Four years since Jan. 25 uprising: do Egypt artists feel free?

Egyptian artists say they still suffer from the shackles of censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression

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Four years after the Jan. 25 revolution, Egyptian artists say they still suffer from the shackles of censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression.

Filmmaker Aida Elkashef had her 2011 film “Hadouta min Saj,” (A Tin Tale) banned by Egypt’s censorship board because it contained “unacceptable” language. It told the story of a woman who became a prostitute after she was raped.


“The censorship limits are just like before the revolution, they are still in place. The modus operandi is still the same,” Elkashef told Al Arabiya News.

Elkashef said she believes that Egypt should introduce age ratings for all films to reduce the removal of entire scenes or a total ban.

She said the censorship board, which belongs to the ministry of culture, sensors scenes during the pre-production and the production phases.

“The censors eye three main compartments: Religion, politics and sex.”

Famed actor Ashraf Abdul Ghafour, also head of the Egyptian artists’ syndicate, said there was an urgent need to introduce age rating.

“There needs to be a different way of thinking on how to restructure classifications of films. We need to make ratings based on age so we no longer have something called ban,” he said.

In mid-2014, Egypt suspended screenings of Lebanese film and pop star Haifa Wehbe’s latest Egyptian movie “Halawet Rooh” (Sweetness of Spirit) after criticism over scenes seen to be sexually provocative.

The movie was later allowed to screen for adults only following a court ruling in 2014.

Safwat al-Alam, a professor of media at Cairo University, said Egyptian filmmakers should tackle issues “important to citizens.”

He criticized Halawet Rooh as “morally degrading.”

Artists, he said, should take advantage of whatever margin of freedom is available to them to push for greater reform by addressing “issues that are of important to the citizens, including political ones.”

He said films under previous dictatorial regimes didn’t shy away from politics, citing the 1976 film “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” 1975 “The Guilty” or 1966 “Cairo 30.”

“Cairo 30” was as arguably the first film in Egyptian cinema to push for a socialist solution to the country’s eternal problems: class struggle, societal decay and corruption.

Alam criticized people behind the art scene in Egypt, today saying that their main goal is to double profits.


Suppressing dissent

In late 2014, some Egyptian intellectuals and artist issued a statement to express their solidarity with the famed heartthrob actor Khaled Abu al-Naga who faced charges after criticizing President Sisi.

Singer Mohammed Attiya also faced charges after protesting against a court’s ruling to acquit Mubarak.

In November last year, the head of Egypt’s state radio announced that the station would take off songs by “unlicensed” singers.

Professor Alam noted that “there are spaces of freedom but Egypt is vigilant in certain issues related to security and the country’s stability.”

A television series called “Ahl al-Iskindirya” or “The People of Alexandria” was stopped after it was scheduled to air in July last year.

The series, which had big names starring in it, was about the corruption in the security services prior to the Jan. 25 revolution.

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