Six council members of the Actors Syndicate have been granted powers of arrest in legislation aiming to confront violations of the law regulating the syndicate, its memberships and artistic production.
The decree, which was issued by Minister of Justice Ahmed al-Zend and published in Egypt’s Official Gazette on Sunday, names six syndicate members who have been granted these wide-ranging powers of arrest — including the syndicate’s president and secretary general.
According to the decree’s provisions, these members are “mandated to act in the capacity of law enforcement officers with powers of arrest” in order to confront any crime breaching the Actors Syndicate Law.
The syndicate’s president, Ashraf Zaki, declined to comment on the decree.
Ashraf Tolba, the secretary general, told privately-owned Al-Araby Al-Jadeed News Website on Monday that “the arrest powers granted are beneficial to the arts in general.”
Tolba suggested that the move will bring “an end to those farces committed in the name of art, and will ensure that art is the domain of those who are talented and decent, for those who are conscious of the meaning of art — for those who are aware of the syndicate’s laws and abide by them.”
Established film and TV producer Mohamed al-Adl told Mada Masr that the decree is unconstitutional.
Adl specifically referenced the Constitution’s Article 67, which stipulates that, “It is not permitted to raise or file lawsuits to stop or confiscate literary, intellectual or artistic work, or against its creators, except through the public prosecution. No custodial sentences may be imposed for crimes committed due to the public display of literary, intellectual or artistic work.”
Himself a member of the Actors Syndicate, the producer explained that some two-thirds of Egyptian actors are not members, and thus may now be subjected to arrest upon the orders of the syndicate chiefs at any time.
Adl went to say that this ministerial decree “empowers the chiefs of the syndicate council to determine who is an innovative actor and who isn’t, who deserves to be a syndicate member, and who doesn’t. Moreover, these six individuals are now empowered to determine which actors or filmmakers are silenced, or even thrown in jail.”
“Should I expect to be arrested while conducting my work?” the producer said. “Should I now expect the arrest of those talented actors, with whom I often work, merely because they are not members of the syndicate?”
Ahmad Abdalla, a prominent film director, best known for Microphone (2010), explained that non-syndicate members who partake in professional acting projects are, nonetheless, required to pay fees to the syndicate.
“This decree is aimed at ensuring that these fees are paid,” he argued.
Abdalla suspects that the provisions of the decree may also be used to expand the syndicate’s regulations to cover any moving images, such as media posted on YouTube, that are not necessarily aired on television and therefore do not require a syndicate membership to produce.
Adl speculated that the chiefs of the Actors Syndicate may have requested these wide-ranging powers of arrest from the Ministry of Justice.
He suggested that the syndicate council, elected in June, is attempting to exert its control and to manipulate the syndicate in much the same way as newly elected president of the Musicians Syndicate, Hany Shaker, who recently issued a ban upon those female musicians who wear revealing clothing.
“Who is to determine what constitutes revealing clothing, and who is accordingly banned from performing?” Adl asked. “Similarly, who is to determine the causes for arresting an actor or actress for their work?”
There has been an expansion of those holding the power to arrest since 2012 when the Justice Ministry granted the power to several governmental institutions, claiming it necessary for the maintenance of order. Those who have been granted the power in the last few years include Ministry of Endowments employees, inspectors in the Local Development Ministry, neighborhood heads, officials in the Petroleum Authority and university guards.