Egypt Freedom of Speech Spotlighted After Movie Ordered Pulled

Egypt’s military-backed government yanked a steamy movie starring Lebanese bombshell Haifa Wehbe from the country’s theaters, raising new cries that it’s trampling free speech.

The government, installed after the military deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, says the Egyptian-made movie, “Halawet Rooh,” Arabic for “Sweetness of Spirit,” must be re-evaluated by the country’s censors. Interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab announced the decision late yesterday on the cabinet’s Facebook page.

“Pulling the movie is a clear indication that all the government’s talk about the respect of a civil state, as opposed to Mursi’s religious state, is actually nonsense,” Emad Mubarak, head of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said in a phone interview today. “Under Mursi there was a crackdown on freedom in the name of religion, now it’s the protection of so-called state values.”

Secularists accused Mursi of seeking to advance an Islamist agenda, which frowns on public displays of sexuality. Critics of the current government, which has carried out a deadly crackdown on Mursi’s supporters since he was toppled, accuse it of quashing dissent.

The movie, released earlier this month, tells the story of a young single mother who lives in a slum and works in a club to provide for her son, according to the website Elcinema.com. Critics of its content have accused it of being sexually provocative, with state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper saying in an April 13 review that it aims to “sexually arouse the audience.”

Sexual Icon

The movie pulled in almost 1 million Egyptian pounds ($143,000) in its first week, or 52 percent more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier, according to the website. Its trailer, featuring Wehbe, a singer-turned-actress who’s become a sexual icon in the Arab world, drew more than 3 million views on YouTube.

The movie’s producer, Mohamed El-Sobky, said in a phone interview last night with private satellite station ElMehwar that he wasn’t notified of the decision. The Egyptian Creativity Front, a coalition of people in the arts, de journalists, denounced the move as an “assault on the freedoms of thought, expression and art.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Salma El Wardany in Cairo at selwardany@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net Amy Teibel, Caroline Alexander

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