Egyptian Censors Ban Film About Forbidden Love
Last month, Egyptian authorities banned the screening of a film depicting a love story between a Muslim man and Coptic Christian woman. Cairo Exit, a film by Egyptian-American Hesham Issawi, was slated to be screened on February 27 at the Luxor African Film Festival, but was refused permission by censorship authorities and withdrawn.
Under current Egyptian law, films must obtain permits from the Censorship on Artistic Works authority in order to be screened. Violators can be sentenced to jail. Sayed Khattab, the head of the authority, has stated that festival administration did not include the film on their list of films sent for approval. He added that the film “could have created problems in its present form.” Interfaith relationships remain a controversial subject in Egypt, where violent clashes between Muslims and Copts continue to this day. In addition to interreligious romance, the film also features taboo depictions of premarital pregnancy, virginity fraud, and prostitution.
A statement signed by various Egyptian filmmakers, critics, actors, and intellectuals condemning the censorship paints a different picture from Khattab’s version of events. The statement claims that authorities “stalled” by failing to respond to the festival organizers’ requests for permission. According to the statement, “The festival organizers suggested to the censorship authorities that the film be shown only to members of the jury, critics, and journalists, but they never replied.” The statement further denounces all censorship by declaring, “We reject all forms of restrictions on freedoms and feel sorry that such practices remain after the breakout of a revolution that called for freedom and the establishment of a civil state.”
The film was previously banned from screening during Hosni Mubarak’s reign, at least in part due to a subplot involving a Coptic woman working as a prostitute. Even before it was finished, Issawi had to resort to guerilla filmmaking tactics to complete the film, shooting much of it without permission using handheld cameras and even sending a false screenplay to censorship authorities. Following the revolution, Issawi expressed optimism that the film could now be screened in his homeland. But one year later, little has changed for both the movie’s situation in Egypt and the religious tensions that have made its themes so contentious.
Watch the trailer for Cairo Exit:
Read an interview with Hesham Issawi regarding the background and making of Cairo Exit.