Political troubles dog Cairo Intl. fest

CAIRO — Two very large black clouds are hovering over this year’s Cairo Intl. Film Festival (Dec. 1-14).

The first is the death of long-time fest prexy Saadeddin Wahba, who succumbed to cancer Nov. 11. Wahba, who was 72, was a playwright and film scripter who headed the fest for 12 years.

Then on Nov. 18 came the massacre of 58 foreign tourists by Islamic extremists at the Queen Natskepsut Temple in the Upper Egyptian city of Luxor.

For the film fest, the Luxor killings will most certainly mean heavy security around the event’s host hotel, the Gesira Sheraton, and the 18 screening venues throughout the city. The tragedy may also prompt some cancellations by invited guests because several European countries have warned their citizens to stay away from Egypt for the time being.

Some 250 films are expected to unspool at the 21st annual edition of the fest — one of the major cultural events on Egypt’s calendar — with the U.S. leading the pack with 45 films. The diverse lineup includes offerings from Macedonia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and China, along with an unusually large number of Arabic-lingo films from Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

The death of Wahba is likely to give the fest a political aspect in light of recent Mideast developments. The late prexy was an outspoken critic of Israel, and persistently refused to allow Israeli participation in the fest despite pressure from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Indeed, Wahba’s funeral at downtown Cairo’s Omar Makram Mosque turned into something of an anti-Israel demonstration by Egyptian writers and intellectuals, who lambasted the hard-line policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over what is viewed in the Arab world as his sabotaging of the Mideast peace process.

Sidebars and seminars at the fest are expected to echo such sentiments, as well as criticism of the U.S. over its continuing insistence on sanctions against Libya and Iraq that are increasingly seen here as hurting the people of those countries rather than their leaders.

Fest is skedded to preem with a showing of “Evita” — even though the film’s star, Madonna, has often been roundly criticized in the Egyptian press over the way she conducts her life.

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