The Harlem Sheikh: a tool of civil disobedience in the Arab world

The dance that has the Internet aflutter has taken on new life in the Arab world.

The “Harlem Shake,” based very loosely on a dance that originated in Harlem, is the foundation for countless lighthearted videos. But young protesters in Tunisia and Egypt are using the shake as a tool of civil disobedience. They’ve danced outside the Tunisian education ministry and on the steps of the Cairo offices of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

In one video produced by high school students, dancers impersonate salafis and emirs as others flail around in their underwear. The Tunisian ministry opened an investigation, while Egyptian authorities arrested four dancers. Students responded by dancing even more, producing hundreds of videos.

In an irreverent Tunisian example, students dressed as Homer Simpson and Nintendo’s Luigi character take to the floor. Some are shocked by the backlash. “I realize I wasn’t dressed decently, but that’s no reason to put a price on my head on Facebook,” one Tunisian student told France 24, referring to online threats. Another clip, the location of which is unconfirmed, targets the Syrian civil war, with a mock battle between rebels and government forces. A bystander holds a sign reading “stop the violence”—before the whole group breaks into dance.

The Harlem Shake hits the Egyptian pyramids: