Egyptian celebrities who backed Mubarak become pariahs

McClatchy NewspapersJune 7, 2011 

CAIRO — Before Egypt's revolution, Tamer Hosny's rakish, goateed face was everywhere. His Pepsi billboards dotted the Cairo skyline, his videos played non-stop on music channels, and his catchy love songs were the ringtones of choice for millions of teenage fans.

Then came what Egyptian bloggers, borrowing from American teen parlance, dubbed his "epic fail."

In a now-notorious phone call to state television, Hosny, 33, the top-selling singer whose nickname is "star of a generation," professed support for then-President Hosni Mubarak. Speaking early in the uprising, when security forces were tear-gassing and shooting unarmed protesters, Hosny chided Egyptians for turning against their "father."

Punishment was swift, and forgiveness remains elusive for what many Egyptians viewed as Hosny's deep betrayal. Protesters ripped down his posters, trashed his CDs and vowed to boycott his music. Four months after Mubarak's ouster, Hosny is still regarded as an outcast. Last week, Cairo tabloid newspapers reported, a group of young men attacked a film set to stop Hosny from shooting a TV series in their neighborhood. Reports say the pop star has doubled the size of his security staff.

"Get him off my phone!" Eman Fouad, 29, a former Hosny fan, said she'd ordered after a relative had downloaded one of his songs as her cellphone's ringtone.

Hosny's fall from favor was the steepest, but he's hardly alone. In the months since the revolution's triumph, a revolutionary "blacklist" has grown to include musicians, actors, comedians, athletes and TV personalities who criticized or failed to support the uprising.

The public anger at the once-beloved stars is costing them lucrative projects, providing ammunition in the long rivalry between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, and might even threaten Egypt's movie industry as it enters the important summer blockbuster season, entertainment industry insiders say.

"The only reason these people are still working on shows and movies is because they're being paid by non-Egyptian channels, especially the Gulf cable channels," said Waleed Tamam, who covers the film industry for the local Shorouq newspaper.

Many blacklisted stars have gone on TV to explain or apologize for their positions on the revolution. They plead for people to stop harassing them on the street and complain that they are struggling to find work because of the boycott. Unsympathetic Egyptians counter that the entertainment industry was just another state tentacle, bankrolled by Mubarak cronies whose connections meant that the hottest stars sang at their daughters' fancy weddings.

At a thousands-strong demonstration last week, protesters held a large sign emblazoned with the faces of blacklisted celebrities to remind Egyptians to boycott their work.

Ali Abdel Mohsen, 26, a journalist who's covered the blacklist for the English edition of the local Al Masry al Youm newspaper, said the blacklist strikes at the very heart of the Egyptian entertainment industry.

"For a lot of singers and actors, their ties to the regime helped them because it was all about deals and who you know," Abdel Mohsen said. "A lot of Egyptians are happy to see that old system fall apart."

Several versions of the blacklist exist, in both Arabic and English. The introduction to one online list describes it as an expose of "brown-nose celebrities" and includes this reminder to the famous targets: "It's the love of the people who made them celebrities, not the regime."

The lists often are accompanied by extensive "evidence" sections that offer YouTube clips, newspaper stories, TV interviews and photographs that show celebrities speaking ill of the revolutionaries or praising the Mubarak regime.

The list includes dozens of household names, reading like a Who's Who of the Egyptian sports and entertainment industries. Adel Imam, famous across the Arab world as the star of more than 100 films, strongly defended the Mubarak family, then later backtracked. The actress Samah Anwar urged the government to burn or bomb protesters "in order to save Egypt." Hassan Shehata, the coach for the Egyptian national soccer team, organized a pro-Mubarak rally and reportedly stood on top of a car to demand the president stay another 10 years.

"A lot of actors, musicians and soccer players were worried about their livelihoods," the film critic Sherif Awad said in an interview with Masry al Youm. "They simply looked at the situation and realized that with a looming economic crisis, there would likely be nobody willing to pay them their (millionaire) salaries. So they did what was in their best interests."

Hosny, the disgraced pop star, has struggled to restore his reputation. He was booed out of Tahrir Square when he came to announce a belated change of heart two days before Mubarak resigned; amateur video of him crying afterward went viral.

Pepsi froze Hosny's ad campaign and, seemingly overnight, his billboards disappeared from Cairo. Rival Coca-Cola, which for years has chipped away at Pepsi's market dominance, seized the opportunity to unveil massive new pro-revolution murals that show young people breaking through boulders and high walls to reveal the shimmering Nile River in the distance. Representatives for both companies couldn't be reached for comment.

With the entertainment industry still in flux since the revolution, no one could say for sure how Hosny's sales were affected, but street vendors in Cairo said nobody's buying his music. Even Hosny's two recent revolution-themed singles — another mea culpa attempt — bombed with listeners and aren't included on the most popular compilations of protest songs. By comparison, 2 million fans downloaded Hosny's last pre-revolution album in the first few days after its release online.

"A lot of people who spoke against the revolution have been forgotten, but not Tamer Hosny," said Mahmoud Awad, 19, who sells music at a roadside kiosk. "This guy, they really hate him. His Facebook fan page was a wreck after what he said."

Awad pointed to a row of Hosny's greatest-hits CDs, covered with dust. They used to fly off the shelves, but Awad hasn't sold a single Hosny CD since the uprising.

His co-worker, Kareem Shaalan, 23, reminded him of the time they'd tried to play one of Hosny's pro-revolution singles.

"Some guys passed by and heard and told us, 'Turn that guy off!'" Shaalan said.

Hosny was unavailable for comment. Egyptian rapper Hossam el Husseiny, one of Hosny's friends and frequent collaborators, explained that the pop star's publicists had advised him to "shut up about the revolution."

Husseiny was with Hosny for a concert in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 18-day uprising. The rapper immediately joined the Tahrir crowds when he returned to Cairo, so he's not on the blacklist. However, his mother, a TV actress, is on the list because she was photographed at a pro-Mubarak rally.

"These bloggers on the Internet, they have no life, no work, nothing," Husseiny grumbled about the online attacks against his mother and famous friends.

Husseiny said it didn't make sense that a movement calling for free speech and democracy would castigate prominent Egyptians for expressing their political opinions. Besides, he said, some of the names on the list were too powerful and too popular to vanish because of a blunder.

Even his friend Tamer Hosny could weather the storm, Husseiny predicted, noting that the singer was keeping busy with new music and TV projects, as well as his endorsement deal with Police, the luxury sunglasses brand.

"Tamer has a lot of haters," Husseiny said. "That's OK, even Michael Jackson had haters."

ON THE WEB

Coverage of Tamer Hosny crying (in Arabic)

One of the 'black lists' of Egyptian entertainers

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