The relentless attack on Egyptian actress Mona Zaki and the movie Ashab wala Aaz (Friends and Dearest) has not stopped since it was first shown on Netflix a few days ago.
The drama started with Egyptian MP Mostafa Bakri who demanded a ban on Netflix in Egypt because Friends and Dearest would “threaten the values of the Egyptian family.”
Lawyer Ayman Mahfouz filed a lawsuit against the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and the Artistic Works Censorship Authority, demanding that the film was not to be shown to the masses “because it promotes homosexuality.”
Actress Mona Zaki had to endure the lion’s share of the attack, as she is Egyptian and plays a character who drinks wine and smokes cigarettes. She also took her underwear off on camera, as if she “sold our her clean art and innocence” to Netflix.
What further angered the film’s attackers was the role of her gay friend, who appeared friendly and lovable, yet became a victim of his friends’ refusal to accept his sexual orientation.
Yet, the morality guards of Egyptian and Arab audiences do not understand homosexuality, except as in a satanic image or joke. They tremble when seeing rainbow colors in public, just as the former Egyptian football star, Mohamed Aboutrika, shivered at seeing English Premier League players wearing rainbow armbands and called for a boycott against them.
The film Friends and Dearest revolves around a group of friends who meet for dinner and decide to play a game whereby everyone puts his or her cell phones on the dinner table, so that all messages and calls will be shared with everyone.
The game is initially fun and interesting, but soon reveals secrets that no one, including the friends’ closest friends, knew anything about. What makes the attack on the film laughable is that it is a remake of the Italian movie Perfect Strangers, which was shown at the 2016 Cairo Film Festival, winning both the Best Screenplay Award and the Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film. It went on to be screened in Egyptian cinemas, where it received a remarkably positive response.
Later, the movie was converted into Arabic and 16 other versions. Netflix only offers the film’s Arabic version to subscribers for a fee, and the film has not (yet) been shown in cinema.
The illogical uproar targeting the film in Egypt and other Arab countries can be seen as a product of the general obsession with denial: social problems can occur anywhere in the world, but not in Egypt and the Arab world. And any hint at the fact that they do occur is a national insult.
A local who claims an unreal state of purity and chastity lives with a condition that can be best summed as the boiling frog syndrome. It is the denial that there is a fire under the pot. By adapting to it, the frog will not notice that the water gradually reaches boiling point, and by then there is no escape from destruction.
Many people in Egypt ignore the consequences of circumcision, which has distorted the bodies and lives of millions of girls and women and killed many of them in the process. Many people deny marital infidelity, despite the newspapers daily being filled with incidents.
They deny the disintegration of families and violence, despite killings occurring even between members of the same family.
They deny sex before marriage, rape and incest, despite the many babies being born to unknown parents in care homes and shelters. They even deny their own poverty. And adapt to it …
The same happened in the wave of attacks on the movie Feather.
It seems that Egyptian society will continue to live in a state of denial until it reaches boiling point when it will not be able to escape from destruction.
Many people feel weak and unable to face disaster, as a consequence of the public discourse that has surrounded them in recent years. It is a discourse basically telling them they would drown the boat if they had a voice and hand in social change. Instead, they have to sit behind a glass panel and speak like trumpets for everyone to create their own bubble.
And from within these bubbles, the movie audience is frightened to hear the word “condom” and surprised to see the father being rebuked, because he searched in his daughter’s bag without her permission, and supports his daughter engaging in an emotional and sexual relationship as long as she does so willingly, while in real life most fathers succumb to social blackmail at the expense of their daughters. Perhaps the crisis regarding Friends and Dearest will end in Egypt. Perhaps it will be shown in cinema after all, after some phrases undergo the censor’s scissors.
But the crisis will not end easily, as the Egyptian and Arab public have become accustomed to such words as “blocking,” “preventing” and “criminalizing.” These words have been overused and the audience is trained to swallow them on every occasion.