CAIRO—One evening last month, Russian belly-dancer Eicatrina Andreeva was performing at a floating nightclub on the Nile River. Toward the end of her act, her manager noticed a middle-aged man in a leather jacket who stood out against the touristy crowd. “I knew he was a cop straight away,” the manager said. “I begged him, ‘Please, just let her finish her set. Give her 15 minutes.’” The policeman obliged. When Andreeva stepped offstage, she was taken to jail.
Her four-day detention and subsequent fine were based on accusations of “inciting debauchery” after a video of a previous performance—during which she wore a revealing outfit—went viral. (This charge was later conflated with irregularities in her work permit.) Now free and still in Cairo, Andreeva may have got off lightly. Her manager, who asked not to be named for fear of attracting unwanted government attention, said that in his line of work there’s always been tension with the authorities, but that “it’s increasing these days.”
The current president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking reelection this week in a race he’s nearly guaranteed to win. Since he took power from the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup in 2013, the number of journalists and activists in jail has spiked as dissent against his regime has been roundly crushed; many of Sisi’s would-be presidential challengers are now in detention or awaiting trial. But the president hasn’t stopped at stamping out voices critical of him—he’s gone after apolitical liberal expression, too. Egypt has witnessed a crackdown on the arts, including dance, music, comedy, and theater. “There has been an increase in repression and attempts to essentially clamp down on free expression,” said James Lynch, the deputy director of Transparency International, an organization that has tracked Sisi’s career since before his first election in 2014.