Region | Egypt

Move to teach art in state institute triggers controversy

A plan to create a government institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this predominantly Muslim country, where this art once thrived and enthralled the world.

  • By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent
  • Published: 22:52 July 16, 2009
  • Gulf News

Cairo: A plan to create a government institute to qualify belly dancers has raised eyebrows and drawn criticism in this predominantly Muslim country, where this art once thrived and enthralled the world.

This plan "seriously challenges the Egyptian society's traditions and glaringly violates the constitution", which states that Islam is the official religion of the country and that the sharia is the main source of legislation, said Farid Esmail, a member of parliament.

Creating such institutes threatens the society with the spread of depravity, he said. "What we need are vocational training institutes, not belly dance schools."

Esmail predicted that the parliament would not endorse any plan to establish such "immorality dens".

Officials contacted by Gulf News declined to comment or elaborate on the plan.

A wave of Islamisation has recently swept Egypt, manifesting itself in the majority of Muslim women in this country of 80 million wearing the hijab or the niqab.

Official television no longer broadcasts belly dancing, which is frowned upon as unIslamic.

In recent years, fewer Egyptian girls have taken up dancing as a profession, a matter that has cleared the way for nightclubs especially in Egypt's tourist spots to recruit performers from other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.

"I see no problem in setting up an institute to train belly dancers," said Dr Mohammad Abul Ghar, a medical professor.

This would cause no harm to society. On the contrary, this move would keep this traditional art alive and stop intruders from damaging its reputation, he told Gulf News.

Abul Ghar is a member of the March 9 Movement, a protest group pushing for the independence of Egypt's universities from the government control.

Pharaonic temples are inscribed with images of dancers, he said. So dancing is part of our tradition, which we should protect from extinction.

He blamed interlopers for making belly dancing synonymous with debauchery. The suggested institute is likely to help groom local dancers to revive the refined face of this genre and stop invasion by foreign performers of this native art.

Until a few years ago, belly dancers were usually recruited to perform at Egyptian wedding parties in fashionable and working-class areas alike.

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