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Haifa Wehbe: Controversy Over 'Nubian Monkey' Song

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI   11/19/09 03:39 PM ET   AP

Nubian Monkey Song

CAIRO — A famous Lebanese pop singer, who normally stirs controversy for her seductive dresses and provocative dancing, has now been accused of singing a song with racist lyrics that compares black Egyptians to monkeys.

Haifa Wehbe, considered by many as one of the sexiest women in the Arab world, has the minority Nubian community in Egypt distraught over her latest children's album "Baby Haifa" and the community's activists have launched several lawsuits over the lyrics.

The Nubians took issue with a verse in the song "Where is Daddy?" in which Wehbe croons: "Where is my teddy bear and my Nubian monkey?"

The line, Nubian representatives say, infers that members of the black Egyptian minority are monkeys. In November, they slapped separate lawsuits on the singer, her record label and Wehbe's Egyptian song writer.

"It may not be intentional racism on the part of the song writer, but it is still highly racist and offensive," said Motez Isaaq, with the Committee for Nubian Issues.

Nubians come from the southernmost region of present-day Egypt, where a culture later known as Nubian first arose around 3,800 B.C. along the Nile and in northern Sudan. It was one of Africa's earliest black civilizations, complete with an independent kingdom.

Isaaq said that stereotypes of minorities are so entrenched that referring to them in popular culture media is frequently done unconsciously.

"We are one of the oldest civilizations on earth," said Isaaq. "Instead, our image is constantly perpetuated as the uneducated doorman or waiter."

Isaaq alleged that Nubians are discriminated against because of their darker skin, and stressed that the community still holds in painful memory the political oppression in the 1960s, when the Egyptian government forced tens of thousands of Nubians to leave their homes and resettle elsewhere in southern Egypt, to make way for the building of the High Dam, 425 miles (685 kilometers) south of Cairo.

Wehbe has in the past tested the limits of a conservative Middle Eastern culture for her revealing outfits, suggestive lyrics and dancing.

But this time, Isaaq said the danger of her song is that it targets children.

"Kids can soak up the lyrics so quickly," he said. "They could start calling their Nubian classmates monkeys."

Isaaq's group has held protests against the song, he said, and is also suing Egypt's culture minister and the country's state censorship board for allowing Wehbe's latest album to be on the Egyptian market.

The Nubians want a formal apology and an end to airing the song in Egypt, Isaaq said, expressing also hope that the action would change the way other Egyptians treat their Nubian fellow countrymen.

"Egyptians have to stop treating us as second class citizens," he said. "We are the original Egyptians and the country needs to remember it."

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Filed by Adam J. Rose  |