A Sultry Milestone in the Opposition Discourse

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Cairo - Sama al-Masry shook her hips in opposition, in a video that combined belly dance with Muslim Brotherhood criticism. The dancer was both lauded for her courage to take the opposition discourse to a new level and disparaged for weakening pundits’ arguments with her “inappropriate” contribution.

The belly dancer and actress was once tied to Salafi MP Anwar al-Belkimy, famous for his scandalous cover-up of a nose job he had. A rumored secret marriage between the two was denied but was fuel for numerous media spats.

Al-Masry is accused of settling score with the Islamists through the video, which her critics say she did out of a personal vendetta rather than political conviction. Motivation aside, the video in itself is a milestone, whether it’s viewed positively or negatively.

It could be used to feed into an expanding rhetoric, which promulgates that debauchery is synonymous with liberal or anti-Islamist blocs. Yet, its singularity and its fringe nature limit its potential to taint an already deplorable discourse, where the Islamists themselves don’t shy away from using foul language and vulgar accusations against their opponents.

The video actually doesn’t use swear words or the language evident in political commentary on social media; its uniqueness is merely the belly dance – a shock factor in a society that at best frowns upon dancing. The unwritten understanding is that a woman of al-Masry’s profession is better off flying under the radar rather than directly mocking an Islamist president.

The dancer’s ridicule of MB statements will hardly have any impact on the group’s actions. Its description as a milestone, however, stems from the way it tramples all over political and social red lines. It doesn’t only rebuff the sanctity people try to bestow upon their rulers; it kicks it in the gut.
The need to keep the dialogue sane and civilized notwithstanding, there is a more pressing need to enshrine the concept that no one is above criticism. It has to be understood that election to office doesn’t award people immunity. Officials, particularly presidents, are like any other citizen who will return to their normal lives in few years. They can be criticized and held accountable while in office. It’s a lesson we all have to learn and have faith in, like scripture.

This particular concept has been facing fierce resistance. The satire Bassem Youssef employs in his show, for example, is nothing like the liberty with which Jon Stewart – the inspiration for his Egyptian counterpart – criticizes American officials. Yet, Youssef has had his own share of criticism for mixing comedy with political commentary. People still put officials on a pedestal, affording them a sacred respect, holding themselves hostage in boxes of “appropriateness.”

Al-Masry’s video takes that argument several steps further. It works because it’s inappropriate.
This type of radical and unusual criticism is needed now, when the attack on freedom of expression is intensifying. The recent interruption of Dream TV’s broadcast was described as a slap on the wrist intended to intimidate other privately-owned channels. Insulting the president is being treated as a crime worthy of trials and conviction, at a faster rate than during the Mubarak days.

I personally prefer the logical argument in opposition discourse. But there’s a resolve that a fierce fight against media and expression, and against the little social freedoms Egypt enjoys, will only lead to responses extreme in nature. It might not be acceptable or “appropriate,” but it’s necessary.


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