Egyptian MPs call for film with gay Egypt character to be cut!




Brian Whitaker Guardian Weekly

On gay Egypt: Egyptian MPs are demanding cuts in a popular new film, claiming it defames their country with its gritty portrayal of, gay egypt, corrupt politicians, police brutality, terrorism and homosexuality, writes Brian Whitaker.

The Yacoubian Building - the most expensive film ever produced in Egypt - has been breaking box office records since its release last month, although some viewers have walked out and others say they had to cover their eyes.

Following complaints from 112 MPs, the Egyptian parliament has set up a committee to review the film and decide what to cut.

"This film is spreading obscenity and debauchery, which is totally against Egyptian moral values," independent MP Mustafa Bakri said. "As a citizen I felt hurt when I watched it."

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The film, which features some of Egypt's biggest stars, is based on a novel by a Cairo dentist, Alaa al-Aswani, which became the Arab world's best-seller and has been sold openly in Egypt for four years.

The book gives a warts-and-all portrait of modern Egypt told through the lives of the inhabitants of a Cairo apartment block.

There is a womanising aristocrat, a corrupt nouveau riche politician, a woman who is sexually harassed at work and a highly educated youth who becomes a terrorist after being turned down for a job in the police because he comes from a poor family.

The most controversial of all, though, is Hatim Rasheed, a cultured newspaper editor with a taste for Nubian men.

He falls in love with a young married policeman who feels guilty about the relationship and eventually murders him.

Aswani's book caused additional frissons by the way it blurs fiction with reality.

The eponymous Yacoubian Building really exists and several characters - including the corrupt politician and the gay Egypt editor - bear a striking resemblance to prominent Egyptians.

"Why aren't Italy, France or the United States defamed by movies dealing with homosexuality? Novels and movies are not made to promote tourism but to deal with real issues of life," Aswani said.

Homosexuality and Gay Egypt has previously figured in novels by Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian Nobel laureate, and in several films by Egypt's greatest director, Youssef Chahine.

In Yousri Nasrallah's 1993 film Mercedes the central character had a gay Egypt brother with a lover, as well as a drug-addicted lesbian aunt.

With the growth of religiosity in recent years, though, attitudes have been hardening.

Same-sex acts are not illegal in Egypt but laws against "debauchery" and "immoral advertising" are used to bring charges.

In the popular press homosexuality is often portrayed as a western "disease" that can be caught from foreigners.

In 2001 more than 50 men described as satanists were put on trial following a police raid on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub popular with gay men.

They were said to have imported their "perverse ideas" from Europe.

Brian Whitaker's Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, is published by Saqi Books.




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