Running throughout al-Ghayti’s arguments, in fact, are a number of ideological threads that are frequently articulated by members of Egypt’s nationalist intelligentsia. One theme is the danger posed by Israel. Although the Egyptian government signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1977, most of the intelligentsia has vigorously opposed normalization (tatbi‘) of Israeli-Egyptian relations. As Richard Jacquemond (1997) observes, “The only single issue capable of bringing together Islamists, liberals, Nasserists and Marxists is the rejection of ‘cultural normalisation’ with Israel. That is also the only terrain on which the young literary and artistic avant-garde—otherwise hostile to all ideologies—is willing to express an explicit political engagement.” Egyptian universities, for instance, continue to boycott Israeli scholars, and although Israel established an academic center in Cairo in the early 1980s, it remains unthinkable for an Israeli scholar to deliver a public lecture at any Egyptian university. Indeed, numerous significant issues continue to animate anti-Israeli feelings and receive extensive coverage in the press. However, although there is considerable apprehension regarding Israel’s policies and its interest in dominating Egypt, there is not much coverage of Israel’s considerable economic activities in Egypt. It is hardly known, for instance, that Israeli investors are leasing land and growing commercial agricultural produce in the Egyptian Delta, and it may well be that the government tries to prevent such activities from being publicized. Instead, anxieties about Israel’s aims and power are displaced onto the linked domains of culture and morality, such that the press is constantly churning out inflammatory stories, many of them delusionary, about Israel’s efforts to conquer Egypt and the Arab world culturally and to corrupt their morals.
Typical of such incendiary sensationalism is the report that appeared in the Nasserite newspaper al-‘Arabi in February 1996 discussing an Israeli cigarette sold within the Palestine National Authority and said to be about to appear on the Egyptian market (“Waqaha Isra’iliyya”). The article, which reproduces the emblem on the cigarette package depicting two men driving a chariot, tells us that the men are wearing distinctive American hats, that they are riding in an Egyptian chariot drawn by Arabian horses, and that one holds a whip whose lash hangs so as to form the Arabic word Misr (Egypt). In sum, Uncle Sam is deploying an Egyptian whip to control the Arabs, and the entire scenario is devised by the Israelis. One encounters the same Israeli arrogance and vision, the piece concludes, in the statements of (then) Israeli foreign minister Ehud Barak and in the trademark on an Israeli cigarette package. Although the notice is bizarre and its interpretation of the emblem fanciful, it is symptomatic of deep-seated Egyptian fears (especially as articulated by many in the national intelligentsia) about Israeli official attitudes, policies, and designs. These must be kept in mind to understand both the appeal of and the resistance to Danna International in Egypt.
In a similar vein, al-Ghayti elaborates quite obsessively on another aspect of Israeli aggression: the sexual threat it poses to the Egyptian bedroom. One of the means he uses to convey this “danger” is to misrepresent the sexiness of Danna’s lyrics both through wild exaggeration and strategic mistranslation. The song that al-Ghayti calls an “unambiguous call for prostitution and immorality,” for instance, is in fact a wedding song, sung from the position of the bride. This is made obvious not only by the lyrics—in Arabic Danna sings, “Ana al-‘arusa” (I’m the bride), and in English, “Going to a honeymoon”—but also by the music (which features the ululations typical of Arab wedding celebrations) and by the very name of the song, which—as I learned once I obtained the CD from Israel—is “‘Arusa” (Bride). When Danna sings “Ana al-‘arusa,” al-Ghayti transcribes this as “Ana al-talmiza” (I’m the student), implying that the singer is asking for lessons in sex. When Danna sings “giving me money” in English, referring to the money gifts traditionally offered at Arab wedding ceremonies, al-Ghayti translates this as “wa-taddini al-falus” (you give me money), implying prostitution, or sexual services in return for money. If the song “‘Arusa” is in any way “deviant,” it is because the singer is not “really” a woman, a fact that al-Ghayti seems either to overlook or to ignore. Al-Ghayti’s notion that another song concerns an encounter between a woman and a dog is the product of the fertile imagination of the antipornographer. As for the number that is supposed to represent an attack on all Semitic religions, it is simply a remake of Queen’s inoffensively campy “The Show Must Go On”: the English lyrics Danna sings are “Show must go on / Inside my heart is breaking / My makeup may be flaking / But my smile still stays on.” All this is not to say that Danna’s tape is devoid of sexiness (al-Ghayti is correct to interpret Danna’s screams as orgasmic, but these are much less ubiquitous than he claims) but to underscore the symptomatically hysterical and displaced character of al-Ghayti’s attack.
Curiously, al-Ghayti’s account of the classical homophobic topos of sexual penetration focuses on the aggressive and wanton Western-Israeli female who seduces the innocent young Egyptian male. The theme of the Western male who sexually threatens the Egyptian woman (or man) is mostly absent, in fact, from Egypt’s journalistic, filmic, or literary discourse. But the theme of the Egyptian man victimized by a predatory Western woman is to be found in works of modern Egyptian fiction dating back at least to the 1940s as well as to the first Egyptian film (Layla, 1927). Today’s moral-sexual panic about the voracious and corrupting Western (and now, Israeli) woman, however, is much more virulent and widespread than in the past. AIDS, for instance, is widely represented by Egyptian agencies of public meaning as a disease that Egyptians contract when male nationals are ensnared by loose Western women. A 1992 film called al-Hubb fi Taba (Love in Taba), which, despite its artistic wretchedness, airs frequently on state television, is typical of this official story. It recounts the tale of three naive Egyptian youths who are willingly seduced and entrapped by three young libertine Western women while on holiday in Taba, a small resort in the Sinai peninsula that sits right on the border with Israel. When the foreign women depart for home, each leaves a note informing her lover that he is now infected with AIDS. It is significant that these events occur at Taba, for the Egyptian media frequently depicts the Sinai peninsula as a wild and dangerous frontier zone through which Israeli corruption enters the Nile Valley, and al-Ghayti explicitly names it as the corridor through which Danna’s cassettes have “penetrated.” Meanwhile, the opposition press and word of mouth assert that AIDS is being broadcast in Egypt by prostitutes dispatched there for that purpose by the Israeli government (see “Isra’il tuharib” 1995; AbuKhalil 1993, 34). It is popularly believed in Egypt that if a man has sex with a “foreign,” that is, Western, woman, he is in danger of contracting a sexually transmitted disease and so needs to wear a condom. A public service announcement shown frequently on state television manages simultaneously to provide accurate information about HIV transmission and to suggest, through its visual imagery, that the main danger of infection occurs when Egyptian males go abroad and are stalked by prostitutes. The iconographic image is reinforced by an explicit statement that AIDS is a “foreign” phenomenon, that the Egyptian traveler should beware, and that “abroad they use such things as condoms and other methods to help prevent AIDS, but here there is no fear of such things because the principles which our youths believe in protect them from such evil.” The spot concludes with a verse from the Qur’an.
The announcement’s anxious tone, however, undercuts the confident assertions about Egyptian youths and their deep-seated moral principles. And for al-Ghayti, the “evil” does not just lie in foreign lands or frontier regions but menaces the very heart of the nation. The focal point of the “danger,” however, is strictly heterosexual cross-cultural encounters. Al-Ghayti does not suggest that “perverts” (homosexuals or transsexuals) constitute the true threat to Egypt, for he assumes that such people simply do not exist there. What Danna’s transsexuality and deviance serve to underscore instead is simply the repulsive character of her sexual success in Egypt. In this regard the transgendered Danna is like her hero the international sex symbol Madonna, who is also both very popular and very controversial in Egypt and, although more or less legal, equally loathsome—not least, as al-Ghayti notes, because Madonna herself is not “really” biologically female. Transsexuality and queerness serve here to underscore the fact that the Western/Israeli sexual assault is not merely corrupting but that its very foundations are perverse and deviant. The challenge posed by Western mass culture, as exemplified by Elvis, Michael Jackson, James Dean, Madonna, and Danna, is essentially moral and sexual.