Belly dancing: a dying art?
Traditionalists in Egypt have targeted cabarets that feature belly dancers, and many Egyptians fear that the art is dying.
July 23, 2009 8:28 by Dana El Baltaji
Acarabee Alley, just off 26 of July Street in bustling downtown Cairo, opens onto a small courtyard surrounded by bars. Up the stairs at the end of the courtyard a belly dancer shakes her hips and smiles at the mostly empty tables in Club Miami. She turns and sways in her bright yellow costume in front of a five-piece band belting out Arabic songs.
At 11 pm on Thursday night the place is quiet, with the exception of a few middle-aged men sipping beer at a table near the bar. While belly dancing has become popular abroad, and for foreign visitors to Egypt, many here have feared its demise as a result of the increasing observance of conservative Islam.
Over the last several decades, traditionalist ideals have been gaining ground in the country once known for its cosmopolitan ways. In the 1990s, when violent Islamist groups were most active in Egypt, the haram (forbidden) combination of alcohol and shaking, skimpily dressed women made belly-dancing cabarets a target.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, head of the sociological research unit at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and editor-in-chief of the center’s “State of Religion Report,” says businesses like bars and belly-dancing clubs have suffered because of the Islamization of both the public and private spheres in Egypt. “Belly dancing is outside of Islamic values,” says Fattah, adding that increasing conservatism in Egypt has led to reforms in the role and dress of women and fewer customers for establishments that serve alcohol.