Egypt's Morality Crackdown Targets Female Dancers : Parallels Activists say the government has stepped up prosecutions for alleged morality offenses. Hundreds of gay and transgender people have been targeted, and now the campaign has moved on to dancers.
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Egypt's Morality Crackdown Targets Female Dancers

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Egypt's Morality Crackdown Targets Female Dancers

Egypt's Morality Crackdown Targets Female Dancers

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The morality police in Egypt have shifted into overdrive. Human rights activists say the police have arrested hundreds of gay and transgender people. It's all part of a crackdown that began after a military-backed coup ousted the elected Islamist government. As NPR's Leila Fadel reports, now the police are targeting belly dancers.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

SUHA MOHAMMED ALI: (Singing in foreign language).

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In this video, belly dancer Suha Mohammed Ali, known as Egypt's Shakira, is dressed in schoolgirl uniform and is shaking her hips. She dips low and sings about vegetables suggestively.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DALIA KAMAL YOUSSEF: (Singing in foreign language).

FADEL: In this video, Dalia Kamal Youssef, known as Pardis, dances with a squeegee. She's wearing gaudy, revealing outfits as she sings about wanting a man. The videos are definitely tacky. Some would say tasteless, but apparently in Egypt they're also criminal. Both women were recently sentenced to six months in jail for inciting debauchery. And Shakira and Pardis aren't the only ones whose dance moves landed them in jail. Another dancer was imprisoned for performing in an outfit made out of the Egyptian flag, and yet another was jailed for the low-cut, short dresses she wore as she shimmied and sang about male gropers.

It's a disturbing pattern, says Dalia Abdel Maguid, a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. It started, she says, with police going after the gay and transgender community.

DALIA ABDEL MAGUID: They would target gays and trans in some cases, and after then they would turn to dancers and dancers/prostitutes, and they would always, always - whether they are dancers, whether they are trans or gays, they would always be accused by prostitution, debauchery, you know?

FADEL: She's tracked over 200 cases of people accused of being gay and arrested for debauchery or similar charges by morality police since 2013. Now the campaign has widened to include dancers accused of inciting debauchery or prostitution. The surprising part of all of this is that the uptick in morality cases started after the ouster of Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. He was an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood. He was accused of trying to take the state backwards and of supporting extremism. He's now on death row in an Egyptian prison. Abdel Maguid says the military-backed government is trying to prove it's the real guardian of morality and Islam, not the ousted Islamist and the Brotherhood or the extremists of militant groups like ISIS.

FADEL: She's tracked over 200 cases of people accused of being gay and arrested for debauchery or similar charges by morality police since 2013. Now the campaign has widened to include dancers accused of inciting debauchery or prostitution. The surprising part of all of this is that the uptick in morality cases started after the ouster of Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. He was an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood. He was accused of trying to take the state backwards and of supporting extremism. He's now on death row in an Egyptian prison. Abdel Maguid says the military-backed government is trying to prove it's the real guardian of morality and Islam, not the ousted Islamist and the Brotherhood or the extremists of militant groups like ISIS.

DALIA ABDEL MAGUID: It is a battle of who is the representative of real Islam.

FADEL: And she says the state is using all its weapons to push the agenda. The Ministry of Religious Endowments issues statements saying Egypt won't accept perversion and that morality will be protected. State-aligned media are hyping up coverage of sex scandals and so called morality cases. Recently, the music syndicate implemented a dress code for female singers. Khaled Bayoumi, a singer and member of the union, says the syndicate is just implementing long-standing rules.

KHALED BAYOUMI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: He says the rules are to protect artists, citing the example of a Lebanese singer who was harassed at a concert in Egypt. He says it's because of her skimpy outfit.

BAYOUMI: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Egypt is the Hollywood of the Middle East, he says. It's the center of music and film, and it's the syndicate's responsibility to protect it from being cheapened.

BAYOUMI: (Singing in foreign language).

FADEL: Then he breaks into song. His music, he says, is an example of that classic Egyptian sound. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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