Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Dialogues of exile

National Security banned the documentary Jews of Egypt a day prior to its screening, writes Soha Hesham

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many Egyptian film lovers were eagerly awaiting the release of Amir Ramses’s documentary Jews of Egypt in commercial cinemas in Cairo and Alexandria when, abruptly on Tuesday night, he confirmed on his Facebook page that the film was banned from cinemas by the National Security apparatus, an affiliate to the Interior Ministry.
The film delves into the stories of Egyptian Jews before their departure from the country in the mid-1950s, explaining the transformation in Egyptian society and how Jews turned into enemies after the Israeli conflict surfaced. It also explores their present lives in exile, having left Egypt and headed to Europe or elsewhere in the West, referring to a variety of successful Jewish businessmen and how they contributed to the strong economy of Egypt in days gone by.
The General Censorship Authority gave a licence for screening at the Panorama of the European Film — organised by Marianne Khoury — last November, following the huge success of the film with three screenings on the same day. 
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly over the phone, Ramses said, “The film was given licence for screening twice before; one time to be shown at the Panorama European Film and the second time for participating in the Palm Springs International Film Festival held earlier in January. The producer of the film Haitham Al-Khamisi and I were renewing the licence for its release in three commercial cinemas: Sun City and Nile City in Cairo and San Stefano in Alexandria; we were repeatedly told that the licence was only being delayed due to red tape — the trailer was already showing in cinemas.”
After a long day spent between the lawyer’s office and the Film Syndicate, headed by Mosaad Fouda (the syndicate has since announced its solidarity), Ramses stated that “on Tuesday, Al-Khamisi addressed the head of the censorship committee Abdel-Sattar Fathi about the necessity of obtaining the licence; at this point he found out that it was the National Security apparatus that banned the film, requesting to watch it again before it could be screened, in spite of the two previous screening approvals. This ironic, peculiar and ultimately illegal situation created by the National Security apparatus is the simple outcome of the Ministry of Culture and the General Censorship Authority allowing security bodies to interfere with their work.”
Ramses denounces such disrespect for the law: “Till now no evident solutions to the situation have come up. However, a lawsuit will be filed regarding the resulting financial losses and other repercussions of banning the film. I assure you — and I have been saying this everywhere — if the problem isn’t solved I will screen the film on the wall of the National Security apparatus building; if they don’t respect the law, then why should I?”
According to film critic Essam Zakaria, who also spoke to the Weekly over the phone, “Security agencies have unerringly played this role for years, with certain instructions secretly forced upon the Censorship Authority — which is illegal. Supposedly, the General Censorship Authority is the only decision-maker regarding whether the film should be banned, which makes it confusing when the Censorship Authority announces that it’s waiting for approval from National Security.”
As for the censorship situation before the revolution and during the Mubarak era, Zakaria verified that filmmakers had always gone through battles not only with censorship but also with various security agencies. He went on, “However, despite all such battles, discussions would often take the form of ‘friendly conversations’ — that happened, for example, with Awlad Al-Aam [The Cousins], which was partly about Israel and considered a national security question. After the revolution, despite the determination that National Security should not work along the same lines as State Security, its predecessor, nor interfere in politics at all, the situation went back to ‘normal’. The whole thing, it seems, was a matter of changing names.”
In a striking example of the role of National Security and how similar it has become to that of Sate Security, the Iranian film A Separation by Asghar Farhadi was scheduled to be screened at Cairo University. “A day before the screening,” Zakaria explained, “the film was banned and it was believed that it was the decision of National Security. The production company of Jews of Egypt was keen on obtaining approvals for the film script and consequently the Censorship Authority monitored the script and offered them approvals in 2010.”
Ramses said there was no reason given why the film was banned, nor could Zakaria guess; however, he hazards that perhaps National Security is concerned that the film will expose the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in forcing Jews out in the mid-1940s, which is clearly portrayed in the film.
Zakaria said, “It’s critical timing for such statements to appear in the media — few people will pay attention to National Security banning a film when there are more dangerous situations in the country. In a way I believe the problem will be solved, for several reasons; it’s not legal for National Security to ban a film, and exposing the incident in the media and the makers of the film are suggesting a public screening on the wall of the National Security building...”
Ramses finally told the Weekly, “I hold all of the following responsible: the General Censorship Authority, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Culture, the Supreme Council for Culture and the National Security apparatus.”

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