The state vs the Keke challenge

Dina Shehata
Friday 3 Aug 2018

The current controversy over the dance “the Keke challenge” is the latest instance of a widening gap between the young and the old in Egypt

This summer the Keke challenge, a dance initially performed by the American comedian Shiggy to the singer Drake’s new song In My Feelings, has taken the Internet by storm.

The dance has since gone viral and has been performed hundreds of thousands of times by people all over the world in different local variations. The song consists of a person dancing next to a moving car and performing some of the same moves performed by Shiggy in his initial video.

In Egypt, the Keke challenge has been performed dozens of times by Egyptian celebrities and lay people and by rich and poor.

Some have performed the dance to the original Drake song, while others have used Egyptian songs instead.

Adding further local flavour, the dance has been performed next to a moving tuk-tuk and to a moving hantour (coach).

Various scenes from old Egyptian movies have also been adapted to the song to show that the Egyptians were the first to do the Keke challenge.

While the Keke challenge is a joyful, youthful expression of the globalised Internet age, the state’s response to the Keke challenge has been predictably grim.

The Ministry of Interior has announced that dancing next to a moving car is a violation of traffic laws and that those who perform the challenge could be subject to one year in prison and a LE3,000 fine.

And while no one has yet to be arrested for performing the Keke challenge in Egypt, the government’s response highlights the widening gap between the dominant culture and youth culture in the country.

On the one hand, Egyptian society is increasingly youthful, with youth constituting approximately two-thirds of the Egyptian population.

Through growing access to technology, Egyptian young people have become part of a larger global culture and have embraced many of its values, including a yearning for a more liberal and democratic society where young people can express themselves joyfully and freely.

The dominant culture, on the other hand, is hierarchical, patriarchal, authoritarian and conservative. The state partakes in that culture and strives to enforce its values by exercising near complete control over the public sphere.

The arts and culture are seen in this paradigm as a means to advance nationalist and traditional values rather than as expressions of societal pluralism and diversity.

Hence, by tightening control over the media, the arts and culture, and civil society organisations through a variety of laws and regulatory institutions, old Egypt has left little space for young people to express their youthfulness and identity and has frowned upon independent expressions of youth culture.

Concerts by popular youth bands such as Cairokee are regularly cancelled by the authorities, and popular TV dramas created by young people such as Sabe3 Gar are frowned upon and censored. Young novelists, writers, satirists and comedians are arrested for offending public morality.

Recently a new press law has stipulated that social media pages that have a large following are subject to constraints imposed by law. The government has also recently decreed that music and cultural festivals can only be held after securing prior approval.

While the government has given a lot of attention to youth issues and has made the integration and empowerment of youth a priority issue through initiatives such as the annual Youth Conferences, the Presidential Youth Programme, and the Youth Academy, these initiatives do not necessarily appeal to all young people.

An important segment of young people in Egypt partakes in these initiatives and finds them useful and appealing.

However, other equally important segments strive to carve out independent and alternative spaces for themselves and to operate away from — and not necessarily against — the state.

These young people find it increasingly difficult to express themselves freely given the existing constraints.

Thus, while seemingly trivial, the controversy over the Keke challenge is the latest instance among a series that highlights the widening gap between the young and the old in Egypt.

However, the dominant culture must eventually give way to a new and younger Egypt. Given the new technologies, it would be a Sisyphean effort to try to mould young minds using the methods of the previous century.

Young people today have access to alternative sources of information and are part of a global culture that promotes freedom, individuality and diversity.

Attempting to stifle and control all means of youthful expression can only be counter-productive in the short run and impossible in the long run.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The state vs the Keke challenge

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