A famous pop singer is under fire in Egypt and facing as much as three years in prison for telling a joke about the country’s iconic Nile River, The Associated Press reported. The uproar began when Sherine Abdel-Wahab was seen in a video clip speaking with a fan who had made a request for her to sing one of her biggest hits, the title of which translates to, “Have you ever drunk from the Nile?” The clip shot at a concert in the United Arab Emirates last year, but only recently emerged. One theme of the song is that anyone who drinks from the famous river is bound to return to it. The singer, who is known popularly by her first name, quipped to the fan, “You are better off drinking Evian.” She added that drinking from the Nile can cause a nasty water-borne infection caused by parasitic worms, one that the Egyptian government has been working to remove from the Nile’s waters for good. According to The Guardian, schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, has plagued Egypt for millennia, with some mummies that are 5,000 years old having been infected.
The tone of Sherine’s remark was clearly a joking one, but it instantly erupted in fierce debate on social media. Angered fans using the hashtag #IWillDrinkFromtheNileandWon’tListentoSherine vented their disappointment. Some said Sherine, who is also a judge on the Egyptian version of The Voice, has damaged Egypt’s national pride, while others blasted those who have polluted the Nile as the real villains. Sherine is charged with incitement and harming the public interest in a case that came about after a lawyer filed a legal complaint and unveiled the video footage of her comment. The lawyer, Hany Gad, argues that Sherine is mocking the country and undermining the government’s efforts to bolster a lagging tourism industry. She faces up to three years in prison. Her trial is expected to begin on December 23. She could face prison time or a stiff fine.
In addition to the legal trouble, Sherine is being turned into a public pariah. She’s been banned from performing anywhere in the country because of her “unjustified mockery of our dear Egypt,” and radio stations and TV networks are being encouraged not to play her songs or performances.
In the wake of the uproar, Sherine took to Facebook to apologize for having made the joke. “My beloved Egypt and its children: I apologize from all my heart for any pain I may have caused you,” she wrote in one post. “It was a bad joke that I would never use if I go back in time.” In another post, a clearly distraught Sherine thanked those who have supported her through the ordeal. “Thank you from my heart for the Egyptian people and for the republic and for all my sisters, the respected artists and media who stood next to me and will support me in a situation like this.”
The Guardian asserts that “jokes about the Nile are as old as the river itself.” Indeed, there are jokes about the ancient waterway out there. Here are a few, beginning with the Mark Twain classic.
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
“What do you call the small tributaries of the main river in Cairo? Juveniles.”
“What did the old Egyptian get by staring at the river? See-Nile!”
The case against Sherine comes at a time when the government has been actively cracking down on public dissent, which apparently extends to light-hearted joking. And, for women, Egypt has been an increasingly harrowing place. A recent report pinpointed Sherine’s hometown of Cairo as the most dangerous city in the world to be a woman.
Read the full story at The Washington Post.