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Egyptian Belly Dancer's Salacious Video Mocking Muslim Brotherhood Goes Viral

BY Mahmoud Salem | Monday, November 19 2012

Sama El Masry (publicity shot)

Last week Sama El Masry, a famous Egyptian belly dancer, uploaded a home-made video to YouTube; it shows her in a skin tight outfit, swinging her hips seductively to a song rife with anti-Muslim Brotherhood political innuendo. The sexy little number set the Egyptian social media and political worlds ablaze — but not only because it mocked the prudish Islamists with the double whammy of gyrating hips and no-holds-barred criticism of the Islamist party. In a bizarre twist that could only happen in post-revolutionary Egypt, the dancer was also famous for claiming to be the ex-wife of a Salafi member of parliament.

Titled "Act Thuggish," the song became an instant viral hit amongst anti-Islamist Egyptians. It openly mocks the Muslim Brotherhood party's failed Renaissance Project, a much-ballyhooed plan to "energize" Egyptian society. It also skewers Brotherhood heavyweights — like Khairat El-Shater and Essam El-Erian, vice chairman of President Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party.

Egyptian belly dancer Sama El Masry performs Act Thuggish in the video that went viral

Those unfamiliar with Egyptian politics might find the symbolism in the video a bit obscure, but for most Egyptians it is pure comedy gold. The opening lyrics are derived from chants that were heard at the October 12 anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstration, called the Friday of Accountability; it ended with clashes between protestors and Muslim Brotherhood forces in Tahrir Square. Salma confirmed that the events of that Friday provided the inspiration for her song.

The entire video is replete with satirical images — like dancing with two meat cleavers, in a play on the Muslim Brotherhood's emblem, which features double scimitars crossed protectively over a Koran. Another section of the song is devoted to mangoes, a sendup of Morsi's boast about having kept his campaign promise to lower the price of fruit and other foods during his first 100 days as president.

Egypt’s vibrant and irreverent social media community loved the fact that this heavily satirical song was created and performed by a belly dancer. They immediately created an Arabic Twitter hashtag with tens of thousands of tweets in El Masry's name, with her online supporters hailing her as a symbol of the popular opposition and the revolution — a voice that spoke more clearly than most of Egypt’s secular politicians.

This is not the first time Salma Elmasry's name has come up in connection with Islamist politics. According to reports that were disseminated all over the Egyptian social media scene, she was actually married to an Islamist politician at one point.

The 32 year-old El Masry was briefly a television news presenter before launching her career as a singer, actress and belly dancer. She released three songs, none of which was a hit, and acted in three films. But then she rose to fame this year when she was rumored to be the wife of Salafi MP Anwar Al Balkimy. Once a member of the ultra-conservative Al Nour party, Al Balkimy was forced to resign from his seat in parliament in the wake of a juicy scandal: He was discovered to have fabricated a story about a violent carjacking to explain away his heavily bandaged face, following a nose job at a private hospital.

Salafis regard cosmetic surgery as sinful, along with music and dancing.

El Masry appeared in several interviews, but refused to confirm or deny her relationship with the Islamist MP — even as she told a state-linked newspaper in March that she had filed for divorce from Al Balkimy after learning, via media reports about the plastic surgery scandal, that he was already married and a father. The disgraced Salafi MP filed a complaint against the belly dancer, accusing her of attempting to defame him and denying what she claimed had been a secret marriage. Despite her vagueness regarding the relationship (El Masry confirmed she was married to an Islamist politician but never stated explicitly who he was), when Parliament was dissolved last summer, she went to the building and smashed pottery on the pavement in front of it. According to Egyptian tradition, the act of smashing pottery symbolizes the permanent sundering of a relationship. El Masry then disappeared from the news, until this song came out on YouTube.

Act Thuggish did not amuse the Islamists, but their responses varied. Brotherhood leaders Mohamed Al Beltagy and Mahmoud Ghozlan complained that the freedoms won in the revolution were being abused by the secularists in a dirty war against the Islamists, but refrained from proposing any punitive action against El Masry.

The response from al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, the Salafi party, was harsher. Party leaders Tarek Elzomr and Assem Abdel Magid said that El Masry was an immoral woman who should be punished for criticizing President Morsi and behaving in an un-Islamic manner. El Masry responded that she was not afraid of the Islamists, even as she confirmed having received several death threats.

So far, no individual or group has initiated legal action against El Masry. Nor is anyone likely to do so, for two very Egyptian reasons: 1) Many of the lyrics are derived from political chants, which puts the song under the rubric of freedom of speech in a political context — unless the government intends to prosecute every protester who used the same chants at political demonstrations; and 2) because belly dancers have a special status in Egyptian society.

There is a tacit social contract in Egyptian society, according to which belly dancers are untouchable. No matter what they do, no matter how outrageous their behavior is according to Islamist values, they are totally accepted by the general population. There are even old proverbs that warn against the wrath of belly dancers, advising people against antagonizing them. This is part of the schizophrenic Egyptian collective consciousness.

Ironically, this cultural dualism makes belly dancers the perfect foil for for Egypt’s secularists against the Islamists, as illustrated by the curious case of Sama El Masry.

Mahmoud Salem is an Egyptian columnist and political activist. He lives in Cairo.

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