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Netflix: First Arabic movie sparks morality row



The first Arabic-language film shown on Netflix has sparked controversy in Egypt for alleged immorality and undermining of traditional values.

The movie, Dearest Friends, involves discussions of sexual encounters and extramarital affairs and shows characters drinking alcohol.

Dearest Friends, which is set in Lebanon, is a remake of the 2016 hit Italian film Perfect Strangers.

Egyptian actors and film critics have also voiced support for the movie.

The plot of the film revolves around seven friends who meet for dinner. They decide to play a game in which everyone puts their mobile phones on the table, allowing any new messages or calls to be viewed by everyone.

It is the resulting discussions and admissions which have caused offence.

MP and well-known TV journalist Mustafa Bakry said he had complained to the speaker of the Egyptian parliament about the filmmakers. Mr Bakry urged the country’s authorities to halt co-operation with Netflix “since this is not its first movie that targets the values and traditions of the Egyptian and Arab societies”.

Egyptian lawyer Ayman Mahfouz said he had filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers accusing them of “promoting homosexuality”, Al-Watan website reports. The accusation is probably pegged to the inclusion of a gay character in the film.

Mr Mahfouz said he had also sent a legal warning to the ministry of culture to prevent the film from being shown in Egypt, according to the Cairo 24 website.

Responding to calls for the movie to be banned in Egypt, the head of the Censorship Authority for Artistic Works said the country could not ban the film because it was a Lebanese production, the pro-opposition Darb website reports.

‘The right not to watch’

Many prominent actors and critics have strongly defended the film, and have rejected accusations against its filmmakers.

During a phone call with Al Hikaya talk show, art critic Magda Moris said Dearest Friends did “not promote homosexuality or violate family traditions”.

“We cannot ban the movie in Egypt and those against it have the right not to watch it,” she added.

The Ahl Masr website reports that veteran actress Elham Shahin objected to attempts to involve parliament.

“The parliament has nothing to do with Netflix and the MPs are not guardians over the public,” she said. “There are far bolder movies on Netflix.”

Hate campaign

One of the film’s female stars, Mona Zaki, has been the target of a hostile online campaign regarding a scene in which she removes her underwear.

Image caption,
Mona Zaki

Arabic hashtags carrying the names of the actress and the film were among the top trends in Egypt, with more than 17,000 comments.

Many users accused her of “violating society’s values and ethics”, as one termed it. Another user tweeted that the film was “a moral failing” within her scope of work.

The Syndicate Of Artists issued a statement stressing that it would “support the actress in case anyone tries to take any measures of any kind against her”, Darb website reports.

“The syndicate will not stand idly by in the face of any verbal assault or attempt to intimidate any Egyptian artist as a result of a work of art he/she contributed to,” the statement said.

Egyptian actress Elham Shahin also defended Ms Zaki, describing her as “a mature, honest artist with great performance [skills]”, Darb also reports.

Similarly, well-known movie critic Tariq al-Shennawi told Egypt’s ETC TV that “the scene does not deserve all this controversy surrounding it, and we did not see anything in it that outrages modesty or stirs instincts and no part of her body appears [unclothed in the film]”.


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