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Friday, December 9, 2022

Egypt’s old guard is put to the test with a ban on 19 popular singers

A hidden romance between two young neighbours who, since they are unable to marry, steal flirty looks at each other and devote their hearts to each other in a bittersweet dance of yearning and waiting is the premise of the song, which is usual fare for Egyptian pop music.

Its video, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has received more than half a billion views on YouTube alone, propelling Mr. Shakosh to the top of the charts and catapulting him to celebrity. With its explicit references to drugs and alcohol, which are traditionally taboo substances in Egypt, the song has become a lightning rod in a culture battle about what constitutes an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music, as well as who has the authority to determine such matters.

It has lately been more intense in the conflict between Egypt’s cultural elite and a renegade musical genre that has been embraced by millions of young Egyptians. The agency that licences musicians has prevented at least 19 young artists from singing and playing in Egypt.

In a statement, the Egyptian Musicians’ Syndicate accused Mr. Shakosh and other singers of the mahraganat genre of normalising and thereby promoting decadent conduct, as well as of misrepresenting Egypt and damaging the public’s perception of the country.

In the words of Tarek Mortada, spokesman for the syndicate, a professional union that issues permits to artists to perform onstage and that, while technically not an arm of the state, is governed by state law and has its budget overseen by the state. “They are creating a chaotic movement in this country,” Mortada said. “What we’re dealing with right now is the face of depravity and regression,” says the author.

The prohibited singers have been forbidden from performing at bars, concerts, and weddings, among other venues. Although some artists have continued to play overseas or at private events, they have been forced to turn off lucrative advertising agreements and other financial options.

Furthermore, the syndicate’s attitude has put a shadow over Egypt’s cultural landscape, giving a clear message that artists are not free agents and must still adhere to the rigid guidelines imposed by civic and official organisations. For the artists, the syndicate is a dinosaur that is desperately clinging to an outdated vision and image of Egyptian culture that is collapsing under the weight of an inevitable wave of youth-driven change, according to the musicians.

The clash is reminiscent of cultural conflicts that have occurred across the region, when authoritarian administrations in socially conservative nations have attempted to ban any speech that contradicts traditional values. Iran, for example, has detained adolescent females who uploaded videos of themselves dancing on social media, which is considered a felony in the country. In addition, Northwestern University in Qatar has cancelled a performance by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly homosexual scheduled for the year 2020.

While state-sanctioned media like as television and record firms have been hindered in their efforts, internet streaming and social media platforms have provided artists with an avenue to reach a generation of new followers eager for what they perceive to be more real and relevant material.

Due to the country’s rigorous censorship of unwanted music, an underground rock and hip-hop movement has sprung up in recent years in Iran. What Egypt is grappling with right now is who has the authority to police questions of taste: the syndicate’s management team of 12 men and one woman, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.

It was more than a decade ago that Mahraganat emerged from the crowded, boisterous working-class slums of Cairo, and it is still mostly produced in low-tech home studios, sometimes with nothing more than a cheap microphone and pirated software.

A cultural writer and former editor of the weekly journal “Alkahera,” which was published by the Ministry of Culture, Sayed Mahmoud, said Mahraganat was a “real reflection of this period in time,” of globalisation and information technology, as well as of social media in influencing our preferences. What if you delete all references to drugs and alcohol from the text? Does this indicate they don’t exist? They are representative of genuine life and authentic culture.”

Mr. Shakosh’s popularity is continuing to soar in the public eye. The musician has more than six million Facebook fans, as well as more than four million followers on Instagram and TikTok, and his music videos have had more than two billion views on YouTube.

He is regarded as one of the most accomplished performers in the Arab world. Since being forbidden from entering the country, he has played in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iraq, and his song “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the most popular Arabic songs of all time.

Following one of Mr. Shakosh’s performances just before the ban was implemented, Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, expressed her delight that the music was “not your typical love songs.” “His stage persona, the music, the attitude, everything is new and exciting, and it’s all about having a good time.”

Mr. Shakosh refused to grant to an interview, stating that he preferred to maintain a low profile rather than seem to openly defy the authorities, according to his representative. Other musicians have been particularly badly hit by the prohibition, since many of them do not have the financial means or worldwide notoriety to tour as a result of it.

In his bedroom, Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer who goes by the stage name El Waili, is still burning recordings. He is seated with a twin mattress on the floor, empty walls, and his only instrument, a personal computer with an inexpensive MIDI keyboard that costs $100.

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