'Jews of Egypt' Rides Bumpy Road to Premiere

After Ban, Authorities Allow Screening of Controversial Film

Back Down: After Egypt tried to ban ‘Jews of Egypt,’ filmmaker Amir Ramses planned to sue — and project the film on the side of the country’s internal spy agency. That turned out to be unnecessary when authorities backed down and allowed screenings to go ahead.
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Back Down: After Egypt tried to ban ‘Jews of Egypt,’ filmmaker Amir Ramses planned to sue — and project the film on the side of the country’s internal spy agency. That turned out to be unnecessary when authorities backed down and allowed screenings to go ahead.

By Aaron Ross

Published March 28, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
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A controversial documentary on Egypt’s expulsion of its long-resident Jewish population opened despite an initial effort by the Egyptian government to block its release.

“Jews of Egypt” opened on March 27 at three movie theaters in Cairo and Alexandria after official permission was first granted, then withdrawn and then granted again.

When the initial scheduled opening on March 13 was forbidden, director Amir Ramses filed a lawsuit and planned to project his film in defiance onto the wall of a National Security Agency building in Cairo. Several days later, after a domestic and international media storm, government officials reissued documents permitting the film to be shown.

In interviews with the Forward, Ramses discussed the film and the limits on expression that are ongoing — indeed, he said, worse — two years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship.

“What kind of people could be pissed off by my film?” asked Ramses, whose documentary portrays the tolerated, even comfortable position of Jews in Egypt well into the 20th century, until their expulsion after Israel’s founding in 1948. Ramses quickly answered his own question: “Racists. That’s one perspective, obviously.”

But, he said, “People are not giving up. Just because the film is out, I’m not stopping the exposure of the influence of state security over the ministry of culture.”

“Jews of Egypt,” which had a pre-release screening in October at Cairo’s Panorama of the European Film Festival that drew overflow crowds, was banned just before the planned mid-March opening despite two previous authorizations the film had received from Egypt’s official censorship agency. In response, Haitham Al Khamissi, the film’s producer, posted the authorization documents on the film’s website along with a furious statement vowing to sue “the Ministry of Culture, the Supreme Council of Culture, the Egyptian Censorship Bureau, the Ministry of Interior and the National Security Agency.”

Ramses explained that Egyptian security authorities had no power to interfere once a film has been approved by the Censorship Bureau. “National Security is just like my aunt in this case,” he said. “She can like the film, she can not like the film. But she has absolutely no legal right to ban it.”


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