ART UNDER THREAT IN 2016: EGYPT
SERIOUS VIOLATIONS: 18
ACTS OF CENSORSHIP: 19
State censorship of the arts in the name of “protecting public morals and state interests” continues to stifle artistic freedom of expression in Egypt. Restrictions on art and literary works that address politics, sex and religion, remain in place. This continued grip on artistic freedom has caused Egypt to jump from the eighth country with the most serious violations on artistic freedom in 2015, when it was tied with Morocco, to third in 2016.
In 2016, Freemuse registered 18 serious violations on artistic freedom of expression, including seven artists behind bars, the persecution of or threat to nine artists and the prosecution of two artists. Egypt also carried out 19 acts of censorship, for a total of 37 violations on artistic freedom of expression in 2016 – 20 more cases than Freemuse registered in 2015. All of Egypt’s violations went up in 2016 from the year previous.
In February 2016, writer Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison on charges that he “violated public decency” by publishing “sexually explicit” passages in his novel ‘The Use of Life’. The case began after a private citizen brought charges against the author that certain parts of his book left him experiencing “health issues”. On 22 December 2016, Naji was released from prison after Egypt’s highest court suspended the two-year prison sentence against him. However, the writer still faces an appeal hearing on 2 April 2017.
Article 65 in Egypt’s 2014 constitution grants citizens the right to express their opinions verbally, in writing, through imagery, or by any other means of expression and publication. Another article guarantees freedom of artistic and literary creativity stating that “the state shall encourage arts and literature, sponsor creative artists and writers and protect their productions, and provide the means necessary for achieving this end”. However, Egypt’s legislation still allows for the jailing of artists and citizens on the charge of “contempt of religion”.
Music and arts syndicates continue to play a key role in the limitation of artistic expression in cinema, theatre, television and music, thus breaching labour agreements and international guarantees of freedom of association and assembly signed by Egypt (see more in the “Artists censoring artists” section).
Egypt has given even more authority to the syndicates to control and pre-censor artistic expressions. The Musicians Syndicate in particular has taken on a “watchdog” role, using policing methods to force members into compliance with its strict regulations, while ostracizing some musicians and performers from the cultural scene altogether, often based on its “modest dress code” regulation.
In 2016, the Musicians Syndicate banned six female singers from performing due to their sexually suggestive behaviour during performances, thus affecting their livelihoods.
Actions were also taken against heavy metal bands that saw their concerts interrupted and their members named as devil worshippers – not a new phenomenon in the Middle East where the genre has often been targeted.
In May 2016, five members of the satirical music and theatre troupe Atfal al-Shawarea (Street Children) were arrested and detained for four months for its satirical videos – sketches made up of quotes and song lyrics tackling social and political issues in a humorous way – released on social media. The group was released in September after nine renewals of their pre-trial detention, but the investigation on various charges related to their online videos is ongoing.
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MAIN PAGE | FOREWORD | WHAT DROVE VIOLATIONS
VIOLATING COUNTRIES: IRAN | TURKEY | EGYPT | NIGERIA | CHINA | RUSSIA
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THE ART UNDER THREAT IN 2016
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