The head of Egypt’s censorship board has resigned in protest at a government ban of a controversial film, according to German news agency dpa. The decision comes in response to a Wednesday decision by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb to ban Halawet Rooh (Sweetness of Spirit), an Egyptian-made film starring Lebanese actress and singer Haifa Wehbe. The film has come under scathing criticism for being “immoral”.
“I was prompted to present my resignation, not only as an official, but as a creative artist,” said Ahmed Awwad, who is also a film director, in comments to private TV station CBC Two. “My resignation is final.”
The film had been approved by the state-run censorship board before it was allowed to be screened for adult-only audiences earlier this month.
The ban on the film has been condemned by many members of Egypt’s cinema community as targeting freedom of expression.
In the film, Wehbe – an actress known for her provocative mannerisms and famous as a sex symbol – plays a woman who becomes a talked-about figure in her working-class neighbourhood while her husband is away.
The film has scenes of violence against women and contains sultry dancing.
Shortly after the film hit cinemas on April 8, one critic for a local newspaper dubbed it an Egyptian porn picture.
In the UAE, the National Media Council (NMC), the body tasked with approving films for cinematic release, on Thursday said that they did not ask local distributors to pull the film, which was released in 28 cinemas on April 10. It was the third most-watched film in the country, with four-day weekend admission of 26,453, according to statistics from local film distributors. Only Rio 2 and Captain America: Winter Soldier had more viewers.
A spokesperson for Vox Cinemas on Thursday told tabloid! the film was pulled from UAE screens on Thursday morning, saying it was banned after censors viewed it for a second time. The film is distributed by Gulf Film, who have not made any comment as yet.
“We didn’t confiscate it or withdraw the film after eight days of its release. Maybe the distributors made that decision. You should ask the producers or distributors of that film,” said Juma Obaid Al Leem, director of the Media Content Tracking Department at the NMC. However, he added that he had received several complaints about cinemas not respecting the 18+ rating issued by NMC.
“We heard that some cinemas were allowing people under 18 years of age to watch the film and that they were not obliging or respecting our rating. So we checked and gave them instructions to strictly adhere to it and had meeting with them about it,” said Al Leem. When asked which local cinema had flouted rules, he declined to name them.
The film is said to have been inspired by Monica Bellucci’s 2000 hit Malena, and revolves around Rooh, played by dark-haired pop star Wehbe, who ignites passion among the men in her neighbourhood.