A bit of conventional wisdom making the rounds among Egyptian revolutionaries is they succeeded not only in bringing down their hated dictator, Hosni Mubarak, but also in taking down other despised figures associated with the regime. This includes technocrats, like ex-Minister of the Interior Habib al-Adly, and plutocrats, like Ahmed Ezz, the now-disgraced steel monopolist, both of whom now sit in Tura prison. Both of these figures named have been close allies of Gamal Mubarak, the younger son of Hosni Mubarak and, until the revolution came, the heir apparent to the presidency. While protesters are not blind to this fact, and to its implication that Gamal and his cronies ended up on the losing side of some internal power struggle within the upper echelons, they are nonetheless pleased with themselves for pressuring the government to imprison these figures and investigate their crimes.
Among the political and economic figures who have played a role in this revolution, there are numerous pop culture celebrities as well, on both sides. While a few established musical stars, like Mohamed Mounir, and film stars, like Khaled Abu al-Naga and Amr Waked, have won acclaim from the protesters for either joining directly in the street demonstrations or broadcasting messages of support for the protests, others have been scorned for their pro-Mubarak sympathies. In some prominent cases, actors and singers have been placed on a blacklist, published on the internet with the intention of convincing Egyptians to boycott their work as punishment for their anti-revolutionary sentiments. Foremost among the cinema stars is Adel Imam, the famous and (until lately) widely beloved comic actor. Most prominent among the singers is Tamer Hosny, the romansi singer whose music is hugely popular among teenagers and twenty-somethings. Numerous people have commented a variety of public fora that a fringe benefit of the revolution is the destruction of Tamer Hosny’s career. (Western readers who have no knowledge of Egyptian pop music will have to imagine an alternate universe in which Americans rose up in revolt against their government, and found themselves shunning, say, Michael Bolton as a counter-revolutionary.) A poster on display in Tahrir Square during the April 1, 2011 protest displayed all these celebrities in a spoof of a cinema poster, with Adel Imam front and center, and Tamer Hosny two or three faces away from Imam. The juxtaposition of all the pro-regime actors and singers was damning.
Except: visit the website. Tamer Hosny no longer appears therein. To understand why Tamer has visibly slipped off the blacklist – and indeed, to understand why he will probably suffer little in the long run from this reprobation – one must understand some background information.
First, there is the nature of various celebrities’ statements that landed them in trouble with the people. There were varying degrees of offense in pro-Mubarak, pro-regime sentiments, ranging from perfunctory statements of loyalty to the system – the sort of boilerplate comment wrung out of an artist who knows that he or she is in some ways beholden to the state media industry – to ear-blistering screeds against the humanity of those protesting. Adel Imam not only supported Mubarak openly, but accused protesters of thuggery and wanting to destroy the country. Samah Anwar, an actress, came out with the most extreme statement of anyone, actually suggesting that the protesters should be burned alive, and that the government should consider bombing Tahrir Square even with nuclear weapons if necessary. In the case of these actors, it appears that they have done irreparable harm to their reputations, and may well have ended their careers within Egypt. (Would you pay your hard-earned money to see a film starring a person who suggested you should be incinerated?)
Tamer Hosny committed a lesser sin: he went to Tahrir Square and addressed the protesters, recommending they abandon the square and go back home. When people objected to this recommendation and began to jeer him, Tamer admitted that the government had asked him to go to Tahrir to help convince protesters to leave. After the enraged protesters drove him off his platform and from the square, Tamer was, notoriously, filmed sobbing that he was misunderstood, and that he had been ‘misled’. It was, all in all, an inept and even narcissistic performance. Many were incredulous that Tamer seemed most upset not about the violent deaths of the revolutionary martyrs or the dire political and economic situation that had brought people out to protest, but about his own image and the sense that, for the first time, he was confronted by members of the public who seemed not to love him.
The other pertinent background issue is Tamer Hosny’s personal history. Tamer, along with another singer named Haitham Shaker, forged their military service papers, in an effort to sidestep mandatory conscription to keep their singing careers going unimpeded. The musicians failed spectacularly: they were caught, convicted of draft dodging, and served jail time. (Tamer, ever seeking to maximize his self-promotion, styled his first concert after he was paroled as a celebratory, ‘comeback’ show.) Now that he is no longer in jail, Tamer remains under a state of de facto, if not de jure parole: the government and especially the military establishment are not well-disposed toward draft dodgers, and in the eyes of the authorities, Tamer retains the stigma of ‘unpatriotically’ attempting to get out of military service. In 2007, he was forced to cancel a series of concerts for Eid al-Fitr across the Gulf states, because the government refused to grant him permission to travel abroad. The military has a lot of say over his career, and the military leadership despises him — and he knows it.
Knowing this, it should not surprise anyone that Tamer Hosny went down to Tahrir Square and did the bidding of the regime. What else would he do? The government might not be able to stop him from singing entirely, but, since pop singers in Egypt generally earn their livelihood by performing private concerts booked by the wealthy elite for weddings and other such festivities, it would not be difficult for the authorities to apply a little judicious pressure here and there, and cut Tamer out of the industry. If he cannot perform at home and cannot travel abroad, then he no longer has a career at all.
Lately, those celebrities who made foolish statements on behalf of the regime have not been much on people’s lips. Even the more obnoxious ones, like Adel Imam and Samah Anwar, have not been on the radar lately, if only because they have not attempted to sell a new film or television show since their statements. The majority of Egyptians seems much more interested in prosecuting corrupt officials than punishing unpleasant celebrities. And really, this is only to be expected: there is a serious difference of scale between someone who said something offensive, and someone who, say, amassed a multibillion-dollar fortune by abusing a political office. Even the vilest pro-regime message by a sycophantic actress pales in comparison to the evidence, currently being amassed, that the Egyptian government itself authorized terrorist bombings of its own subjects in order to keep them living in fear of political change. As the pool of injustices committed against the Egyptian people seems to extend deeper and deeper into the realm of the truly depraved, the shallow end, where Tamer Hosny’s publicity stunt falls, seems accordingly less impressive.
Several other factors are operating in Tamer’s favor. First and foremost is the fact that, no matter what he has ever said or done, a great many Egyptians love his music and do not care about any other aspect of his life. As long as he releases albums, there are plenty of people who will want to hear his music. Second, he is attempting to make it up to pro-revolution music listeners by recording an album of revolutionary and patriotic anthems, on top of the numerous other publicity events undertaken in a sense of ‘mea culpa’. This point may not seem like much, but remember that, as I said above, a lot of people are still disposed to like him anyway, and he has less of a hurdle to overcome than other working celebrities who burned their bridges with the public. (On the other hand, such moves are unlikely to sway people already inclined to read his recent efforts as self-promotion, rather than political commitment.)
Finally, and perhaps most debatably, there may be a slight rise in sympathy for Tamer as the Egyptian military increasingly appears opposed to the goals and desires of its people. If people bear in mind that Tamer very likely acted under some duress from the military when he tried to convince protesters to go home, then they may alter their understanding of him, especially as they see the military committing violence against the citizenry in the name of public order and security — very much like the hated Mubarak regime. Tamer, after all, is hardly a creature of the regime in the mold of Adel Imam, who is personally friendly with Mubarak and seems inescapably tied to the old regime. Tamer Hosny is, from what I can divine of his words and deeds, a self-promoting egotist who wants as many people as possible to love him. But this tendency means that, once he absorbed the lesson that the majority of Egyptians opposed the Mubarak regime, he was perfectly happy to support this view and direct his self-promotion to harmonize with pro-revolutionary sentiment. And, on the odds, the Egyptian public is going to bring him in from the cold sooner than later.