Voices from the Arab press: Mona Zaki and artistic freedom

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 SCREENSHOT FROM 'Perfect Strangers,' Netflix's first Arabic-language feature film. (photo credit: NETFLIX)
SCREENSHOT FROM 'Perfect Strangers,' Netflix's first Arabic-language feature film.
(photo credit: NETFLIX)

MONA ZAKI AND ARTISTIC FREEDOM

Al-Ahram, Egypt, January 26

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Netflix’s first Arabic-language feature film, Perfect Strangers, has dominated the Egyptian media and been bombarded with criticism since its release last week. Critics of the film denounced its portrayal of same-sex relationships and marital infidelity, while others took issue with its depiction of alcohol use and out-of-wedlock relationships.

But in the past few days, the Acting Professions Syndicate issued a strong statement in support of the film’s star, actress Mona Zaki, and defended the decision to air the film in Egypt. The syndicate committed to protecting its members from outside attacks and emphasized that it would not tolerate any physical or verbal assaults on Egyptian individuals associated with the film.

But with all due respect to the syndicate and its declaration, the truth is that we still live in a society that poses a direct threat not only to artists but also to artistic expression. The individuals who stand up against this art do so under the pretext of “protecting morals,” but try to prevent our society from evolving and moving forward. They turn a blind eye to the fact that it is simply impossible to force the Egyptian public to keep its eyes closed.

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018.  (credit: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON/FILE PHOTO)The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, US July 16, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON/FILE PHOTO)

To protect ourselves from this kind of pushback that holds us back as a society, we must pass legislation that sets limits for the kind of censorship that can be imposed on art and literature in Egypt. We must put an end to the government’s ability to ban a film or a book simply because a government bureaucrat disagrees with its message.

We can’t claim to support art and artists, build opera houses, theaters, and cultural sites, yet ban Netflix shows from airing in our country. – Ahmed Abdel-Tawwab 

THE EGYPTIAN NATIONAL POLICE DAY

An-Nahar, Lebanon, January 26

Every January 25 the Egyptian people celebrate Police Day, which recognizes the efforts of Egyptian police to maintain security and stability in Egypt and acknowledges their sacrifices.

This day comes in stark contrast to the action taken by the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to threaten and terrorize the Egyptian public by wreaking chaos and destruction.

One of the most common practices used by Brotherhood officials to spark public disorder is to make fictitious allegations about police abuses or violations.

In a country like Egypt with a population of more than 100 million people, the performance of the police is always subject to examination and, ultimately, criticism. It is normal for some abuses to occur in an organization like the Egyptian National Police, which consists of over 1 million personnel. After all, police officers are human beings just like us. Among them are the serious and frivolous; honest and corrupt; heroes and cowards. But to the extent that these kinds of abuses exist, they are a representation of personal, individual and human errors, and not a reflection of systemic or institutional policies.

Today, it is clear to the Egyptian people that what happened on January 25, 2011, on the eve of the Egyptian uprising, was not a revolution in the political sense, but, rather, a wave of protests organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and other individual actors backed by foreign countries, who sought to pave their way into power by sabotaging the country.

At that time, the prevailing belief was that rebuilding the security apparatus would take many years, and that restoring trust between the security apparatus and the average Egyptian citizen would require new procedures and policies. But this ended up happening much faster given the sacrifices made by the security apparatus to preserve a united Egypt.

Ultimately, a police officer is just a citizen, and if he commits a crime or makes a mistake, it is not right for the police to pay the price.

Those who traded human organs or hid medicine in government hospitals and used them to perform private surgeries were doctors and not police officers. Those who defended drug dealers or murderers, knowing undoubtedly that they were guilty, were lawyers and not police officers. And those who sabotaged the education system and robbed money from Egyptian schools and universities were professors and teachers, not police officers. All these individuals were ministers, businessmen and politicians. All are attacks on people, society and the law, committed by citizens.

What the Egyptians hope for is that the police will stand guard against these crimes, just as they did, and are still doing, in protecting the country from the Brotherhood and its conspiracies. – Mohamed Salah 

AMERICA AND THE PROBLEM OF HOUTHI TERRORISM

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 27

The frequency of Houthi attacks with missiles and drones on civilian targets has increased in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two targets that the Houthi military spokesman described as sensitive and symbolic.

With it, voices rose in the United Nations and in many countries, especially in the US Congress, calling for the movement to be designated as a terrorist organization.

The response provided by the White House was vague and brief, suggesting that the matter was under consideration.

Meanwhile, it has become abundantly clear that the US State Department can easily pursue this designation for a wide host of reasons, including the fact that the Houthis turned down all international initiatives for a peaceful resolution to the war, as well as ceasefire initiatives presented by the United States itself in coordination with Oman.

Further, the Houthi movement maintains a close relationship with Iran in an effort to destabilize the security of the country. The stability of the region and the escalation of attacks against civilian targets, such as airports, oil production fields, fuel depots and inhabited places, all strengthen the case for designating the group a terrorist group. Proponents of this measure see its immediate necessity.

As you might recall, US President Joe Biden removed the Houthis from the terrorism list shortly after stepping into office, with the aim of encouraging its leadership to engage in peaceful negotiations.

Another group of Americans looks at this issue from a different angle, according to which placing the movement on the list would block any future American attempt to broker a ceasefire in the Gulf. Further, such a step could provide the movement’s supporters with more influence and may motivate it to further destabilize the region. As a middle point, they prefer to provide more support to the affected allies, exert more political and moral pressure on the movement, and place a greater effort on surveilling and besieging the roads and seaports through which components of Iranian drones and missiles reach Houthi hands.

It is well known that the mere placement of a party – a person, institution, state or organization – on the US terrorism list has a direct impact on the positions of many other countries and international institutions, which tend to directly follow suit.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is weighing both options carefully. – Hassan Abou Taleb

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.