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Why These Men In The UAE Were Charged For An Online Dance Video

ICE Graveyard 12/04/2016 Jesselyn Cook
BARBS © Twitter/alhmaidi8023 BARBS

A popular Saudi Arabian dance routine landed two men in the United Arab Emirates in court after they posted a video to social media showing off their moves while dressed in army uniforms.

Much like the "Harlem Shake” phenomenon, which quickly spread through Australia and North America, the "Barbs" dance has gone viral in the Middle East.

Saudi musician and director Majed al-Esa, who is known for incorporating Western influences into his art, released a song called "Barbs" on iTunes in January.

The term means "messy" in Arabic, and part of the song's music video includes a funny dance that people all over the Middle East are imitating. (Go to 1:25 in the video below to see it.)

The dancers in the video, which has amassed over 19 million views since December, are shown shuffling in a line with their heads tilted back, thrusting their hips to the beat of catchy music while staring at the camera.

In response, social media users of all ages have seized the opportunity to share their own humorous versions of the Barbs dance.

But when two young men dressed in military attire in the UAE tried to get in on the joke, the Abu Dhabi government failed to see the humor. The amateur dancers were charged with disrespecting the military and its moral values, according to local media reports. Their identities have not been publicly revealed.

The Abu Dhabi Public Prosecutor said the video is “an affront to the honor of joining the National Service," according to Abu Dhabi English-language publication The National.

Domestic critics have argued that the dance is emblematic of Western traditions tainting Middle Eastern culture, the Washington Post reports.

Amnesty International notes that there are "severe restrictions" on freedom of expression in the United Arab Emirates, often with far worse consequences than those suffered by the two unsuspecting Barbs dancers.

In another social media-related example, a man in his mid-20s was reportedly tortured and sentenced to three years in prison in 2014 after he tweeted about his father's alleged mistreatment in prison.

The following year, an Australian woman was jailed in the UAE for posting a photo to Facebook of a car blocking a parking spot for drivers with disabilities near her Abu Dhabi apartment. Despite blacking out the license plate information, she was found guilty of "writing bad words on social media about a person."

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