2. Islamic fundamentalist influence on entertainment
Since the 1970s, there has been a growing influence of religious fundamentalism on many facets of Egyptian society. Religious agitation against public entertainment is not a recent phenomenon. The beginning of the last century, the early 1930s, and the late 1940s of this century also witnessed a religious revival unfavorable to entertainment. Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood was repressed during the reign of Nasser, Sadat initially employed them to combat the left. After Sadat's decision to make peace with Israel, they turned against him. Under current President, President Mubarak, a multiple strategy is followed. The extremists are repressed and imprisoned, while the moderates are given the possibility to voice their opinion. The government attempts to islamicize its policy in order to take the wind out of the sails of Islamic fundamentalists (Rubin 1990; Esposito 1992; Abu Lughod 1997). Consequently, the effect of religious pressure is discernable in all fields of art and entertainment.
The three main contexts in Egyptian entertainment are firstly weddings and saint's day celebration which can be named the popular circuit; secondly, nightclubs ranging from five-stars nightclubs to very cheap clubs; and finally, the performing arts circuit, which encompasses performances in orchestras, theaters, on radio and television etc. I mainly studied the circuit of weddings and saint's day celebrations and that of nightclubs.
Example of music played at weddings and wedding processions "`Arusa halawa" by Khamis Henkish (wav file: 313 kb)
The saint's day celebrations are affected as well. The Sufi brotherhoods are used by the State to counterbalance Islamic fundamentalism and are thus free to execute their zikrs and to listen to religious singers.
Video tapes with belly-dancing are available. Due to religious influence the legal status of dancers is weakened and for new dancers it is difficult to obtain a license. A song by Muhammad `Abd al-Wahhab with the line: "We come to the world not knowing why," was called blasphemous and Islamic fundamentalists attempted to ban the record. Yet, the Azhar ruled that the song did not clash with Islamic law (Middle East Times 19-12-1989).
"Min gher leh" by Muhammed `Abd al-Wahhab (wav file 292 kb)
From the last example it is clear that although Islamicist pressure is strong, there are forces counterbalancing its effect. Although religious ideology affects peoples' ideas about the entertainment profession it usually does not affect their behaviour.
This is aptly illustrated by the following interview I had with an Egyptian tailor: "Those jobs are shameful and destable. .. but I do like to watch it. Once in a lifetime we invite them; it is haram, but the fault is theirs." Most people still enjoy art and entertainment and invite performers on the occasion of their weddings. If they forego these pleasures it is mostly for economic rather than religious reasons. A popular actor challenged the Islamic fundamentalists and went on tour through the South performing in a farce with many puns. He drew a large audience. Islamic fundamentalist influence, although strong in the South and in some Cairene neighborhoods, should not be overestimated.
What is the reason for the religious condemnation of art and entertainment? In the following section, I will present the debates among religious scholars about the permissibility of music, singing and dancing.
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