Arab Spring Blues?

March 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Harlem Shake has taken on a political dimension in the Middle East…It is getting people arrested or in trouble, turning it into a new genre of political protest.

Last week, Egyptians began to threaten to perform the Harlem Shake in front of the headquarters of the governing Muslim Brotherhood. This prompted the group’s spokesman to warn that the dance could turn to violence (the building was targeted by rioters during protests in December). In a separate incident, Egyptian police promptly moved to arrest four men who performed the dance in their underwear in the streets of Cairo. The number might now become a symbol of defiance, already a popular pastime in a country rocked by nonstop protests since late November and with a growing wave of civil disobedience.

In Tunisia, the skit was first performed on Saturday by students at a Tunis school called Père Blanc. Their YouTube video spread like wildfire on Facebook, eventually prompting the minister of education, Abdellatif Abid, to announce that he would “launch an investigation,” promising to expel students and punish the school’s staff. His reaction was met with derision all around, and since then Harlem Shake performances have been held at schools across the country, with celebrity comics joining in. A massive Harlem Shake protest has also been scheduled to take place on Friday in front of the ministry of education in Tunis.

Why did Abid think the video was worth investigating? A politician who knows him well put to me the following hypothesis: The minister is keen to retain his post in the cabinet shuffle currently being negotiated, and as a member of a center-left party he was hoping to prove his conservative credentials to the ruling coalition’s Islamist leader, the Ennahda Party.

Ironically, one of the students in the  video from the Père Blanc school is the son of an Ennahda member of Parliament, who has said there is nothing wrong with it. Secularists are now questioning why Abid was moved to take action over a dance but not over the raising of the black flag associated with Al Qaeda over another school.

Reactions to the Harlem Shake in Tunis typically run from bemused confusion to relief. Relief, because the young people who were key to overthrowing these Arab dictators have not lost their nerve or their verve.

Source: Issandr El Amrani (blogger at


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