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Egyptian Singers Jailed For 'Inciting Debauchery'

Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel Wahhab has been sentenced to six months in prison for spreading "false news."
Anwar Amro
Getty Images
Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel Wahhab has been sentenced to six months in prison for spreading "false news."

These days you can add to the list of unexpectedly risky professions: being a popular singer in Egypt.

Sherine Abdel Wahab, known as Sherine, has been sentenced to six months in prison for "spreading false news" in a concert. She took a fan's request to sing her hit song, "Have You Drunk from the Nile."

There's and old belief in Egypt that someone who drinks from the Nile will always return home to Egypt.

But Sherine joked that if you drink from the Nile, you might get parasites. She told her audience, "Drink Evian instead."

The generals who run Egypt are not known for a sparkling sense of humor. In November, a lawsuit was filed against Sherine after a video surfaced of her making the joke. The Egyptian Musicians Syndicate said it banned herfrom performing over her "unjustified mockery of our dear Egypt."

Sherine is appealing her sentence and told her 14 million Facebook followers, "My beloved Egypt and its children: I apologize from all my heart for any pain I may have caused you."

Then there's a singer known as Shyma. She was arrested for her video of the song, titled in English, "I Have Issues," in which she's shown undressing and eating fruit evocatively.

Shyma was quickly convicted of "corrupting public morals" and "inciting debauchery." She faces a year of prison.

And there's Laila Amer. She's been sentenced to two years for the song, which is titled in English, "Look At Your Mother."

But that line Arabic is apparently a profane pun. Laila Amer has been found guilty of "inciting debauchery and immorality."

Human rights groups say Egyptian authorities have arrested, detained, and jailed as many as 60,000 people to stifle dissent and free speech. All it takes is a joke, a prank, a pun, or a song.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.