CAIRO: An Egyptian ban on performances of a popular form of street music, branded “more dangerous than coronavirus,” has sparked uproar in the country.
Singers of mahraganat (Arabic for festivals) have been accused of overstepping moral boundaries with their controversial “low-taste” lyrics.
The row erupted after the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate on Sunday ordered a ban on mahraganat artists performing their rapid-fire electronic music at clubs, cafes, hotels, concert venues, and even on Nile cruise boats.
One MP has called on the Egyptian Parliament to hold a debate on the matter and the country’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation is considering a bar on TV appearances by mahraganat singers.
But the performers themselves have hit back, with one lawyer filing a lawsuit calling the decision a violation of the Egyptian constitution as well as the nation’s rules on freedom of expression in arts.
The latest condemnations came after a huge Valentine’s Day concert held in Cairo International Stadium at which numerous mahraganat singers performed. Among them was Hassan Shakoosh who sang his hit song “Bint Al-Giran” (The girl next door) that includes the lyrics, “drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”
Following the concert, Musicians Syndicate President Hany Shaker issued a statement banning the songs and said: “All sections of society reject the wave that threatens Egyptian art and culture.” The style of music contained negative meanings and promoted immoral behavior, he added.
Shaker, a famed singer himself who began his career in the 1970s, pointed out that under the syndicate’s terms and conditions, members had a duty to adhere to social and moral values and use lyrics that “did not incite immorality or bad habits.”
He said Shakoosk had used inappropriate words that went against the traditions and values of Egyptian society, adding that where necessary he would be reviewing singing licenses and syndicate memberships.
President of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, said: “We are investigating the issue through the council complaints committee and we will take certain decisions and measures.”
Banned mahraganat artist, Kozbara, whose singing partner Hangara is an Uber driver, said he was “sick and looking for a job at a gas station.”
However, Egyptian Parliament spokesman, Salah Hasaballah, described the mahraganat singers as “more dangerous than the new coronavirus.”
Other MPs said the music should be banned “to protect public taste” while some politicians called for a less heavy-handed approach by urging singers to select their lyrics more carefully in accordance with morals and good taste.
MP Abdel-Hamid Kamal filed a report to Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal calling on the Egyptian Minister of Culture Inas Abdel-Dayem to hold a session to discuss what he described as “low-taste art” and how it affects society. In his report, Kamal said that the spread of mahraganat music could have a negative impact on future generations.
Member of the media and culture committee in Parliament, novelist Youssef El-Kaeed, backed Kamal saying the music “mutilated” public taste and spread undesired types of arts. He appealed for officials to act over the situation and warned that the ban could fuel popularity for the music and make its singers even more famous.
El-Kaeed blamed the media for being partly responsible for promoting the phenomenon by giving publicity to singers.
Osama Sharshar, a member of Egypt’s parliamentary culture and media committee, said he was not against mahraganat songs or folk music “provided that they take into account preserving public taste.”
He added that the Art Production Monitoring Authority, which issued licenses to produce art works in Egypt, had a role to play in determining whether such songs were commensurate with public taste.
“We cannot artistically execute mahraganat singers. We need to redirect their singing compass in the right direction by choosing proper lyrics that match our culture and traditions,” Sharshar said.