A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Egypt's Latest "Inciting Debauchery" Case is About Words, Not Videos

Amid widespread reports of low turnouts in the first two days of the current Parliamentary elections, pro-government columnist Dendarawy al-Hawary, writing in Youm 7, lamented:
It is the bitter truth that Egyptian society, across all its sectors, was more concerned with discussing pornographic films... and everyone forgot the most important parliamentary election in Egypt,
That is almost certainly an exaggeration, and there may be far deeper reasons for the lack of turnout,  but it's true that the latest instance of someone being hauled into court on charges of "incitement to debauchery" (التحريض على الفسق) is not, as previously, a case of belly-dancers being charged for YouTube videos, but a talk-show host being charged with expressing an opinion. That opinion was to express concern about the poor (nonexistent) state of sex education in Egypt, and perhaps less wisely, to suggest that watching pornography might be a good way to educate oneself before marriage. Now she must appear in court.

Now, I've posted studies of the lack of sex education in Egypt, even among medical students,and there's little room to debate that there is little opportunity to learn factual, as opposed to fantasy, information about sex. I rather doubt that most pornography offers a realistic depiction of real human sexuality, but I don't think you should face jail for expressing an opinion contrary to mine.

An Egyptian TV personality and actress who goes by the single name Intisar and two fellow talk show colleagues started the fuss. Ahram Online's English language account:
Egypt's prosecutor ordered Tuesday the investigation of TV host and actress Entsar after complaints were submitted accusing her of lewdness, debauchery, and blasphemy in the way she discussed porn on her show, which aired on Al-Qahira Wa El-Nas channel.
The prosecutor also ordered investigations into Entsar's co-host, actress Heidi Karam, along with businessman and owner of Al-Qahira Wa El-Nas channel, Tarek Nour.
In the three police reports filed, complaints said Entsar, who is known for her daring TV roles as an actress, "called on her audience to watch pornography as it is very beneficial to educate youth before marriage."
During the nightly show, Nafsana (roughly meaning rancour) that focuses on women and social issues that aired last week, Entsar said that she herself watches pornography, a statement that many criticised and ridiculed on social media.
Entsar also said that sex education should be introduced in schools.
A third host in the show, Hoda, opposed the opinions of Entsar and Karam, saying that porn should be banned.
While there was no rush to support pornography, many commentators did support the idea of sex education in schools.  Social media also jumped into the controversy (link partly in Arabic.) As one blogger put it, as part of a post titled "Audacious? Yes, But High  Time":
The program “Nafsana” i.e. “Venting,” though an exact synonym may not exist in English, has three women stormily contradicting one another’s views on air. It has Intisar, Heidi, and ٍShaima bouncing ideas off one another about various Egyptians attitudes and issues. Intisar, the most outspoken, has ventured where no Egyptian woman, or man for that matter, has in the history of Egyptian television. She approves of porn as a way to calm young men, makes fun of the hijab and the many layers women choose to add on their heads, and allows herself to speak as she would privately amongst friends in the cosiness of her own living room, hardly ever an option on public TV.
This program may have gone too far since the reviews on social media are mostly condemning. We will have to wait and see how much heat can Tarek Nour, the owner of the TV channel, Al Kahera Wal Nas, take. It does sound as though Nour gave the presenters of Nafsana free reign to tackle any topic and its presenters have taken the bull by the horn on this one.
A clip in Arabic will be found at the end of this post.

Not only were complaints filed; Intisar will face the court on November 10, unusually quickly for Egypt's sometimes sluggish court system.  The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement that said:
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has condemned the frequent complaints filed against artists for allegedly inciting debauchery, as well as the rapid referral of these complaints to courts.
Nasr City Misdemeanor Court has fixed November 10 for considering the first trial of Intisar, an actress, over an accusation of inciting debauchery, in a rapid response to the complaint filed against her on October 8, on account of her statements on Kahera we Nas (Cairo & People) satellite channel in connection with watching pornographic movies.
In that way, the name of singer “Haifa Wehbe” appeared again in the prosecution of artists. Al-Agouza prosecution, yesterday Monday, ordered the urgent probe of Decencies Investigation Department regarding Haifa Wehbe, owing to accusing her of inciting debauchery through the videos she is posting on the social networking websites and the TV channels,; according to the complaint filed against her last May. Also, a complaint was filed against two belly-dancers “Pardice” and “Shakira”, and accordingly, they were sentenced, last September, to 6 months in prisons, after convicting both of them of the same charge.
The Arabic Network has expressed its surprise over the rapid referral of the complaint brought against the actress “Intisar” to the court, while the referral of several cases and complaints to the competent courts are delayed, particularly the cases related to prisoners of opinion.
“The continual attack on actors and actresses for allegedly breaking with customs and traditions, and spreading immorality etc entrenches an anti-creativity freedom climate, and return us to the Inquisition era,” ANHRI said. “We should not separate this incident from that incident of upholding the verdict against Islam Al-Behairi, a researcher, due to his views contrary to the state’s official view of Islam. All these cases of crackdown waste the citizens’ right to freedom of expression and opinion- the right that is mainly established to protect the differing views prevailing in the society from predominance of the majority,” ANHRI added.
ANHRI calls on Egypt’s public prosecution not to give attention to those complaints, whose complainants are only seeking fame and media appearance; it rather urges the prosecution to do its main role in defending the citizens’ interests over cases need much attention than those.
Also, ANHRI calls upon the Egyptian authorities to review Article 269 bis of Egyptian Penal Code, since this vague article is used in most charges concerning inciting debauchery and spreading immorality.
ANHRI's English is a bit awkward; if you prefer, you can find the statement in Arabic here.

And finally, for those who can follow colloquial Egyptian dialect spoken very rapidly, judge for yourselves from the clip below:

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