A famous Arab singer has landed in hot water with authorities for the second time in as many years, this time for suggesting that freedoms are suppressed in her native Egypt.
Sherine Abdel-Wahab, better known by her first name, could face criminal charges and a possible jail sentence if convicted.
According to a widely shared video clip taken during a concert in Bahrain, Sherine is seen telling members of the audience: “Here I can say whatever I like. In Egypt, anyone who talks is jailed.”
The comment has created a stir in Egypt, prompting a complaint to prosecutors by a lawyer notorious for targeting celebrities who claimed that the singer had insulted Egypt.
The country’s musicians union swiftly moved to ban Sherine from performing and summoned her for questioning later this week. It said in a statement that her comments harmed Egypt’s national security.
Last year, a court sentenced Sherine to six months in jail following her conviction on charges of incitement and harming the public interest. The sentence, which was suspended on appeal, came after another video clip showed the singer at a concert warning a spectator against drinking from the “polluted” waters of the Nile river. “You are better off drinking Evian,” she said, referring to France’s world-famous mineral water.
Sobbing and speaking haltingly, Sherine apologised for her comment in a television interview aired over the weekend, claiming that her words had been misinterpreted and that individuals she did not name were targeting her.
“I am being victimised. I appeal to the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, who is our father. I say to him that this is a conspiracy against me. I am sorry, but it is inconceivable that my patriotism should be questioned,” Sherine, 39, told the interviewer, Amr Adeeb of the Saudi-owned MBC network.
Sherine’s latest troubles caused a stir on social media, with fans divided over what should be done about her or whether her comment could even be used as grounds for a court case. Many said she should just be banned from performing in Egypt, while others suggested that the fuss being made about her comment was much more harmful to Egypt’s reputation than what she actually said.
But Hany Shaker, a veteran singer and one-time heart-throb who heads the union of musicians, was in no mood for compromise or in any doubt about the gravity of Sherine’s latest deed.
“Every time it is more serious than the previous time. This time, she is talking about national security … as if Egypt has become a large prison and everyone who opens his mouth is immediately taken to prison,” said Shaker, who claimed he had repeatedly warned Sherine to stick to singing when on stage.
“Egypt is the land of security, safety and freedom and everything that’s beautiful,” he said.
Egypt has over the past five years seen what critics claim to be the largest crackdown on dissent in the country’s modern history, with thousands of Islamists along with secular pro-democracy activists detained and facing legal proceedings. Most critics in the media have been silenced, tighter controls placed on civil society groups, while demonstrations are effectively banned and hundreds of independent internet sites blocked.
The government, battling an insurgency by Islamist militants in the north-east corner of the Sinai Peninsula and struggling to revive the economy, says the right to decent housing, medical care and education is just as important as human rights and that the country’s record on rights must not be judged by western standards.