No More Kissing in Egypt? (It’s Not True)
Parts of the Egyptian mediascape and blogosphere went wild May 1st when the story went around that Dr. Sami al-Sharif, the head of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union had ordered a ban on kissing and hugging in all movies being shown on television, whether Egyptian or foreign.
Al-Sharif subsequently denied it, saying “I have never and will never adopt such a backward decision, considering that this would be a violation of the freedom to create and a destruction of the heritage of Egyptian cinema” according to the web site of the MBC satellite group.
Until he squelched the rumor, criticisms were coming from every direction. Articles appeared in mainstream news sources like Al-Arabiyya (Arabiyya cites an inteview in Al-Masry Al-Youm as the source of Al-Sharif’s putative comment but a text search of both the Arabic and English editions didn’t turn it up). He was criticized by people like critic Nader Adli and producer Ahmad al-Sabki, as well as in many blogs.
In retrospect, it seems an unlikely story. Al-Sharif was Professor of Radio in the Faculty of Mass Communication , Cairo University, an unlikely candidate for such a proclamation. but people obviously bought it.
Electronic folklore like this is often an idiom for something else. In this case, I think it reflects some of the uncertainties of the new Egypt-in-the-making. People fought to overthrow the regime, yet remnants of the regime remain in power. People protested for freedom, but many of the people freed were Islamic activists whose policies and politics are light years away from those of most protesters.
Thus one impetus for the story may have been the appointment of Sobhi Saleh to the board reviewing constitutional reforms. Saleh is an Alexandria lawyer and former MP who is said to be a fine constitutional expert–but he is also a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood who has in the past advocated a ban on kissing not only in the movies but in any public place.
Of course, there’s always been mixed feelings about kissing on-screen. In the golden era of Egyptian cinema the legendary Umm Kulthum famously refused to be kissed in movies, while actor Anwar Wagdy used to brag about the famous actresses he had kissed. More recently, when comedian Said Saleh said that it was an honor for actresses to be kissed by him, since his kiss is one of a kind, he got sued for promoting “social chaos”.
Many Egyptian films have kissing, hand-holding, dancing and sexual allusions. Students in my Middle East course are often surprised at how risque some of these films can be. But there is a parallel “as-sinima an-nazifa,” or “clean cinema”. All Arabic film faces a tension between telling a story that will bring in the teenagers and telling a story that can be aired not only on Egyptian television but on TV in the Gulf states (whence much of Egyptian cinema’s revenue derives).
The rumor about ERTU suggested that even foreign films would have the kissing cut. Foreign films have always been subjected to editing for television in Egypt, just as they are in the US. The nude scene is cut from Titanic and so forth. This story was perhaps a cautionary tale about how boundaries could be redrawn tighter, rather than looser, in the emerging Egypt.