Egyptian artists are apprehensive of Islamist rule because they have been demonized by the group who use religion to turn people against them, prominent Egyptian director Khaled Youssef told Al Arabiya.
“Islamists see artists and intellectuals as inferior followers who have to abide by their own rules and produce art according to their own interpretation of religion,” he told Al Arabiya’s weekly show Noqtat Nezam (Point of Order) on Friday.
Youssef explained that Islamists have their own views on art and condemn any artist who does not comply.
“If you disobey their rules, you become an apostate.”
Youssef believes art should be governed by two criteria: the artist’s conscience and the people’s awareness.
“Artists do not aim to produce work that encourages apostasy or debauchery. The main purpose of art is to nurture the soul.”
Youssef stressed the importance of retaining Article 49 of the 1971 constitution, suspended after the revolution, in the new one.
“According to this article, freedom on creativity is granted and the state has to encourage art and offer it all the necessary facilities.”
If this is not the case, he added, art will be judged by moral and religious standards, which will eventually lead to dropping almost three quarters of humanity’s artistic accomplishments.
“It was this article in the constitution that we used to face the former regime whenever they tried to censor our work and I actually won a case over the film ‘The President and the Field Marshal’ against the Ministry of Culture, the army, and the intelligence.”
Youssef said that despite suffering from suppression of freedom at the time of the former regime, it is much harder to face Islamists.
“They attack you in a more fatal way and accuse you bluntly of apostasy.”
Youssef denied that he worked with the former regime to counter the influence of Islamic fundamentalists.
“There were films that were written inside the headquarters of State Security to represent regime policies, but my films were only the product of what my conscience dictated. I am against extremism and against all factions that use religion to gain power.”
In response to criticism leveled against him for producing movies that highlight Egypt’s problems (especially abject poverty) Youssef said he is not expected to offer a “touristic” view of the country.
“It is my role to expose how the regime brought the Egyptian people to this deplorable condition. This is a condemnation of the regime and not Egypt or the people.”
Youssef noted that with or without his films and in light of communication technologies, the world will be able to get acquainted with the problems of any country.
“These are no longer secrets. One click shows you everything.”
When asked why he did not document the revolution even though his films are said to have predicted it, Youssef replied that this is mainly the task of documentaries.
“I am the director of long feature films and not documentaries, so even if I make a film about the revolution it will be about my take on the revolution and not a documentation of its details.”
Youssef added that when the revolution erupted, he forgot that he was a director.
“I did not take my camera with me. I just became one of 80 million … a citizen and not a director.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)