#BBCtrending: The dress that shocked the Arab world

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Singer and backing singersImage source, Arab Star Academy
Image caption,
Haifa Wehbe appears on Arab Star Academy

A dress worn by a famous Lebanese pop star on TV has caused an outcry on Arab social media - mainly among women

Last week, Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe performed a song during a live episode of Arab Star Academy, a pan-Arab TV music talent contest, wearing a figure-hugging long black dress with revealing sheer panels. Over 2 million people watched the performance online after several copies of the video were uploaded onto YouTube. So far, so show business - but the intensity of debate that followed online seemed to indicate how polarised the debate on female dress in the Arab World has become.

Many of the reactions on social media, mostly from women in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, were strongly critical of the star's choice of dress. "Scandalous" was a much used term. One YouTube user commented: "Art has limits and you, Haifa, have crossed the line". Views about what women can and can't wear vary hugely across the Arab world. While in Lebanon miniskirts and bikinis are not uncommon, in other more conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia women cover their faces and bodies fully in black. But even in such traditional societies, women will often follow celebrity styles when alone in women-only gatherings.

Wehbe has caused a stir before with her outfits. "It is true that we got used to her wearing scandalous clothes but not to this extent…it was a shock for the viewers," an Egyptian woman on Twitter commented. But not everyone thought the dress was in poor taste. A female YouTube user wrote "you should be used to the way she dresses by now and after all everyone is free to dress as they wish". And another defended her saying "She's not the first or the last to wear a revealing dress, and she looked beautiful in it".

Dana Khairallah, a Lebanese lifestyle blogger, says that people kicked up a fuss about this outfit because of an ongoing struggle within Arab culture. "They think if women dress this way it would misrepresent our culture," she says. "I find that hypocritical. I see Arab girls dressing more provocatively in clubs but no one cares because there are no cameras."

"There's also an element of social media meanness in what is happening that drives this bullying of celebrities." she adds.

Image source, Haifa Wehbe/ Twitter
Image caption,
Haifa Wehbe tweeted that she was surprised at how the dress looked on stage

Haifa is on one side of the debate within Arab society. The Islamic State represents the other extreme in people's minds and some have pointed to the contrasts between both worlds Arabs are exposed to today. In a Facebook comment, one man said "These type of Arab female celebrities need to meet the Islamic State". Another joked by sharing an image of a man with a long beard holding a mobile with the caption "Hello…ISIS!!", as though he were reporting her.

A few comments also drew parallels with Kim Kardashian's photo shoot last week, after the internet was flooded with images of the American celebrity's bottom last week and the hashtag #breaktheinternet trended. "After Kim Kardahsian's attempt to break the internet, I find Haifa Wehbe's see-through dress on star academy to be quite modest," commented a female Jordanian on Twitter.

The Egyptian channel CBC, which airs the Star Academy TV show, issued an apology on its channel for the star's appearance on the show. Wehbe herself blamed the stage lighting in a tweet, saying the original dress appeared more modest but that she "was surprised that it looked very different with the strong lighting on the stage"

Reporting by Mai Noman

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