‘Harlem Shake’ Spreads In Tunisia, Egypt As Means Of Protest Against Islamists

  @AmruthaGayathri on February 28 2013 5:47 AM
Harlem shake
Tunisian students perform the "Harlem Shake," outside Tunis Carthage Private University in Tunis. REUTERS

Salafist Muslims in Tunisia who tried to stop the filming of a popular dance known as “Harlem Shake” at a school in the capital Wednesday were forced to withdraw following a strong student reaction against the Islamist ban on the dance.

In a similar incident in Sousse, south of Tunis, security forces were forced to intervene when student protests against a school’s ban on the dance went out of control, the AFP reported.

The "Harlem Shake,” though best known as a U.S. dance from the 1980s, has been the biggest Web video trend this month with more than 100,000 people, including celebrities and newscasters, posting clips of themselves dancing to a track released last June by an American DJ named Baauer.

The Internet sensation began Feb. 2 when a group of Australian teenagers uploaded a 31-second clip of them dancing to an excerpt of Baauer’s song.

Copycat versions of the video spread quickly, with approximately 12,000 "Harlem Shake" videos posted in 10 days and tens of millions of combined viewer counts.

However, authorities in socially divided Tunisia -- where radical Islam has been on the rise following the ouster of former President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali in an uprising in 2011 -- have been critical of the spread of the Internet meme within the country, as students and youngsters performed it as a challenge to ultra-conservatives.

One of the Salafists who showed up at the Bourguiba Language Institute in the El Khadra neighborhood of Tunis, a Salafist bastion, shouted, "Our brothers in Palestine are being killed by Israelis, and you are dancing." He added that he wanted to explain the difference in Islam between behavior that is "haram" (prohibited) and "halal" (permitted), the AFP reported.

The Salafists left as the students started shouting “Get out, get out,” and after teachers intervened.

A number of social media sites belonging to Salafists and other Islamist groups have denounced the "Harlem Shake" as indecent.

Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche told the AFP that in Sousse, students reacted angrily and "gathered outside the school, near a hospital, and began igniting smoke bombs," after their principal refused to allow a staging of the "Harlem Shake.”

"The security forces tried to convince them to put out the smoke bombs, but they refused and threw stones at them and wounded two policemen. The forces of order were obliged to respond with tear gas," Tarrouche was quoted as saying.

Earlier this week, Tunisia's ministry of education ordered a probe into the staging of a "Harlem Shake" show in the Menzah 6 district of Tunis in a school compound, with some dancing in shorts and others wearing fake beards and tunics to mock proponents of the Salafist movement, the AFP reported.

The secular opposition regularly accuses Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda of allowing the rise of Islamism in the country.

In Egypt, a number of Facebook users have called for a public "Harlem Shake" performance on Thursday in front of the Muslim Brotherhood’s national headquarters in Cairo’s Moqattam district, according to a report in the Al Ahram newspaper.

The event outside the Brotherhood headquarters is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. local time, and the number of attendees is expected to exceed some 1,500. The organizers of the event stated on the Facebook page that they were motivated by "boredom,” the report said.

The Muslim Brotherhood expressed its concern about Thursday’s performance, with spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan telling the privately owned newspaper Daily News Egypt that peaceful protests were welcome but that "such matters always lead to violence, which is unacceptable."

Tensions between President Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist supporters and his secular opponents have been brewing across the nation, as the country braces for parliamentary elections in April.

On Feb. 23, a “Harlem shake” was performed in front of the pyramids of Giza with the dancers facing opposition from the police.

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