In spite of its veneer of westernisation, Egypt is becoming more deeply conservative, especially as far as attitudes towards the role of women are concerned. The duality of Egyptian society in 1993 is apparent in many areas of life but the division is strikingly apparent at traditional wedding ceremony celebrations, at which veiled women, or muhagabaat, are juxtaposed with the scantily clad belly dancing entertainers who have long played an important role in such events.
Top class belly dancers such as Fifi Abdou and Soheir Zaki are as highly revered in Egypt as some of the country's national monuments but an increasing affiliation with the more conservative elements of the Islamic identity, can pose problems for their audiences.
Recent media reports from Cairo indicate the appearance of professional dancers at weddings is less popular than previously because of the growth of religious fundamentalist feeling. However, a recent visit to the Egyptian capital proved the reverse to be true, the entertainment industry, is thriving and dance is still considered a traditional embellishment to any wedding ceremony. If anything belly dancers are getting even more risque. Nightclub shows are gradually becoming more raunchy and wedding celebration performances follow suit.
Yet at the same time there is a subtle but pervasive mood of increasing Islamicisation in Egypt. Increasing numbers of veiled women are visible in all classes of society. Wearing the veil is not only an indicator of Muslim identity but also a status symbol. It has again become fashionable. Yet, if there is any dilemma involved for women attending weddings, as they sit covered from head to foot watching the type of sensual entertainment considered customary on these occasions, it is not apparent to the observer.
While some families will choose singers rather than belly dancers to mark the occasion of a marriage, they are far outnumbered by those who still prefer the traditional method of celebrating. As one woman guest explained: "Dancing is happiness, at weddings people dance for joy!" Those who cannot afford the expense of a lavish feast and professional entertainment will frequently book a table at a nightclub in order to have their marriage "blessed" by a belly dancer.
In order to comprehend the logic of this it is important to understand that the dancers at a wedding represent not only the joy of the union between the bride and groom but also the sensuality of the event. An...