Culture in Firing Line of Sisi’s Egypt Censorship Crackdown

egypt al-sissi
Screenshot/Youtube

CAIRO (AFP) – In movie theatres, concert halls or out on the streets, culture in Egypt is faced with increasing curbs as the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expands censorship, critics say.

Hossam Fazulla of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said artists were being subjected to increasing limitations.

“What the government is trying to do is… to create a model of an obedient citizen who is tame, who is very convenient for this regime,” said Fazulla.

The curbs have wiped out some art forms, especially street events, which were starting to flourish after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, he said.

In the turmoil that followed, ex-army chief Sisi led the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi to be elected president himself the following year.

A 2013 law banning unauthorised protests or gatherings has in effect been applied to culture, with street arts paying a heavy price, according to Fazulla.

“It’s been a while now that we’ve been reporting that this period has witnessed more restrictions than the previous one,” he said.

In a notable example, censors have stalled the film “In The Last Days of the City”, although it has been screened in 60 countries and at 91 festivals, winning more than 10 awards.

Egyptian director Tamer El Said finished shooting the movie in December 2010, six weeks before the uprising that overthrew Mubarak.

“The film was trying to capture this feeling that we had before the revolution… that something big is going to happen. We don’t know what it will be, but that it seems that we won’t be able to continue like this,” Said said.

Said applied for a license to screen the movie in October 2016, only for Egypt’s censorship authority to flood him with paperwork requests until it stopped answering his calls.

“Now it’s been 12 years that I’ve been dreaming of this moment to come and it doesn’t come… it’s killing me,” said the director.

This is the new method to ban films, said Fazulla. “They would keep delaying this for months until the movie does not get screened in the end,” he said.

After initially agreeing to speak, the head of the censorship authority, Khaled Abdel Geleel, stopped answering calls and messages from AFP.

– ‘Bad idea’ –

Another award-winning film, “The Nile Hilton Incident” directed by Tarik Saleh, a Swede of Egyptian origin, takes place in Egypt but was banned from being shot in the country.

The movie on police corruption is based on a true story, that of real estate tycoon and Mubarak associate Hisham Talaat Moustafa, who was convicted in 2010 of paying for the murder of his ex-lover, a Lebanese pop diva.

“It was my idea (to film in Egypt). It was a very bad idea,” Saleh said in an interview on the Munich international film festival’s YouTube channel.

“We were thrown out three days before we were going to start to shoot so we left to Casablanca” to film instead in the fellow North African state of Morocco, he said.

Music has also been a casualty.

In July, Cairokee, a popular band, said the censorship authority had banned some songs from their 2017 album “A Drop of White”, which features calls for political freedoms.

But the banned songs are widely available on the web.

Heavy metal has been in the firing line of Egypt’s state-recognised Musicians’ Syndicate since it tried to have a gig called off in February 2016.

Its head, Hany Shaker, told Al-Assema television that his union had reported the event to police because of the presence of “devil worshippers in weird clothes”.

In April 2016, a concert by Brazilian band Sepultura was cancelled and event organiser Nader Sadek spent several days behind bars on suspicion of having failed to secure a permit.

“Our role is limited to notifying security… And Egyptian security is very alert,” syndicate spokesman Tarek Mortada said.

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