A Cairo court ruled on Tuesday against the Cabinet’s decision to ban the film Halawet Rouh (Rouh’s beauty) from cinemas, overturning a previous decision by the prime minister to censor the film on moral grounds.
Chairperson of the Cabinet, Prime Minister Mehleb, had previously issued a statement saying the film should be banned, due to “immodest scenes” that go against the moral values of Egyptian society.
Ahmed Awaad, the former head of the censorship board, said Mehleb’s decision to ban the film was illegal, according to the constitution. He clarified that the only people who can decide to ban or censor films are the members of the censorship board.
Awaad resigned over the issue, telling Mada Masr, “I refused to continue working against the constitution and the law.” He sees Tuesday’s court ruling as validation of his actions.
Fatma Serag, a lawyer with the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, explained that the court ruling was made after the film’s producer, Sobky Production, appealed the prime minister’s decree on the basis that it falls outside of his jurisdiction to make such decisions.
While the censorship board makes initial decisions regarding censorship, the State Council Court has the authority to decide on the legality of these decisions, and in certain cases can rule on whether or not they will be upheld.
There have been a number of examples of censorship in the past year, including the banning of three books at the end of August 2014 from import and circulation in Egypt. The books included, An Introduction to Semiotics, by Egyptian author Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, Al-Mabrouma, by Lebanese author Rabee Jaber, and In Praise of Love, by French author Alain Badiou.
All three books are published by Al-Tanweer, an Egyptian publisher based in Lebanon, who says they have not yet been informed as to why the books were banned.
Earlier this year, the State Council banned satellite TV channels that were seen as mouthpieces for the Muslim Brotherhood. The council said the channels were banned because they “sought to sow discord between the populace and Egypt’s Armed Forces,” with the intention of “toppling Egypt.” However, neither of the channels were banned on moral grounds.
A recent example of censorship based on moral justifications is the 2014 film, Family Secrets, the first Egyptian film to feature a gay protagonist. The director of the film, Hany Fawzy, told UK newspaper the Guardian that the 13 changes requested by the censorship board transformed the homosexual relationship of the main character into a platonic friendship. The film was originally banned from screening in 2013, when the director refused to comply with the changes required by the censorship board.
In a recent conversation with Mada Masr, Awaad said he attempted to minimize censorship in his former position as head of the censorship board, and that some censorship claims have been over exaggerated. Regarding Family Secrets, he maintained small changes were requested that didn’t greatly alter the final film.