Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Egypt: Two Singers Sentenced to Imprisonment

(Mar. 15, 2018) On February 27, 2018, the Egyptian court of misdemeanors sentenced two singers to imprisonment in two separate cases. In the first case, singer Sherine Abdel-Wahab was found guilty of insulting the state, which is a violation of article 80(d) of the Penal Code. (Brian Rohan, Egypt Courts Punish Singers for ‘Insults’ and ‘Debauchery, CTV NEWS (Feb. 28, 2018); Law No. 58 of 1937 on the Penal Code, Manshurat website.) Article 80(d) states that whoever deliberately spreads false information or rumors abroad about the internal conditions of the country that might weaken the country’s financial credibility or harm the country’s national interests is punishable by six months to five years’ imprisonment and a fine. The court also found a second singer, Laila Amer, guilty of inciting debauchery, which violates article 1 of Law No. 10 of 1961 on Combating Prostitution. (Egypt Courts Punish Singers for ‘Insults’ and ‘Debauchery, supraLaw No. 10 of 1961 on Combating Prostitution, art. 1.) Article 1(a) stipulates that whoever incites a person—male or female—to engage in debauchery or prostitution, or assists in or facilitates it, and similarly whoever employs a person or tempts him or induces him with the intention of engaging in debauchery or prostitution, is punishable by imprisonment for one to three years and a fine.

Sherine Abdel-Wahab’s Case

Abdel-Wahab, one of the most popular female singers in Egypt, was sentenced by the Misdemeanors Court of Cairo to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately US$550). The court found that while performing at a concert in the United Arab Emirates she had violated article 80(d) of the Penal Code by spreading false news about Egypt that harms the interests of the country. (Six Months in Jail for Singer Sherine in Bilharzia Case, BBC ARABIC (Feb. 27, 2018) (in Arabic).) She was also banned from performing in Egypt by the musicians’ union. (Sherine’s Apology Didn’t Prevent Her from Being Tried Before the Court, BBC ARABIC (Nov. 15, 2017) (in Arabic).)

At the concert, a fan asked Abel-Wahab to sing one of her well-known songs, entitled “Did You Drink from the Nile?”. She responded with a joke that it is better to drink Evian water because the water of the Nile carries bilharzia (a waterborne disease spread by parasitic worms). (Egypt’s Sherine Sentenced to Prison over Nile Joke, BBC (Feb. 27, 2018).)

Laila Amer’s Case

In a separate case, the Misdemeanors Court of Giza sentenced Laila Amer to two years’ imprisonment. Amer was found guilty of the offense of “inciting debauchery and immorality” in relation to a music video whose title is a play on words of an extremely offensive Arabic profanity. (Egypt’s Sherine Sentenced to Prison over Nile Joke, supra; Rohan, supra.) The Court also held that Amer violated public morals because the video contains sexually suggestive themes. She defended her actions by stating that was following the instructions of the director and producer of the video. (Ahmad Al-Ja’fari, Star of Song “Look at Your Mother” Sentenced to Two Years in Jail; Director and Producer Also Sentenced to Six Months, AL-YOUM AL-SABE‘ (Feb. 27, 2018) (in Arabic).) Despite her lawyer refuting the charges, the Egyptian Musicians’ Union has expelled Amer and deleted her name from its files. (Mahmoud Al-Refa‘i, Musicians’ Union Deletes Singer of “Look at Your Mother” from Files, AL-WATAN (Dec. 29, 2017) (in Arabic).)

Appeals Process

The two decisions were issued by the court of first instance. The defendants in both cases can file an appeal before the Cairo Court of Appeal. Article 402 of the Law of Criminal Procedure grants the right to a defendant imprisoned in a misdemeanor case to file an appeal. According to article 406, the appeal must be filed within 10 days from the date the first instance court rendered its decision. (Law of Criminal Procedure No. 150 of 1950 and Its Amendments (in Arabic).)