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How the Harlem Shake is being used to push for change in Egypt

Youth activists gathered in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo to dance the Harlem Shake in protest of Egypt's ruling party. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

CAIRO -- It is the latest Internet phenomenon that has the world laughing, but in Egypt the Harlem Shake has caught the imagination of revolutionaries who are using it as a new way to challenge the country's new Islamist rulers.

"It’s a funny way to protest how [the Muslim Brotherhood] have taken control of the country,” said law student Tarek Badr, 22, who was one of more than 100 thrusting their hips in front of the political movement’s Cairo headquarters on Thursday. "People won’t be silent. They will protest in all ways and this is a peaceful way."

One of his fellow white-clad protesters wore a Mickey Mouse head mask.

The unusual protest captured the attention of Egypt’s protest-weary press corps -- who almost outnumbered the gyrating protesters -– as well as a dozen stern-faced members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement's figurehead Mohammed Morsi was named president in June after the country's first democratic election in decades.

Organizer Noor al Mahalaawi, a 22-year-old engineering student, and three friends started a group that they have dubbed the "Satiric Revolutionary Struggle".

Charlene Gubash / NBC News

A protester wearing a Mickey Mouse mask dances the Harlem Shake in Cairo on Thursday.

The group intends to stage innovative weekly protests in front of the party headquarters, which will be posted on its increasingly popular Facebook page.

"People are very supportive,” Mahalaawi said. “It’s a change from violence to sarcasm and it’s peaceful. There has been enough blood, enough arrests, enough trials.”

He said the message to the party was that many Egyptians “do not like their way of rule… with human-rights violations every day."

After their Harlem Shake ended, participants took up the new revolutionary chant:  "The people want the fall of the ‘Murshid’ [the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood]."

An impromptu conga line snaked through crowd shouting, "Leave, leave, leave.”

One onlooker, wearing red velvet devil horns, cheered them on. "The Muslim Brotherhood are the friends of the devil," explained Iman Abdul Munim, a women’s rights activist.

A handful of the Muslim Brotherhood's supporters somberly kept guard. They ushered journalists and onlookers off the thin strip of grass in front of the gated building.

"It’s not allowed to stand here," said Wala’a Mohamed Omar, a 35-year-old telecom employee, who heard about the event and came to protect party headquarters. "I have not been paid to do this, I came for the sake of God."

Move over, PSY and Carly Rae Jepsen: There's a new video craze that has exploded online. The Harlem Shake involves massive dance parties breaking out to a catchy beat seemingly out of nowhere. TODAY's Matt Lauer reports, and the TODAY anchors and staff show off their Shake skills.

He was visibly unamused by the Harlem Shake antics, but conceded: “Everybody is free to express themselves as they wish. We are all Egyptians and don’t differ. We respect our opinion and theirs. That is what the two-year revolution was all about.”

But in Egypt, the rise of Islamists to power has changed the fabric of society, now sharply split between fundamentalists, who favor the implementation of Islamic law, and moderates who want secular government.

Many young Egyptians feel their freedom is under siege and the Harlem Shake protest is one small way to reclaim it. "It is all about freedom of expression," insisted Mohamed Mostafa, a 19-year-old law student. "We are free people and we will do what we want."

Despite the end of the military state, Egypt’s police were accused in January of a return to Mubarak-era abuses after a video showed riot police stripping and beating a middle-aged man.

And a series of missteps by Morsi -- including a bid to grab sweeping powers even before the dust had settled on the country’s constitution – has brought protesters back onto the streets.

On Tuesday, a coalition of leftist and liberal parties known as the National Salvation Front announced it would boycott upcoming parliamentary elections, claiming Morsi is driving through an Islamist agenda and breaking a promise to govern on behalf of all Egyptians.

Anis Mili / Reuters

Students from Tunis Carthage Private University dance the Harlem Shake on Wednesday in Tunisia.

The Harlem Shake protest idea has also taken on elsewhere. In Tunisia, the Harlem Shake dance became a rallying cry for high school and university students after the Minister of Education Abdellatif Abid threatened  to expel Tunisian high school students at a high school where it was performed and to sack complicit staff.

Tunisian Salafists - Islamic extremists - clashed with students on Wednesday as they tried to film the dance at a university.


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