Tunisians and Egyptians fight for their right to ‘Harlem Shake’

As some wise men once said, "You’ve got to fight for your right to party." Or, for that matter, to do the "Harlem Shake." For the uninitiated, the Harlem Shake is an Internet meme in which a masked individual dances to Baauer’s "Harlem Shake" while surrounded by people who appear to be oblivious — when ...

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

As some wise men once said, "You've got to fight for your right to party." Or, for that matter, to do the "Harlem Shake."

For the uninitiated, the Harlem Shake is an Internet meme in which a masked individual dances to Baauer's "Harlem Shake" while surrounded by people who appear to be oblivious -- when the bass drops, the video cuts to everyone in the room dancing everything but the actual Harlem Shake dance. Costumes and stripping to one's underwear are encouraged. It is weird, and, mercifully, appears to have jumped the shark in the United States. But it's gathering steam abroad (check out this "Freedom Shake" in Estonia, for example).

In fact, the phenomenon is causing problems in Egypt and Tunisia, where newly elected conservative parties have pushed back against the meme. In Cairo, four university students were arrested for indecent exposure while filming a Harlem Shake video in their underwear. And in Tunisia, a Harlem Shake video (which also features the horse dance popularized last year by Psy's "Gangnam Style") made at a high school has prompted an investigation by the minister of education, who said that proper permissions were not granted for the video and that, "What happened is an insult to the educational message and whoever contributed will be held responsible."

As some wise men once said, "You’ve got to fight for your right to party." Or, for that matter, to do the "Harlem Shake."

For the uninitiated, the Harlem Shake is an Internet meme in which a masked individual dances to Baauer’s "Harlem Shake" while surrounded by people who appear to be oblivious — when the bass drops, the video cuts to everyone in the room dancing everything but the actual Harlem Shake dance. Costumes and stripping to one’s underwear are encouraged. It is weird, and, mercifully, appears to have jumped the shark in the United States. But it’s gathering steam abroad (check out this "Freedom Shake" in Estonia, for example).

In fact, the phenomenon is causing problems in Egypt and Tunisia, where newly elected conservative parties have pushed back against the meme. In Cairo, four university students were arrested for indecent exposure while filming a Harlem Shake video in their underwear. And in Tunisia, a Harlem Shake video (which also features the horse dance popularized last year by Psy’s "Gangnam Style") made at a high school has prompted an investigation by the minister of education, who said that proper permissions were not granted for the video and that, "What happened is an insult to the educational message and whoever contributed will be held responsible."

In the words of Twisted Sister, Egyptian and Tunisian students aren’t gonna take it anymore. Students at the Tunisian high school refused to attend classes yesterday and hackers trolled the Education Ministry’s website with another meme — a grinning face with the caption, "U MAD?" Students in both Tunisia and Egypt have even organized protests: On Thursday, Egyptians will gather outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo, and on Friday Tunisians will meet at the Ministry of Education in Tunis — and then dance the Harlem Shake.

Here’s the video that provoked the inquiry in Tunisia. It’s what freedom of expression is all about. For those who are about to rock in Tunisia and Egypt this week, we salute you.

J. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network. Twitter: @jdanastuster

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