Egypt bows to religious censor

Programs feel the sharp cut of censorship

LONDON — Egyptian TV shows will soon have to pass religious censorship.

Minister of Information Mamduh Al-Beltagi has decreed TV dramas must be “responsible” and “respect the values and traditions of Egyptian society. The media cannot be transformed into instruments to distil poison under the pretext of artistic license.”

Programs will be submitted to Al-Azhar — regarded by some as the highest Sunni Muslim authority in the world — as well as the country’s small but powerful Christian Coptic church.

One miniseries already has felt the sharp cut of the censor: “A Girl From Shubra” — which depicted the relationship between a Christian woman and Muslim man during Egypt’s struggle for independence in the 1940s — has been axed. The show was denounced as “dealing with relationships between Christians and Muslims in a way that undermines national unity.”

Authors and writers have criticized the increased censorship. Writer Magdi Tayeb describes it as “a state of emergency slapped on domestic creativity.”

Egypt is traditionally the center of TV production in the Middle East, with homegrown serials dominating airwaves.

Recently, however, it has faced increasing competition from Syrian TV production and the emergence of Dubai as a production hub.

The decision to nix “Girl From Shubra” underlines the extent to which tensions between Egypt’s majority Muslim population and minority Copts, who form 10% of the country’s population, have risen in recent months.

In December hundreds of Copts protested after a rumor that the wife of a priest in northern Egypt had been forced to convert to Islam.

Events culminated in the country’s top Coptic cleric, Pope Shenouda III, withdrawing to seclusion at a desert monastery to draw attention to grievances felt by the Christian Copt community.

There also was controversy over the release last year of critically acclaimed film “I Love Cinema” by director Oussama Fawzi, himself a former Copt who converted to Islam.

Centering on a Christian Egyptian family in the 1960s, the film was attacked by a coalition of Copts and clergy who accused it of demeaning religion. It was, however, passed uncut by censors.

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