After 16-year hiatus, 'Satanism' claims resurface in Egypt

Zeinab El Gundy , Monday 3 Sep 2012

Conjuring up memories of infamous 'Satan worshipers case' of 1990s, lawyer for Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) accuses Cairo's prominent El-Sawy culture centre of hosting 'Satanic' bands, events

An Egyptian Metal Band
An Egyptian Metal Band (Photo: Wael Osamaa)

Controversy erupted in Egypt's cultural scene after Ismail El-Weshahy, a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), filed a complaint Saturday to the interior ministry against El-Sawy Culturewheel, the prominent cultural centre in Cairo's upscale Zamalek district, accusing it of hosting "Satanist" rock bands and events.

The allegations, observers say, are reminiscent of Egypt's infamous "Satan worshipers case" of the mid-1990s.

According to El-Weshahy, one of his clients attended a recent event at El-Sawy Culturewheel at which he claims to have seen young people wearing t-shirts adorned with what he described as satanic shapes and symbols. The lawyer said that his client had also filmed a group of people who he said were performing satanic rituals in the centre.

El-Weshahy insists that he does not represent the FJP in the case, but rather his two clients, both of whom are members of an independent anti-corruption NGO called 'We're Watching You."

For its part, the Culturewheel issued a statement regarding the 31 August heavy metal concert in which it denied claims by El-Weshahy and his clients.

"In our ten years of activity, the Culturewheel has not hosted any kind of practice that could be called Satanic," the statement asserted, going on to express doubt that Satanism in Egypt existed at all.

The Culturewheel also stressed in its statement that the centre's administration did not allow any kind of violation during its concerts, be it smoking or any other kind of unacceptable behaviour.

El-Sawy Culturewheel was founded in 2003 by Mohamed El-Sawy, an engineer and founder of Egypt's moderate-Islamist Hadara (Civilisation) Party. El-Sawy was appointed culture minister in the government of Ahmed Shafiq (ousted president Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister) over the objections of many intellectuals who considered him too conservative.

On 30 and 31 August, the centre hosted several Egyptian heavy metal and rock bands.

Nour Ayman Nour, the revolutionary activist and rock band member (and son of prominent reform activist Ayman Nour), slammed El-Weshahy on Twitter, demanding that the FJP declare that it was not responsible for the case against the culture centre.

Nour told Ahram Online that the issue reminded him of the State Security campaigns of the 1990s, in which, he said, the authorities would contrive fake controversies in an effort to distract the public from more pressing issues.

"Instead of filing complaints against metal bands and El-Sawy Culturewheel, why don't the FJP's lawyers focus on corruption cases that really matter?" Nour asked. He went on to call on the lawyers to refrain from judging young people based merely on their appearance.

"Ismail El-Weshahy himself could have been the victim of such profiling in the past," Nour said, referring to the way Islamists – or all bearded men – were treated in Egypt during the Mubarak era.

In late 1996, Egyptian security forces arrested several young people on charges of promoting Satanism in Egypt through metal and black-metal music, possessing drugs and insulting the divine religions. The case, which came to be known in the media as "the Satan worshipers case," was handled largely by Egypt's State Security apparatus.

After months of media controversy, the defendants were eventually released due to a lack of evidence.

Nevertheless, given local sensibilities, many Egyptians continue to associate so-called 'black metal' music with Satanism.

On Saturday, Egyptian metal band member Wael Osama posted a video on YouTube in which he defended metal music and bands from El-Weshahy's allegations.

"El-Weshahy made grave legal accusations against the metal bands. We should be concerned about the reactions of the public. After all, we recently saw what happened to the young man who was walking with his fiancé in Suez and was killed by radical Islamists," Osama told Ahram Online, warning against a return to the inquisitions of the past.  

"I tried to use the media available to me to explain the metal subculture to the people of Egypt," he said. "I feel sympathy for this lawyer, since he may not be familiar with the metal subculture, and therefore may find it strange to see young people head banging and wearing black."

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