The Egyptian crooner Ehab Tawfiq has bedroom eyes, smouldering good looks and a voice that enchants Arab audiences.
Sadly he won’t be perfoming any time soon in Yemen, where he has been blocked by a controversial new Saudi-style “religious police” charged with enforcing austere standards of public morality. Tawfiq sings catchily about love and relationships. But a concert he was due to give in Sana’a was postponed and then cancelled last month after a campaign by the country’s newly-formed “virtue committee”, which distributed posters and leaflets — and, say some, encouraged death threats and intimidation — condemning the handsome Egyptian for promoting “sedition, immorality and nudity”.
For many Yemenis, and for women in particular, this was another alarming sign of the growth of Salafi extremism — an unwelcome import from neighbouring Saudi Arabia where the “mutaween” religious police are part of the scenery.
“These people scare the hell out of me,” complained Nadia al-Sakkaf, the editor of the Yemen Times. “Yemeni youth are frustrated and depressed. There’s nothing for them to do. And since when did we need to act against pop singers?”
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