Egypt outlaws ‘romantic’ songs on state TV, fearing turmoil as constitution vote looms

December 13, 2012

The standoff between Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his opponents on the eve of the vote on whether to adopt a constitution threatens to derail Egypt's transition to democracy. Egypt's opposition has called for its supporters to vote "no" on the country's draft constitution on Saturday, saying that the document was flawed because its drafters did not seek input from all of Egypt's religious and ethnic groups.

Perhaps because of this politically tumultuous mood, the Egyptian television and broadcasting union have banned airing any "romantic or passionate songs" on its 23 state-owned channels, according to the state-run Ahram Arabic Web site.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, left, presents Egyptian singer Amr Diab with the World's Best-Selling Middle Eastern Artist of the Year award on May 6, 1998. (AP PHOTO/Lionel Cironneau).
Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson presents Egyptian singer Amr Diab with the World's Best-Selling Middle Eastern Artist of the Year award in May 1998. (AP PHOTO/Lionel Cironneau).

Instead, only “patriotic” music will be allowed, the agency said. The more emotional songs may be aired after midnight, "because it is not appropriate to show these kinds of songs with the current situation of the country."

What does a "romantic" Egyptian song sound like?

The songs of Umm Kulthum, an Egyptian pop star from the 1930s until her death in 1975, are still very popular in the region. According to an NPR profile, Kulthum's songs "blended together Quranic recitation, classical love poems and folk songs. Ethnomusicologist Virginia Danielson said that Kulthum's music had tarab — a unique quality of Arab music that translates best to the word 'enchantment.'"

For a more contemporary sound, there's Egyptian megastar Amr Diab, the "father of Mediterranean Music."

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Olga Khazan · December 13, 2012