TIME: In Egypt, It’s Street Art vs. State Soap

Before the street, there was the screen — and the stage. In Syria and Egypt pre-2011, citizens used soap operas, plays and songs to voice political commentary — slipping criticism in between lines and lyrics. Then, the Arab Spring began, collapsing this natural order and impaling the region’s most powerful and traditional motors of media production in Egypt and Syria. Continue reading TIME: In Egypt, It’s Street Art vs. State Soap

The Human Touch in Jeddah: A Saudi Film

Ahd Kamel’s Sanctity was a real surprise at the Gulf Film Festival. Saudi cinema has taken off in recent years despite a multitude of obtacles – an informal ban on public cinema houses and state funding of cinema, and frequent interference from the religious police in attempts to promote cinema such as the Jeddah film festival that began in 2007. Individuals such as Saudi director Haifaa Mansour have, however, represented a beacon of hope for budding directors, with a series of works that have been well-received in international film forums, including last year’s WadjdaContinue reading The Human Touch in Jeddah: A Saudi Film

Revolution, Art and the Islamists

The rise of Islamist groups in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as a result of the revolutionary movement in Arab countries this year has generated much angst about the fate of the arts, in Egypt in particular. The regimes in Egypt and Tunisia were fond of presenting themselves as protectors of the arts against conservative Islamic forces and now that both in are a state of transformation many in the entertainment industry are preparing for the worst. Egyptian directors and actors at the Dubai International Film Festival this month expressed those fears: not only the country was in a mess, they said in private, the future of cinema and television was bleak. Many are looking to get out of the country and the Gulf, not least Dubai, is an attractive exile. The specific fear is that actresses will be obliged to cover up and the subject matter of the arts will shift to more conservative and “Islamic” themes. The ethic of Egyptian state TV itself could change, with more veiled women appearing, and this would be part of a wider shift in society – those will-they/won’t-they reports of Salafis banning alcohol, enforcing the hejab, banning bikinis and introducing a version of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Continue reading Revolution, Art and the Islamists