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Egyptian singer faces trial after advising fan against drinking from Nile

A famous Arab singer will stand trial next month in her native Egypt over a video clip in which she advises a concert fan against drinking from the Nile.

The clip shows Sherine Abdel-Wahab, widely known by her first name, saying "you are better off drinking Evian" - a reference to the French brand of mineral water.

The fan had asked her to sing one of her hit songs, named after an Egyptian saying, that one who drinks from the Nile is bound to return.

Sherine now faces a host of charges, including incitement and harming the public interest.

The remark, clearly made in jest, set social media ablaze, with some users calling it an insult to Egyptian national pride and others saying the real culprits are those who pollute the river.

The trial, before a Cairo misdemeanour court, is due to start on December 23, according to the court officials.

The case arose from a complaint filed by a lawyer after the video surfaced this week. If convicted, Sherine could face up to three years in prison or a heavy fine but she will have recourse to appeal.

Egypt's government and media have relentlessly stoked nationalist sentiment since the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013, portraying nearly all criticism as part of an international plot to undermine the country's stability.

Activists, artists or writers who dare speak critically of government policies or the country's general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, risk vilification on popular TV talk shows. Thousands have been jailed in a wide-scale crackdown on dissent.

"At the time when the government is working to revive tourism, the singer acted with crude mockery, which drew laughter from the crowd that amounted to an insult to the Egyptian state," lawyer Hany Gad wrote in his complaint.

Sherine has also been banned from performing in Egypt by the local musicians union, which said in a statement that her comment was an "unjustified ridicule and mockery of our dear Egypt."

The agency that runs state TV and radio informally instructed employees not to broadcast her songs until further notice.

Sherine apologised for her comment in a Facebook post.

"My beloved Egypt and its children: I apologise from all my heart for any pain I may have caused you," she wrote. "It was a bad joke that I would never use if I go back in time."

The musicians union said the concert was in Lebanon but Sherine's statement said she believed it was in the United Arab Emirates more than a year ago.

The video clip emerged at a sensitive time.

Egypt fears a soon-to-be-completed upstream dam in Ethiopia could cut into its share of the river, which supplies more than 90% of the arid country's water.

The Nile's polluted waters must be treated to be safe for drinking but critics took Sherine's remarks to imply that Egypt was not doing enough to protect the river at a time when it is trying to rally world support in the dispute with Ethiopia.

Ahmed Ramadan and Reda Ragab, board members of the Egyptian Musicians Union, said the singer must appear before the union to answer questions on the incident.

AP

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