CAIRO: The kitschy Egyptian singer who found international fame with the hit “I hate Israel and who attacked America and Saddam Hussein in song over the Iraq war has traded politics for pigs – bemoaning swine flu as the next disaster threatening Egypt.
The middle-aged Shaaban Abdel-Rehim, a former laundryman who was somehow thrust into an unlikely singing career a decade ago, appeared on Egyptian TV last week to sing of the dangers of swine flu – even though no cases of the disease have been reported in Egypt.
Appearing on a prime-time current affairs program on May 3 in a glittering neon green suit and shiny red shirt and gently swiveling his rotund midsection, Abdel-Rehim crooned: “We have yet another disaster; the situation is dangerous; that’s all we needed – swine flu.
He sings an uninspired melody on top of a generic Arabic pop beat like those heard blaring from Nile river party boats at night.
“It’s better for people to be healthy; to hell with the pigs; I hope they kill them, so people can feel safe; without police intervention and without strikes, he sings.
Declaring that the illness threatens humanity, he sang with apparent dread, It s spread to two countries already – America and Mexico!
Swine flu – and what some thought was the Egyptian government s misguided overreaction to the threat – became the talk of the town when authorities began slaughtering all of the country s 300,000 pigs on President Hosni Mubarak s orders a couple of weeks ago. Police clashed with those who raise the pigs in Cairo s slums, as world health authorities stressed that the mass slaughter was futile because the virus is being spread through humans.
Amid all the hubbub, Abdel-Rahim found new inspiration.
The song includes some helpful advice for the public and the authorities.
If you come across a pig or a sow, you need to quickly get the hell out of there; in every port and airport we need to write in large letters: You are not allowed to enter Egypt if you have a pig with you.
The awkward lyrics don t sound much better in Arabic.
Many dismiss Abdel-Rahim s love of the lowbrow, and the singer often seems to go out of his way to cultivate an image as a buffoon. He once proudly declared that he has some of his clothes tailored from furniture upholstery.
The popular singer, affectionately known as Shaabula, also once told a newspaper that – though he sang about them – he couldn t find the United States, Israel or Iraq on a map.
Even his lyricist, Islam Khalil, once said that he had explain to the singer the meaning of American hegemony, which appears in the lyrics of his anti-war song Hitting Iraq.
Yet, the masses can t seem to get enough of him.
I Hate Israel and Hitting Iraq were hits on the open and bootleg markets.
McDonald s even drafted him to sell their local specialty, McFalafel – though he was dropped after the controversy spawned by the anti-Israel song.
It s hard to tell how seriously Abdel-Rahim takes himself or if it s all done tongue in cheek. He performs Swine Flu without cracking a smile. And with apparent seriousness, he has done public service TV announcements featuring a song warning of the dangers of bird flu, a disease that did hit Egypt s economy hard and which claimed about two dozen lives here, the largest toll outside of the flu s center in southeast Asia.
His latest song is getting fairly modest attention on the Internet so far. Swine Flu – with English subtitles – topped 8,000 views on YouTube by Sunday after only a few days.
It s a shame people are dying because of pigs and chickens, he sings. So what if some pigs die? It s better than wearing masks over our mouths and noses. . It s better for people to be healthy – to hell with the pigs.