Director, AFTE research unit
– The Supreme Council introduces the work of the Drama Committee
– The Drama committee against All
– Besieging drama… more than one stage to cross
– “Victorious” drama… what creativity is sanctioned by the state?
– Conclusion and Recommendations
The report was based on the official data issued by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation on drama, as well as the periodic statements, reports and periodic reports issued by the drama committee formed by the Council, whether published on the official website of the Council or in newspapers and talk shows. The report was also depended on a review of the existing laws governing the drama censorship process as compared to the previous one.
Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2014, major changes have taken place in Egypt’s media and cultural landscape. The current authority has exploited the popularity of the June 30 protests and the war on terror, and has begun to pass legislation, create some bodies and expand other powers to control the media and cultural landscape, thereby shrinking the spaces for freedom of expression outside state control, which were created by the January, 25th revolution.
The president referred many times to culture and the arts, and he always sought to emphasize the role they played in shaping citizens sense of belonging and their consciousness. He therefore urged the workers in the media and cultural fields to adhere to the vision of the state in their work, and to report, in collaboration with members of society of any violations, each according to their position and authority.
In general, the arts represent an educational value for the authority whose aesthetics are used to elevate the values of patriotism of a “moral religious character.  ” In particular, this concern increases by curtailing and curbing the role of art and culture, and imposing control thereon, the more this art becomes accessible to a larger audience, which the Authority ultimately tried to exercise through the Higher Media Council and the Drama Committee.
The statements of the Council and its Committee expressed the Authority’s vision of creativity and culture.
The drama committee wanted to use the power granted to it by the Council in what it described as the development of the Egyptian drama through the subsequent censorship of creative works that are “hostile to society and its values”, as described by officials of the drama committee. In the manner of the “Plato City of Virtue,” which was known to be hostile to “acting” in general, and the “theater” in particular, in which Plato considered that the task of culture is to prepare “gentlemen”, the commission began its work.
Over a seven-month period, the Commission’s duration of work before resigning, the committee submitted reports and recommendations of sanctions on the “black list of drama “, which violated conditions and standards and “distorted Egypt’s image abroad”, and which made the censorship role of the committee difficult. On the one hand, the committee was forced to engage in external conflicts with artists and intellectuals in order to encourage them to adhere to the standards of “good drama.” On the other hand, it engaged in an internal struggle with the Supreme Media Council about its powers and the enforcement of sanctions, which have been declared and to which the Council did not totally commit.
It is therefore that we thought that the release of this report at this time following the resignation of the Drama Committee is important and necessary, as we seek to examine the extent of the success of the drama committee to restrict the freedom of creativity. Despite the suspension of the drama committee temporarily, which caused the collective resignation of its members, we cannot overlook the success achieved by this Committee, where the volume of excesses in the drama of Ramadan this year compared to last year indicated a significant decrease in the number of incidents which the committee considered to be in violation of standards, a matter which may indicate the success of the committee to increase the rate of self-censorship.
The report also attempts to understand the nature and role of the drama committee, whether it is the role determined by its decree of formation or the role it sought to play on the ground. The report shows how the Authority leads its discourse on culture and creativity in a direction that does not respect the freedom of expression and creativity, and how the Drama Committee attempts to adopt this discourse from the present authority and its predecessor to the simulation of taboos and prohibitions of 1976, which are very similar to the irregularities established by the Drama Committee.
The report also seeks to urge intellectuals and creative artists to act in order to confront such practices and pressure the current authority and the Supreme Council of Media to reject any attempt to revive the drama committee or to present a new proposal for its work in favor of freedom of creativity, provided that it is not a new censorship body.
The Supreme Council Introduces the Work of the Drama Committee
Before the formation of the drama committee, the Supreme Council for the Regulation of Media, established at the time in accordance with Law 92 of 2016, played a general role in supervising the dramas and creative works shown on television. The President of the Council, Makram Mohammed Ahmed, and its members launched a number of statements against the violations of Egyptian morals, customs and traditions in drama, announcing the existence of new regulations for the development of drama in 2017 and the formation of committees to monitor everything displayed on the screen. It should be noted here the changes in the law of the formation of the Supreme Council of Information, which abolished in early September 2018 Law No. 92 of 2016, to be replaced by Law No. 180 of 2018, but the new law, as its predecessor, does not include provisions that allow censorship of creative works.
The Council’s powers and the size of its powers began to be clear, as well as the limits of its control over drama and creativity. On June 7, 2017, the Council issued a report entitled “Monitoring the excesses of the series and programs of Ramadan from 27 May to 6 June 2017.”
The Council set out six patterns of violations, Verbal abuse, insults and verbal obscenity, using crude sexual insults, deliberately displaying scenes of defamation and sexual harassment, and showing serials containing free lessons on how to use drugs, joining ISIS, political insinuations and historical mistakes.” The Council then monitored the scenes that included a breach and issued a decree to penalize the heads of the channels 200 thousand Egyptian pounds for every word that was deemed offensive by the Council and presented in any of the dramas, and to withdraw the license of the media outlet in case of a repeated breach and noncompliance with the penalty within six months, where a new license is then required. The Council also sent letters to television channels to confirm the deletion of scenes that include scenes of violence or contain words “not suitable for the Egyptian people.” 
However, the incompatibility in the field of competencies between the Supreme Council of Information and the Censorship Authority of Artistic Works, the moral tone that some saw as condescending to the Council’s reports on the content of dramas and the omission of the representation of creative artists within the Council caused a sharp wave of attack against the new orientations of the Council.
The text of the law establishing the Supreme Media Council – recently replaced by a new law without significant differences with regard to the powers of the Council – has several functions, the most important of which is the receipt of complaints regarding the content of the newspapers and what is published in the media, especially the content that affects the reputation of the people or exposed to their own lives. The law refers to the Council’s authority to take “appropriate measures” against the newspaper or the media outlet if it violates the law.
On the other hand, the Media Syndicate Act, in its first article, states that “an activity shall not be considered a media activity if it involves cinematic, television or theater act, as well as recreational activities.” The law defined media activity as “any activity based on broadcasting news, information, ideas, opinions or facts from its source through audiovisual means to inform and enlighten public opinion.” The terms of reference of the Syndicate do not include the monitoring of the performance of creative works, which makes the Supreme Media’s interventions in the content of dramas infringing in accordance with the law.
The process of censorship of creative works is subject to other laws and regulations. One of the most important stages of this regulatory process, which includes regulating the contents of the state television, is Law No. 430 of 1955 regulating censorship of cinematographic films, television, songs, plays and standing performances, law no. 350/1970 of the General Directorate for the Control of Artistic Works and the definition of its jurisdiction, which regulates the prior censorship of works of art, the decision of the Minister of Culture No. 220 of 1976 on the basic rules for the censorship of works of art, and the decision of the Prime Minister No. 162 of 1993, concerning the executive regulations for the censorship of audio and audiovisual works, which includes the executive regulations of the law.
“The competent authorities of the Union of Radio and Television shall comply with the rules referred to in the preceding articles when allowing any work on television or radio and in the presentation of any advertisement relating on such outlets. These bodies must direct special attention to the content regarding its respect for values of society and the high quality of the productions, to ensure they are devoid of any vulgar substance, considering that what they broadcast reaches individuals of all ages, which requires special responsibility (protection for young people)”.
Article 5 of the Prime Minister’s Decision No. 220 of 1976
Article 1 of Act No. 430 of 1955 regulating censorship of cinematographic films, TV, songs, plays and standing performances stipulates that the purpose of censorship is “to protect public order, morality and the high state interests “, while the law does not provide for any precise and specific definition for these three protected categories. Resolution No. 220 of 1976 on the basic rules for the control of works of art, regulates in Article 5 control of the work produced by the Union of Radio and Television, and states that the censorship decisions in Article I and II aim for the preservation of public morals and public order and the protection of young people from “delinquency”. To achieve these objectives, the General Directorate of the Censorship of Artistic Works may not grant a license to display, produce or advertise any work if this work includes any of the following matters, outlines in 20 points:
- Preaching atheism and insult to the divine religions and religious beliefs and favoritism of acts of sorcery.
- Showing the image of the prophet (explicitly or symbol), pictures of one of the adult caliphs, the people of the house and the ten missionaries or their voices, as well as showing the image of Jesus Christ or the images of the prophets in general, all after consideration of the competent religious authorities.
- Improper performance of Quranic verses and Prophetic sayings and all contents of holy books or non-observance of the rules of recitation, or failure to observe the provision of religious rites in the correct manner.
- Portraying of funeral ceremonies or burying the dead in a manner contrary to the sanctity of death.
- Justifying acts of vice in a way that leads to compassion for the perpetrator or to use them as a means to serve noble ends.
- The depiction or presentation of vice in such a way as to encourage the simulation of its actors or to make the element of vice in the context of the events sufficient to punish the perpetrator in the end, if the general effect that arises from it suggests incitement to vice.
- Portraying the human body naked in a way that is contrary to the norms and traditions of the society and not to take into account that the clothes worn by the actors reveal physical details that embarrass viewers or contradict the norms in society, or to highlight the angles that outline or flagrantly emphasize body details.
- Erotic scenes or homosexuality scenes and physical movements and phrases that are suggestive.
- Indecent scenes and scenes of dance in a way that lead to sexual excitement or are improper and indecent in the movements of dancers and actors or both sexes.
- Portraying drunkenness, alcohol and drugs as something familiar or recommended and offer gambling and lottery games in a way that encourages them to be a source of income.
- The use of expressions, signs, obscenities, that harm general taste, are vulgar, lack of prudence and taste when using words that are closely associated with sexual life or sexual sin.
- Non consideration of the sanctity of marriage and the ideal values of the family or to display scenes that are incompatible with the due respect of parents unless they are meant for good advice.
- Presenting crime in a manner that is sympathetic, stimulates imitation, gives a halo of heroism to the offender, downgrades the commission of a criminal act and reduces its danger to the community to suggest simulation.
- Presentation of crimes of revenge and retaliation in a way that calls for their
- Show scenes of murder, beatings, torture or cruelty in general, in a detailed and brutal manner, and use of terror solely for terror and public intimidation or for the shock the viewer.
- Presenting suicide as a reasonable solution to problems of humanity.
- Distorted presentation of historical facts, especially those relating to national figures.
- Defamation of a foreign country or a people with friendly relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Egyptian people, unless it is necessary to provide a historical analysis required by the context of the subject.
- Presentation of any themes that represent a particular human race or people in such a way as to expose them to ridicule, unless necessary to create a positive impression of a specific purpose such as anti-apartheid.
- Presentation of social problems in a way that calls for spreading despair, hopelessness, provoking thoughts, creating class or sectarian strife or undermining national unity.
The prohibitions of 1976 are very similar to the standards set by the Drama Commission of 2018, which we will discuss later, but the latter is concerned with dramatic and creative work after its display on the screen. Both derive their standards from the three taboos of “religion, sex and politics”, which were included in Act No. 430 of 1955, which were expended in the subsequent censorship laws.