Umm Kulthum's 'Islamicized' Statue
Umm Kulthum's 'Islamicized' StatueScreenshot

In many ways, the Arab Spring that Westerners thought would bring democracy to the Middle East has actually been the prelude to an Islamic revolution that seems set on sweeping away all opposition to the harshest of Islamist tenets – even at the expense of much of the culture that the Arab world has held dear for decades.

Among the latest victims of the new Islamist atmosphere in Egypt is the “first lady of Arabic song,” Umm Kulthum, who is regarded as the greatest female Arabic singer of the 20th century, or perhaps ever. She had hundreds of hits and was responsible for integrating Western and Arabic singing and musical styles. It was around her style of singing that the large orchestras today identified with Arabic music, sometimes consisting of many dozens of musicians, were developed. She was also a pioneer in Arabic film, starring in dozens of movies in which she sang love songs. Nearly 30 years after her death in 1975, her records still sell in the millions annually.

Whether because her songs were mostly secular in nature, or because she was a female, there have been calls among some of the more radical Islamists recently to ban her music. Although the current regime in Egypt has made no such call, numerous supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, both on the internet and in Friday speeches in mosques, have called on Muslims to stop listening to her music.

While a ban is unlikely, Islamists have done what they apparently believe to be the next best thing – dressing Umm Kulthum in full female Arabic caftan, a “nikab.” The covering was placed on a statue of Umm Kulthum, in the Egyptian town of Mansoura. The incident apparently occurred over the weekend. Muslim Brotherhood supporters distributed photos over the Internet.

According to one of her biographers, revolutionaries in Egypt in the early 1950s sought to ban her music, because of her close ties to the deposed King Farouk, who in 1952 was overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Nasser got wind of the proposed ban, he nixed it – saying that the Egyptian people would immediately turn against the revolution if the music was banned.