The who, what, where, when, and why Haifa Wehbe's "Halawet Rouh" was banned
The head of the Film Censorship Board Ahmed Awad submitted his resignation last week following interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s decision to halt screenings of Lebanese actress Haifa Wehbe’s latest film “The Beauty of Rouh” (Halawet Rouh) in cinemas.
All copies of the film were withdrawn from cinemas following Mehleb’s decision, and the film, initially screened on 3 April, was later banned due to its sexual content and violations of social traditions and values.
Mehleb said that the film had been banned in response to calls from the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), which considered the film as damaging to the morals of children. “The government continues to value the fine arts and creativity in all its forms, but there is a difference between art and infringements of social values,” Mehleb said.
Mehleb told the press that the halting of screenings of the film would be re-evaluated by the country’s censorship board.
Following the decision, Awad condemned the prime minister’s action, saying that the censorship board was an independent body that should have the final say on the screening of films in Egypt.
“I decided to allow the film to be screened. I believe that this was the right decision and I take responsibility for it,” Awad said.
The government had decided to pull the film without consulting the censorship board, he said. “Of course I am sad about what has happened. I had to resign in order to preserve my self-respect,” Awad said.
The movie, said to have been inspired by Italian actress Monica Bellucci’s 2000 hit Malena, garnered LE1 million in the one week before it was banned.
Azza Al-Ashmawi, Secretary-General of the NCCM, praised the interim prime minister’s decision and his quick response to the council’s request. “The film is a moral danger for young people and children, and it could negatively affect public behaviour and morals,” she said.
Al-Ashmawi described Mehleb’s decision as “responsible and wise” as the film included “language and scenes that could negatively affect the morals of children.”
The film has apparently also been banned in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but not until after it had become the third most popular film in the UAE.
However, officials at the National Media Council (NMC), the Emirati body responsible for approving films for cinematic release, stated that it had not banned the film and that it was being shown in 28 Emirati cinemas.
Film producer Mohamed Al-Sobki denied rumours of the film being banned in the UAE, claiming that it was being shown in the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon.
“The film contains nothing that outrages public decency. Claims of the banning of the movie in the UAE are untrue and unfounded. When I am officially informed, I will be able to take appropriate measures,” Al-Sobki said.
Wehbe plays the main role of Rouh in the film, a married woman whose husband is traveling abroad. She lives with a relative in a poor neighbourhood, where she becomes an object of sexual obsession for men. The film was directed by Sameh Abdel-Aziz and written by Ali Al-Guindi.
Essam Zakaria, a film critic who has condemned the ban, said that as the censorship authority had approved the film and it was not the government’s job to ban it. Zakaria said the ban was due to political reasons, notably because of the forthcoming presidential elections.
“The Muslim Brotherhood played an eminent role in the aggressive attack against this film. It wants to try to convince people that the new president, regardless of his identity, will spread ill-manners in society,” Zakaria said.
“We witnessed similar incidents during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak. Society creates a fuss about a certain movie or publication, and the victim is always culture and art,” he said.
According to Zakaria, the film was rated for adults only, which meant that it could not damage children. “We as critics have been calling for the enforcement of age restrictions for years, but nothing has been done. Age ratings for films would save society from this kind of fuss in the future,” he argued.
Film critic Rami Abdel-Razek nevertheless called the film pornographic in the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. The film missed no opportunity to show off Wehbe’s body, in a way that was designed to arouse the audience. “The movie is porn masked as drama, and it violates the Egyptian moral code,” he said.
Wehbe denied the allegation on her Facebook page. “I do not approve anything that has been written in the press, and what has been published expresses the personal views of its authors. The picture posted on Facebook is fabricated and its content is incorrect,” she wrote.
She said that the banning of the film in Egypt was a “ministerial decision that I respect out of my respect for the country’s authorities.”
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