1 August 2010
The Arab Centre for Human Rights Activists recently held a seminar on the subject of Egyptian films that set out to tackle the issue of corruption. Participating were Nagi Fawzi, professor of criticism at the film department of the Academy of Arts; Areg al-Badrawi, who holds a Ph.D. in arts sociology and is with the Cinema Academy; and Mohamed Khedr, a researcher on film production. The film Birds of Darkness was screened, which stars Egypt’s top comedian Adel Imam in the leading role.
Dr Fawzi said it was preferable for a film to be restricted to looking at one type of corruption at a time. In cases where a film dealt with several corruption genres, these should be clearly and objectively linked. The Bird, directed by Youssef Chahine in 1974 and Birds of Darkness, directed by Sherif Arafa in 1995, are good examples of such films.
Led to defeat
In the The Bird, Dr Fawzi explained, it appears at the beginning of the film that the case is limited to the chase of a killer, but it later transpires that the reason for the killing was an attempt to cover up a worse crime, that of misuse of public money. The crime involved not only members of the economic establishment, but extended to members of the political and—even worse—the security establishment.
The corruption, according to Dr Fawzi, involved not only State institutions, but also all the way up to and including the armed forces. Corruption within the ranks of the military led to the disastrous defeat of Egypt in the Six Day War in June 1967.
In Birds of Darkness there was a clear, objective connection between corruption in its myriad forms within the public and private domains. The corrupt lawyer in the film, Dr Fawzi says, was the natural product of a situation where the job that is primarily concerned with defending rights and achieving justice turns to misleading justice in defending corrupt individuals. The film also tackled judicial corruption; the judge in the film was motivated by his personal desire to penalise the innocent and acquit the guilty.
When the judiciary is corrupted it offers an open door through which all types of corruption sneak in to the community.
Mr Khedr confirmed that several forms of corruption were depicted in Egyptian films. Administrative corruption, he said, may be the most obvious, but corruption in the political, military, health, security, and economic institutions in the country was also rampant.
The production of films on corruption, Mr Khedr pointed out, was not limited to Egypt alone; all over the world there were similar versions of such films. Hollywood has its fair share, including L.A Confidential and J.F.K Bollywood also produced Slumdog Millionaire, which showed corruption in a multitude of forms in India.
Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz has to his credit two films that today are considered landmarks in Egyptian cinema, both dealing with a cocktail of corruption. Tharthara Fawqal-Nil (Chatting on the Nile Bank), directed by Said Marzouq in 1976, reveals a plethora of corruption forms from which Egyptian society suffered in the 20th century. Al-Muthniboon (The Guilty), directed by Saïd Marzouq in 1971, is also an outstanding film in the same genre.