“There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them,” said an Austrian writer called Vicki Baum, but not when these shortcuts disrespect and hurt the culture within their realm. This applied very much to The Belly Dancer (Al-raqisa), a TV show that was suspended for quite some time from the channel Al Qahera w Al Nas after the first episode due to the death of soldiers in a terrorist attack. Many of those who contributed to the TV show included Dina, the famous Egyptian belly dancer, who believed this to be an action to take revenge from the oppression that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to imply on the country and to fight the idea of terrorism by religion. Accordingly, Egypt’s Dar Al Ifta responded by saying, “Isis is not Islam, but Al-Raqisa is not the answer either” (Kingsley, 2014). However, the controversy around the show goes way beyond politics. In fact, it threats the ethics, morals and social order of a whole country.
Scholars, especially Egyptians, attacked the show in broadcast more than in newspapers and magazines. For example in the Egyptian show ‘Men El Akher’, the presenter Tamer Amin expressed his opinion very clearly saying that this TV show spreads vice, immodesty and immorality as well as represent Egypt negatively to other countries. Amin believes it is neither an example nor something to look up to because Egypt isn’t really in deep need of a program that helps the country discover belly dancers especially after the several revolutions. That wasn’t the aim of the protests (Rotana Masriya, 2014). Some of the Arabic local newspapers that published about the TV show objectively include Sama News (2014) and Akhbar Alyom (2014).
On the other hand, the show also received neutral international coverage to a certain extent where the reporter simply reports what local scholars have perceived about the show and its success. For example, Maggie Michael (2014), a reporter in The Associated Press News, neutrally yet subjectively reported how the show advertisement adopted a “Western-style reality show”. She also reported the criticisms that the show has received from a political and moral point of views. Similarly, other newspapers such as Daily Offbeat (2014) published about the “Top Islamic Body in Egypt Wanting to Suspend Belly-Dancing TV Show in the Country” and Al-Arabiya (2014) published about the show and its critics objectively.
The belly dancer is an Egyptian TV show hosted on the channel Al Qahera w Al Nas. The show is about an international belly-dancing competition where only one contestant out of twenty seven will be chosen to be entitled “Belly Dancer of the World”. The panel of judges are Dina; the famous Egyptian belly dancer, Tamer Habib; scriptwriter and actor and Feryal Youssef, a Tunisian actress. The three judges will 100% influence and decide who the belly dancer of the world would be.
First of all, as Diana Esposito said, "Though the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer in power, Egyptians remain pretty conservative." Regardless of the dominant religion in Egypt, it is a closed society that follows certain guidelines and expectations that when violated can lead to detrimental side effects. Egypt being a conservative country opposes the whole idea of the TV show because it is based in Egypt yet at the same time accepts international belly dancing talents. Of course this includes open society countries that include America, Thailand and Russia where their belly dancing costume is over exposing their skin and yet worse they dance with seduction and not talent. The latter leads me to the second point in which talent can be displayed without the need to expose one’s body. Dina, one of the judges in the TV show, argues that this has been the traditional belly dancing costume since the 1990s. However, this is not completely true. Looking back at old famous Egyptian belly dancers such as Fifi Abdo confirms so. In the picture below is a comparison between the costume that Fifi Abdo wears and what the contestants in the show wear:
Moreover, when the famous belly dancer Dina says that belly dancing is an old tradition that was practiced since the 1990s, she is proving that the show lacks objectivity in terms of comparing the old Egyptian conditions to the 21st century. It is ironic how in today’s time Egypt is an extremely insecure country to live in considering the number of rape cases or the severity and intensity of injuries that females undergo from the rape especially during and after the protests. Launching such a show during that time where rape is extremely active only makes matters worse because unfortunately it influences the behavior of teenagers when they see nudity on TV. What they constantly see becomes normal to them and the sad part is belly dancing has now become more about seduction than about talent. This also means that those who watch the show will watch it to satisfy their sexual needs that to enjoy the talent. In other words, the show is contributing to objectifying women as a sexual tool rather than respecting her. According to AhramGate short video, some of the people were with the show and against the show because of the following reasons. First because it is international so it doesn’t relate to Egyptian identity of local art. Second, because the people of Egypt are trying to move forward and help their country move forward not go down in its morals and destroy the mentality of future generations since this show neither benefits the country nor its people. The show enters every house where there are children and teenagers, girls who have to protect themselves and guys who need to respect themselves and control their sexual drive. In addition to that, according to the preacher Ahmed Omar Hashem on Rotana Masriya show, neither religion nor behavior encourages that. Moreover, even what Egypt is experiencing now doesn’t encourage what the show preaches since the Egyptian population need to unite their beliefs, values, ethics and morally.
On the other hand, some people said that a lot of talent shows are now being released and since it’s everywhere people have been habituated and see it as a normal. According to Egypt last news (ELN), one of the views included that if people do not want to watch it then they can simply switch the channel and it is based on people’s mentality and not on the show itself. If the person wants to watch it then he or she gives permission for the show to destroy them. In other words, it is in the hands of the people to watch the show or not rather than debating about the whole issue. Therefore, this controversy still continues. In addition, the show lacks objectivity because it aims to unify international belly dancers in one show, which is morally impossible because Westerns for example, have totally different perceptions on what women should wear and how they should behave in their culture as compared to Egypt. Here again, we relate it to the identity of Egyptian local art because if Westerners come to embed themselves within the oriental art of Egyptians then this art is no longer a unique art for Egyptians, it is used ridiculously by Westerners who think they can be one of the people who understand what belly dancing really is. Moreover, according to Al-Arabiya news, top religious bodies demanded this show be stopped since it disrupts the morals and could be used by extremists who use it to depict Egypt as an anti-Islamic society (2014). Ahmed Karima, a professor of Islamic sharia, said that this kind of show is not acceptable in Islam. A man said to Al Arabiya news after watching the show that it brings joy to people. Simply put, it is the wrong type of art that brings joy to people during a time where girls and women get raped, men kill each other and people of all ages are dying.
To conclude, “The Belly Dancer” is a show that lacks objectivity in terms of not considering the difference in the contestants’ cultures when compared to Egypt’s culture and comparing belly dancing in the past to the 21st century where almost every aspect of the social context and sexuality has changed. The show portrays Egypt in a very immoral, immodest and disrespectful way through the costumes that the contestants wore, the way they danced with seduction instead of showing their talent purely and the negligence of the conditions that the country is passing through, rape and objectifying women. The print media by all means has contributed to the controversy about the show. In fact, the opinions of famous, well-established broadcasters on TV were influenced by the public opinion and not the other way around. Therefore, there is nothing really the media could have done to kill the controversy about the topic as long as the public does not accept the show to be a part of their culture. The society is degrading and is turning into several groups of people, which include rapists, terrorists, criminals etc. Unfortunately, the show encourages seduction which leads to raping innocent girls and women, this on its own is a subtle crime. As mentioned earlier, the show has been stopped after the first episode due to a terrorist attack in Sina, in which many soldiers were killed. The sad part is that the show was continued. This represents disrespect to the society’s views, dead soldiers and their families. Finally, it is in our hands to speak out and make a change in this ignorant society that by time will lose their identity, beliefs, values, morals and ethics.