In Egypt, freedom of speech is constitutional, but it is stifled by the iron hand of the courts, as shown in the sentencing of Sherine Abdel Wahab, one of the country’s most famous singers, for joking that drinking from the Nile leads to a parasitic illness, a situation that has occurred, and is still present in Egypt.
In 2016, during a concert in the United Arab Emirates, a fan asked the pop singer to sing Mashrebtesh Men Nilha (Have You Drunk from The Nile?) and she responded, “drinking from the Nile will get me schistosomiasis [known as bilharzia in Egypt].” If she thought the remark solely as a joke, others in Egypt didn’t. Instead, after the video of the remark emerged, Sherine was banned from performing in Egypt and taken to court by an Egyptian lawyer.
Sherine has since apologised, saying, “My beloved country Egypt and sons of my country Egypt, I apologise to you with all my heart for any pain I may have caused you. However, a Cairo court, on Tuesday, sentenced Sherine Abdel-Wahab to six months in prison in absentia for offending Egypt, accusing her of spreading false news and hurting the country’s tourism industry.
Meanwhile, following Sherine’s joke, the Egyptian government has developed plans with the World Health Organization to eliminate Bilharzia from its waters. Schistosomiasis, a deadly parasitic infection affecting more than 207 million people in 76 countries, was widespread throughout much of Egypt’s history with reports of Schistosoma haematobium eggs findings in ancient mummies as early as 1910. The most recent research from the Ministry of Health and Population showed that by the end of 2010 only 20 villages in the whole country showed prevalence more than 3.5% and none had more than 10%.
Schistosomiasis is not the only bone of contention in Sherines case as there is also growing trend of female musicians being sent to jail. December 2017, saw the jailing of Egyptian pop musician Shaimaa Ahmed, popularly called Shyma simply because her music video showed her eating banana in way termed suggestive while in her underwear. For that singular act, the court found her guilty of inciting debauchery and publishing an indecent film. She was sentence to 2 years imprisonment which was reduced to 1 year after she appealed.