Will it ever change?

Rosa Parks on the bus

Yesterday i took a flight from Cairo to Johannesburg, but stopping first in Addis Ababa. The first flight went well, as well as the second one too, except for one incident. Almost everyone was on board already waiting for the plane to move when one guy insisted that someone else wouldn’t sit next to him. Sitting few seats away from him, i was able to get what the story was all about. The man stood up and told the flight attendant that he was sitting next to this other guy on the first flight, and that he has personal issues with him. The story turned out to be that (and im sorry for using labels but this is how it went) a white man decided than a black man shouldn’t sit next to him and his wife.

Almost everyone sitting around us got really angry because of the racist man, and not only this, but the flight attendant actually asked the guy to come with her so that could find him another seat. Passengers started screaming at the young guy telling him not to give up his seat or right, and if the other man and his wife are not happy then they should leave. But, the other man looked back at us saying ‘ it will never change.’

Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat, and it is not really about the seat, but actually about the idea and rights of these people. But even with her being the first woman (or black) doing so, they are still discriminated against, which proves that the other people dealing with them will never change; may be they just got a bit better. We call for a world where racism, but in every country we exclude a group for some reason, whether it is Egypt, US, or anywhere else in the world. I guess we just enjoy labeling people and then call ourselves non-racists.

Check this link for words from Parks

http://politiku.tumblr.com/post/6684283994/kindlemyheart-people-always-say-that-i-didnt

Opening Soon?

The local movie industry is in a major slump and it could be years before it gets back on its feet again. By Lamia Hassan

of the 2010 Egyptian summer movies

 

(Business Today Egypt Magazine, November 2010)

Every year during Eid El- Fitr, Ibrahim Said and his wife Hoda Kamal take their three children to the movies. For most of the last decade and a half, they have been going to the Miami theatre in downtown Cairo, where massive banners outside the theater entrance usually advertise scores of top-flight Arabic-language movies.

But this Eid was different. There were only four locally-made films playing, none of which were in the running to win any awards.

“This Eid […] none of the movies are a good value,” says Said. “It’s not like in the past when people waited for the holiday season to see good, new Arabic movies.”

Miami is not the only Cairo movie theatre to face a shortage of local films. At the Galaxy theatre in El Manial, eight of

the nine movies showing at the end of September were in English. This marked the first Eid in recent memory where Arabic films took second billing.

Producers, actors and other film industry insiders say this is emblematic of a larger decline in local movie making. They blame the falloff on increasingly close ties between major studios and theaters, which have edged out smaller production houses, the global economic crisis and a short summer season punctuated by the World Cup and Ramadan. Some believe it could be years before the industry is back on its feet.

“The movie production business has been declining recently, and will continue to decline going forward,” says producer Gamal Al-Adl of Al-Adl Group. “This past summer season witnessed the success of only a couple movies, while all the others were failures.”

For years, the summer and the two Eid seasons coincided with the release of new Arabic movies. Between 2006 and 2008, the Egyptian cinema industry was booming; in 2008, over 50 films were produced, 41 of which made it to theaters. But in 2009, that number dropped into the 30s before bottoming out in 2010 with just 16 Egyptian films released through Eid El-Fitr.

Al-Adl says the main reason behind the recent drop is a fundamental shift in the way movies are released. In the past, production companies, distributors and theaters were separate entities. But now, several large companies own and control all three layers, squeezing smaller filmmakers out of the game.

“The market is dropping because these production companies are monopolizing the market and giving their movies better distribution, leaving out the other movies,” says Al-Adl.

Meanwhile, producers planning to release their movies this summer held back out of fear that a season shortened by Ramadan and the World Cup would diminish their chances of success at the box office. Some have postponed releases until Eid Al-Adha, when people traditionally have more time to see movies. Those films include Ahmed El-Sakka’s Ebn El Qonsol (The Son of the Consul), Adel Emam’s Alzheimer and Karim Abdel Aziz’s Faswel Wa Nowasel (A Break and We Get Back).

Broader economic trends have also taken their toll on the country’s film industry.

“Right before the economic crisis, the cinema industry in Egypt was booming. The revenues of the movies were doubling as compared to years before that, but the crisis came and brought everything down,” says Adel Adeeb, CEO of Good News production company.

Miami Cinema, one of Downtown Cairo's busiest cinemas (photo credit: Panoramio)

About 80% of a locally-produced film’s revenue comes from Gulf countries, which were hit especially hard by the downturn.

At the beginning of the 2009 summer season, revenues for the film industry were down 30% year-on-year. By the middle of the season they had dropped 50% and by the end they had plummeted 70%.

But while filmmakers blame things like piracy and the short seasons on the decline of the movie business, audiences place responsibility on studios which they say produce lackluster movies. “Most of the movies that I have seen at the movie

theatres recently are chick-flicks, and even those that are not have repeated plot lines and lack quality,” says Engy El-  Etreby, a frequent moviegoer. “Out of 10 Arabic movies that I have seen recently, I can only say that maybe one or two were good.”

Throughout its history, the Egyptian cinema industry has had its share of peaks and valleys. It flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, a time known as the “Golden Age” of Arab film, sagged in the 1960s, entered a transitional period in the 1970s and eventually picked up again in the mid-90s.

But local cinema’s current stagnation doesn’t spell the final chapter of Egyptian filmmaking. Adeeb sees the industry recovering a few years down the line. While some filmmakers are looking towards Eid releases this month for signs of a slight improvement, El-Adl is skeptical that the few movies that do come out will make a difference.

“The three or four movies that will be released will not really make a difference and the market will still be left without good movies,” says El-Adl.

“But the producers who are monopolizing the business are like supermarket vendors. They will soon realize they are out of quality produce and they’ll have to start looking for solid products again.” bt

MENA’s Hollywood?

With nation’s first private studio, film company hopes to entice foreign movies makers back to Egypt By Lamia Hassan

Screenshot- Yacoubian Building

(Business Today Egypt Magazine, November 2009)

  The upcoming blockbuster about the builder of modern Egypt, Mohamed Ali, was originally scheduled to shoot both here and in Syria.

But with production costs at Egypt’s state-owned film lots running almost double those of Syria, the maker of the LE 50 million film, Good News Company, moved shooting out of Egypt.

The decision was perhaps the ultimate condemnation of Egypt’s bureaucratized state-run studios — and it was far from the only one. Since the golden era of Egypt’s film industry in the 1970s, foreign and domestic filmmakers alike have been steering  clear of the increasingly costly local scene.

It is a situation that Good News hopes to change through the creation of the country’s first private studio.

Good News, which was behind hits like the Yacoubian Building, Haleem and Ibrahim El-Abyad, is planning to build 14 studios in Sixth of October City, with the first phase of construction slated for January 2010.

The plan represents the culmination of a two-year struggle for Good News CEO Adel Adeeb. For decades, the Egyptian government had denied applications by private companies to build film lots. At the same time, rates at the country’s handful of state-run studios were steadily rising.

Adeeb discovered, though, that there was no legal basis for the rejections.

“I found out that this had been just a custom and not law. I kept after it daily for two whole years. [I was hoping to] to change the situation for the benefit of the cinema industry,” he says.

Good News eventually got the sign-off from Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni,

Baby Doll Night movie poster

Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieldin and Minister of Information Anas El-Fiqqi, allowing the company to begin the LE 35 million first phase of the studios.

With the ministerial go-aheads, as well as approval from the Egyptian Cinema Chamber, Good News got busy. In August, the company signed a deal with ARRI Group, the world’s largest camera manufacturer, during a press conference in Cairo.

ARRI will work as consultants for Good News, supplying camera equipment, training local staff, maintaining and upgrading gear and consulting on studio construction.

“I want our studios to provide better special effects, more space to be creative and technology that will save you time. This is the added value that we will be providing to the market,” says Adeeb.

Bringing Back Business

Once renowned as an international shooting location due to both its scenery and studios, Egypt as a filmmaking destination has been in decline since its peak in the mid 70s, when it was nicknamed the “Hollywood of the Middle East.”

Adeeb says his main goal for the new studios — which will be filled with digital equipment — is to lure international filmmakers back to Egypt. For years they have favored locations such as Malta and Syria.

“They will be saving almost 50% because the cost of using digital equipment is much cheaper than normal equipment,” says Adeeb. He also says that cheaper Egyptian currency will reduce costs for filmmakers.

Adeeb’s cost savings received a boost early this year with the government’s decision to exempt filming equipment from customs duties. The decision will ensure that international and domestic filmmakers can use the latest technology here.

But luring international films back to Egypt is not just about costs and technology; Egypt’s infamous bureaucracy represents another major hurdle.

When foreign companies shoot in Egypt, they have difficulty getting permission to film at historic locations, waste time waiting for the censorship bureau to approve scripts, and sometimes get harassed by police when filming on the streets, says Adeeb. “Even when the police cooperate with us while shooting on the streets, people keep on harassing us [wanting] to appear in the movie, or make noise to ruin the shot.”

According to Adeeb, local filmmakers pay LE 10,000 per hour to shoot at a site with antiquities, “and the hour does not start from the moment we start shooting, but it starts from the moment we enter the site.” Foreigners are charged around double, he says, claiming that prices in nearby Syria are around half of those here. “When I asked there [in Syria], while shooting Leilet El Baby Doll [Baby Dolly Night], for battle tanks, they charged me $20 per day for each, with ammunition. Can you believe that?” he asks incredulously.

During a series of March meetings between the Egyptian Cinema Chamber, producers and heads of artistic syndicates, Moneeb Shafie, head of the chamber, discussed ways to draw filmmakers here.Shafie listed three major steps that need to be taken: decrease custom charges, speed up censorship bureau script approval — it currently takes 30 days — and reduce prices at shooting locations.

Change is slowly taking place, as the decision to remove customs on equipment is showing results.

One notable success was the filming of sections of Transformers II — one of Hollywood’s biggest hits this year, earning $200 million in its first five days — at the Pyramids, in Luxor at the Valley of the Kings and at the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) studios.

“It was generally a very enjoyable experience but there are things that definitely could be improved,” says Ilt Jones, the film’s location manager, of shooting here.

European filmmakers, with lower budgets than their American counterparts, are also being encouraged to come back. “We shot part of a feature film in Egypt, mostly at EMPC last summer, and our experience was positive,” says producer Roy Anderson of the Norway’s Nordisk Film. “The production went smoothly because Egypt has a very talented crew regarding the film industry.”

He called the venture “cost effective” and the location convenient. “I would like to film in Egypt again if the possibility presents itself in the future.”

Good News hopes its cutting edge technology and professional expertise, along with state-backed legislative changes, will usher in a new golden era for the Egypt’s cinema industry.

Already, the reviews have been good.

“Good News provides great facilities, offering a great potential for the film industry,” says director Marwan Hamed, who worked with Good News on The Yacoubian Building. “It should make it easier for production companies around the world to come shoot here.” bt

Egypt: new vision/division?

 

Sitting with friends joking about the latest gossips in town, one of my friends brought up that her sister was at H&M CityStars the other day and saw that they started covering the models’ bodies in the photos like they do in some countries (i.e Saudi Arabia). When that first came up we just made fun of that and laughed about it, as both my friend and her sister were not sure then what this is really about or if it happened by mistake in one photo. But, it wasn’t until the next day that my friend’s sister went back to the store and this is when we saw the first actual photo from there.

H&M CityStars covering the model's leg (photo by Dalia Rabie)

 

What started as a joke turned into a serious concern when i decided to go beyond the photo taken at the story, and dig more in the website.

 

When I saw the first photo my intention was just to simply go on the website and find the same photo of the dress there, and see whether it is the same on the website or they just covered in the store. My surprise was when i decided to open both the Egypt and US versions of the website and compare the latest collections. It was funny to see the two sides of it as the same model appears in one photo wearing shorts and on the other version with legs covered.

H&M website Egypt Vs. US (photo credit: H&M website)

I was faced by a question: is that a new direction H&M Egypt is taking or it was always there but we never noticed? Being a frequent visitor to the store, i remember well that i have seen photos of models wearing shorts and skirts without having their legs covered, which makes me sure now that this is kind of new, but just not sure how recent it is. What i found funny is that unlike Saudi they are not covering all the skin, but they cover the legs and arms in one photo, legs only in one and then arms in another, which was a bit weird and not clear. I understand that in Saudi it is part of their culture that they cover-up the models in photos as women are all covered there, as well as doing it from a religious side. But, the fact that maybe the owner took this decision lately or suddenly noticed that the store here is different than other stores needs to be justified. We have a totally different culture here, one that we even see now stricter than how it was back in the 60s and 70s, but still not a seriously strict one; not as free as Lebanon now, but at the same time different from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

H&M website Egypt vs. US (photo credit: H&M website)

 

Living in this country for over 24 years now, I am totally aware that there might be many frustrations about life in Egypt, but there were also some privileges that I always enjoyed and was not sure that anything would ever change those privileges. Although women get harassed almost anywhere they go, no matter what they are wearing or their age group, but at the same time we enjoyed some freedom that maybe some other countries in the Middle East (example: Saudi Arabia and others) might not have. Visiting Saudi Arabia once, i might not be the best judge, but i was able to notice some of the differences between Egypt and there. While shopping there, i noticed that most of the international stores there have a specific fashion line for ladies there, for example Mango, Vero Moda, as women there wear long skirts or dresses underneath their abayas most of the time.

H&M website Egypt vs. US (photo credit: H&M website)

When i went to looking for the fitting room in most of the stores i found out that women are not allowed to try the clothes in stores, instead you have to buy them, maybe go try them at the rest room in the shopping mall, and if they do not fit you go back to exchange them. Walking around with my cousins at the mall, when we tried to find a cafe’ or somewhere to sit for a bit, i found out that many of the cafe’s and restaurants wouldn’t let you sit unless you are with your family. Not only that, but most of the cabs wouldn’t take you if you are a girl on your own; we were in groups most of the time. Other than the shopping and cabs’ experience, most importantly, women of the country were always prohibited from driving, and also Saudi women, as well as those visiting, are not allowed in or out of the country unless they go with their guardian (mehrem).

 

Back to Egypt, although the numbers of veiled were dramatically increasing over the past years, still we never had the pressure of having to be all covered to leave the house, like in Saudi, no one limits who you sit with at restaurants and women were allowed to drive. Also, men and women sit together normally, without someone asking how they are related to one another, like the ‘Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ Committee in Saudi do, as they enforce the Saudi rules on people of the country and visitors there.

 

I remember maybe a year or couple years ago Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris brought up that the country we’re living in is not the Egypt he knew. He pointed out that the veil covering almost half the body (what’s referred to in Arabic as khemar) and the niqab (full-face veil) were transferred to our country from other countries (like Saudi and Afghanistan). When he said so people attacked him claiming that he offended the veil, but what he said was actually true. It’s not that the other countries are bad or it is a shame to have these veils, but it is just that it’s not our country.

 

The H&M thing might be a coincidence, and I might be overreacting about it, but it is just that i feel that our country might be moving to a new direction, a kind of backward direction, one we did not plan or aim for. I guess I or someone needs to visit the store to find out the story behind that because it is not like a trend in CityStars. It is more an H&M thing as i saw the same in H&M Dandy Mall.

Please check the website to see the difference yourself: http://www.hm.com/eg/summertime#path=1.1.7&transition=10&duration=500 & http://www.hm.com/us/summertime#path=1.1.7&transition=10&duration=500

Who Are the Sufis?

Considered more mystical than political, Sufis have enjoyed relatively little harassment from the authorities By Lamia Hassan

photo credit: Islammemo

(Egypt Today Magazine, May 2011)

Sufis, more often than not, are not media-savvy, and they keep away from the limelight, giving

the impression that there aren’t many of them in Egypt. However, Sufis do have a strong presence; in fact, unofficial reports put the number of Sufi adherents across the country at 10 million.

Although it is said that Sufism first appeared during the ninth century in Iraq, Sufis usually trace their origins and roots to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who they consider to be their first sheikh. The 11th-century Persian Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and the 13th-century Mawlana Jalaludin Rumi, from what is now Tajikistan, were among the early popular Sufi thinkers. Another revered scholar is the 14th-century Shah Naqshband Muhammad Bahauddin Uways al-Bukhari from what is now Uzbekistan and for whom the Al Naqshabandi order is named.

Sufism first became popular in Egypt following the 1952 Revolution and during the rule of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

 

Beliefs

 

Unlike other movements or religious sects, Sufism is more about philosophical or spiritual thinking than it is about dogma or political practice for instance. Sufism involves self discipline, above all, and regulating day-to-day behavior in an attempt to submit to God in preparation for the day when the soul meets Him.

Over 70 schools of thought and religious orders fall under the umbrella of Sufism in Egypt, but many of those orders originated outside of Egypt.

There aren’t any constraints or rules for people to become Sufi; anyone can become a Sufi, choosing the school of thought or sheikh they would like to follow under that umbrella.

Unlike Salafis, Sufi Egyptians have one sheikh leading the group — Sheikh Al- Toroq Al-Sufiya or the Sheikh of the Sufi orders, appointed by the Egyptian president — under which all the different Sufi schools fall. In practice, Sufis seek divine truth and love through ‘direct encounters’ with God, as shown in their prayers and the way they address Him. The origin of the name itself might not be very clear to the followers. Some believe it is derived from the Arabic word suuf (wool), since some of the early adherents used to wear worn-out wool, a harsh fabric that was meant to symbolize their disinterest in the material world.

Sufis achieve a mystical state of mind when performing their rituals. They are very famous for zikr, a ceremony that involves repetitive prayers coupled with certain movements aimed to be an act of remembrance of God.

Sufis visit shrines regularly and celebrate mulids (religious festivals) honoring the birth and death days of revered sheikhs or thinkers at mosques housing their shrines. The city of Tanta is famous for the popular Al Sayed Al-Badawi, while Alexandria has numerous shrines and a concentration of Sufi adherents as well.

Sufis are not confrontational in nature and have not been perceived as a political threat over the years.

 

Role in Post-Mubarak Egypt

 

Sufis are one of the few sects that did not have negative encounters with former President Hosni Mubarak’s government.

Although apolitical during the Mubarak era, Sufis have made a more open appearance in the public sphere post-revolution and for once showed their anger at the destruction of several Alexandrian Sufi shrines, allegedly by Salafis. So far, however, they have not shown significant interest in politics. et

 

Who Are the Salafis?

A look at the school of thought inspiring a controversial group By Lamia Hassan

(Egypt Today Magazine, May 2011)

Contrary to popular perception, Salafis — unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad or Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiya — are not a faction, but a school of thought comprising individuals who follow a dogmatic approach to Islam.

Salafism is a form of al daawa (the call), and its adherents do not follow a specific leader or guide. They do share, however, the rules and curriculum that none of them deviates from — but the degree of observance of these rules and what they see as the uncompromising tradition of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) ranges from extreme to moderate.

To understand the way they think, one understand how this fikr (thought) seeped into Egyptian society. The root of the word Salafis comes from the word salaf or ancestor and refers to the first three generations of Muslims who are considered exemplar models. The full reference is sometimes Al-Salaf Al-Saleh, or the Pious Ancestors — a phrase that is also remnant of early Islam.

The Salafi movement first emerged with Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal during the Abbasid era, circa the eighth century AD. The prominent scholar is also the founder of the Hanbali school of Islamic thought, credited with influencing the

rise of Salafism.

Following Ibn Hanbal came Ahmed Ibn Taymiyyah, who appeared after the fall of the Abbasid empire. He was stricter than Ibn Hanbal in terms of keeping to the verbal tradition of the earliest generations of Islam, down to the details of everyday living.

A third person who influenced the evolution of the Salafi movement, especially in its modern form, is Mohamed Ibn Abdel Wahhab, the 18th-century Saudi thinker and scholar who founded Wahhabism. The term Salafi first appeared in Egypt in the 19th century in Al-Azhar University through scholars such as Imam Mohamed Abdou and Gamal Eddin Al-Afghany.

Many believe that Salafism was imported by Egyptians returning home after living and working for decades in the Gulf, specifically Saudi Arabia. This ideology is clearly manifested in conservative dress codes such as the niqab (face veil) for women and white ankle-length robes for men.

 

Beliefs

 

In a nutshell, Salafis follow what they consider the purest form of Islam, seeking to emulate the version practiced during the time of the Prophet, Al-Sahaba (his companions), and the two generations following them.

They do not advocate violence, but are partial towards jihad. They do not believe in the separation of religion from rule, since they advocate politics and economics should be inspired by Sharia.

They do not approve attempts of innovation and favor of a more literal understanding of Islamic laws.

A common misconception, however, is that Salafis prohibit Muslims from visiting graveyards. They allow visiting the dead, but prohibit visits to shrines, practicing rituals or making supplication to the dead. They also do not approve of building mosques around them.

 

Role in Post-Mubarak Egypt

 

Salafis have built grassroots support in the past couple of decades, gaining popularity among various socioeconomic classes.

As with many other religious movements, Salafi practices and movements were tightly controlled under Mubarak’s rule. Their sheikhs were present in mosques, but their tongues were tied. Salafis satellite channels, heavily funded by Saudi Arabia, were mostly popular among adherents only.

Following the revolution, Salafis have become more visible. A group that has never taken part in the political life, the Salafis are now trying to create a political force. Ironically, they had always criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for focusing on politics arena, as opposed to religion.

Many citizens are concerned about the rise of Salafis, especially over signs of extremism spotlighted in the mainstream media. Some Salafi sheikhs have also taken a stance against those who voted ‘no’ on the March 19 constitutional referendum, claiming that Article 2, which guards Egypt’s Islamic identity, would be scrapped. et

Bad Luck Haunts Advertising

Television advertising expects to see a bad year following the revolution By Lamia Hassan

(Business Today Egypt, May 2011)

Although many local and international satellite channels saw a sharp rise in viewership as unrest swept through Egypt, most also experienced a huge drop in their television advertisement revenues. The wave of protests here, as well as in several of Egypt’s neighbors, shifted what citizens watched. Instead of tuning into their favorite sitcoms, viewers were constantly checking for updates on 24- hour news channels, eagerly awaiting the latest information as Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab nations descended into chaos.

Like many industries dealing with the ramifications of the revolution, ad agencies are witnessing a serious slowdown in business, especially those specializing in television advertising. They, like many, are holding out hope that cash flows will return to this once profitable industry by the end of 2011, but insiders say they will be lucky to salvage even 50% of their business.

A murky path

When the protests began on January 25, people did not expect anything to come of the demonstrations, which meant companies and financial institutions remained

open for business. But soon after, the demonstrations became violent and commerce shut down around Cairo for at least a week. Many of those businesses stayed closed for much longer, with some shuttering offices even after former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

For television advertisers, the situation [would have been] even more complicated. “During the 18 days [of the revolution] it would have been impossible to advertise for anything, as this was a poke at the country and the whole world, so you definitely would not be advertising for toothpaste or anything similar during that period,” says Naila Hamdy, professor of journalism and mass communications at the American University in Cairo. “And, following that there was an economic situation, where people were still not sure and also advertisers were still not sure how to advertise.”

Usually, TV ads are booked depending on the viewership of a program or channel. The most expensive TV ads would often garner huge audiences thanks to their placement during breaks on popular talk shows. The highest rated shows enjoyed the premium advertisers, with the largest number and most costly ads booked during the muchanticipated Ramadan mosalsalat season that boasts the highests viewership ratings all year.

During the revolution, talk shows that used to discuss human interest stories, with a smattering of news, social and cultural

activities and entertainment, shifted their focus to hard-news coverage, while others shut down completely.

“For a very brief period of time at the beginning of the revolution, some channels

banned ads, but this was maybe a week only, while after this they started accepting ads

again, but the advertisers’ appetite was very low, as they were very suspicious about advertising,” says Shaheer Farag, head of business management at UM Egypt. “Mobinil and a minimal number of clients, for example, went on air with relevant [pieces] about the revolution, but there was definitely a delay in advertising during this period of time.”

UM Egypt is an ad booking and buying agency. Its job is to tell advertisers where to put their ads as well as slotting the best time for them and then purchasing that air time on behalf of the company.

Farag says even after the 18-day revolution, some advertisers were still skeptical about conditions in Egypt and whether it was the right time to go on air, particularly since most of the programming was dedicated to revolution news coverage, which isn’t something most companies had appropriate material for. He says as of April, the sector has seen a 70% drop in revenues compared to the same period in 2010.

According to “Egyptian Revolution and Impact on the Egyptian Advertising Scene,” a presentation put together by Mindshare MENA media company last month, most advertisers abstained from airing ads during the first few days of the revolution, despite a dramatic increase in viewership.

At the end of the month, the number of viewers was still high as compared to previous rates. That’s when entertainment show ratings started going up again, bringing some advertisers back to the scene with programs dedicated to Egypt, the revolution and patriotism.

In March, viewer numbers started to return to normal, but ad agencies and on air bookers were still reeling from a 27% drop in February versus the 58% increase in television- advertising profits the year before. The presentation also pointed out that advertisers were split between airing material related to Egypt, patriotism and nationalism, announcing new corporate social responsibility projects or airing their usual lineup of ads.

“I do not really see a reason why the television advertising sector will not be affected like everything else in the country that was impacted by the current events in Egypt,” says Hamdy. “All businesses are affected at the moment, and I believe things will start improving again gradually when the economy starts improving too.”

Hamdy says though the actual revolution ended after the 18 days, its effects are still rippling outward. It seems every minute brings some change, which shows the situation is not stable for the media and advertising worlds.

Mindshare MENA’s study of television viewership and attitudes between Januaryand the beginning of March 2011 shows dubbed serials were the most popular programming, followed by talk shows and Arabic series during the third week of January. In the second and third weeks of February, the highest rated programs were talk shows, with most viewers tuning into Al-Ashera Masa’an on Dream channel and then programing on the Mehwar network. During the fourth week of February and the first week of March, talk shows again garnered the highests audiences. However, during that time, advertising numbers did nto improve.

Ramadan shift

But according to Farag, there is a possibility that the sector might not be able to recoup its losses during Ramadan because fewer new and innovative programs are expected to air.

“Out of the total profits of the year, 50% comes from the ads aired during Ramadan,” says Farag. “People this year are not expected to be going after new material, so for example if last year you had 60 series, this year you will have only 10, which will highly affect the sector.”

This is a serious charge in light of the role Ramadan plays for television advertisers. During an interview with Business Today during Ramdan last year, producer Gamal Al-Adl of Al-Adl for Media Production said the number of Ramadan series rises every year, as they have become a large part of the “advertising revenue cake” and that advertisers in Egypt and the Gulf spend a combined LE 1.3 billion during Ramadan.

Farag says there will likely be fewer shows this year because many of the series produced during Ramadan require government funding.

“As the government and the ministries are now going through dramatic changes, expect that there will definitely be a drop in the number of programs or series that they used to produce before,” says Hamdy. “Also, Egyptians will not be giving their full attention to series during Ramadan like previous years because the few months between the revolution and Ramadan (set to start in August) are not enough to make everything go back to normal.”

Oxford Business Group’s Egypt 2010: Media & Advertising report states average daily viewership hours jump to seven hours during Ramadan, as compared to four and a half hours the rest of the year. It also states Egypt has the largest number of televisions per capita in the Middle East and North Africa at 200 television sets per 1,000 people.

Due to the instability, there are no guarantees that the situation will improve any time soon, but industry watchers remain hopeful.

Hamdy she expects things may start improving after elections. “Once we have a president for the country, things will improve,” she says.

Farag adds that the advertising industry grew substantially over the past few years because of real estate projects, government- sponsored ads and high competition between different agencies. It will take time before advertisers are sure what direction they want to go.

“The quality will not be compromised, on the contrary, now people are expecting even better quality, but it all revolves around stability,” he says. “If we, by the end of this year, get to 50% of 2010 [profits], we will be very lucky.”bt

 

Taking it to the Streets

Inspired by the spirit of Tahrir, the youth are seizing the initiative to create a better nation. By Lamia Hassan

 

(Egypt Today Magazine, May 2011)

For the 18 days of the revolution, it was like the country was on hold. Business ground to a halt, people feared for the stability of the country and their own personal security. On the positive side, neighbors came together to protect their communities, while those in Tahrir Square organized a fully functioning community of their own.

After the revolution, charity organizations went back to work on projects aimed at helping the affected families around the country. But what Egypt needs now more than ever is not just charity work, but an organized and solid plan to help the country move forward. The end of the Mubarak era has been like a wake-up call for society, and as the country hits “restart,” young people are stepping up with ideas, projects and reforms to help build a new Egypt — trying to harness a positive energy has not seen in at least 30 years. Egypt Today looks at two initiatives already in the works.

Ebda’ Beh Nafsak

After playing a vital role in the revolution, many of the youth wanted to continue having a role in rebuilding the country. Three friends in their mid to late twenties — Mohamed Aboul Naga, Mohamed El- Beltagy and Yehia El Shazly — decided to launch an initiative under the name Ebda’ Beh Nafsak (Start By Changing Yourself). The idea behind it is that everyone in the country should start doing something to change themselves and others around them to create a better country.

“The idea of the initiative came about when I was on my neighborhood watch with my two partners on February 25. Everyday the newspapers wrote about really depressing things, and about looting and crimes,” says Aboul Naga. “So we thought of trying to do something positive that would inspire some hope in people, especially because everything was still unstable and chaotic then.”

Aboul Naga says that as a start, they decided that their first project would be simple one that could be done instantly and would help improve people’s behavior. Finding a problem to address was easy: They just looked at the streets and the tangle of vehicles trying to weave through double-parked cars.

The solution? They created a sticker that reads “This is rude. The country is changing and you are still double parking.”

The team — at that time there were only five people onboard — went out into Zamalek and started putting the stickers develon any car they found double-parked, to see how people would react. Aboul Naga recalls, “People actually liked the sticker.”

The group’s sticker soon became popular, especially in Zamalek. When people saw it on cars, even those who double-parked, thought it was a good and funny idea. “I was with a friend in Zamalek and we saw the sticker on a car on 26th of July Street,” says Zamalek resident Sara Mostafa. “We did not really know what it was exactly and we were really curious. When I heard about the idea, I thought it is a really good one to start changing people’s manners and behavior.”

Within three weeks, the group of Ebda’ Beh Nafsak volunteers had swelled to 100 people. Today, the initiative has five committees, including public relations, media marketing, human resources, fundraising and research, which meet at least once or twice a week to come up with new ideas.

After the success of the relatively simple sticker project, the group decided to take on a more complicated social awareness project. The members coordinated with schools in slum areas to gather residents from these neighborhoods to talk about improving social manners.

“We thought it was important to go and talk to the people there and inform them of what their rights are, and raise awareness of issues such as the role of women and girls and how they should be treated, and so on,” says Aboul Nag”We decided that our projects would not involve politics or religion, but we really think that by raising social awareness issues, we will help shape future generations.”

So far, the group’s activities are focused solely in Cairo, with plans to expand their reach to communities outside of the capital. Aboul Naga says they first wanted to start in Cairo to establish themselves and gain more members before branching out.

The members of the group are increasing on a daily basis, many of whom are working on the neighborhood project. While many of the proposed future projects are dedicated development and social awareness, a waste management project is also under discussion. At the moment, the Ebda’ Beh Nafsak campaign has been able to self-fund their efforts, but the founders say they are also looking at large-scale projects that will have to involve fundraising. The group can be reached on the Facebook group ebda2 benafsak or via email at ebda2benafsakgroup@ groups.facebook.com.

One

While it may not be the youth that launched the company called One, youth are at the core of its work. Founded by Bayan Waleed, who is involved in creative media and education projects, and Egyptian filmmaker Adam Ali, who wants to create a medium for youth to build their projects, One is working on an initiative for the youth called Onestival, due to launch in the beginning of May.

Waleed and Ali believe in the importance of engaging the youth in building the country and giving them space to be creative, innovative and implement their projects. “The first and main objective of the project is to have everything under one umbrella, and its second objective is to have everyone around the world communicate through art,” says Waleed. “Through this we would like to show how the youth in Egypt are creative, innovative and up to date.”

The youth will create a short video where they talk about their ideas, then upload them to the internet so people around the world can share their ideas and find ways to implement them. “We will also be posting good ideas by people who are not even part of the project, like Osama El-Baz’s development project, so people can learn from them,” Waleed adds.

Waleed says that they will also be presenting talks to people in universities, clubs, cultural and youth centers. They will also have an online archive for their debates for people to access them.

One’s founders have attracted some major organizations to support this youth project. Among them is Taking ITGlobal — one of the largest online platforms for youth to exchange ideas. “We also have Yalla Start-Up, which reaches out to entrepreneurs and finance their projects,” Waleed adds, “and also Kelmetna and Teen Stuff magazines, and many more are joining.”

One offers more than just an online clearinghouse for good ideas. Onestival also includes a seven-stage competition with a focus on building Egypt. The seven stages start with I Build, followed by I Achieve, I Develop, I Inspire, I Lead, I Conquer and finish with I Mentor. Each stage will feature a separate competition, with the I Build contest set to be announced on May 4. The later stages will be rolled out every two weeks. One will put the winners of each competition in contact with other foundations, private sponsors and NGOs that will help take the idea a step closer to the actual implementation.

“When you reach the full growth of your project,” Waleed says, “you help others make their project [happen] too.”et

When the lights go down in the city

Power cuts are becoming more frequent and more painful- and there’s no end in sight. By Lamia Hassan

photo credit: jadaoun

 

 

(Business Today Egypt Magazine, September 2010)

 

Lucille’s is one of the busiest restaurants on Maadi’s buzzing Road 9. A wooden bench outside the Cairo institution is perpetually packed with people waiting for tables. During Ramadan, the restaurant does a booming business as customers break the fast with one of Lucille’s signature burgers.

But one day last month, things didn’t go as smoothly as usual.

With the dining room full of people preparing for their iftar feast, the power went out. Some hungry customers waited around in the darkness and heat, but within the hour, everyone had left to break their fast somewhere else.

The blackout lasted four hours, spoiling food and wreaking havoc with the restaurant’s sensitive kitchen equipment. By the time the power returned, even management had gone home.

“It happens a lot these days,” Mohamed Mabrouk, the restaurant’s manager, says about power outages. “Even if we decided to continue our working day while the power is off, clients will not stay without lights or air conditioning.”

For people across the country, stories like this have become all too familiar. Since the end of July, waves of rolling power cuts — some lasting as long as six hours — have swept across Egypt, plaguing factories, homes and even hospitals.

By some reports, thousands of businesses in Cairo alone have been affected by outages during working hours, resulting in losses in the millions. (The cuts follow on the heels of government assurances that power would not be cut during Ramadan and after that, only in the evenings.)

The government-mandated cuts, a byproduct of heavy summertime electricity consumption, are part of a larger plan to save energy in what has become a power-starved country. And if the nation’s ailing power grid and steadily rising consumption are any indication, people will have to get used to living in the dark.

The country currently has a stored capacity of 24,000 MW of electricity. In June, peak consumption hit 22,700 MW — a new record. Though the government is exploring alternative energy options and improvements to the existing power grid, such solutions are years away. The nation’s first nuclear power plant is slated to add just 1,200 MW to the power grid, coming online in 2019.

In the meantime, national energy consumption is growing 7–8% annually according to the World Bank. Energy analysts predict that peak consumption will more than double by 2027 and by that time, Egypt will have become a net energy importer. That sort of strain on the power grid is increasingly unsustainable and solutions are in short supply.

“This is not only the story of Lucille’s,” says Mabrouk. “It’s happening everywhere around us and even across different areas in Egypt.”

 

In the Dark

Blackouts are affecting more than iftar plans. Until recently, the term “lights out” was a phrase used in Hazem Badie’s Dokki dental clinic only when a patient was put under heavy anesthetic. Recent power cuts made him think a little more literally.

“It really strikes me when I am working with one of my patients, and the power goes out when I just gave him anesthesia and started to make a cut to remove his tooth,” Badie says. “It is getting really frustrating because they are doing it haphazardly.”

Ministry of Electricity and Energy spokesperson Aktham Abu El-Ela says the cuts happen only during peak hours, from 8pm to 10pm. The government also “decided that [it is] not going to apply them during Ramadan,” he told BusinessToday.

However, local newspapers reported that almost 1,200 factories and workshops in Shubra suffered power cuts during working hours last month, which slowed down production and shorted out machinery.

The press also reported multiple outages in Naga Hamadi, costing the Egypt for Aluminum Company LE 78 million in lost productivity. Despite assurances, the cuts often come during the work day with no warning.

“It is really ridiculous to just cut off power randomly, especially on factories and clinics, and places that should be informed beforehand,” says Badie.

Abu El-Ela says some of the cuts during the day in Ramadan have been accidental. But many aren’t sold.

“I still do not understand why the government is cutting off [electricity for] people and businesses, while charging the commercial side a lot of taxes and high electricity rates,” says Badie. “Instead of cutting it off in buildings, they should at least turn off the outdoor ads they have on all day and night.”

Minister of Electricity Hassan Younis

Summer in the City

It’s no coincidence that the sudden strain on the country’s electrical grid comes in the heat of summer. The number of air conditioning units countrywide stood at 3 million in 2009, up from 700,000 three years earlier. Abu El-Ela expects that number to increase by a million more in 2010.

And people aren’t afraid to use them. According to the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, home power consumption in Egypt outstrips industrial consumption. In 2009/2010, home consumption stood at 39.9% of national output, compared to industrial consumption at 32.8% for the same period. Since 2005/2006, home electricity consumption has increased 3.1%.

Current power stations are having trouble coping with the increased load. A press release issued by the ministry cited a 1,600 MW decrease in energy production, due in part to the types of fuel that power stations use.

In the statement, Mohamed Awad, the head of the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, said that the stations were designed to primarily use natural gas, with low-grade oil as an alternate fuel. According to the statement, usage of natural gas in power stations has dropped to 79%, down from 98% a few years ago. Low-grade oil, which contains impurities that can damage power station equipment, is filling that gap.

Oil industry expert Ibrahim Zahran, the former CEO of Khalda Petrochemical, points to the increasing substitution of natural gas with lowgrade fuel as one of the major reasons behind the country’s power shortage.

“We have been warning about this since the beginning of natural gas exportation in 2004, and we warned that this will cause problems,” he says.

The low-grade oil can erode a power station’s boilers and decrease output. It’s also more expensive. According to Zahran, Egypt exports natural gas to Israel for $1.25 (LE 8.5) per every million thermal units. It pays $15 (LE 85.5) for the same quantity of low-grade oil.

With existing power stations degrading, new facilities are not being built fast enough.

“The reason the government is forced to cut power off now is because there were power stations that should have been built a couple of years ago that are not built yet, so there is a 1,600 MW shortage in power generation that they have to compensate for,” Zahran says.

That inevitably leads to increasing power cut quotas.

Zahran estimates that officials will have to shut off 60% more juice this year than they did in 2007 through rolling blackouts.

 

Modest Proposals

Power cuts are just the beginning; the cabinet of ministers has proposed other projects to save energy.

One such project that was suggested is applying a system similar to Europe’s, where shops close at 8pm, with pharmacies, cafes and restaurants being exempted.

With companies and factories already suffering from power cuts during working hours, energy- saving measures such as these could make a bad situation worse for many businesses.

“The peak time for buying and selling, especially with gift stores and similar businesses, is usually after 8pm, when all the people are back from work and schools,” says Faten Aly, owner of several gift shops in Mohandiseen. “This will really have a huge impact when it is applied.”

But according to Abu El-Ela, the ministry has no intention of forcing power-saving plans down peoples’ throats.

“People have to be convinced of the project and want to apply it,” he says. “All that we can do in the meantime is help people find ways to save energy. At the moment we cannot immediately provide a new power plant; it will take at least five years to build it.”

With no large-scale solutions to what is swiftly becoming a power crisis, many are anxious about Egypt’s future energy prospects. Energy consumption and population growth show no signs of stopping.

“This is something that the government should have thought of a long time ago, and should have planned ahead for it,” says dentist Badie. “I don’t really understand why the government is acting like they all of a sudden they woke up and found out that Egypt’s population had reached 80 million.” bt

 

Channeling Success

Ramadan mosalsalat have become a big business, but the financial landscape that surrounds them remains uncertain. By Lamia Hassan

photo credit: Middle East Online

(Business Today Egypt, October 2010)

Renowned TV producer Mohamed Fawzy hedged his bets this Ramadan. He shopped around three mosalsalat (soap operas) — a third season of his show El-Daly, starring Nour El- Sherif, Farah El-Omda (The Mayor’s Wedding) and Ana El-Quds (I Am Jerusalem).

Fawzy rushed to finish the shows in time for the Holy Month, hoping at least one would fetch a hefty return from a network hungry for programming. Unfortunately, other producers had the same idea.

Faced with a glut of new content — 50 mosalsalat aired this year, compared to 38 in 2009 — Fawzy failed to strike a deal and held onto the shows. Such is the uncertain landscape of Ramadan TV. The flowering of satellite stations in the last decade has stoked fierce competition during the Holy Month, upending the business models that have dominated Egyptian broadcasting for decades.

While a full third of annual advertising revenues are generated during the month, industry insiders say profit models remain uncertain. Series are becoming increasingly expensive, production timelines have been sped up and the plethora of shows mean producers aren’t guaranteed a sale.

“I don’t think the next year or the following years will see as [many series],” says producer Gamal Al-Adl of Al-Adl Group, one of the biggest studios in the country.

Talk show host and media commentator Moataz El Demerdash also questions whether viewers have the appetite for that much Ramadan fare.

“Instead of just producing a large number [of mosalsalat], we have to study this market from A-Z as a whole and examine closely the profits coming out of it. [We need] to see what the market can tolerate.”

A Shifting Market

Ramadan mosalsalat have been a staple for more than 20 years, with millions of viewers tuning in after iftar.

photo credit: Ismailia Online

Channels 1 and 2 used to be the mainstays for series. But expanding local and satellite television markets mean more channels are competing for viewers.

The focus now is less on mosalsalat as a cultural tradition and more as revenue stream. Since the recent makeover of the Nile Television Network (NTN), the Nile Drama channel has been dedicated to serials. Increased content prompted executives to launch the Drama 2 channel this Ramadan. And there’s still spillover. Mosalsalat have also begun appearing on NTN’s Nile Comedy and Nile Life.

Other companies have joined the competition over the last two years, including Panorama Drama 1 and 2, Cairo Drama, Melody Drama 1 and 2. Arab Radio and Television has also begun airing the shows on its three channels Hekayat, Hekayat Kaman and Hekayat Zaman.

“The reason behind the rise of all these [shows] is that mosalsalat have become a large part of the ‘advertising revenue cake’,” says Al-Adl. He estimates that advertisers in Egypt and the Gulf spend a combined LE 1.3 billion during Ramadan. According to estimates in the press, the production budget of the 50 Ramadan serials that aired this year was LE 750 million.

The push for content has also driven producers to cut corners, says Hisham El-Awamry, the manager of Hekayat.

“Some producers film during the day and deliver the tape right before air time.” One episode of the series Al- Hara (The Alley) was only 30 minutes long, falling short of the 45 to 50 minute range typical of episodes.

El-Awamry says things like that happen because production companies are churning out several projects at the same time. “They bet on one big project, and produce one or two other series as well, at a lower quality.”

The frantic environment leads to wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. According to El-Awamry, each channel discusses different deals with production companies about when to air series.

“There are different categories that come with the deals between the production companies and the channels,” says El-Awamry.

“Some channels gets exclusive airing of the series, while others get first-run rights, and others have to wait for the second run, after Ramadan.”

Despite the kinks, producers are bullish about the Ramadan market.

“Not only the stars, like Yousra and Nour El-Sherif, attract advertisers, but all those who are involved in the process are considered stars as well,” says Al-Adl.

“Even if the series are not depending on big actors and actresses, a big production company, or the series’ director encourages the advertisers to air their ads during the series.” bt

Uncharted Waters

An increase in illegal fishing is threatening the nation’s underwater treasures By Lamia Hassan

(Egypt Today Magazine, November 2010)

Renting a fishing boat in Sharm El-Sheikh is an easy task. Numerous boats wait every day at the marina and can be hired out on demand. The types of boats vary, but there’s one thing they all have in common: a sign saying fishing near coral reefs is prohibited.

Like hiring a boat, ignoring that sign is all too easy these days. Port authorities ask few questions about fishing equipment or do little warn off fisherman from areas where fishing is banned.

“From the moment you leave the port and until you come back, no one supervises where you go fishing and what kind

of tools you are using to catch the fish or what kind of fish you brought back with you,” says fisherman Mohamed Ahmed Said, better known to his clients as Abu Ahmed. His boat, Karam Allah, plies the Red Sea waters near Hamata, a reef-rich area about 100 kilometers south of Marsa Alam. Every day, Abu Ahmed says, he is a witness to the growing numbers of people participating in illegal fishing.

It’s not an issue limited to Sharm El-Sheikh or Hamata. Since 2008, many of the nation’s waters and aquatic treasures have been increasingly threatened by illegal fishing. Though laws exist to prevent the practice, they are not enforced, say locals.

They say illegal fishing is not only destroying Egypt’s natural resources, it is also threatening the diving and tourism industries, each worth billions of Egyptian pounds.

Unprotected Areas

While the problem of illegal fishing is nothing new, those in the industry say it has become a more acute problem closer to shore and in prohibited or protected areas.

According to Ministry of Agriculture Decree no. 124, for year 1983, regarding fishing, aquaculture and regulation of fish farm, it is forbidden to fish in areas where fishing is prohibited or by using illegal equipment, or during any time that the Ministry of Agriculture prohibits fishing. Fishing boats are not allowed to have illegal equipment, such as mesh nets or spearguns, on board. The law also sets minimum size and weight limits for fish, making it illegal to buy or possess fish under the legal limits. In addition, it is illegal to remove ornamental fish from the sea except permission from the General Authority for Fish Resources.

“I go out to sea almost every day and I see how the fishermen are damaging all the resources in the areas where I work, like Hamata,” says Abu Ahmed, “leaving the fish with no chance to reproduce and continue living in the Red Sea.”

Illegal equipment such as nets with tightknit weaves are increasingly used by fishermen hoping to cash in on bigger catches – without regard for the damage the nets cause to sea life at large.

“How could we leave boats to damage an area like Hamata, where there are a variety of activities like fishing, snorkeling and even diving that generates income to all the people working in this field?” Abu Ahmed says.

A mainstay of the tourism sector, Egypt’s diving industry is worth about LE 15 billion yearly.

Hisham Gabr, chairman of the Chamber of Diving and Water Sports, says he receives complaints from fishermen reporting illegal fishing in several protectorates. Gabr says that some boats have managed to fish in Ras Mohamed and the Gulf of Al-Aqaba protectorates, damaging coral and further decimating marine life there.

“We are facing so many challenges here in the Red Sea, the major one would be that our main natural resources are being destroyed,” says Gabr. “Every day, from sunrise to sunset, there are boats fishing in Ras Mohamed and destroying the park, and we cannot stop them.”

While recreational fishing boats use fishing poles for individual catches, commercial fishermen often trawl an area, dragging large, tightly woven nets behind their boats.

“Since the holes are really tight, they not only catch some types of fish when they are smaller in size, but they also catch the baby fish that you cannot even eat and therefore damage the reproduction cycle,” says Alaa El-Haweet, a professor at Alexandria’s National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries (NIOF ). “For example, at the fish market, the bolti (tilapia) fish caught by fishermen were sold at the size of 25 centimeters, but now with fishermen just catchingthem at any size, you would find the bolti now in the market are around 20 or even 15centimeters only.”

Authorities have tried to address the issue, but with little success. In 2008, a conference in Sharm El-Sheikh brought together the governors of the Red Sea, South Sinai and Suez as well as various ministry officials and experts in search of an immediate solution.

Their effort had little effect, Gabr says. “We even tried to repeat the same initiative another time in March 2009 but this time in Hurghada, and the same thing happened but nothing really changed.”

Though a legal framework has been in place to prevent illegal fishing since 1983, the real problem is a lack of oversight and enforcement.

When it comes to illegal fishing in protectorates, Gabr says it is the duty of the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs to supervise these areas. But he alleges people are still able to obtain permission to fish in protected areas because of corruption in the system. Egypt Today contacted the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, but officials were unavailable for comment.

There is also a lack of awareness as to why these types of fishing are illegal, says El-Haweet. Many fishermen do not recognize the immense importance of natural resources to the area, let alone their future livelihoods.

Gabr agrees. “People do not understand that the economic value of the presence of these fish in the sea is billions of Egyptian pounds coming from this type of tourism; these billions will continue to be added to the Egyptian economy as long as the fish are there in the sea and reproducing.”

Finding a Solution

At this juncture, experts say it is difficult to determine how long fish populations will be able to survive, with illegal fishing practices destroying their numbers and disrupting the reproductive cycle.

NIOF ’s El-Haweet says that if laws are enforced and coupled with increased supervision and awareness sessions for fishermen, the problem could be controlled.

The government currently prohibits fishing for two months of the year to give fish a chance to repopulate. Abu Ahmed says it isn’t enough. “The fishermen still need money, and even if the government prohibits fishing for two months, they still manage to catch fish,” he says. “They are only compensated LE 90 for each day during the two months, which is really nothing.”

Despite the setbacks, people like Gabr haven’t lost hope. “During the last economic forum that took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, our prime minister announced that Sharm El-Sheikh will be the first green city in Egypt,” Gabr says. “Even as we speak, there are preparations to form a committee for it to be on top of the situation in Sharm, but it is still in the process.” et

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Wanted: Friends of the Fish

Have you seen fishing boats in marine protectorates such as Ras Mohamed National Park? The Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (CDWS) wants to know. Make a note of the boat name and registration number, and if possible, document its activity with photos or video. Email the CDWS at fishing@cdws.travel with the date, time, name and registration number of the boat, location and any other useful information such as photos or video of the boat’s activities.

Where the Nile meets the Mediterranean

Our guide to road tripping through the Delta cities  By Lamia Hassan


Arguably the best way to see Egypt, a road trip proves that there is far more to this nation than big, bustling cities and cookie-cutter tourist towns. Smaller towns off the beaten path have a certain magic you won’t find in places like Sharm El-Sheikh and Alexandria. Rev up your engine and embark on a road trip through the cities of the Delta, where the Nile sprawls out in the shape of a lotus, dividing into two branches — the Damietta and the Rosetta — with cities lying on both sides. Along the coast, the Delta stretches from Alexandria in the west to Port Said in the east. You might have already dropped by one or two Delta cities on a school trip or driven through on a previous road trip, but try devoting a full weekend solely to exploring some of Egypt Today’s top picks in the area.

Damietta

Sitting on the east branch of the Nile, Damietta is about 200 kilometers north of Cairo — a two-hour car or bus ride. It is one of only two cities in the Delta where the Nile meets the Mediterranean, which gives it a sense of natural wonder so often lacking in the nation’s bigger cities.

Beautiful city of Damietta

Damietta is famous for its furniture industry. The locals have done an extraordinary job in making a name for themselves as one of the best furniture manufacturers in the country. Check out some of the furniture-making workshops or factories and snap some shots of how a piece of furniture is transformed from raw materials to finished product. The craftsmen are usually welcoming to visitors and are often happy to let you watch them work their magic. The city also has a wealth of history. Damietta was important in the Abbasid era (circa 800 AD), when it was a port on the route to India. During the early 1200s, the Crusaders knew that controlling Damietta meant controlling the Nile and access to their ultimate goal of retaking Jerusalem. Because of its importance to the Crusaders, Mamluk Sultan Baibars later destroyed the city and rebuilt it with stronger fortifications a few kilometers from the river.

One of the historic sites worth visiting is the famed Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque (sometimes referred to as Al-Fath): the second mosque to ever be built in Egypt and Africa. Despite having been converted to a church twice in its history, the mosque still mirrors much of the architectural design of the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque in Fustat, which was the first mosque built in Egypt. Damietta also houses mosques dating to the Mamluk, Ottoman and Abbasid eras that are open to visitors.

Another site worth visiting is what residents call El-Kobry El- Adeem (The Old Bridge), which dates to the 1900s. The bridge is identical to Cairo’s Imbaba Bridge, but the one in Damietta is particularly scenic due to its proximity to the shore.

Rosetta

Situated on the western branch of the Nile is another must-stop on your Delta road trip: Rasheed City, baptized Rosetta during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The city gave its name to the famed Rosetta Stone, which was discovered there. Unfortunately, you cannot see the stone in its namesake since it was moved to the British Museum 200 years ago. What you can see is the Rasheed National Museum. Not quite like seeing the stone that was the key to understanding hieroglyphics, but interesting nonetheless as the museum provides a comprehensive history of the city. The museum is open 1–9pm every day except Wednesday. Tel: +2 (045) 292-1733.

Zefta

The city’s name may not ring a bell, but the story of this small city located on the Damietta branch of the Nile in the Gharbia province is quite unique. During the British occupation in 1919, revolutionaries in the city decided to declare independence from the Republic of Egypt, and named their city the Republic of Zefta. Its residents were also active in resisting British occupation, no doubt fueled by their earlier ‘independence’ from Egypt.

Today, Zefta has a number of textile factories that you might want to check out during your visit. You might also want to bring your fishing gear to try and catch your own dinner before you gear up for the drive to your next Delta stop.

Tanta

Just west of Zefta is Tanta, the largest and most populous of the Delta cities. Almost an hour and a half away from Cairo, Tanta is known for its bustling moulid celebrations. The spectacularly designed El-Sayyid El-Badawi Mosque is quite a sight, particularly during the October moulid honoring the mosque’s namesake. The eight-day celebration features music, spiritual gatherings and Sufi dances. The area also bursts at the seams with carnival

games, local merchandise and, especially, sweets. They say no one goes to Tanta without sampling the local moulid sweets, including Turkish delight and nut pralines fresh from the factories that produce them. However, meshabbik is what Tanta does best. Watch street vendors make these funnel cakes drenched in simple syrup is probably half the fun of eating them. et


Safety On The Set

As the stunts that fill the cinema seats get better, so do the dangers of filming them. Yet 2009 recorded no major accidents, compared to the high-profile mishaps of years past. Egypt Today goes behind the scenes to fi nd out what is going right in the world of stuntmen. By Lamia Hassan

actor's safety (courtesy Andrew McKenzie, international stunt)

(Egypt Today Magazine, October 2009)

Actors lead a dangerous life. In this summer’s controversial hit Ehky Ya Shahrzad (Tell Us, Scheherazade), Mona Zaki’s character was brutally beaten up and dragged by her hair across a room by her husband, played by Hassan El-Radad. Later in the year, the actress was hanging off the back of a car with actor Ahmed Helmy as they were dragged through a parking lot. She walked away from both scenes with barely a scratch

Action star Ahmed El-Sakka was not so lucky during the filming of his 2007 thriller El-Gezira (The Island). In a mishap with a prop handgun, El-Sakka was shot in the eye and had to undergo surgery. He was off work for three months while he recovered.

The big-budget action thriller is still a relatively new genre for local filmmakers, with 2002’s Mafia, directed by Sherif Arafa and starring El-Sakka, considered the first Egyptian-made smash-bang flick to hit local theaters. Audiences flocked to see it, and Mafia grossed more than LE 10 million in box office receipts alone. Since then, explosions, car crashes and fight scenes have become a staple of not only thrillers, but also comedies, TV series and even commercials. But no one is actually supposed to get hurt.

Egypt has earned a reputation for its well-developed film industry with talented set designers, camera crews and directors, but high-profile accidents in recent years would suggest that safety standards have been left on the storyboard. That is slowly beginning to change.

Bringing in the Big Guns

Directors and actors have long complained about dealing with local stuntmen or stunt coordinators. Most are adventurous young men hired off the street with little training or knowledge about proper safety measures. In a June 2007 article, Arafa told Egypt Today “With action films, you need people to help you, with special effects and Egypt still doesn’t have those people — we have to work mostly with foreigners. But we have to start somewhere.”

The foreigner most directors turn to is Andrew McKenzie, international stunt coordinator and the nation’s only film safety officer.

Courtesy Andrew Mckenzie

On the set of the Chevrolet’s Optra commercial, where Helmy and Zaki are taken for a drag around CityStars, the stunt coordinator could easily be mistaken for the director, as he barked out directions, double-checked riggings and ushered Helmy and Zaki into position behind the car. “Obviously if you do this […] you will lose all the skin on your chest, arms and legs, but we have got a little technique here that enables us to do it safely and make it look real too,” says Mckenzie, declining to give away any industry secrets.

McKenzie’s stunt team first worked with El-Sakka in South Africa during the production of Mafia. His first project in Egypt was for El-Gezira: After El-Sakka, who insists on doing his own stunts, injured his eye on the set, McKenzie came to coach the actor.

“I mainly work with El-Sakka, but I have also worked on other movies, some television stuff as well as commercials,” the stunt coordinator says. McKenzie’s local projects have included Ibrahim El-Abyad with El-Sakka; El-Dealer, which i s being shot in Ukraine; 1,000 Mabrouk (A Thousand Congratulations); Mona Zaki’s two new movies, Awlad El-Am (Cousins) and Khalf Aswar El-Kamar (Behind the Moon’s Gates); and Amr Waked’s Moshtabah Zero (Suspect Zero), among others. Internationally, he has also done stunts for the 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War, with Nicholas Cage, and the 2005 remake of The Poseidon Adventure, as well as work on TV series and other films.

Hiring foreign professionals to work on local productions is not a popular option for the budget-conscious studios, which would rather bring in much cheaper local talent. But cutting costs on safety may ultimately end up hurting the bottom line more.

“We are here to make sure that work is done professionally. We do not charge much more than the others and we are not here to make money. We want to make better movies, and if you look at the movies that were made in 2000 as opposed to what we are doing today, they are completely different,” says McKenzie. “We have taken the action right up to give it a more international look, and we can do it safely. Some people might save money from working with other people, but when you hurt an actor you don’t get to shoot for six weeks.”

When actors such as El-Sakka refuse to have stuntmen do the scenes for them, they must rely on a good team behind the scenes to do these stunts safely. McKenzie feels that injuries like El-Sakka’s are avoidable. “There is no reason to get hurt; you could do all the action and come out of the movie with only the usual bumps and bruises you get sometimes while shooting.”

The Art of Stunts

Being a stunt coordinator is more involved than just telling others which stunts to attempt. “Stunt coordination is a science, a specialization that requires a lot of training, but what we have here in Egypt has nothing to do with this science,” says director Marwan Hamed, who worked with McKenzie on this year’s Ibrahim El-Abyad and with another foreign team on his debut film Omaret Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building, 2006). “That is why I prefer working with foreigners.”

McKenzie explains that elsewhere in the world, if  someone aspires to be a stunt coordinator they study and train for many years before actually going on the set. “I was a stuntman for 20 years, and then I was an assistant stunt coordinator for maybe six or seven years,” says McKenzie. “I worked with very well-known stunt coordinators in the world, like Dan Bradley who did James Bond and Independence Day. They trained me every single day for five years before I worked on movie sets being a stunt coordinator.”

In Egypt, there is no guild or other professional organization that trains or certifies stuntmen. Anyone who has worked as a stuntman in two or three movies may call himself a stunt coordinator.

Since moving his entire business to Egypt a year and a half ago, McKenzie has been working to improve not only safety standards, but also the quality of stunt scenes in the local cinema industry. “I look at camera angles, I help the directors [decide] where to put the camera, the best way to shoot. Action needs to be shot in certain ways, and it takes years of experience to learn these things,” he says. “All these things you have to be aware of.”

He is also training Egyptians to be professional stuntmen, teaching them stage combat techniques and fight choreography. McKenzie says there is still a lot of work to be done. “Out of the 20 people that I am training, there are only two that I could rely on 100 percent and five guys that I could use a lot.”

Courtesy Andrew Mckenzie

One of McKenzie’s protégés, Mohamed Azab made his debut as a stuntman in the 2004 movie Tito. He then worked on several other movies and commercials before becoming a stunt coordinator. He has also worked as a fight choreographer for the movie Al-Hassa Al-Saba’a (The Seventh Sense, 2005), directed by actor/director Ahmed Mekky and starring Ahmed El-Fishawy.

“Working with McKenzie on Ibrahim El-Abyad, we started training really hard for four to six months before they actually started shooting the movie,” says Azab. “And I actually owe him a lot. After I successfully did a stunt where I crash into a car door on a motorcycle and fly over the handlebars through the air, I felt really confident about doing action scenes. This encouraged me to take a huge step [in my career] and handle El-Fishawy’s next movie Telk El-Ayam [These Days] on my own.

“While working on Ibrahim El-Abyad, I watched [McKenzie] and tried to learn from what he did everyday. I believe one of the most important things in action is eye-contact and timing,” he continues. “And the most important thing with safety is having your equipment, like vests, mattresses and wires ready. After working on Ibrahim El-Abyad, I started buying my own equipment.”

Since Ibrahim El-Abyad, Azab has worked with McKenzie on Awlad El-Amm (The Cousins, in production) and on Lahazat Harega’s (Critical Situations) second season.

Stunts are all the rage not only in action movies, but also in comedies like 1000 Mabrouk. According to McKenzie, action in comedies is demanding because “to be funny, it needs to be really hard.

“With 1000 Mabrouk I sat down with director Ahmed Nader Galal, and he said, Andrew, we need to kill [actor Helmy] 20-30 times. What can we do?’” McKenzie recalls. “I got a good team and we got to play with stuff that has never been done before here in Egypt. We used dummies that were very similar to the actor, we had masks made for this, and we did tricks with rigging.”

With advanced equipment, special effects and stringent safety measures, an actor can do any scene and avoid injuries that could ruin a career, delay shooting or even worse. For 1000 Mabrouk, McKenzie had Helmy suspended in mid-air by only a five-millimeter cable. “I think I’m lucky because they [trust] in what I do.”

Choreography is an essential part of the big-screen magic, as evidenced by the fight scene between Zaki and Al-Radad in Ehky Ya Shahrzad. “That’s pretty much what we do,” says McKenzie. “We make things look violent while keeping the safety level at a maximum.”

Drive to Stay Alive

In a country notorious for poorly maintained roads and real-life traffic fatalities, car chase scenes pose their own special problems for filmmakers. There is more to being a stunt driver than just aggressive driving habits.

To make sure everyone walks away safely from a crash, directors call Amr Mahmoud, better known as ‘Amr McGyver.’ Nicknamed after the brainy hero from the late-1980s American TV action series, the 32-year-old heads the nation’s only professional stunt driving company, McGyver Team, which specializes in car and motorbike chases, crashes and rolls

“I have worked with McGyver,” says McKenzie, “and really, I could rely on him for everything with cars.”

Safety Rigging - Courtesy Andrew Mckenzie

McGyver started his film career in 2001 with singer Mohamed Fouad’s movie Rehlet Hob (Love Journey). “Before 2000, we did not have any real car chases in Egypt, but I started the chases in this movie in 2001. A foreign guy did the roll,” says McGyver, whose industry credits now include 55 movies, 10 television series and multiple commercials. “I have a team of 20 professional drivers that do everything, but for the rolls I prefer to do it by myself because I’m used to it.”

McGyver is constantly trying new things in each project. “Working with McKenzie increased my knowledge because he has been working for years in this industry and has studied the physics of the different speeds, dimensions and weights,” he explains. “We actually tried new things together, like in Mohamed Heneidy’s last movie Ramadan Mabrouk Aboul Alamein Hamouda [2009]. For the first time, we made a car roll while hitting the ramp from the side and not head-on.”

Worse for Wear

This year has seen few major accidents reported from the movie industry and no fatalities, a marked improvement over years past. The 2008 Ramadan serial El-Fanar (The Lighthouse) was particularly accident prone: Actors Ahmed Rateb and Tarek Lotfy were filming a scene in Port Said in which Lotfy’s character is drowning and his father, played by Rateb, jumps into the water to rescue him. Rateb actually slid and almost drowned, because not a single member of the cast noticed until the coast guard rescued him. Other El-Fanar actors also missed work from injuries incurred during filming.

While McKenzie’s work within the industry appears to be paying off, actors and directors admit that stunt professionalism is still a serious concern. For director Tarek Abdel Moaty, it was a lack of professionalism that delayed shooting on Agamista (2007) for an entire day. Starring Sherif Ramzy, Khaled Aboul Naga and Donia, the movie is about a man (Aboul Naga) who, while in the North Coast, befriends a young man (Ramzy) on the run from drug dealers.

For a scene involving a car chase followed by a figh, Ramzy recalls, “The director hired someone to bring stuntmen to this scene, but right on the set, just as we were about to film, they refused to do the scene. I actually did the scene after the stuntmen refused and I got hurt. After finishing the most difficult scene, we went on with the rest of the movie without using stuntmen.”

It was Abdel Moaty’s first experience as a director, and he found using stuntmen was almost impossible. “In the international cinema, stunt work has rules, but here in Egypt they know nothing about it, and at the end of the day, I cannot force stuntmen to do the scene,” says Abdel Moaty, explaining that most Egyptian stuntmen are amateurs.

“It’s the stuntmen’s job to do the action scenes, and they should be trained to do so,” Ramzy adds, “but here in Egypt they do it by luck.”

It is not only the lack of professionalism that create  problems, but also a lack of experience and training. Pressured by deadlines and budgets, producers often do not give enough time for actors to adequately prepare for stunts.

“In the movie El-Eyal Herbet (The Kids Ran Away, 2006), I had to drive a motorbike and I was hurt because I was not given enough time to train well for it,” says Ramzy.

This carelessness can even extend to filming commercials. “At the beginning of my career I was in one of Chipsy’s old ads, and I was supposed to break through a glass wall,” recalls stuntman Mohamed Azab. “But because of the lack of experience of the people who were responsible for it, they forgot to make sure that it is powdered glass and not real glass. I ended up [cutting myself and] bleeding for a while.”

McKenzie says that attention to detail and proper preparation saves lives. “We were shooting Leilat El-Baby Doll [Baby Doll Night, 2008] in Syria, and we had two cars crashing into each other. Everyone was in a hurry and they have seen us do it and it doesn’t look dangerous, and they wanted us to put the actors in the car,” recalls McKenzie. “I said there was no way that I would put an actor in. I put the stuntmen in the cars. I was [installing] seatbelts, and the producers said it’s not dangerous, you do not have to do this. I said, ‘If I am doing this job then I will do it properly.’”

The stunt coordinator finished installing the safety belts and made sure his team was driving the cars. Sure enough, during the crash scene, one of the cars rolled. “If there weren’t seatbelts, [the stuntmen] would have been dead.”

Despite these difficulties, McKenzie has no intention of taking his business elsewhere. “Egypt probably has one of the best camera departments in the world, the directors of photography and everything with the camera departments is world class. The directors are also very talented, [and] the set designers are close to the best in the world.” says McKenzie. “Overseas we generally get told what they want and it is very boring, people aren’t looking to try new things. In Egypt, we get to design a lot of action and there are certain things we have done in Egypt that have not been done anywhere else in the world, which is great.”

Building up the profession of stuntmen will go a long way in securing the Egyptian film industry’s place in the spotlight. “If people get hurt or injured or killed on sets in Egypt, people hear about this worldwide, and [this] takes [away from] everything that the cameramen are doing, the directors and everything big [production] companies like Good News are doing, what they have built in Egypt … It takes all of that away and it makes people in Egypt look like amateurs, and they are not.et

The Censor’s Scissors

 Egypt Today sheds light on how the censorship process really works By Lamia Hassan

(Egypt Today Magazine, February 2010)

In a conservative society, with prohibitions that come from deeply held beliefs, honest attempts to discuss social problems can sometimes offend. Last month’s controversial hit film Bel Alwan El-Tabe’eya (With Natural Colors) addresses one such important source of tension in society: The relationship in society between religion and art.

The movie approached the issue of drawing live models and the conflicts between the religious and liberal students at an art school. When art students criticized the movie, claiming it defamed them, Osama Fawzy, the film’s director, said that he was using art to show the larger struggle in society between religion and the arts.

“They always talk about the three taboos: politics, sex and religion, but I believe that a taboo is what violates social harmony,” says Said Khattab, who was appointed the director of the Censorship Authority in October 2009.

The film and its ensuing controversy once again raise the question: Should certain types of art be prohibited?

To Cut or Not to Cut

Censorship has varied over time as societal norms have changed. For example, many of the stories that criticized President Gamal Abdel Nasser did not directly refer to him; some stories that were critical of Nasser were only released after his death.

When Yusuf Idris published the short story Akan Labod Ya Lily An Todi’y El Nour (Did You Really Have To Turn On The Lights, Lily?) in his 1971 collection Beit Min Lahm (House of Flesh), the book was banned. The story was well-known to be a criticism of Nasser’s policies concerning the Israel/Palestine conflict, especially when he started negotiating with the Israelis to give back the Palestinians some of their lost land in exchange for recognizing Israel. The book was later allowed on the market.

In Idris’ story, a young sheikh is put in charge of a small mosque in an area known for drug dealing and addicts. All the men in the neighborhood are in love with a young girl named Lily — all except for the sheikh. Lily tries to seduce him while he is calling the people to prayer over a microphone. He fears he is falling in love with her and when he weeps, all the drug addicts awaken and go to pray, while he leaves the people behind, having finally fallen for her.

Naguib Mahfouz wrote short stories criticizing Nasser as well, including Taht El Mazala (Under The Umbrella, 1969) and Beit Saye’e El Soma’a (House Of The Notorious, 1965). In Awlad Haretna (Children of Our Alley), Mahfouz tackled sensitive religious issues, and the book was eventually banned because the characters personified God and his prophets. It is also said to be part of the reason an Islamist extremist attempted to kill Mahfouz in October 1994 by stabbing him in the neck. The assailant later confessed he had not actually read the book, he had only heard about what the book implies through its characters. Islamist groups say they had nothing to do with the attack.

According to Mostafa Faramawy, head of procurement for El-Shorouk Bookstores, there are two forms of censorship for books. Foreign titles go through the Department of Censorship of Publications under the Ministry of Information, but local titles are not subject to this process.

“Books in Egypt are given a deposit number from Dar El-Kotob, and then they are available at bookstores,” says Faramawy. “Books are almost never banned before being available at bookstores. They are sold, then when controversies arise, the books get banned until [the government decides what to do about them].”

If a book is banned, authorities collect the books from the stores.

Faramawy also says that the government requires that all copies of the Qur’an be approved by Al-Azhar. “We sometimes get the Holy Qur’an from Lebanon, so I make sure that all of the books we have are approved by Al-Azhar.”

Faramawy says that Egypt is somewhat flexible with books compared to the rest of the region. Some titles are allowed here that are outlawed in some of the Gulf countries, for instance. “We usually do not have a lot of books banned, but the government told us not to sell books by the Moroccan author Mohamed Shoukry,” he says. “But really, I do not believe that any books should be censored because we should know our thoughts and the others’ thoughts. If a person has decided to read a book, then he or she is aware of what is written in it. There are even people who do not have enough money to live and still manage to buy books, so we should respect that and give people the freedom to read whatever they want.”

The Censoring Process

From the controversial movie "Bel Alwan El Tabi'ya"

According to Khattab, television and radio have their own censorship departments, while music, movies and plays are under the main Censorship Authority. “Most series are shot at the Media Production City, which is considered a free zone, and those that are aired on satellite channels or Nilesat — outlets over which we have no authority.,” says Khattab. “We only get the scripts of a very few of them that need permission to be exported, but they follow our law, which is law 430 for 1955.”

For movies, the scriptwriter first files his or her script with the censor, who gives permission to start filming. The production company must get permission to screen the final film after the censors approve its content. If the Censorship Authority bans the film, it cannot be shown in local theaters or on the free-to-air channels.

“Every movie is seen by three censors and the director of the department, and if it is a controversial movie they form another committee. If part of the committee approves a movie and others do not, then I interfere and form another committee and get other censors from other committees,” says Khattab. “When there is a movie with a huge probability it will be disapproved, we summon the filmmaker and sit down with him and discuss the issues to find solutions [so the movie can be approved].”

For plays, the manuscript must first be filed, then the censors are invited to see the play on its first night. Musicians must file a song’s lyrics, before they get approval to record and sell it.

The Struggle to Be Seen

Films have been going through different forms of censorship ever since cinema came to Egypt. Movies represent the time they were made in. During the 1950s, many films were about the rise of the peasants and removing the king, whose image (on a photo in the background, for example) was blacked out. In the 1970s, most films were shallow, marking the period of aflam moqawalat (contractor films) — low-budget productions focused on quantity over quality, often with lots of sexual innuendos. Many were banned, but are still shown on satellite channels.

“The public morals change over time. In the 1970s, for example, women were able to wear whatever they want, ride buses and go to university wearing whatever they wanted, but now it is different. What you accept at times could be rejected at another time, and that’s what happens with the movies as well,” explains Khattab, adding that the level of tolerance for religious themes has changed. “[W]hat people used to accept before is rejected now in the society, and they do not want to accept it in what they are watching as well.”

According to Khattab, the movie El Mozneboon (The Culprits, 1967) was banned immediately after its release, and the censors who allowed it were penalized because of the movie’s sexual content. Exploring the rise of corruption and nepotism, the film is about suspects who are innocent of a certain crime but cannot give an alibi because they were all doing something else illegal at the time.

Censorship existed in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, but there were no major controversies because movies tended to be light and avoided issues that might offend people. Then movies like Sahar El-Layaly (Sleepless Nights, 2003), a realistic movie about the lives of four couples, started challenging standards of what was acceptable in film; it had trouble getting approval from the censors but was eventually released. Other films addressing different taboos had similar delays with the censors, including Heya Fawda (It is Chaos, 2007), Ehky Ya Shahrazad (Tell us, Scheherazade, 2009), Kobolat Masrooqa (Stolen Kisses, 2008), Bedon Reqaba (Without Censoring, 2009).

The movies addresses common issues, but segments of society thought it was inappropriate to discuss the problems so publicly. “The problem is not only with film censorship, but also different societal censors. Our society is more driven towards religion, and this religious society pressures us,” says Khattab. “My goal in censorship is to be a place where new ideas are born and have space to discuss and come up with new ideas and have the ability to diversify.”

Although the notion of censorship promoting creativity is dubious, Khattab insists that he is more liberal than his predecessors and wants to allow filmmakers greater freedom than they have had in the past.

While some criticize the Censorship Authority for approving movies that they feel are violating the morals of the society, filmmakers accuse the censorship bureau of being to strict. In 2003, for example, the Censorship Authority banned the movie Matrix Reloaded from screening in Egypt for religious reasons. There is no official explanation; some claim it is because the characters in the movie go to a city called Zion while others speculate that the Architect character was an attempt to personify god.

“Maybe the censorship is less conservative or let some scenes pass because they are important, but what is more dangerous to the arts than censorship is the audience, they are the real censors,” says Yosra Lozy, who starred in Bel Alwan El-Tabe’eya. “Sometimes I feel that society is against the arts. They take photos with the celebrities when they see them, yet they attack their movies even before they are out in the theaters. There are also some lawyers and members of the People’s Assembly that file lawsuits against some realistic movies.”

According to Khattab, the movie El Mozneboon (The Culprits, 1967) was banned immediately after its release, and the censors who allowed it were penalized because of the movie’s sexual content. Exploring the rise of corruption and nepotism, the film is about suspects who are innocent of a certain crime but cannot give an alibi because they were all doing something else illegal at the time.

Censorship existed in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, but there were no major controversies because movies tended to be light and avoided issues that might offend people. Then movies like Sahar El-Layaly (Sleepless Nights, 2003), a realistic movie about the lives of four couples, started challenging standards of what was acceptable in film; it had trouble getting approval from the censors but was eventually released. Other films addressing different taboos had similar delays with the censors, including Heya Fawda (It is Chaos, 2007), Ehky Ya Shahrazad (Tell us, Scheherazade, 2009), Kobolat Masrooqa (Stolen Kisses, 2008), Bedon Reqaba (Without Censoring, 2009).

The movies addresses common issues, but segments of society thought it was inappropriate to discuss the problems so publicly. “The problem is not only with film censorship, but also different societal censors. Our society is more driven towards religion, and this religious society pressures us,” says Khattab. “My goal in censorship is

According to Khattab, the Censorship Authority is trying to implement a rating system similar to the type used in Europe or the United States, so that the viewer will be able to choose which movies he wants to see or show to his children.

“Our role is not to keep on cutting scenes from movies. We are a cultural institution, and I believe that with the rating system we are respecting the right of the viewer, ” says Khattab, trying to show concern over the damage that indiscriminate cutting can have on a film’s quality.

While controversial ideas are more likely to be discussed in film, directors must still be careful with how these topics are approached. “We could talk about anything — regardless if it will appear in a novel, movie, article or anything — the most important thing about it is to use the proper language for it,” says Marwan Hamed, director of 2006’s controversial movie Emaret Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building). “Part of the director’s skill is to know how to use the proper language from the cinema’s dictionary, and let it pass from the censorship and on to the viewer.”

Ibrahim El Batout, considered the father of independent cinema in Egypt and who made his feature debut with the award-winning Ein Shams (Eye of the Sun, 2007), says, “Censorship is a rather out-of-date tool of control that has no efficiency nowadays. If it still exists in Egypt, it’s simply because we are out of tune with the whole universe and I see that sooner rather than later it will not be there.” According to Batout, all the technological developments that 2010 brings, especially in communication, will edge out any efforts to censor art.

Khattab says that in 2009 the censors allowed lots of controversial movies that tackle sensitive issues, like Awlad El-Am (Cousins, 2009), which deals with the Egyptian-Israeli struggle. While the censors say that they allowed a number of controversial movies this year, Khattab acknowledges that there are still movies prevented from being distributed such as Taht El-Niqab (Under the Veil), a movie about what women are sometimes forced to do under desperate economic conditions, and Haz West El-Balad (Downtown Belly Dancing), about sexual harassment. et