CAIRO — Samir Sabry, Egypt’s most controversial lawyer, made headlines last month. And once again, it had to do with a scantily clad woman.

This time, it involved J-Lo.

 In a nation where laws permit any citizen to file lawsuits against anyone perceived to be guilty of immorality or tarnishing the country’s image, the 69-year-old lawyer is the profession’s doyen. He touches off fear and disdain nearly every day. By his count, he has filed nearly 6,000 lawsuits and complaints over the past decade against government ministers, political candidates, authors and activists. 

 Women, though, are his favorite targets: singers, belly dancers, actresses, artists — any female Sabry considers inappropriately dressed or disrespectful of Egypt.

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“Art was never about ruining the image of a whole country,” Sabry said. “What’s artistic about walking onstage with barely any clothes on? This is immoral. This is why I report this filth.”

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 Sabry is a protagonist in an ongoing tussle for the soul of Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation. Under the authoritarian rule of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the country is seeking to transform itself into a modern Arab state and regain its faded stature as the cultural and economic capital of the Middle East. But a strong undercurrent of social conservatism remains.

Last month, the American pop star Jennifer Lopez was caught up in this battle.

Newspapers and websites in Egypt and in the broader Middle East reported that Sabry had filed a lawsuit against Lopez over her revealing attire at a concert in Egypt’s northern city of Alamein. But in an interview, Sabry denied taking legal action in this particular case, describing the reports as fake news and saying he accepted Lopez’s attire because she was a foreigner. “She has her own habits and values,” Sabry said, referring to Lopez. “And we have our own codes, our own religious values and our own culture.”

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And Sabry is their self-appointed guardian.

Since Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolt, the country has been trying to resurrect its all-important tourism industry, sunken by political chaos and terrorism. Cairo is filled with casinos, bars and nightclubs. On north-coast beaches, where European-style villas line the seafront, young Egyptians flock to alcohol-and-music-fueled parties. 

 But beneath the surface, many of the nation’s 100 million-plus population remains socially conservative, including influential figures inside Sissi’s government.

“He clearly represents a socially conservative strain within the regime,” said an Egyptian political analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared being sued by Sabry.

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Sabry’s supporters view him as a champion of their traditions and values in a nation that hosts al-Azhar University and its adjoining mosque, widely viewed as Sunni Islam’s premier seat of learning. His critics denounce him as a crusader against freedom of expression, saying most of his lawsuits are frivolous and damage Egypt’s global image. 

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Sabry denies any links to the government. “People who attack me claim I am Sissi’s dog or the military’s dog,” he said. “I don’t need anything from Sissi.” 

 The stout grandfather of five begins his day by reading the newspapers, diligently taking notes in his office, which is filled with model cars, a passion since he was a child. 

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 Throughout the day and until late at night, he watches news on his large flat-screen TV and recent videos on You Tube, searching for anything he considers immoral and anyone to sue. Stacks of yellowing newspapers dating from the 1970s are in the corridors and rooms of his law offices, providing additional research.

 He gets inspiration from everywhere. Last year, one of his grandchildren asked him what was the difference between a kiss on the cheek and a kiss on the neck after watching a trailer for a television show.

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“I filed a complaint against the TV series,” Sabry said.

His first such lawsuit was against a local singer named Rehab in Gamaliya who sang traditional songs too loudly. Sabry felt it sent the wrong message about the country.

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 “I had him jailed for three years,” Sabry said with pride.

 When belly dancer Sama El Masry decided to run for a parliamentary seat in the 2015 elections, Sabry filed a lawsuit to stop her. Her crime? She had a bad reputation, the lawyer said. Sure enough, an Egyptian court banned her after reviewing TV shows and You Tube videos submitted by Sabry.

 Other belly dancers caught in Sabry’s legal net have fared worse. One saw her television show canceled. Two were jailed.

In December, Sabry joined a group of lawyers to sue the Egyptian actress Rania Youssef for wearing a see-through gauze dress that revealed her legs at a film festival in Cairo. They contended that the actress’s attire was “obscene” and undermined the reputation of Egyptians.

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 Sabry also sued a satirical television program that featured a female puppet named Abla Fahita, Arabic for “Aunt Fahita.” In his complaint, Sabry said the puppets’ use of sexual innuendo violated public decency and was against the country’s values and traditions.

The puppet show survived.

Of all Sabry’s targets, perhaps none animates him more than Sherine Abdel Wahab, one of the region’s most well-known singers. He has filed three complaints against her — all for what he considered unpatriotic comments that insulted Egypt.

Last year, Sabry managed to get the Egyptian singer temporarily banned from performing in the country after she made a joke about never drinking the water from the Nile, claiming it was filled with parasites. 

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 This year, he targeted her twice — after Abdel Wahab reportedly claimed that “Egypt doesn’t deserve me” during a New Year’s Eve concert and again after she reportedly declared during a concert in Bahrain that she could talk freely but that “in Egypt anyone who talks freely is going to be jailed.” 

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After Sabry’s complaint, the Musicians Union for the country banned the singer from performing inside Egypt. In June, it removed the ban after it claimed Abdel Wahab had apologized.

 Abdel Wahab’s attorney dismissed Sabry’s actions as frivolous and intended for his own self-interest.

When he’s not filing immorality complaints, Sabry focuses on politics and corruption. The case he is most proud of, he said, was against Khaled Ali — the most credible political challenger to Sissi during last year’s presidential election.

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Sabry filed a lawsuit after an image of Ali using the middle finger surfaced. That was enough to bar Ali from running.

Sabry also filed a legal complaint this week against a woman for allegedly spreading false news by saying in a video that there were protests in Egypt in recent days when the state media said there weren’t any. (In fact there were.)

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Sabry sees himself as a target nowadays. This summer, he said, masked men in a car fired at his vehicle. The threats, he said, won’t stop the lawsuits.

“It is my duty to do what I do,” Sabry said. “I am doing this for many grandchildren because I want them to be raised in a clean atmosphere. I am doing this because I genuinely love my country.”

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