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Arab Spring Limits Job Opportunities, Income, for Middle East Belly Dancers


Outi performing in Cairo; photo courtesy The Atlantic

Many belly dancers from America and Europe who came to the Middle East in search of better job opportunities have found that their careers have become unexpected casualties of the Arab Spring, reports The Atlantic.

With the ongoing violence, as well as political and economic instability, the biggest struggle is a lack of work due to fewer tourists visiting the region. Cruise ships in Egypt used to sail four times a day, but now sail only once, Outi, a dancer from Finland, says. These days, she only works two to three days a week, and has fewer teaching and private party gigs. For the work she does get, she is paid half of what she got before the revolution, and is currently struggling to pay her rent.

Standard pay on the ships in Cairo is 200 EGP a night, which is about $33, says Luna, a belly dancer who moved to Egypt from the U.S. in 2008. The dancers can earn 300 EGP if the second deck of the boat has customers and they perform twice. Dancers can make up to 900 EGP a night if they dance on both decks and sail three times. But since tourism stopped, Luna reports, the decks have been empty.

The lack of tourism is compounded by the wave of conservatism that has swept Egypt in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood’s takeover of the government. Some businesses owners, bowing to pressure from Islamists, have eliminated the dancers. During the revolution, religious radicals burned down venues that showcased dancers. Some owners were hassled to the point that they just closed their businesses entirely.

But some dancers are defiant, unwilling to bend to pressure from Islamists. Aleya, who moved to Egypt from the U.S. in 2008 and dances at a five-star hotel on an on-call basis, dismisses the threat of violence, and is surviving the tourism slump by selling costumes on the side. “We’ve made our life here,” she says. “Revolution or not, this is where we live.”

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November 2012
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