Egypt: New film censorship law drafted

12 June 2012

A draft law is being prepared by the Egyptian parliament’s Religious Affairs Committee aimed at criminalising production of sexually explicit content by local media companies, flagship state daily Al-Ahram reported on 26 April 2012.

Conservative Islamists in Egypt’s parliament are reportedly pushing for a cinema censorship law calling for cuts in Egyptian films of all scenes showing physical affection, including the kisses and hugs that are a constant in vintage local classics, which are still a major tv staple on state-owned Egyptian Television Network.

The penalties stipulated in the draft law reportedly include prison sentences and fines ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 Egyptian pounds.


15-member censorship board
Article 1 of the bill reportedly calls for the establishment of an independent, 15-member ‘Supreme Council for Audio and Visual Broadcasts’. Council members would be appointed by the prime minister and include both Muslim and Christian representatives.

The law’s second article, meanwhile, lays down the council’s responsibilities and authorities. It also lists proscribed content, including scenes of a sexual nature, both verbal and visual; scenes depicting the use of drugs, alcohol or gambling; and scenes deemed insulting to particular professions, races, genders or religions.

According to committee head Sayed Askar, the law, if passed, would not differentiate between old and new films, and would be applied to any sexually-explicit content deemed “harmful to society”. The proposed legislation, he clarified, would penalise the producers and distributors of such content, and not actors.

When asked whether the law would only prohibit nudity or would also extend to hugs and kisses on film, Askar declined to provide details but stressed that the law would “have the last word” regarding censorship issues.


According to Albawaba, the Egyptian actress Elham Shaheen stated that she refuses to accept the discussions of the new law. The actress stated that parliament should pay more attention to matters of concern to the country as a whole rather than waste their time on what should and should not be included in films.

In March 2012, the renowned Egyptian writer Mohamed Salmawy slammed the attempts to curb freedoms of expression and thought in Egypt. In a statement, Salmawy lambasted a recent decision by the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Ministry of Waqfs) to ban the filming of a scene in the Egyptian movie ‘Mattress and Cover’, because it allegedly “violated Sharia Law.”

Salmawy also criticised a decision by the administration of the Pharmaceutical Faculty at Cairo University to ban the Iranian movie ‘A Separation’, after pressure from Islamist students on the grounds that the film “promotes Shiasim and secularism”, even though these are not the main themes of the film. The film won an American Oscar for ‘Best Foreign Film’,.

Salmawy said that one of the reasons the Mubarak regime fell was its constant censorship on artistic work and that the Egyptian landscape should be able to reflect the creativity of all Egyptians. He added that Egyptian artists have the right to express themselves without any red lines, repression or monitoring.


Filming contrary to Sharia law
And there is more. Variety Arabia reports that the Egyptian filmmaker Ahmad Abdullah was banned by the Ministry of Religious Endowments from shooting a scene from his new film ‘Accommodation’ inside the Al Sayyeda Nafeesa Mosque in Old Cairo. The ban claimed that filming in mosques is contrary to Sharia law.

“In the past, the Ministry of Waqfs used to routinely give approvals for filming inside mosques,” said Abdullah, who is also the writer of the film. “There is no clear reason why this approval was denied, because the scene set inside the mosque doesn’t infringe Islamic Sharia, nor does it hamper worshipping in the place.”

Also recently, according to Variety Arabia, Islamist students at Ain Shams University barred the crew of a tv drama from shooting on the campus, saying that the actors were indecently dressed. The drama, ‘Zat’, by Kamla Abu Zekry, portrays the life of the famous Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim. The spat resulted in a production loss of US$ 20,000.

Sherif Mandour, the producer of ‘Cairo Exit’, was banned from being screened on the basis of alleged religious sensitivity. He is currently working on a new film. As is the case with ‘Cairo Exit’, he is shooting the film without getting permits from the censorship authority.


Variety Arabia – 10 June 2012:
Fears of ‘enhanced’ censorship in the wake of the Arab Spring
It started with attacks on the offices of a Tunisian TV station for airing an animation movie that some found to be offensive. Some months later, in Egypt, a film was banned because it featured a Muslim man falling for a Copt woman. By Ahmed Faaiek.

Variety – 12 May 2012:
Censorship chills Arab Spring
Tunisia, Egypt players navigate fundamentalist politics. By Nick Vivarelli

Albawaba – 30 April 2012:
Elham against laws to censor intimacy in films

Ahram Online – 26 April 2012:
Parliament’s Islamist-dominated Religious Affairs Committee mulls film censorship law: Report
Parliament’s religious affairs committee prepares bill aimed at penalising local producers, distributors of film content deemed ‘harmful to society’. By Ahmed Samy Metwally and Mostafa Shaaban.

Ahram Online – 15 March 2012
Egyptian Writers Union head slams Islamist censorship on culture
Censorship in the movie industry worries writers, recalling the repression of the Mubarak years

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