Egypt Independent

The blacklist: Pro-Mubarak celebrities in the doghouse



Appropriately, for a revolution born on the internet, the recent Egyptian uprising has resulted in thousands of YouTube uploads depicting emotionally-charged marching crowds, brutal police-civilian clashes, and diminutive pop singer Tamer Hosni weeping.

In a minute-long clip that has become the pop-culture icon of the revolution, the singer responsible for a slew of inexplicable hits and Pepsi commercials can be seen bawling uncontrollably after his attempt to show solidarity with protesters went horribly wrong.

Hosni’s belated visit to Tahrir Square–ten days after the revolution began, and shortly after he had denounced the uprising, reading a self-penned love poem to then-president Hosni Mubarak on national television–only provoked protesters, who responded with insults and forcefully removed him from the square. The subsequent video, featuring Hosni’s assistants failing to console him as he sobs that he was “misled and misunderstood,” garnered little sympathy, nor did his announcement of a revolution-themed album. Some were left wondering if Hosni’s career had come to an end.

The same can be said for actress Samah Anwar, who came out of semi-retirement just long enough to advocate the killing of protesters, again on national television. “This is just my point of view, and you may not agree, but I see no problem setting them [the protesters] on fire,” Anwar casually said on the evening news, prompting the anchorman–himself owned by the state–to feebly attempt to distance himself from what he referred to as an “extreme” opinion.

Hosni and Anwar are by no means the only celebrities to have gotten caught up in the upheaval of the revolution–they are only a part of a long list of names collectively constituting the “Pro-Mubarak Blacklist,” also known by its less official title, the “List of Dogs.”

The list is diverse, uniting icons of the entertainment industry such as Adel Imam and Yousra with virtual unknowns such as Zeina and Randa Hafez–both actresses–as well as soccer players and media personalities, all of whom publicly criticized the ongoing protests and, in some cases, even called for the use of violence to squash them. The level of involvement differed; musician Amr Mostafa repeatedly referred to the Tahrir Square protesters as “treacherous dogs,” while actor Talaat Zakaria flushed away any sympathy garnered by his recent health crisis by calling the protesters a gang of “drug abusers” and “homosexuals.” Rotund soap opera star Ilham Shaheen tried to justify Mubarak’s–in her own words–“iron fist” regime by claiming that Egyptians and democracy were “incompatible.”

Soccer players took it to the streets, with the national team's coach Hassan Shehata and twin sensations Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan all leading separate pro-Mubarak demonstrations while young activists were in Tahrir Square.

Media personalities' roles in the revolution–heavily influenced by ties to the regime–have earned many spots on the blacklist. News anchors and television pundits engaged in a campaign of misinformation, with Tamer Hosni’s embarrassing eviction being only one of the unfortunate consequences, and repeatedly accused Tahrir demonstrators, international news agencies and foreigners in general of being “undercover agents” determined to bring down Egypt’s standing in the global community, while others claimed that the protesters were being paid for their efforts in euros and buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. For almost every night of the revolution, Tamir Amin, host of the state-sponsored nightly news show Egypt Today, went on air to describe the damage being done to the nation by the protesters’ violence. (Amin briefly disappeared from television screens following Mubarak’s ouster, but has since resumed his position as co-host of Egypt Today.)

With the regime effectively toppled, the backlash has been strong, and the public, frustrated and increasingly impatient with the gargantuan task of sorting through the mess of a thoroughly corrupt government, has turned to the blacklist to satisfy its need for swift retribution. There is no shortage of incriminating interviews and news clips online, and with them a long list of scathing verbal attacks.

At a time when the state was resorting to fear tactics to keep people from joining the growing protests in Tahrir, most of the names now featured on the list displayed their allegiance to the regime, enthusiastically feeding off the widespread paranoia and uncertainty, and using their influence in an attempt to sway general opinion.

“A lot of actors, musicians and soccer players were worried about their livelihoods,” explains film critic Sherif Awad, while quickly pointing out that he is in no way justifying their actions. “They simply looked at the situation and realized that with a looming economic crisis, there would likely be nobody willing to pay them their LE10 million salaries. So they did what was in their best interests.”

The bigger problem, Awad believes, lies with the “betrayal” carried out by media personalities, primarily television journalists. “Media figures should absolutely be held responsible for the intentionally misleading reports that they continuously spread,” said Awad. “The majority of them changed their colors like a chameleon. They jumped on the bandwagon at the first opportunity.” In the process they only unnecessarily extended the state of terror most civilians were struggling to cope with.

“Conscience,” he concludes, “should be more of a priority than presentability and a good radio voice.”

Considering the fallout, it comes as no surprise that most of the blacklisted celebrities are now scrambling to redeem themselves. Besides media personalities, both Anwar and Hosni have given apologetic and humble interviews; others, mainly musicians, have sought public reconciliation through pro-revolution anthems honoring protesters and martyrs alike. Audiences have been quick to label these efforts unconvincing and tenuous attempts at self-preservation. Repercussions have proved to be surprisingly far-reaching: formerly revered screen actress Yousra and considerably less revered director Inas el-Degheidy were both reportedly attacked and removed from London’s Trafalgar Square, where Egyptian expatriates were holding a post-revolutionary celebration.

Some stars, such as Amed Ezz, have decided to challenge their position on the blacklist, claiming their patriotism is a personal matter and not to be challenged by anyone. Whether or not this defense will have a quelling effect on an infuriated audience remains to be seen. For now, though, one thing remains certain: with all its present drama, the Egyptian entertainment industry might actually be worth watching.