Egypt’s street music ‘more dangerous than new coronavirus’

A lawmaker has urged parliament to hold a debate on the matter
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Updated 21 February 2020

Egypt’s street music ‘more dangerous than new coronavirus’

  • A lawmaker has urged parliament to hold a debate on the matter

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.

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.