Sacked belly-dancing teacher sparks Egypt debate over women's rights

By Yolande Knell
BBC Middle East correspondent

Published
Image source, Aya Youssef
Image caption,
Aya Youssef said she had returned to work as a teacher on Tuesday

In Egypt, a viral video of a teacher belly-dancing has sparked a national debate about women's rights and the country's socially conservative values.

Aya Yousef was sacked, and divorced by her husband, after she was filmed by a colleague at a work social event on a Nile boat without her permission.

Footage shows her moving to the music alongside male teaching staff.

Belly-dancing is said to date back to Pharaonic times but it is often frowned upon now for women to dance in public.

The video of Ms Yousef, who is wearing a headscarf and a long-sleeved dress for the daytime river trip, looks very tame by Western standards.

However, as it was widely shared on Arab social media in the past week, it prompted an outcry among Egyptian conservatives.

Her critics claimed she had acted shamefully: "It clearly expresses the poor times we live in!! Anything is permitted," wrote one Twitter user.

"Education has reached a low level in Egypt," another commented, calling for intervention by the relevant authorities.

Ms Yousef was then sacked by the primary school in Dakahlia Governorate in the Nile Delta, where she had worked for several years teaching Arabic.

She has vowed she will never dance again and said that she had contemplated suicide during her recent ordeal.

"Ten minutes on the boat in the Nile cost me my life," she told journalists.

Media caption,
Five Egyptian women shared their stories of sexual harassment and abuse with BBC Arabic (October 2018)

Women's rights advocates in Egypt also spoke out strongly, insisting the teacher did nothing wrong and saying that she was the victim of a witch hunt.

In her support and in defence of personal freedoms, the deputy head of another school posted photographs on social media of herself dancing at her daughter's wedding.

The head of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, Dr Nihad Abu Qumsan, offered Ms Yousef a job in her office and asked her to bring her contract from the education ministry in order to file a legal complaint against her dismissal.

This may have helped prompt a rethink. Local authorities have now appointed Ms Yousef to a position at a new school.

The teacher complained the affair was "a transgression of [her] privacy".

She pointed out that she did not dance at a public institution or in front of students and said she planned to sue the person who filmed the video last month.

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