Egypt’s ‘Matrix’ ban sparking backlash

Local distribs to suffer; price for pirated copies rises

LONDON — According to one of the most respected observers of the Middle East cultural scene, the recent edict handed down banning “The Matrix: Reloaded” was a fait accompli once the makers chose the name for their mythical promised land. Interpreting the Egyptian film censorship committee’s decision, the Al-Ahram weekly noted that “it certainly doesn’t help that the city saved in the film is called Zion!”

The ban has sparked a backlash. Interviewed in Al-Ahram, ex-topper of the censorship body Mustafa Darwish questioned the ban, asserting that it is “affirming such misconceptions about us, that we and our ideas are a threat to humanity. This is scandalous. Egypt is now being perceived as a beacon of reactionary thought.” Darwish queried the logic of the ban when pirate DVDs are now going for three times the regular rate on the black market.

Local distribs are also up in arms. Pic was expected to take 1 million Egyptian pounds ($167,000) at the box office and hopes are high that the Complaints Committee will overturn the ban.

As evidence of the high state of tension in the region, a statement released by director Madkour Thabet of Egypt’s Dept. of Monitoring Artistic Products explained that while “Reloaded” was basically banned “on religious grounds,” he acknowledged that “scenes of excessive violence” that “could cause harm to social peace and affirm the concept of the culture of violence” contributed to the decision.

Thabet’s committee, comprised of prominent academics, psychologists, sociologists and writers, found that “despite high artistic and technical levels, the film deals explicitly with issues of creation and existence related to the three monotheistic religions we all respect and believe. This includes discussions of the issue of the Creator and the created, the origins of creation, free will and predestination and other theological issues that have caused controversies and tension.”

Although passed, the first “Matrix” pic was accused of espousing Zionism by hardline Cairo newspapers. In Lebanon, local censors passed the sci-fi pic but did not translate the word Zion in subtitles._