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Mona Zaki and Artistic Freedom

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. 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 Tawab (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)