Egyptian singer Sherine Abdel-Wahab is no stranger to stirring controversy, and her recent criticism of Egypt's crackdown on free speech has landed her in trouble with authorities. 

During her performance in Bahrain, the 38-year-old singer said:

"Here I can speak freely, for if I did in Egypt, I may be put in prison." 

The singer was in Bahrain as part of the country's Spring Culture Festival and performed alongside Majid Al Muhandis on Mar. 14. On Friday, the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate banned the singer from performing in her home country - the second time it does so. It also ordered she be interrogated. 

Samir Sabry, a pro-government lawyer, filed a complaint against the singer. In it, he accused Abdel-Wahab of "insulting Egypt and inviting suspicious rights groups to interfere in Egypt's affairs."

According to The National, the singer could face criminal charges and a possible jail sentence if convicted. A meeting will be held on Mar. 27 to investigate the incident.

"And thus Egypt proved her point"

The singer has since apologized

In a tweet following the backlash, the singer wrote:

"I want to reach out to my beloved people, family, friends and colleagues who were able to understand and believe that I never intended to harm my country. I apologize with all my heart for the misunderstandings that may have had you believe otherwise."

Sherine also issued an apology during a televised interview with MBC's Amr Adeeb. 

"I am being victimized. I appeal to the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, who is our father. I say to him that this is a conspiracy against me. I am sorry, but it is inconceivable that my patriotism should be questioned," she said. 


An Arabic hashtag titled #StandingWithSherine saw hundreds of people stand in solidarity with the Egyptian singer.

Not the singer's first ban

In Nov. 2017, the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate temporarily banned Sherine from performing in her native country. This came after a video of her "mocking Egypt" circulated online. Her comments came in response to a fan's request to sing Mashrebtesh min Nelha (Have you ever drank the water of the Nile). 

"I would catch Bilharzia ... better drink Evian instead," she said.

Schistosomiasis – also known as snail fever and bilharzia – is a disease caused by parasitic flatworms called schistosomes usually found in contaminated waters. The disease is endemic in Egypt, exacerbated by the country's dam and irrigation projects along the Nile. The Egyptian Ministry of Health (MOH) has undertaken large campaigns to control its spread. 

Months after the comments were made, an Egyptian court sentenced the singer to six months in jail. The star was ordered to pay a 5,000 Egyptian Pounds ($283) bail in order to stay out of jail until the appeal process was complete. She was also fined an additional amount of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($566). 

The sentence was revoked on appeal.

Egypt's crackdown on free speech

In 2017, a Press Freedom report revealed that the Middle East and North Africa is the world's worst region for press freedom.

The report investigated freedom of media and journalists in 180 countries and found that "democracies, as well as dictatorships, had increasingly clamped down on press freedom."

Following the release of the report, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) described Egypt as "one of the world's biggest prisons for journalists" coming in at No. 161 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index ranking. In 2018, Egypt's place in the ranking remained the same. 

The Egyptian government's crackdowns on reporters, political activists, and social reformers have drawn condemnation from international human rights organizations and western governments.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the number of detained peaceful dissidents has increased to "the tens of thousands" under the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, with at least 20 journalists in detention as of April 2018. 

HRW thus called upon Egyptian authorities to respect the freedom of expression and release political prisoners and journalists.

According to media outlets, Egyptian authorities have been using powerful security agencies to censor newspapers and broadcasters as well as prosecuting those who violate their standards.

The 2014 Egyptian Constitution protects "freedom of expression"

Egypt's constitution, drafted in 2014, explicitly guarantees freedom of artistic and literary creation, freedom of thought and opinion, and freedom of the press. 

Article 67 forbids the jailing of artists and writers for publishing their work.

"Every person shall have the right to express his/her opinion verbally, in writing, through imagery, or by any other means of expression and publication," the constitution states.

However, many have gone against the constitution with the enforcement of other laws, including Article 178 of the penal code, which criminalizes content that violates public morals.