Islamists on Art

Posted filed underArab World, Censorship, Egypt, Law.

Egypt’s arts and culture scene is hanging in the balance. When Asran Mansour, a Salafi lawyer, filed a case against Adel Imam, renowned Egyptian actor, for “defaming Islam” in his films, no one expected that the verdict issued on 24 April 2012, by Judge Mohamed Abdel Aty would sentence Imam to three-months hard labor and a fine. Though the case was dropped on 26 April afternoon, the news outraged Egypt’s artists and equally angered international supporters of freedom of expression and creativity.

Ati Metwaly reports for leading arab magazine The Majalla: “Adel Imam’s case is one of the many indications of Islamists implementing limits on culture and freedom of expression. In parallel, on trial were: directors Nader Galal, Sherif Arafa, Mohamed Fadel and writers Wahid Hamed and Lenin El-Ramly, who faced the same charges of “defaming Islam.” Their cases were dropped as well on 26 April afternoon.

Although the arts and culture scene will not be silent regarding Imam’s sentence, as it will not remain passive when challenged by many other limitations posed on culture; the fight against such religious-based censorship is expected to be a long and painful one for all of Egypt’s creative minds.

In Egypt, as in other countries involved in the Arab Spring, Islamists made their way to a number of legislative bodies and gained equally significant popular support. Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) formed by the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of more radical Salafi parties, gained a total of over 70 percent of the parliamentary seats. Though in some areas the Brotherhood and Salafis differ in visions; both promote culture with conservative ideologies, but with different intensity.

The past few months have revealed numerous incidents in which Islamists have challenged freedom of creativity in the Arab World. In Tunisia, recent attacks by Islamists on artists participating in an event The People in Defense of Theater outraged the whole theater community. The ongoing trial of Nabil Karoui, head of Tunisian station Nessma TV which aired Persepolis; a film that includes a scene depicting God, has also hit a nerve in the international cultural scene.

In Egypt, the Salafis’ statements not only oppose intellectual freedom and progress but also testify to lack of understanding of their country’s cultural wealth. In his speeches, Abdel Moneim El-Shahat, the spokesman of Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya (The Salafist Call), called for a ban on works by Naguib Mahfouz, a 1988 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, for being an “atheist literature that calls for vice” with themes revolving around “prostitution and drugs.” El-Shahat also suggested covering statues of the Pharaohs in wax to put an end to the “idolatry.” No actual action was taken and El-Shahat failed to win a seat in the parliamentary elections, though his ideas are an indicator of a mindset that artists and intellectuals fear the most. Meanwhile other Salafis have called for banning all love scenes in past and present Egyptian movies, including scenes in cinematic gems with Abdel Halim Hafez and Nadia Lutfi, both undisputable icons of Egyptian culture.

In March, based on a decision issued by the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf, a government body in charge of religious endowments, filmmaker Ahmad Abdalla was refused permission to shoot a scene for his movie in a mosque. However, this decision was reversed by a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohsen Rady. In his statement for Ikhwanweb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s online platform, Rady said: “We safeguard the principle of freedoms for creativity, so long as it does not conflict with prayer times. We want to fulfill the mission of art that benefits the community.”

Read on at The Majalla

Image from Cairo Street Art