Harlem Shake Dance Stirs The Middle East

Tim Marshall, Foreign Affairs Editor
Sky News1 March 2013

The dance craze sweeping the globe has arrived in the Middle East and is being used by young Arabs to poke fun at what they see as the austere, dull, religious restrictions the ruling Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is trying to impose on them.

The move chimes with the strain of political humour shown by many young Arabs over the past two years during the uprisings across the region.

In Egypt about 400 students, wearing a variety of costumes, showed up outside the MB headquarters in Cairo and filmed themselves doing the pelvic thrusting dance.

As the dancing began the students chanted "Leave leave!" to the Islamists inside. In the building the lights were turned out and the doors locked.

Last weekend in an incident, which may not have been political, four semi-naked students filmed themselves performing the dance in a middle class area of the capital. 

That they were then arrested could be taken to show that things have not changed so much since the Mubarak era, but the fact that they indulged themselves in a craze which their peers around the world are having fun with shows that these are indeed different times.

"Dance as politics" also reached Tunisia where the Arab uprisings began. Several dozen students turned up outside the HQ of the ruling Ennahda Party which is a de facto branch of the MB.

They were confronted by a small group of Salafists, one of whom shouted: "Our brothers in Palestine are being killed by Israeli’s and you are dancing."

He tried to explain what Islam considers forbidden. But one of the students reacted saying: "Mind your own business … no guy like you is going to stop us from doing what we want!."

In that one sentence he summed up the feelings of hundreds of thousands of young Arabs across the Middle East.

The argument led to scuffles between the groups. One of the Salafists was found to be carrying a petrol bomb but this was not used.

The dance craze really gained ground in Tunisia when it was performed at a Tunis school.

This prompted the Education Minister to launch "an investigation" and promise to expel students.

The response was a wave of performances of the Harlem Shake in schools across the country and questions raised about why the minister had not ordered an investigation when the black flag of al Qaeda was raised over another school.

A mass Harlem Shake was planned in front of the Ministry of Education.

The phenomena has underlined how, among the freedoms many young Arabs are fighting for, is the freedom to poke fun at power, to use humour for politics, and indeed, the freedom to be silly.

It is a powerful weapon.

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