Clair Herman

Read the first page below or click here to read the entire essay: Clair Herman – Egyptian Revolution: The Music of Reform


On January 31, 2013 National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Leila Fadel broadcasted an interview with Omar Kamal, devout Salafi turned beat boxer in Cairo, Egypt. Kamal was a drug addict and a drummer who decided he wanted more out of his life and searched for fulfillment in Salafi Islam. The Salafist sect is a very traditional, strict and conservative form of Islam which, among other things, discourages its followers from playing music – especially the kind of angst-filled rock that Kamal was playing. In an attempt to find direction, Kamal gave up his music and followed the religion to the letter, obeying the rules the leaders set in place for him and dedicating himself to this new lifestyle. The new life required him to accept new values and limits on his behavior and character; more specifically it required a musician to stop playing music and give up a passion.

Shortly after, protests broke out in Egypt calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. His regime had never supported the Salafist religion, and under his rule Salafi Muslims endured persecution and turmoil. Despite the previous maltreatment, the Salafist leaders advised their followers not to participate in the protest demonstrations and to avoid the conflict. Omar Kamal was surprised to see the leaders take such a hypocritical stance after all the harassment they had borne in the past years. He decided to leave his religious path to join the revolution and fight against Mubarak. Once he joined the protests, he went back to his music finding that not only could he express his anger against the government, but he could also express his confusions and frustrations about his religious experience and his identity crisis.

His return to a musician’s lifestyle served as an outlet that gave Kamal that sense of fulfillment that he searched for in religion. While still a devout Muslim, Kamal claims that the Salafis must adapt to the new Egyptian culture and support the changes it is undergoing if the religion wants support and followers. He states in the NPR interview, “the people aren’t stupid and they won’t believe you, just because you claim that God is on your side.” This clash between modernization and traditionalism is part of the reason why music is thriving so well in revolutionary Egypt. Musicians and fans draw from a plethora of musical genres and with this spectrum of musical styles, there is a song that speaks to everyone.


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