A popular Egyptian singer has been banned from performing and could face a jail sentence after claiming that her country does not respect freedom of speech.
Sherine Abdel Wahab, who is also a judge on the Arabic version of The Voice, was giving a concert in Bahrain when she remarked: "Here I can say whatever I want. In Egypt, anyone who talks gets imprisoned."
After a video clip of her comments circulated online, Egypt’s Musicians Union moved to silence the singer, popularly known as Sherine, by barring her from the stage in the country. It has also summoned her for questioning on Wednesday.
Sherine could also face jail after being reported to prosecutors by a pro-government lawyer with a reputation for moral vigilantism and suing celebrities. Samir Sabry filed a complaint accusing the singer of "insulting Egypt and inviting suspicious rights groups to interfere in Egypt’s affairs".
The singer found herself at the centre of a similar controversy last year over a clip from a concert in which she quipped that the Nile is polluted. Sherine apologised for the remark, calling it a "bad joke", but was nevertheless handed a six month prison sentence – later suspended on appeal.
Amid the furore over her comments in Bahrain, Sherine again apologised for what she said was a joke.
In a TV interview aired late on Friday, she appealed to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi for mercy and insisted upon her loyalty to her country.
"I am very tired. I made a mistake. I am sorry. I appeal to the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, who is our father. I feel that I was persecuted. I did nothing. I love Egypt," the singer said.
But Hany Shaker, the artist who heads the Egyptian Musicians Union, rejected her explanation. He said he had previously told Sherine to stop telling jokes on stage, which was a place for singing only, and informed her that she did not have a good sense of humour.
“Sherine’s last mistake – making fun of the Nile River – was a big one, and here is another catastrophe," Shaker said, according to the Egypt Independent.
Egyptian authorities have drawn international criticism over its crackdown on dissent since Mr Sisi led the military overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Media is dominated by pro-government outlets that denounce any perceived criticism of the country or its leaders, and jail sentences or fines for such "crimes" are common.
Mr Sabri claims to have filed thousands of lawsuits against high-profile figures over alleged immorality. In January, the actress Rania Youssef was forced to appear in court after he accused her of "inciting debauchery" by wearing a revealing dress to Cairo’s Film Festival, while a complaint against a popular TV presenter for interviewing a gay sex worker resulted in a year-long jail sentence.