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Belly Busting

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This story caught my eye because just two days ago, Spousal Unit and I were walking around at the local shopping mall when we happened upon a small kiosk offering belly-dancing accoutrements for sale. It was wonderful: There were sheer scarves that felt so soft to the touch, a collection of instructional videos (which I want for my upcoming birthday), even those marvelous brass finger cymbals known as zils or zagat. SU made a comment about how cool it would be to sit in an Egyptian or Moroccan club to watch a bevy of gorgeous exotic women twirling around. I had to agree wholeheartedly.

Well, if we ever get to Egypt, it appears we may be limited to gawking at local talent. The Associated Press reports that the Egyptian government has banned all foreign belly dancers.

The government says it wants to protect homegrown practitioners of the seductive Middle Eastern dance form and is no longer granting new work permits to foreign dancers or renewing existing ones.

The victims, who include Europeans and Americans, say it’s unfair and illogical, and they are backed by one of the Arab world’s most respected dancers, Nagwa Fouad, who is urging the government to reverse its ban.

“There is not enough Egyptian talent, so obviously people need foreigners,” says Palestinian-born Fouad, who retired from dancing in 1997 after a career of four decades.

“There has always been a mix of Egyptian and foreign belly dancers here. Why should this change?”

What makes the move particularly curious is the fact that Egyptian society is growing less comfortable with the idea of scantily dressed Muslim women gyrating in public. That being the case, it does not make sense to boot willing non-Muslim performers.

But government officials say morality is not the issue. “Belly dancing is an Egyptian thing and is not a hard job,” Nawal al-Naggar of the Ministry of Labor and Immigration told AP. “It is not hard to find belly dancers from Egypt. There are too many foreign belly dancers in Egypt working at nightclubs.”

Hassan Akef, a leading dancers’ agent, agrees. A supporter of the ban, Akef says the job market has been flooded with foreign performers, who mostly hail from Russia and the Ukraine. “They don’t give the Egyptians any chance,” he said.

Some foreign performers are fighting back. Two belly dancers, one from Russia and one from Australia, are taking the matter to court — according to them, the new prohibition is unfair. And a French performer has asked her government to try and convince Egypt to reconsider.

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