Report on Freedom of Thought and Creativity in Egypt
July – December 2009
This Report aims at monitoring and documenting the situation of freedom of thought and creativity in Egypt. It relies on various sources including the activity reports of AFTE’s Legal Aid Team, which works on providing legal support for the victims of censorship apparatuses. It also makes use of the relevant decisions taken by Egyptian courts during the past years, as well as a press archive, interviews conducted with victims and officials.
It must be stated that AFTE’s team could not have observed all the events related to restrictions on freedom of thought and expression. However, we documented the most significant events related to the situation of freedom of thought and expression in Egypt.
Synopsis of the Report
This Report documents the situation of freedom of thought and creativity in Egypt, and its major developments in the period from July to December 2009. T builds upon AFTE’s first report on the same issues covering the period from January to June 2009. It starts with presenting a legal vision about the social considerations that necessitates criminalization of certain forms of expression. Such necessity may be considered one of the constitutional guarantees related to freedom of thought and creativity in light of the jurisprudence of the Supreme Constitutional Court. The Report includes some examples significant in this regard.
The second half of 2009 witnesses a continuation of censorship on freedom of thought and creativity via a number of mechanisms. Courtrooms were used to restrict freedom of thought and expression. Censoring movies, TV production, satellite channels continues. This period may be duly called a period of “cutting, banning, and suspension of the transmission.” Al-Azhar and the Church practiced the role of censor on creators and thinkers. Al-Azhar took a decision to confiscate a book for the author Muhhamad Emara. Bishop Bishoy sent a letter to the Censorship authority asking them not to screen the Spanish film, Agora, for the Director Alejandro Amenábar, which was supposed to be screened at the closing of the European Film Panorama. Likewise, a number of individuals acted as censors on writers and thinkers. The most significant example in this regard is the controversy related to the State’s Appraisal Awards granted to Hassan Hanafy and Sayed Al-Qemny, and the censoring practices taken by a number of citizens afterwards. The citizen Youssef Al-Badry filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Culture, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Culture, and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar demanding the withdrawal of the awards from Hassan Hanafy and Sayed Al-Qemny. His argument was that “their only concern is to offend Islam, as well as its rules, rituals, and symbols, and to insult the Islamic faith in their writings, articles, and TV talks.”
However, if we compare the events related to censorship on cinema on the first half of 2009 and the second half thereof, we find that controversial cases decreased.
Cases that started in the first half of the year and continued in the second half include these of the movie “The President and the Marshal” for the director Khaled Youssef and the Producer Mamdouh Al-Laythy, and Magdy Al-Shafee’s novel (Metro), in addition to the controversy about the novel Azazel.
Qasr Al-Nil Misdemeanors Court decided to punish the author and the publisher of Metro with 5000 Egyptian pounds each and confiscation of the copies of the novel. However, Cairo’s Court of Administrative Justice decided to nullify the decision of the Central Department for Censorship on Artistic Material of the Ministry of Culture to postpone granting the permission to shoot “The President and the Marshal” until the Military Intelligence and the General Intelligence give their approval.
The reasoning of the Court in “The President and the Marshal” case have to be highlighted. The Court asserted that “the Constitution guaranteed freedom of opinion” and that “the art of cinema… cannot be judged except by the artistic standards of this art.”
The above decision is one of the decisions reinforcing freedom of thought and creativity. It is highly important that all those concerned with promotion of freedom of thought and creativity study the different legal decisions reinforcing freedom of thought and creativity in order to create a state of legal awareness of the extent of the right to freedom of thought and creativity.
AFTE observed 55 cases of assault on freedom of thought and creativity in 2009 including censorship on cinema, theatre, TV, satellite channels, newspapers, and other publications.
AFTE also observed 18 trials of thinkers and creators, and 12 court decisions. Trials included pleas to stop the screening of movies, denial/postponing of shooting permissions, requests to ban satellite channels, blockage of internet websites, requests to withdraw the State’s Appraisal Award, and refusing to circulate newspapers.