Egyptian singer banned after claiming lack of free speech

In this Dec. 31, 2018 photo, Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel-Wahab performs during New Years' Eve, in Cairo, Egypt. Abdel-Wahab has been banned from performing in her home country after suggesting that it does not respect free speech. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Abdel Nasser)
In this Dec. 31, 2018 photo, Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel-Wahab performs during New Years' Eve, in Cairo, Egypt. Abdel-Wahab has been banned from performing in her home country after suggesting that it does not respect free speech. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Abdel Nasser)

CAIRO — An Egyptian singer has been banned from performing in her home country after suggesting that it does not respect free speech.

A video clip circulated online shows Sherine Abdel-Wahab, during a performance in Bahrain, saying: "Here I can say whatever I want. In Egypt, anyone who talks gets imprisoned."

Egypt's Musicians Union responded late Friday by barring the singer, popularly known by her first name, from performing. It also summoned her for questioning.

Samir Sabry, a pro-government lawyer with a reputation for moral vigilantism and suing celebrities, filed a complaint against the singer accusing her of "insulting Egypt and inviting suspicious rights groups to interfere in Egypt's affairs."

Last year, Sherine was sentenced to six months in prison over a similar clip from a concert in which she joked that the Nile is polluted. The sentence was suspended upon appeal. She apologized for the remark, calling it a "bad joke."

The singer, who hosts the Arabic version of "The Voice," apologized again after the latest remarks in a TV interview aired late Friday, saying she was joking.

"I am very tired. I made a mistake. I am sorry. I appeal the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, who is our father. I feel that I was persecuted. I did nothing. I love Egypt," she said.

Egyptian authorities have waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. The local media is dominated by pro-government outlets that attack anyone seen as criticizing the country or its leaders, and several people have been jailed or fined for violating vaguely written laws outlawing such criticism.

Thousands of people have been jailed or forced to leave the country since el-Sissi came to power, mainly Islamists but also a large number of secular activists, politicians and artists.

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