Inas Al Degheidy: Breaking Taboos in an Age of Islamists

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(Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Mohammad Abdel Rahman

Published Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cairo – Recent statements released by Sayed Khattab, the head of the Egyptian Board of Censors, regarding Inas Al Degheidy’s new movie Al-Samt (Silence), started a new battle between the controversial director and rising Islamic parties.

Degheidy did not fully support the Egyptian revolution. In fact, she was among those who expressed concern over Egypt’s fate, believing that chaos had helped radical Islamists ascend to power. During the past few months, Degheidy was repeatedly asked for her opinion on a new parliament that will be dominated by Islamic parties, including Salafists, who view art as blasphemous.

Indeed, faced with the Salafists’ radicalism, artists have started to express their admiration for the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood. Actress Elham Chahine claimed that art would flourish under a Brotherhood-dominated parliament while Ashraf Abdel Ghafour, director of the actors’ union, recently visited Muhammad Badi, the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood.

The visit was a first for the Muslim Brotherhood who are looking to to reassert their support for Egyptian art and squash rumors claiming that the brotherhood has been looking to abolish acting. Despite this they still stress that artists must "commit to productions that promote proper values and morals."

However, Deghiedy, who directed Al-Bahethat an al-Hurriya (Seekers of Freedom), did not differentiate between the Brotherhood and the Salafists in her recent statements.

She stressed that she would never leave her country, Egypt, under any circumstances, not even if the Islamists came to power. Rumors of her departure had pleased many conservative Egyptians, even those unaffiliated with Islamists – an example of her conflicted relationship with conservative Egyptian audiences.

After demanding several modifications, the Egyptian Board of Censors finally gave Degheidy permission to begin producing Al-Samt, which should be her first movie under the new parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists will certainly be urged by their supporters to use their power to ban movies such as Degheidy’s that daringly explore women’s issues.

This raises the question of whether the revolution had any effect on the mindset of conservative Egyptians.

Khattab insisted that the script contained no “sexual scenes” stressing that “it discusses incest as a social issue and without vulgarity.”

“It is a respectable movie, not a dirty sexual one as some have suggested,” she said.

The author of the screenplay, Rafiq el-Sibban, confirmed that the script was modified in compliance with requests made by the Egpytian Board of Censors which stated that the father (who commits incest) should be portrayed as “mentally diseased and thus, unrepresentative of the general Egyptian male figure.”

The question remains, will the Islamic parties refrain from banning the movie, considering that it tackles a taboo subject under the guidance of Inas Al Degheidy?

Many challenges still face the movie. Producers and distributors are reluctant to invest in and finance such movies after Islamists won a majority in parliament.

Another challenge lies in convincing star actors to participate in the movie knowing that fierce criticism awaits anyone who agrees to work with the controversial director. Degheidy's new movie has three principal characters: a female victim, a psychiatrist and the victim’s father. Ruby was nominated to play the female victim and the psychologist's role could go to either Nelly Karim or Mona Zaki.

Until now, no actor has been approached for the role of the father. It is worth mentioning that the actor who will take up this role will be the first artist to portray a man who sexually abuses his daughter in the history of Egyptian cinema.

The movie opens with a psychiatrist trying to understand the reason why her patient attempted to commit suicide. The girl relates her heartbreaking experience with a sexually abusive father, tackling subjects considered taboo by a conservative society perpetually living in fear of “scandals.”

Though the movie took the first step by securing permission from the Egyptian Board of Censors with Degheidy laying out a preliminary plan, experts predict that shooting will not start for a few weeks pending the political developments expected to take place this month in Egypt.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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