Egypt drops Fadel Shaker from TV series

Eyebrows were raised when the Egyptian media production company Al-Adl Group announced that the controversial Lebanese-Palestinian singer Fadel Shaker would be singing the opening credit of the much awaited Ramadan series “Ladena Aqwal Okhra” (We have Something Else To Say) starring veteran actress Yousra.

This comes after a Lebanese military court sentenced Shaker to 15 years in prison in absentia after convicting him in connection with a 2013 attack on the Lebanese army that left 18 soldiers dead in the southern city of Sidon.

There was a mixed reaction from both the audience and Arab celebrities to the decision to hire Shaker for the project, while some welcomed his return as a triumph of “good over evil”, others regarded it as a “reward for a murderer who has blood on his hands”.

The reservations were brushed aside when the song was released on YouTube on 8 May. To date it has more than 2.2 million views, an indication that some have forgiven Shaker and long for his return to music.

Read: Lebanon and Egypt set to strengthen ties

Lebanon hit back against the company and one of the soldier’s mothers appealed for another singer to be used and for Shaker to be dropped from the project.

Less than 48 hours after the track was released, Al-Adl Group removed the song from the series. The company then issued a statement reiterating its support for Lebanon and its armed forces.

During a TV interview one of the series’ creators Medhat Al-Adel admitted “that we didn’t study the legal standpoint regarding Fadel Shaker in Lebanon. We basically made our decision from a purely artistic perspective.”

It had not occurred to us that his problem still exists

he added.

“When we learnt that his problem has not been solved and that there are questions over his legal situation, we decided, out of our respect for the feelings of the people of Lebanon, to do without the voice of Fadel Shaker.”

Surprised by the move, Shaker was said to have “criticised what he termed as the producing company’s bowing to critics”. Egyptian TV stalwart Wael El-Ebrashi, who said he had called the singer, insinuate that Shaker is the victim of a political and sectarian conflict, and suggested that Hezbollah and pro-Assad supporters in Lebanon are actually the ones behind his dismissal.

Viewing trends shift in the Middle East during Ramadan with stations launching new programmes which last the entire month. Artists who are part of shows aired during the Muslim month of fasting are often amply rewarded with a rise in their celebrity status.

This was to be Shaker’s big break six years after he announced that he would be stepping away from the limelight on religious grounds. In 2012, the singer announced that music was “haram” (forbidden in Islam) and quit the industry. Soon after, he changed his name to Hajj Shaker and allegedly pledged allegiance to anti-Hezbollah Lebanese cleric Ahmed Al-Assir.

Read: Egypt’s foreign minister sent on regional tour amid Lebanon crisis

His decision to take up arms with Al-Assir’s supporters in 2013 in clashes against the Lebanese army led to the death of 18 soldiers and resulted in Shaker being sentenced in absentia to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour, fined 800,000 Lebanese Lira ($531) and stripped of his civil rights. Al-Assir was handed the death sentence in the same case.

Since then, Shaker has only been spotted sporadically performing religiously inspired songs in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain El-Hilweh, located within a buffer zone not accessible to the Lebanese military.

He appeared on a local TV station sporting a beard typical of conservative Salafists. He was also seen in pictures and videos with Islamist militants.

Shaker has always denied all the accusations against him. In an interview with the Lebanese TV channel MTV two years ago, he insisted that he does not belong or adhere to any political or religious group. He said the only link he shares with Al-Assir is that he prays at the mosque where the cleric preaches. Shaker also insisted that the arms he was holding in all the videos were licensed by the Lebanese military intelligence and he never used them except in self-defence after a brigade from Hezbollah launched a militant attack against his village and ransacked his home, stealing more than $940,000. The Hezbollah members then allegedly torched his  home. He did not shoot a single bullet, but was shot at by Hezbollah members, he continued.

Shaker’s whereabouts remain unknown with producers saying they contacted him to record the song through his son.

Whether it is political pressure or public demand it seems that Shaker’s long awaited return is still on hold as many have not forgiven him his past crimes.

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