Egypt's metal fans divided after fresh satanism accusations

Nourhan Tewfik and Nahed Nasr, Friday 26 Feb 2016

While a recent attempt by the head the Musicians Syndicate to halt a metal music concert angered the metal community, it also revealed rifts between the musicians, and brought back the scene's dark history

Metal music
(Photo: Fragment from the poster of Metal Blast Festival, scheduled to take place in Cairo, Egypt, on 23 April 2016)

Last Saturday, the news that the head of the Musicians Syndicate had tried to shut down a metal concert spread like wildfire among Egypt's metal fans.

Hany Shaker's action was triggered by information received from Alaa Salama, head of the syndicate's resources committee, that a concert was being held by "devil worshippers" in downtown Cairo.

The concert in question was a metal music event, held last Friday at Sherazade nightclub in downtown, but by the time authorities reached the location, the concert had ended.

The event included American band Inquisition, known for its open statements regarding following Satanism. Members of the band say they recognise satanic forces as a foundation of the music genre they represent.

Mahmoud Amro, a metal fan who was present at the concert and who is also the admin of "The Egyptian Metal Scene" Facebook page, clarified to Ahram Online that "the concert was initially scheduled to take place at Amoun Hotel, but the venue was changed to Sherazade nightclub and the concert took place on Friday instead of Saturday."

Amro also clarified that all the fans were informed about this change a few days prior to the event's date.

Moreover, "the concert was supposed to host five metal bands, but three dropped out. Only Inquisition and UAE-based band Perversion performed that night," Amro added.

Syndicate head under fire

Given the sensitive history of the Egyptian metal scene, fans were angered and worried over the attempt to shut down the concert, and Shaker came under fire and at the centre of a media storm.

Outraged metal fans took to social media to berate the syndicate head.

Shaker responded by talking to several television programmes about his views on the metal scene.

On 20 February, he told television presenter Sayed Ali on Al-Assema channel that the head of the resources committee of the syndicate had informed him about a concert to be held by “devil worshippers” in downtown Cairo.

Shaker requested the authorities intervene, but by the time they arrived, the concert had ended.

On 21 February, he said to Lamis El-Hadidi on CBC channel that as soon as he was informed about the concert he sent a syndicate officer to take photos and to check the permits.

"I saw the photos of the concert; those people were wearing strange clothes with strange make-up, [they had] a Masonic star on their back," he said.

He added, however, that those would not be the reasons behind cancelling the concert.

"My role is only to see if they had permission [from the syndicate to perform] or not."

A day later, on 22 February, Shaker told Youssef El-Husseiny on ONTV that he had "never said that all metal artists are Satanists."

"They put on a concert without permission from the syndicate. I am an artist, and I do respect metal," he said.

Most recently, on 24 February, three metal musicians – El-Sharif Marzeban from SCARAB, Amro Hasasan from Andromida, and Wael Ossama from Enraged – were hosted on ONTV to clarify the issue to the viewers.

Once again, host Youssef El-Husseiny called Shaker on air, asking him to comment.

Shaker said that "we are not against the good metal that fits with our society's religious beliefs and social traditions."

His statement was applauded by the musicians in the studio.

A troubled history

This was not the first time that Egypt's metal scene has been the subject of a major controversy; the metal subculture has a history of attacks from state, media and society.

The issue dates back to the early 1990s, when Egyptian state newspaper Rose Al-Youssef published a "study" on youth interests that detailed young people who dressed in black, sported piercings and listened to metal.

The report linked metal fans to Satanism, and sparked a reaction from the state which included arrests and concert shutdowns, as well as stigmatisation of the metal scene in the wider media.

The most notorious incident came in January 1997, when security forces arrested more than 100 young metal fans and charged them with “promoting Satanism” and contempt of religion. The defendants were eventually released due to lack of evidence, but the arrests and the media publicity surrounding them had already made an impact.

In a report for Ahram Online published in 2011, metal musician Wael Ossama wrote that “the bad press caused a sudden collapse of Cairo’s growing metal scene at the time, with many bands and fans permanently losing interest in remaining part of a music scene that carried with it serious stigmas and legal consequences.”

The scene went on to make a comeback but remained largely behind closed doors, "resurfacing in mostly remote areas around Cairo and on Nile boats away from the scrutiny of the public and state security” and relying “on word of mouth advertising within a constricted circle of metal fans," wrote Ossama.

But according to Ossama, “it wasn’t until El-Sawy Culturewheel [a Zamalek arts venue] had encouraged rock and metal bands to perform in the mid 2000s that the Egyptian metal scene acquired a sense of a much needed legitimacy and protection that further encouraged bands and fans to become part of it."

As such, in 2007, two international bands performed in Cairo, and so did Wyvern, one of the leading metal groups in Egypt, which performed as part of the SOS music festival, attracting :thousands of music fans" and "significant media coverage," Ossama wrote.

Such attempts would again be interrupted in 2008 when "several gigs were shut down and their organisers were detained by State Security."

"While metal bands continued to perform at El-Sawy Culturewheel, few have taken the initiative to organise or perform outside the safety of the cultural centre," he wrote.

But hopes were revived in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, when, according to Ossama, the Egyptian metal scene began to grow within El-Sawy as well as outside it.

In March 2011 the Metal Blast concert attracted almost 1,000 fans at El-Sawy, and a month later El-Sawy hosted the country's first metal festival, Ossama wrote.

The festival lasted for three days and was covered by state television.

Despite the upwards trajectory, there was a bump in the road in 2012 when a lawyer, who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, filed a complaint against El-Sawy for hosting "Satanist" rock bands.

Ismail El-Weshahy claimed that one of his clients had come across young people at El-Sawy who were “wearing t-shirts adorned with what he described as satanic shapes and symbols” and practising satanic rituals, Zeinab El-Guindy wrote in a report for Ahram Online.

El-Sawy denied the allegations, writing in a statement that the venue “has not hosted any kind of practice that could be called Satanic" in its 10-year history.

The allegations were dismissed after investigation.

Metal fans nervous, divided

A number of metal musicians told Ahram Online that they are not surprised that the invitation of Inquisition hit a nerve with the syndicate.

In fact, the debate about inviting the band goes back to January.

On 7 January, Nader Sadek, an Egyptian-American musician known for his death metal project, announced on his Facebook account that a concert titled "The Masters of the Middle East" would take place in Amoun hotel and would include Inquisition, among other bands.

The invitation created a major division within the metal community; the band’s satanic background brought back worrying memories of the crackdown on the community by the government in the 1990s, when all involved were tarred as Satanists.

Given the local metal scene's difficult past, metal fans were divided about whether or not Inquisition should perform in Egypt. Some were concerned about jeopardising the local scene, carefully rebuilt since the crackdowns of the nineties.

As such, Sadek's announcement caused a strong reaction from fellow metal fans.

Some metal bands – including Enraged, Salasel and MEDIC – denied their affiliation with Sadek by posting a joint statement on Facebook.

"I invite my fellow metalheads and brothers in the Egyptian metal community to join the voice of reason and save the metal scene from what might befall it of harm. Let's not spare and waste what we have built over the past few years over a single concert," Ahmed Khalil, MEDIC’s guitarist wrote.

Sadek did not change his mind, and on 17 January Ossama once again suggested that Inquisition be disinvited, saying that the concert would be "suicide" for the whole metal community in Egypt and a lost battle with both society and the state.

"We have to draw your attention to the fact that the current political atmosphere is not suitable for conflicts with the state or society, especially when metal music that does not carry any satanic content is already problematic when faced by social traditions and restrictions," Ossama wrote on his Facebook page. 

"[Inquisition] is indeed a satanic band, it openly glorifies Satan. As such, it comprises a clear contempt of religion," Wael Ossama told Ahram Online by phone.

Ossama stressed that he is in full support of freedom of expression, but that the current political and cultural context in Egypt must also be taken into account, adding that it was this very disregard of Egypt’s cultural context “that has created the backlash we are witnessing now.”

But Ossama also argues that "any crackdown on metal bands must be seen in the context of the current attack on the independent culture scene as a whole," referring to the recent closure of Townhouse Gallery as one such example.

The gallery in downtown Cairo was shut down by the authorities in December due to "administrative irregularities." It reopened in mid-February.

"It is clear that the state is trying to claim control of the independent cultural scene, and that it aims to do that through the syndicate," Ossama added.

What worries Ossama the most, however, is that hosting "a satanic band in and of itself gives more credibility to existing stereotypes against this [metal] subculture in Egypt."

For his part, metal fan Amro stated that he was not against hosting the band Inquisition, but that "it was perhaps not the best timing to hold this concert."

But as Amro added, "none of the media outlets that reported the incident or people who were against the concert spoke about the band, or even cared to know more about it." People rather focused on superficial details "Like the dress code."

"For example, Wael Ossama organised a series of concerts last year, the revenues of which went to the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital, yet there was almost no mention of it in media," Amro said.

"Many metal bands sing satanic lyrics, but it is more a theme they explore than it is their actual opinion or belief," he said.

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