The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The ‘Harlem Shake’ becomes a protest in Egypt and Tunisia

Some students and education officials in North Africa are in an uproar over -- of all things -- the “Harlem Shake.”

The viral dance video that has spawned thousands of copycats and plenty of eyerolls around the world is not so popular with authorities in Tunisia, where education minister Abdeltif Abid called it “an insult to the educational message” and promised an investigation into a version filmed at a local high school. In Egypt on Feb. 23, police arrested four university students for filming a version of the dance outside in their underwear, reports Lebanon’s Daily Star.

Since then, Egypt Daily News reports a student group called "Satiric Revolutionary Struggle" has cropped up in Cairo, with plans to dance the Harlem Shake in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters.

Tunisian students have skipped class en masse and vowed to stage their own retaliatory Harlem Shake in front of the Ministry of Education on Friday, according to Tunisia Live.

"The government once again violated freedom of creation, of expression," one of the organizers wrote on her Facebook page, adding: "All of these represent, in my eyes, fundamental freedoms."

The ballooning controversy highlights the undercurrent of social tension in both countries, where secularists and Islamists have been even more at odds since the Arab Spring. The Post's Marc Fisher, visiting Tunis in 2011, wrote that it "stands divided between two visions of its future" -- a fair metaphor for the students dancing the Harlem Shake and the officials worrying over its "indecency."

“At first glance, such activities may not seem very important,” reads one Tunisian editorial, translated by Al-Monitor. “However, they become important when used as a weapon to defend art and the freedom of expression and to oppose the ascendant Islamism — because that weapon is far from perfect.”