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Egyptians ‘True Muscle’ in Revolution and Hip-hop

posted on: Jul 19, 2013

BY: Suzanne Manneh/Contributing Writer

Editor’s note: Egypt has once again garnered global media attention following the popular uprising and ousting of the country’s fifth president, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3rd. Morsi— an Engineering professor at California State University, Northridge from 1982-1985— represented the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which was established in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s toppling, in February 2011. Morsi had faced growing criticisms, which he suggested were unfounded. As June 30, Morsi’s one-year anniversary in office, neared, Egyptians weary of seeing their country worsen took to the streets by the millions and launched a petition to unseat him. According to organizers, more than 22 million of the country’s 84 million signed on. Now, with an interim government, Egyptians remain determined in realizing the Egypt they say they deserve. But there is a key factor, which aims to educate and unify Egyptians, and the Arab World as a whole, while their struggles continue: Hip-hop. contributor Suzanne Manneh spoke with Arabian Knightz, Egypt’s premier hip-hop group—comprised of Sphinx, Rush and E-Money— about the current political climate, as well as the longstanding and increasingly growing role of hip-hop in the region. The group, which formed in 2006, has also established a record label, Arab League Records, and supports collaborations with other Arab artists, especially emphasizing such messages as unity, peace, and empowerment. Arabian Knightz recently completed European tours for their 2012 album “Uknighted State of Arabia,” and is currently working on new material. Where do you see Egypt today and what do you expect to see in the coming months?

Arabian Knightz: Egypt, right now, is where it was supposed to be in 2011. We strayed off the path we wanted with the revolution after 2011. Too many forces with more organization jumped over what we accomplished, and took it to their side, instead of fulfilling the revolution’s goals. The revolution now shows the whole world that we [all Egyptians] are the true muscle behind Egypt. Not the military, not the government. If any government tries to mess with our demands, we will take it down and redo it again; it’s not a problem.

If America, Israel and Hamas interfere, there will be a little bit of violence and the Army would have to jump in….in full force. We don’t want that. It would mean a blood bath. Once the situation is resolved—assuming that’s soon, because the military and Egyptians have low tolerance for this kind of terrorism— we will carry on with elections and write the constitution, but it will take time to get to where Egypt deserves to be.

Much like most Arab hip-hop, your music is significantly socially conscious. You address everything from the need for Muslims and Christians to forge stronger ties, to urging people not to be prisoners in their own lives. What are the responsibilities that accompany being such well-established musicians?

In Egypt and the Arab world, we have to give people awareness about not drifting to anybody with a beard and claims to be an Islamic scholar. That does not mean he is a representative of God. We have to remind people that God does not need an intermediary. God is everywhere, and listens to everybody. The book is with everybody: the Bible, the Koran, the Torah. There are a lot of things that Arabs could be fooled about, and it’s our responsibility when we notice these things, to put them in our music and let people know. In the time of turmoil, people are going to try to misinform [others] about religion and politics. But at the end of the day, people listen to music more than they do politics.

Thriving in the region since the 1990’s, hip-hop is not a new concept in Egypt or the rest of the Arab World. However, has it changed since the uprisings began in 2011?

It is moving forward, fast. It has become the true essence of hip-hop globally, and the world is noticing that. Hip-hop is about reality, and once America lost that, they lost a lot of respect worldwide. A lot of rappers in the U.S. who collaborate with us agree: hip-hop has moved [overseas]. One of our slogans is ‘hip-hop ain’t dead, it just moved to the Middle East, where the struggle is still alive.’

You have several well-known songs, and you are in the middle recording new material, but are there any that are especially significant?

‘Eid fi Eid’ (Hand in Hand) ‘Makshofeen’Sisters, Ehna Al Houkumeh (We Are the Government) and Prisoner. ‘Prisoner’ we made four years before the revolution. Suddenly the song started leaking out again in 2011. We heard it on people’s cell phones in Tahrir Square, and somebody actually said, ‘you [guys] look like you are into the hip-hop scene, maybe you should do what these guys are doing.’ He didn’t know it was us. But it was touching. ‘Eid fi Eid’ is another song. It was made around the same time the church burning in Imbaba happened. We realized that this was exactly where they were trying direct Egypt. The enemies of the revolution were trying to divide us, using religion and sectism.

You have a robust fan base, which extends beyond Egypt and the Arab World, and you often collaborate with other Arab rappers from throughout the region, as well. How has your music been received?

We’ve toured Denmark three times, and the entire United Kingdom, where Paul McCartney was in one of the lineups. People in London went crazy, screaming in support and solidarity, when they realized what was [draped over] like a cape during performances, was actually the Egyptian flag. The majority attending were non-Arabs and Muslims. Of course Arabs and Muslims attended, but the amount of Europeans said something. These are people who have not listened to Tupac or Bob Marley, [finally] listening to music with a message. We are proud of that. We have also stolen a lot of Justin Bieber fans. And right now, the older community [in Egypt] listens to us more and respects hip-hop. They joined the revolution later on, and see that the people who brought their freedom were a ‘bunch of little kids who listen to hip-hop.’

Egypt has garnered significant media attention in the past month, and still remains a trending discussion topic, especially in the West. But do you, as Egyptians, professional musicians and cultural ambassadors, see anything missing from the conversation?

Reality. Especially in the American media, because their approach is that they are taking sides. For example, announcing that it was a military coup, when there were 33 million people in the streets. That was an uprising, and the military reacted to the people. Media still refer to it as a military coup. Obama sent billions to support the Muslim Brotherhood. American media should stop lying about where [American] tax money is going. They are not using that money to fight terrorism; they are sponsoring it. These [extremist Islamic] groups are their projects and do not represent Muslims or Arabs at all. People who live abroad should pressure their governments to stop interfering in Middle Eastern politics, unless they interfere for the sake of the people.