Making fun of men or emboldening sex pests? Egyptian song spurs debate

by Menna Farouk | @MennaFarouk91 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 8 January 2020 18:36 GMT

Archive photo: Tourist and Egyptians travel on horses during a sandstorm the near the Sphinx, at the great pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, February 25, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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A video for the controversial song has been viewed more than 7.5 million times on YouTube since its release on Jan. 1

By Menna Farouk

CAIRO, Jan 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Egyptian pop song where a man threatens a woman to force her to give him her phone number has caused a storm as it was released the day after a video emerged of a woman being sexually assaulted by a mob - a common crime during the Arab Spring.

Singer Tameem Youness has defended the track "Salmonella" - where he prays for the woman he is wooing to become sick with salmonella - as a satire on men's reactions to being spurned in the conservative Arab country.

"I was making fun of the men who appear very romantic but when they get rejected, they go nuts and start to treat the woman badly or curse her or say things that are not true about her," he said in a video on his Facebook page.

Egypt is the Arab world's most populous country and its pop music is listened to across the Middle East. "Salmonella" has been viewed more than 7.5 million times on YouTube since its release on Jan. 1.

Women's rights advocates say many men will not see the joke and the catchy tune risks encouraging harassment in Egypt, where sexual assault was rife during and after the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran president Hosni Mubarak.

Youness, who is shown with blood splattered around his mouth at one point in the video, sings, "I will not go away until I get your number so do not refuse".

More than 60% of Egyptian men said they have sexually harassed a woman or girl in a 2017 survey by UN Women and the gender equality group Promundo, which also found that most men believe women sometimes deserve to be beaten.

"This (kind of song) can really incite young people to practice violence against women and violate their rights without giving them the freedom to say no," said Nehad Abu El Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.

The timing of the song's release - a day after footage emerged of a woman being groped by a mob during New Year's Eve celebrations in Mansoura, about 130km northeast of Cairo - was insensitive, she said.

Authorities have said they are investigating the incident.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment after a woman was assaulted in Cairo's Tahrir Square during his 2014 inauguration, with a law introduced that year prescribing a minimum of six months in jail or a fine.

Not everyone is worried about the song.

"The song is insulting and humiliating to women but I am against banning it," Maggie Mamdouh, a 25-year-old engineer, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"This will be a violation of freedom of expression."

(Reporting by Menna Farouk, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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