Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Pretty mild video, interesting there was not a lot of high tech by our standards in that kitchen scene. I wondered, is this typical? and what was the ‘story’ in the vid about. That may have offended the ‘censor’ nincompoops as well.
    The Arab Spring has been truly plugged, ‘bottled it’ and sadly it does not look good for freedom of speech for the Egyptian people any time soon.

  12. Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  13. W.Benson
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    ” . . . bilharzia, or some people call it schistosomiasis — this waterborne bacteria . . . ” No, PRI, schistosomaiasis is the disease caused by a trematode worm, in this case a blood fluke. The worm uses aquatic freshwater snails as an intermediate host and infects humans by a larva (cecaria) that is released from snails and penetrates the skin. It is not transmitted by drinking water. Public Radio International gets a zero in biology.

    • Posted March 11, 2018 at 4:45 am | Permalink

      Some sources say that cercaria from drinking water can penetrate through the lips.

  14. Posted March 4, 2018 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Cases like these make me grateful for not living in arab countries.

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