David E. Miller
A Christian and a Muslim lay injured in an Egyptian hospital room. The Christian, who has just lost an eye in a terrorist attack on his church, turns to his neighbor and asks why Muslims attack Christians.
"What do you mean by Muslims? Can the person who did this really be a Muslim?" answers the other, injured in the same attack.
The evident symbolism in the short film "The Eye Does Not See" may seem kitsch to Western viewers, but it exposes a widespread idealistic vision of sectarian relations in post-revolutionary Egypt. At the end of the film, the Muslim patient dies, but donates his cornea to save the vision of his Christian companion.
The new Egypt is far from perfect, but a new Facebook page addresses the country's social ills through cinema, the Islamic way. With 7,000 fans and growing, "Ikhwan Cinema" embeds short locally-produced films that mirror society's most pressing issues, attempting to encourage "meaningful film." Ikhwan Cinema hasn't yet begun producing films itself, but it intends to begin shortly.
Take corruption, for example. The film "It's Not Enough" displays a civil servant cruelly milking a citizen for a bribe in return for approving a document. But no sooner does he take the payment than a phone call arrives notifying him that his son has been injured. The civil servant rushes to the hospital, but in an act of poetic justice, the hospital clerk refuses to transfer the critically wounded boy to the emergency room unless his corrupt father bribes him.
"That's not enough," the clerk tells the weeping father, echoing what the father had just said to the hapless citizen seeking his services.
"Excellent work," wrote Saad Shehata on the page's wall. "Hopefully, the Brotherhood will reveal a program to deliver Egypt from its repression."
Ikhwan [Brotherhood] Cinema isn't sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest Islamic movement and a contender for power in upcoming elections. But it was set up and is run by people belonging to its youth wing and it has gotten an official endorsement from the organization.
Its short films grapple with issues as diverse as corruption, sectarian strife, illicit gains and -- using classic anti-Semitic imagery -- Israeli cruelty towards Arabs. In the film "Soccer Match," for instance, two stereotypical Jews with ear locks gloat as they witness intra-Arab animosity on the soccer field, with the Israeli national anthem playing in the background.
Ali Khafagy, director of youth affairs in the Giza branch of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's new political party, said he loved Egyptian film but could not set foot in an Egyptian cinema.
"I don't go there because many films have love scenes, which our censorship doesn't remove," Khafagy told The Media Line. "I want to see films I can benefit from."
Khafagy said the Egyptian film industry alienated and provoked many traditional Egyptians like himself, but the new youth initiative gave Egyptian film producers an alternative model for "clean and meaningful film."
Khafagy said the lawsuits have been filed against provocative films in Egypt, but even when winning, court rulings were often not implemented in the era when Husni Mubarak ruled Egypt. This would soon change, he asserted, as government becomes more responsive to judiciary decisions.
A new biographical film about the life of Hassan Al-Bana, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is an example of the kind of film Khafagy would like to see more of. Filming is to begin shortly, with Syrian actor Rashid Assaf playing the role of Al-Bana. The film is widely viewed as the Brotherhood's answer to a television series aired last year that critically dealt with Brotherhood history.
Joseph Fahim, a Christian film critic for the English-language Daily News Egypt, said film has been used by dictators as a powerful propaganda tool for decades.
"It's a very smart approach," Fahim told The Media Line. "[The Brotherhood] wants to align itself with these positive ideals in a time when their message is falling on deaf ears."
But Fahim doubted whether the Brotherhood initiative would capture large audiences, since few Egyptians went online to watch movies.
"I would be surprised if anyone watching this would automatically turn into a Brotherhood supporter," he said.
The Brotherhood, vying for public support as parliamentary elections scheduled for September loom nearer, depicts a particularly gloomy image of contemporary Egypt. But a recent survey published by the Cabinet Information and Decision-Making Support Centre, a government think tank, revealed that some 56 percent of Egyptians were "satisfied" with Egypt's current state of affairs. Only 9 percent said they were unsatisfied.
Hani Henry, a psychology professor at the American University in Cairo, said the Brotherhood has been capitalizing on Egyptians' religious tendencies for years. He added that following the Egyptian revolution, more and more traditional elements of Egyptian society have joined Facebook, an audience which the Brotherhood is trying to tap in to.
"The Brotherhood wants to address the newcomers," he told The Media Line.
Henry pointed to the fact that none of the new Brotherhood films depicted women.
"They never show women, even though women played a major role in rescuing them from oppression," Henry said. "They try to display a message of modernity and secularism, but they're truly not, and they're always exposed."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Thursday that the American administration would resume "limited" contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, Reuters reported on Thursday. Washington has so far dealt only with Brotherhood parliamentarians who ran as independents, but would now directly engage low-level officials, an unnamed diplomatic source told the agency.
Clinton said that in their contacts with the Brotherhood, U.S. officials would emphasize the importance of non-violence, democratic freedoms, and the rights of women and minorities.
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