Skip to main content

Egyptian folk singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim dies at age 62

Abdel Rahim rose to fame in 2000 when he released a song titled 'I hate Israel'
Abdel Rahim was known for his eccentric style (AFP/File photo)

Throughout his career, Egyptian singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim sang against Israel, berated Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, criticised Qatar, said Donald Trump belongs in a cage and lauded Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi - all to a single folk tune.

Early on Tuesday, Abdel Rahim died of heart issues in the Maadi district of Cairo at age 62 - leaving behind hundreds of songs ranging from political commentary to motivational tracks. And no matter the lyrics, the melody remained the same. 

Abdel Rahim rose to fame in 2000 when he released a song titled "I hate Israel" during the second Palestinian intifada. 

The song, which would subsequently gain iconic status across the Arab world, balanced criticism of Israel with praise for then-Egyptian foreign minister Amr Mousa, who was responsible for maintaining Egyptian-Israeli diplomatic relations. 

More recently he scolded Trump while heaping praise on the US president's Egyptian ally, Sisi.

Since Sisi seized power in a 2013 coup, Abdel Rahim has been an outspoken supporter of the Egyptian president, producing songs against the leader's domestic and regional foes.

Earlier this year, Abdel Rahim released a song calling Egyptian whistleblower Mohamed Ali a "thief" for accusing Sisi of corruption. 

In 2014, he also put out a scathing song against Erdogan after a diplomatic spat between Cairo and Ankara, claiming that the people of Turkey are calling on Sisi to rescue them from their own president.

"You and America and Qatar are the trio of terrorism," goes one line of the song.

Abdel Rahim, who owned a laundromat before he started singing, often appeared in uncoordinated colourful clothes, sporting multiple watches and bulky gold necklaces. He defended his eccentric style as stemming from his working class roots.

The singer, also known as Shaabola, appeared at a concert in Saudi Arabia late last month, where he performed from a wheelchair because one of his legs was broken.

"I sing with my mouth; I don't need my leg for anything," he said in one of his final interviews in a comment that demonstrated the sense of humour that featured prominently in his songs.

Abdel Rahim also starred in several Egyptian movies throughout the 2000s.

Artists across the Middle East eulogised Abdel Rahim on Tuesday. 

"He was a unique phenomenon, full of energy and humour. I'm very sad for his departure," Lebanese singer Elissa wrote on Twitter. "And speaking of Shaabola, I hate Israel."