In artistic settings like cinema and TV shows, it’s no secret that actors’ stardom has long been affected by their political views. More recently, this trend has mutated into the cancel culture phenomenon. Filmmakers and celebrities find themselves cancelled, declared persona non grata, or even losing their livelihood because their opinions on any number of subjects have been declared to be offensive or unpopular.
“The artist cannot be a politician.” Whoever tries to combine art and politics will fail. There are many stars that were very popular, but when they engaged in politics, they wasted their artistic energy in political theorizing and lost a lot of their audience.
We are not arguing that the artist should not have political opinions, but we believe this could be possible only through a work of art. Poets, for example, express their opinions through poems; singers could do the same through songs; etc. The history of Egyptian drama, in general, is inseparable from the political reality and the issues of society. In every era in Egypt, we find works of art that discuss life in all its political, economic, and social details, not through revealing their frank opinions on media outlets.
At the top of the list of those artists was actress Elham Shaheen. She has been negatively affected by her political views. It all started when she attacked the 25 January Revolution, describing it as a conspiracy. She also opposed the Muslim Brotherhood when it was in power and went out to attack them on all platforms and TV channels. She even said after the June Revolution, “If that decisive moment, when Al-Sisi expelled the Brotherhood, had not come, I would have committed suicide.” The veteran actress was a victim of defamation and media offense for years by Brotherhood-affiliated media outlets and supporters on social media.
Recently, Shaheen stirred controversy due to her new TV series “Bitlou Al-Rouh”, which has been released in the middle of Ramadan, and which sheds light on terrorist organizations, specifically ISIS.
The story of the series was not the cause of controversy and denunciation, because it is natural to shed light on the practices of terrorist organizations and raise public awareness. However, Shaheen’s appearance in the series, wearing the organization’s outfit, and putting on a badge that reads “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God” was the reason for the controversy.
Shaheen believes that the work presents an important message, especially her character (Umm Jihad), the female leader of ISIS. It’s a woman who fights alongside men. It’s a strong and violent character. Shaheen said the role was complex and repulsive, but at the same time, it sends an important moral and intellectual message to the audience.
Tamer Abdel Moneim
Egyptian actor Tamer Abdel Moneim was badly affected by his opposition to the January Revolution, which he described as a setback, and his desperate support of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime. He was cancelled in the art scene for a long time. However, he kept working as a producer and actor.
Tayseer Fahmy was considered one of the important actresses of the 1980s and 1990s. She participated in the January Revolution, and was accused by some of implementing an American political agenda in Egypt, because her husband had an American citizenship.
In 2013, Tayseer Fahmy announced her retirement in order to run in the parliamentary elections at that time, via her “Equality and Development” party. But she could not realize her political dream, and the party is currently inactive.
Egyptian actor Amr Waked has been opposing the Egyptian government for years via social media. Due to his political views, he lost his popularity and has been cancelled in Egypt. In 2019, Waked was sentenced to eight years in prison for spreading false news and insulting state institutions. He has been re-siding in Spain since October 2017.
The situation was no different with Egyptian actor Khaled Abul-Naga, who also supported the January Revolution, and voiced his opposition to the Egyptian government. Because of his political stances, he has lost his popularity and has been cancelled in Egypt.
Egyptian actress Jihan Fadel was badly affected by her support to the January Revolution, as she lost her livelihood in Egypt and was forced to retire and migrate to Canada. She reportedly suffered financially and worked as a saleswoman in a small store.
Egyptian actor Mahmoud Kabil was also one of the most important artists who paid the price for his political views. Kabil was an army officer and participated in the 1973 war. He shined in the TV and cinema scene in the 1980s and 1990s, but he was forced to retire because of his support for the Camp David Agreement.
Egyptian actor Abdelaziz Makhyoun joined the opposition movement “Kifaya” during the reign of Mubarak and participated in the January Revolution. His stardom faded away for years, but later he decided to keep his political views unannounced and gradually returned to the acting scene.
Syrian singer Asala was affected by her opposition to the Syrian regime. She was prevented from entering her country and was accused of financing armed groups in Syria. Asala made it clear that she did not finance any armed groups, and she only supported humanitarian aid in Syria.
Contrary to Asala’s position, Syrian actress Raghda desperately defended the Syrian regime and President Bashar al-Assad. This position angered opponents of Bashar’s regime, and she was heavily attacked by the audience. Raghda has been active politically which negatively affected her artistic history.
Lebanese singer Fadel Shaker was also cancelled due to his political stance. In 2013 and after an illustrious career as a singer, he joined the ranks of imam-turned-terrorist Ahmed al-Assir and participated in the attacks on the Lebanese army which later evolved into the 2013 Sidon clash. As of 2013, he is a wanted fugitive by the Lebanese government and has hidden in Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. On 16 December 2020, he was sentenced in absentia to a total of 22 years of imprisonment by a Lebanese Military Tribunal. Later, he expressed remorse for his actions and returned to art with some songs released online.