Egyptian singer, Sherine Abdel-Wahab, has been sentenced to a six-month jail sentence after making what’s being referred to as an “ill-humoured” joke where she warned fans from drinking from the Nile on stage in the United Arab Emirates.
“You’ll get bilharzia,” she said. “Drink Evian,” she continued.
To the average modern Egyptian, this sounds like a recycled joke. However, to the patriotic Egyptian, this is an offense worthy of being taken to court.
Ironically, the singer is the voice behind one of Egypt’s most iconic patriotic songs, “Mashrebtesh Min Nilha” (Haven’t You Drank from Her Nile?). The song is a reminder to Egyptians to be grateful for their homeland.
Still, she received the sentence despite apologising for “mocking our dear Egypt” on her Facebook page.
Generally, this whole situation is just baffling to me. Sherine might have given a slightly inaccurate statement by saying bilharzia, a disease caused by a parasitic worm, as a side effect of drinking from the Nile. The disease was prevalent many years ago, and a lot of lives were lost to it including the renowned singer Abdel Halim Hafez, so her statement isn’t completely false.
Additionally, according to Save The Water organization, approximately 38 million Egyptians drink polluted water. So while bilharzia’s prevalence is down to 0.2 percent, Egyptians still suffer from other illnesses due to the Nile’s pollution.
Maybe the reason officials reprimanded Sherine about her joke is the fact that she is a public figure; and that her statement was broadcast everywhere, especially after they made a big deal about it. Perhaps they’re afraid of how it’ll affect Egypt’s relations and tourism.
But Egypt’s tourism took a hit after the Arab spring, with 2017 seeing only 8 million tourists as opposed to 2010 when 14.7 million tourists visited the country. Sherine’s statement was just not big enough of a factor to affect Egypt’s public image.
This isn’t exactly a defense for Sherine. As a concerned Egyptian journalist, this is a call for Egyptian authorities to handle truths regarding matters that might defame them better. She’s not the first or last person to make a joke about the Nile’s cleanliness. It seems that the joke isn’t even so funny after all. It’s a sad reality.
Photo credits: Instagram (@sherine)