A hijab-wearing rapper, Mahmoud has challenged some Egyptians’ expectations of how women – and hijab wearers in particular – are meant to behave. Mahmoud, 18, is not Egypt’s first veiled rapper, or even its most experienced. But through her appearances on Arabs Got Talent, a variety show that has become a primetime success across the Middle East, she is one of the few to attract something approaching mainstream attention.
“It’s got a lot of people talking about whether it’s possible for a veiled girl, or even a girl, to do this,” says Mahmoud, who says her veil is a personal choice and has little relevance to her music. “If a girl has a dream to work in a field where many girls don’t work, or to do post-graduate study, or to work in a position higher than her husband – all these things often can’t be done.”
Rapping is a case in point, she says. It is by no means a conventional path for Egyptian men, but for women it is twice the battle. “The girls in this field are thought to have bad morals. It’s known that when a girl tries to record a track, she will just be one girl in the studio with a lot of guys for a long time. So it’s hard to find someone to work with her, to create a beat, to master the track.”
Mahmoud, an economics undergraduate from Cairo, says she tries not to listen to listen to western hip-hop. Her biggest influence is her mother, who introduced her to poetry aged 12 and encouraged her to write her own work. When her poetry turned into rap, her parents were initially sceptical because they felt it was not a sufficiently feminine activity for her. But gradually they grew convinced, and eventually they allowed her to record a track in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, while they waited in a cafe around the corner.