Harlem Shake-Up For Arab Spring As Dancers Protest Islami

Farid Sayed says more than two years of protests are bringing about little change in Egypt, so he decided to try something different: dancing.

The university student and his friends brought the Harlem Shake to the Cairo headquarters of President Mohamed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood late yesterday. In front of the building, emblazoned with the group’s twin-sword logo, a dancer wearing a Mickey Mouse head and traditional Arab robe was joined by dozens of dressed-up protesters.

“We are sending a certain message: Our revolutionary struggle will continue and we will continue to be creative and sarcastic,” Sayed said before the rally.

Tunisians are also using the dance as a protest vehicle. A Facebook group is calling for a mass Harlem Shake today at the Ministry of Education, which is investigating students who made a dance video. Harlem Shake dancers have clashed with Salafists, followers of a strict version of Islam, and in Egypt at least four have been arrested.

While many Arabs, like people elsewhere in the world, are making videos inspired by the dance craze for fun, there’s a political edge to it in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Their revolutions of 2011 have been followed by the rise to power of Islamist groups, raising concerns about restrictions on women’s rights and free expression.

Jonathan Rashad, who attended a Harlem Shake filming at the pyramids last month, said police stopped participants and asked them about the purpose of their dance. “They didn’t get that we were just doing that for fun,” he said. “Now, it’s becoming sort of activism, and resisting the government.”

‘Red Lines’

Dance as a form of protest is “part of the renaissance movement that aims to break all taboos and red lines,” said Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. Younger generations are reacting because their hopes for freer countries after the uprisings are being dashed by Islamists who are pushing them aside and monopolizing power, he said.

Tunisian Minister of Education Abdellatif Abid told Mosaique FM radio that he was ordering a probe into the filming of the video by students in a school compound in Tunis, and said those involved may be punished. Tunisian Salafists have confronted dancers over Harlem Shake videos, criticizing them as imitations of the West and as frivolous activities while Muslims are dying in Palestine.

There have also been more traditional dance protests in Egypt too. Belly dancer Sama El Masry has uploaded videos onto the internet mocking Mursi and his Islamist supporters. In one, she swings her hips as she sings about the Islamist drafted constitution, saying it was “cooked overnight, and they removed women’s rights.”

Provocative, Dangerous

The Harlem Shake track was created by an American disc jockey known as Baauer. An Internet dance meme began February after a YouTube video by some Australians went viral. More than 40,000 spinoffs have been uploaded to YouTube, including one by the Norwegian Army, generating more than 175 million viewers.

The four Egyptians who were arrested last month were students filming a Harlem Shake video in Cairo in their underpants, AFP said.

“It’s so much more provocative to do that in Egypt and Tunisia than elsewhere,” Sina Birkholz, a researcher at Bielefeld University in Germany specializing in Egyptian youth movements, said in an interview. “It’s also more dangerous.”