In Respond to the x-mufti's call for immediate burning of All My Life
Contact: Pakinam Refaat
Cairo and San Francisco, July, 2008 - In a response to ex-Mufti of Egypt, Dr Fareed Wasel, calling for the banning and “immediate burning” of their movie All My Life, The Egyptian Underground Film Society (EUFS) has responded with "deep sorrow" in the words of filmmaker Maher Sabry. "Although it's the twenty-first century, there are still those who live in the dungeons of the Middle Ages and call for the burning of anything that differs from their opinion. Middle Eastern/Islamic civilization flourished when liberty was the order of the day, and fell with the advent of book-burning, suppressing different opinions and responding to dissent with accusations of heresy. The ex-Mufti’s announcement, with the weight of religious authority behind it, can only lead to yet more extremism and dogmatism."
When the film opened at the Frameline Festival in San Francisco on June 22, the theatre was packed and a long line of people waiting to get in wound around the Victoria Theatre. As the credits rolled, the theatre rose to its feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation. The question-and-answer session after the film dealt with sex, politics, and the relationship between the two. "The personal is political" was a statement that resonated throughout the session as theatergoers discussed how the suppression of sexual difference was a first step to curtailing an ever-increasing range of freedoms. With this in mind, the response of conservatives is predictable.
In a comment on the Mufti’s statement, Sabry had this to say: “I’m not surprised that this happened. It was expected, yet it’s still painful to me, because it’s an indication of just how backward we’ve become. We’re now living in an age of cultural regression, an age where dissidents, presidential candidates and religious minorities are thrown into jail. We claim to be emulating Islamic civilization; but if the people who built that civilization were alive today, there would have been fatwas [religious edicts] pronounced against them, and their books and other works would have been burned.”
The EUFS also expressed its regret at the statements of Dr. Zein el Abedeen, Egypt's Anti-AIDS Program Director, who had stated that the film was “a painful blow to all our efforts to combat the spread of HIV.” Without even seeing the movie, Dr. Zein based his opinion on the mere fact that the film deals with the lives of homosexuals. In an interview with Arabiya.net, he stated: “Unnatural sexual practices are second only to blood transfusions as probable causes for infection with this disease”, with the clear implication that HIV/AIDS only infect male homosexuals. By implying this, he completely ignores scientific fact; statistics have shown that AIDS is also widespread among heterosexuals and children. Instead of raising public awareness about safe sex, such statements are misleading and create a false sense of security; they create a popular belief that HIV/AIDS only infects a certain class of people, leading to the illusion of safety which, in turn, leads to the spread of the disease.
"The situation in Egypt today is reminiscent of the Reagan era in the United States, when the real reason for the HIV/AIDS virus was kept a secret while the press falsely claimed it was a ‘gay disease’, which lead to a catastrophic spread of infection," said a EUFS spokesperson. "Unfortunately, it seems inevitable that our current state of denial and secrecy, in addition to the refusal to enter into any public discussion of sensitive and immediately relevant issues, will lead to negative consequences.
In response to the AIDS Program Director’s statement, the filmmaker had this to say: “Although I expected an attack on the film from traditional quarters, I must admit that I found Dr Zein’s statement surprising in the extreme. I don’t get it; how can my film be "a painful blow to the Center’s efforts" at the very moment when the Egyptian government is arresting HIV-positive people and trying them on charges of debauchery, and people at risk, or those who think they may be infected, are scared stiff of the Center and of government hospitals? But again, this is an indication of the general state of affairs in this country: the educated classes can’t draw the line separating scientific fact from their own personal beliefs, religious, social or superstitious, and they delude those to look to them as a source of scientific power."
The concurrence of opinion among sources of religious and scientific power in arabiya.net article do not represent the opinions of all Egyptians; however, what it does indicate is the complete marginalization of nontraditional opinions and mainstreaming conservative right-wing opinions at the expense of the liberal sectors of society, whose input remains unsolicited and ignored.
For more information, or an interview with the director, please email Pakinam Refaat, at email@example.com
EUFS was founded in 2005 by a group of artists and intellectuals seeking a creative outlet away from the restrictions of censorship and conservative production values. EUFS is open to new members, both independent filmmakers and supporters of creative freedom. If you'd like more information about EUFS, or are interested in joining the group, please e-mail Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.