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Cats and dogs, water and electricity, wine and cheeseburgers, some things just don’t mix. But how about heavy metal and the Middle East? What may seem like a strange combination to outside observers apparently isn’t so on the ground.
21-year-old Lina is a student in her final year of university. She may not look like a typical heavy metal fan, and she is a devout Muslim, but apparently that doesn’t stop her from singing in a doom metal band. The music focuses on themes of depression, fear and grief. Lina and her band mates see no contradiction between their music and their faith.
Lina El-Gohary, vocalist, said, "Some people think that you can’t fulfill your religious duty by praying regularly or worshipping your creator and still be into heavy metal. But I see no link between the two. I really care about my relationship with God, but my musical tastes are not involved in this. At the end of the day I keep these parts of my life separate."
But in Egypt, state and local media are deeply suspicious of the music. Many people find it offensive - incompatible with their culture and values. In the past, members of the heavy metal scene have even been accused of devil worship. A media witch-hunt ultimately resulted in the arrest of hundreds of teenagers and university students.
Tarek Ahmed, bassist, said, "The obstacles we have faced were actually an important experience that ultimately enriched our music. Youth can seldom follow their dreams because there is usually someone trying to stop them. This applies to the Middle East in general, not just Egypt. These struggles have been woven into our music. We believe that everyone has the right to be who they want to be."
Similar acts are blooming all across Cairo. And the scene is expanding more rapidly than most thought it would. A typical night at a central Cairo venue sees hundreds of head banging fans. And it’s an opportunity for the bands too... who are finally getting a bit of a chance to move from rehearsal rooms to the public sphere. Still, there are challenges.
Ayman Azab, metal music fan, said, "We need new heavy metal bands in the country, and the scene generally needs more attention from the media. As things stand, fans still don’t have access to enough information. This is why heavy metal remains underground in Egypt and why negative stereotypes about it still persist. People are afraid of it."
That push for publicity may ultimately mean greater adversity for some, but it seems these rockers are sticking to their guns. Their hope is that someday the music will transcend all bounds.