Egypt: Alyaa Uses Rap as a Weapon

Af Kiki Hynding Hansen

Growing up as a young woman in a patriarchal society like Egypt is one thing. Speaking out loud, not giving a damn about norms and expectations, and rapping for women’s rights is another thing. Yet this is what 20 year-old Alyaa from Alexandria is doing.

There isn’t a lot of female rappers in Egypt. Only a few young women are brave enough to pick up the microphone and give conservative stereotypes on gender and social taboo the finger, when they spit their rhymes side by side with their male colleagues. Alyaa is one of those women. When she is not busy with her agriculture studies, she is rapping for her and her fellow Egyptian sisters´ freedom and dignity.

Alyaa might not give the impression of being a rebel or a feminist rapper, as you might expect such a rapper to be. On first sight she looks like most young Egyptian women, with the black bangs partly hiding her eyes, red lips and a little purse on the arm. But the wholes on the knees of her jeans and headphones as a obligatory part of the outfit hanging around her neck reveal that she might be different from her female sisters after all.

 It All Began with Poetry

»I always wrote poetry«, Alyaa tells: »But I couldn’t really find the right way to deliver the messages from my poems to other people.«

In 2010, she therefore decided to perform her poems as rap songs instead. This way she could deliver her messages to the Egyptian people.

Rap is for me a way of expressing my feelings and myself. I write about the problems I face in my life. Problems that other young Egyptian women face as well

It is not always that easy to be a young woman, especially in Egypt.

»It can be hard to be a young woman in a patriarchal society like Egypt«, she explains, while looking down and playing with her headphones. She continues:

»You know… sexual harassment and stuff like that… «

Sexual Harassment is Everywhere

Sexual harassment is a huge problem in Egypt – especially for young women. Daily, they are forced to listen to sexual comments from men in the streets or maybe even experiencing being grabbed or followed. Therefore, public transport like metros or trains have special sections for females only, so they don’t get harassed verbally nor physically.

»Woman in Egypt are held down, and there are no rights for us«, Alyaa explains, trying to find the right words describing the thoughts and feelings going through her mind, when she writes her lyrics:

"The revolution in 2011 didn’t make things better. There is even more sexual harassment now than before, and people are not listening to each other nor respecting one another. My lyrics can seem a little sad from time to time, because the topics I’m rapping about are sad."

Passion for Words

There is a huge social pressure on women in Egypt, and a lot of social norms that young women are expected to follow. That is also one of the reasons why there aren’t more female rappers, Alyaa explains. It is simply not socially accepted for a woman to rap and be a part of a male-dominated world as rap and hip-hop.

Many parents ban their daughters from rapping. It is degrading for a female, they think. But my parents have always supported me, Alyaa says with a rank back and a smile. They understand me and they also understand why it is important for me to express my opinion and believes

Alyaa´s passion for words and poetry doesn’t come out of the blue. Her father has always wrote poetry himself.

»My father experienced by himself how his parents didn’t support him in his poetry. So when he realized that I liked to write, he was thrilled and he has supported me ever since. When I have written a text, I always show it to him for his opinion and discuss it together with him.«

Furthermore, Alyaa tells, how they always discussed politics in her home since she was a kid.

»My dad inspires me a lot, and it is cool to share my hobby with him. I tried to read some of his lyrics«, she tells, but explains that it isn’t easy.

”My dad writes in standard Arabic and that’s really complicated and difficult for me to read.” The Arabic spoken in Egypt contains a lot of slang, whereas standard Arabic is a lot more formal.

The first time was full of mistakes

Alyaa was very nervous the first time she performed. »It was at a hotel in Alexandria, where I live«, she says. »It didn’t go very well. I made a lot of mistakes, and people didn’t like it«, she says and laughs shyly. »Afterwards, I asked my friends who had been there, what they thought. They also didn’t like it«, she says and laughs again.

Despite the tough start, Alyaa believes it was a good experience to perform in front of more than 200 people at the concert. In spring 2014, Alyaa recorded her first professional rap track supported by the underground Egyptian record label Revolution Records. 10 young and upcoming talents, including Alyaa, were invited to join the album and later on perform all together in front of more than 400 people in both Alyaa’s hometown, Alexandria, and in Cairo. The album was made in collaboration between Revolution Records and RAPOLITICS, supported by DCCD (Center for Culture and Development of Denmark).

A transformation on stage

Even though Alyaa sometimes hides behind her black bangs, she is a funny and strong young woman, which also shows on stage. Two of the producers from Revolution Records, who released the album, Alyaa were part of; explain that it’s her poetic style that makes the difference. ”Her complicated sentences show that she is a poet. It’s cool.”

When Alyaa gets a microphone in her hand, she transforms from a young, shy woman into a powerful female rapper with a deep and firm voice, who spits her rhymes without hesitation. Her legs carry her around on stage, while she lets her audience know what she believes in and how things should be in Egypt. To the questions about what she wishes for the future, her answer is short and clear:

”I want to be the best rapper in Egypt.”

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Kiki Hynding Hansen is was a member of the RAPOLITICS’ board until 2015. She has been involved in RAPOLITICS-projects in Bolivia, Denmark and Egypt. The picture above was taken by Mie Brinkmann. This blog entry is a translation af an article published in the Danish youth magazine Tjeck. Read the article in Danish here.