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It is common for women in the Arab world who speak out against male sexual predators to face vicious shaming while the perpetrator escapes unscathed, a trend that has long deterred Arab women from speaking out publicly against abusers. But what happens when the predator is a pop star with a fervent fan base?
Saad Lamjarred is a Moroccan musician whose songs have amassed millions of views and who has enjoyed sweeping popularity across the Arab world. That is until a series of violence and rape allegations surfaced against him, with several women publicly stepping forward to speak out. From the United States in 2010, where he was released on bail after being charged with raping a woman from Brooklyn, only to escape the country and never return; to France in 2016, where the king of Morocco himself intervened after Lamjarred sexually harassed a French woman and hired a top-notch legal team to have him released; to Morocco in 2017, where a French-Moroccan woman accused him of sexual misconduct and abuse in an apartment in Casablanca — each new testimony fueled the emergence of another until a pattern of violence became associated with Lamjarred’s name.
Since 2020, Lamjarred has faced opprobrium from women’s groups who have tried, with varying degrees of success, to prevent him from performing in Egypt in particular. An announcement this week that Lamjarred would perform an end of the year concert in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh rekindled the campaign.
This week’s campaign marks a continuation of a three-year run that began in 2020 in Egypt, a time when various initiatives and activists adopted the #MeToo wave in the country, and public efforts at combating sexual harassment were on the rise.
Back then, Egyptian feminist activists and groups organized a collaborative campaign after the Cairo Show theater announced a performance by Lamjarred in December 2020. In an effort to cancel the show, they took to social media with the hashtag “We don’t want Saad Lamjarred in Egypt,” a campaign that persisted until the venue called off the show and deleted its posters from its social media platforms.
“The strategy had two layers: to continue shedding light on Saad Lamjarred’s accusations, highlighting the trend in his violent behavior with women, and to raise awareness about the dangers of rape culture,” Malak Boghdady, an Egyptian feminist and one of the campaign leaders, told me. “People forget that endorsing men who are violent with women makes them an accomplice to the act itself.”
Almost a year later, in October 2021, Saad was scheduled to appear on the Sahranin program hosted by prominent Egyptian actor, Amir Karara, on the ON TV channel. This time, the Egyptian initiative Speak Up, a leading feminist movement launched in 2020 that took part in the first campaign, spearheaded a collective attack on the channel and what it described as the normalization of rape culture by hosting an accused rapist. The campaign’s momentum snowballed exponentially, with Moroccan feminists joining in and expressing solidarity. Just before the show was to air, the channel said it was postponing the episode, then eventually killed it. Egyptian women successfully canceled Lamjarred’s appearance for the second time in just under a year.
Lamjarred’s annual attempt to enter Egypt and headline a concert sparked another social media campaign that has been gaining traction in recent days. Lamjarred’s latest concert is scheduled for Dec. 29 at the Taj Mahal Sharm nightclub.
Egyptian feminists got to work once more. They rekindled their original 2020 hashtag, and a barrage of social media posts followed. Women bombarded the night club’s pages with messages and comments condemning the nightclub for hosting an alleged rapist, which led to blocks and deletions of the women’s accounts and comments. They criticized the night club in Google Reviews, pushing its rating down to two stars. They then switched to directly addressing the event’s sponsors, the Sunrise hotel chain, and questioned why they insisted on giving a platform to an alleged rapist in their country. The sponsors belittled the attack and issued media statements that the concert will be held as scheduled, calling the campaigners “a bunch of children.”
Parallel to the venue’s insistence on hosting the show, Lamjarred himself released a video on his social media addressing his “beloved Egyptian fans,” saying how much he looked forward to seeing them in Sharm El-Sheikh. His zealous fan base then slandered the women opposing his presence in the country.
“Saad is dying to find his way back into Egypt at any expense, even if it meant a concert at a nonentity venue,” said Gehad Hamdy, founder and manager of Speak Up. “Egyptian activists repeatedly forced him out, encouraging other countries to do the same. He’s attempting to break that shell and regain his status in Egypt to alleviate the reputation of violence he sustained.”
As the battle raged online, two more end-of-year Lamjarred concerts were announced, which are to be held in Beirut on Dec. 30 and 31 at the Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand. In an extraordinary step, the announcement prompted joint initiatives by women’s rights groups from both Egypt and Lebanon to coordinate a transnational campaign calling for the cancellation of the concerts.
“Message to all Lebanese feminist activists whom we admire and respect. If you have any plans to campaign against Saad Lamjarred’s new year party in Beirut, count us in. We managed to cancel a concert and a TV show for him in Egypt before, and we’d love to help!” Speak Up posted on its social media pages.
Following this, several meetings and virtual correspondences took place with Lebanese activists and initiatives such as Akhbar Al-Saha, a Lebanese feminist platform that has taken the lead on the Lebanese campaign against Lamjarred, and the coalition devised strategies to maintain pressure on the pop star and those who provide a platform for him.
“Collaborating on campaigns and coordinating is of the utmost importance,” Farah, a team member at Akhbar Al-Saha, told me, “After we posted about Saad, we saw Speak Up’s call to connect, so we reached out and brainstormed our strategy together. Women of this region suffer from the same patriarchy and discriminating laws — standing together in solidarity and action is the least we can do.”
The joint campaigns may not succeed this time around, but that doesn’t change the undeniable fact: A shift is taking place in the women’s rights sphere in the region, one that diversifies the means of holding sexual offenders accountable for their crimes and pushes to abolish the prevailing rape culture that normalizes violence against women. This puts considerable pressure on influential figures and artists to measure their actions and stances, if not out of decency, then out of fear.
As Boghdady puts it: “Social accountability is our most effective tool. In our Arab societies, men who commit violence against women are seldom held accountable legally. I believe that social accountability is key in fighting against gender-based violence — it is the bare minimum.”