26 February 2013

Tunisia Probes 'Harlem Shake' Dance

Egyptian youth have used the Harlem Shake dance craze to protest against the lack of changes in their government. ( Resource: Egypt Youth Protest Using Harlem Shake )

Tunis — The education ministry's decision to investigate a Tunisian "Harlem Shake" video caused widespread criticism.

The Tunisian Education Ministry on Monday (February 25th) ordered a probe into a "Harlem Shake" dance video recorded at a Tunis high school.

"The ministry of education has demanded an investigation and the department will take appropriate measures," Education Minister Abdellatif Abid told Radio Mosaique.

He said there could be possible "expulsions" of students or "sacking" of educational staff involved in the staging of the dance.

The YouTube video features students from the Imam Muslim High School in the Menzah 6 district. Some are seen dancing in shorts, while others wear fake beards and tunics to mimic radical salafists. (Click here to see the Tunis Harlem Shake video).

"What happened is an insult to the educational message and whoever contributed will be held responsible," Abid said.

"The ministry is not antagonistic toward cultural activity within educational institutions, whatever their nature is," Abid stated. "But it is keen to make sure that these activities take place under the supervision of officials from within the institution."

The Secondary Education Trade Union also condemned the "Harlem Shake" dance as "unacceptable".

Still, the minister's decision caused widespread criticism. Many blogs and social media sites decried his position as a restriction on the freedom of expression.

The minister was also assailed by bloggers and several media sites for overlooking the recent salafist occupation of schools around the country.

Last month, salafists took over a Kairouan high school. They raised their flag on the school grounds and invited proselytisers. A call for jihad was also made inside one of the high schools in Ezzahra, in the governorate of Ben Arous.

The swift action against the student dance did not go unnoticed in the Tunisian press.

"What is annoying in this incident is that our dear minister never dared lift a finger when schools were attacked by religious extremists calling students to jihad. This happened recently in schools Zaghouan, Ben Arous and Ezzahra," Kapitalis editorialised on Monday.

Dance professor and former director of the Tunisian League of Artistic Dance Ismahene Chaari condemned the education ministry's decision.

"The men who invaded the political media platforms have to understand that Tunisians are fed up with politics, especially the youth," she told the press. "It is unfortunate that they ignore young people today, for youths are the ones who gave them freedom."

Journalist Mekki Hlal was equally critical of what he perceived as the education ministry's double standard.

"They are afraid of dance, beauty and love of life, yet they do not move when salafist orders raid secondary schools and separate the pupils," he said.

As a challenge to the education minister's decision, several groups of dancers on Monday performed in high schools, universities and on the street.

Facebook users reacted to the minister's statements by launching a call for a mass "Harlem Shake" in front of the Ministry of Education this Friday.

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