Poster of movie Sheikh Jackson - Official Facebook page Poster of movie Sheikh Jackson - Official Facebook page

Critics express concern over referral of ‘Sheikh Jackson’ to Azhar

Fri, Dec. 22, 2017
CAIRO – 22 December 2017: The latest decision by the General Prosecution to refer the Oscar-nominated movie “Sheikh Jackson” to an Azhar-led committee caused raging debates as to whether it could lead to further limitations on freedom of expression and creativity.

The General Prosecution’s decision came after a legal complaint filed by lawyer Abdel Rahman Abdel Barry against the filmmakers of “Sheikh Jackson”.

The lawyer, who serves as secretary general of the Bar Association’s Freedoms Committee, accused the movie of hurting Islam and damaging Egypt’s reputation abroad.

“Where is the freedom of creativity?” Amr Salama, director of the movie, wrote on his official Facebook page after being summoned and later questioned by the General Prosecution about his Oscar-nominated movie.

Salama further wondered if religious bodies will then be the ones responsible for evaluating movies instead of the experts in the field. “And should we then look at our movies from a religious perspective?" he asked.

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Poster of movie Sheikh Jackson - Official Facebook page

On November 20, the prosecution summoned the lead actor, Ahmed al-Fishawy, due to his role in “Sheikh Jackson”. The movie portrays the central protagonist named Hany, who is so passionate about late pop star Michel Jackson and simultaneously struggles to hold up his Salafist posture.

Ahmed Mourad, author of best- selling novel “The Blue Elephant”, told Egypt Today on Wednesday that he found the whole situation “highly regrettable.”

Mourad said that the movie slams extremism, saying that “this comes at the time when Egypt fights tooth and nail to prevent extremism to cut through society.”

“When you ban the movie, people become more eager to see it; it would be a farcical move. Most cherished classics of the Egyptian cinema were actually banned at the time they were released, like ‘She’ Mn El Khouf’ (An Ounce of Fear),” Mourad added.

Film critic and writer Ramy Abdel Razik described the legal action as a harebrained move, given the fact that the movie had been approved by the Censorship Authority before it was released to the public and also made stops at international festivals, like Al-Gouna and Cairo Film festivals, as well as making it to the 2018 Oscars.

“The decision of the General Prosecution to refer the case to an Azhar committee is an implied threat to thinkers and virtuous people to make them back down from tackling controversial topics and to be more cautious about the types of topics they go public with,” Razik added.

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A scene from movie Sheikh Jackson - Official Facebook page

“This puts the freedom of speech and expression at peril and puts restrictions on the growth of arts. It felt as if Wahhabism is on the rise again,” Mourad proceeded.

In September, Egypt nominated “Sheikh Jackson” for best foreign-language film in the 2018 Oscars slated for March.

Furthermore, Abdel Barry accused the movie’s cast of hurting Islam and insulting Egypt, referring specifically to the scene where the main character (Hany) was performing a prayer and then started fantasizing about himself dancing with people to one of Michel Jackson’s songs.

"The ‘Sheikh Jackson’ movie went too far in insulting Islam,” said Abel Barry, lambasting the fact that Islam has lately been subject to mockery, which is inacceptable, as he put it during his phone-in to DMC’s evening TV program.



In his complaint, the lawyer said that "the movie shows Egypt in a poor light and questions constants of the Egyptians regarding religion and identity, which must be dealt with firmly and forcefully."

"The movie did not offend nor insult Islam or Al-Azhar. The film is just a fantasy. Do we have to hold the filmmakers accountable for their imagination and creativity?” Writer and film critic Magda Khairallah said in statements to Asharq Al-Awsat.
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