x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Adel Imam trial shows Egypt's ingratitude to a comic

An Egyptian court's treatment of a famous comic proves that the 'new' Cairo is ready and willing to shoot itself in its foot, one Arabic language columnist writes. Other topics in today's Arab news digest: ready for war in Sudan and Tunisia's ties with Israel.

"The day has come when Adel Imam, the great and enlightening Egyptian actor, would be tried for denigrating Islam. That means one thing: Egypt has decided to shoot itself in the foot," wrote Tariq Al Homayed, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, in an opinion piece published on Saturday.

A court in Giza upheld last week a ruling against Mr Imam, one of Egypt's and the Arab world's best-known comedians, on charges of deriding Islam in some of his movies and stage comedies.

The in-absentia verdict, which Mr Imam said he will appeal, orders the 72-year-old actor to three months in prison with hard labour, in addition to a 1,000-Egyptian-pound fine (Dh600).

A lawyer named Asran Mansour, described in the Arabic press as a "Salafist", filed the case against Mr Imam in February 2011. In his plea, Mr Mansour takes umbrage at the comedian's depiction of characters wearing bushy beards and loosefitting robes. He said the amount of underlying scorn in Mr Imam's work constituted an affront to Islam.

"Targeting Adel Imam in this vindictive manner means that, from now on, we have enough reason to be pessimistic about Egypt's … artistic and cultural future," the editor said.

Far from cheaply poking fun at characters sporting the trappings of piety, Mr Imam was ridiculing terrorists who are fond of dressing in a certain way, the editor argued.

Note that Egypt has had its own share of terrorist attacks in the 1990s and the 2000s.

Mr Imam also had the courage to lampoon the political establishment under President Hosni Mubarak in stage comedies like Azzaeem (The Leader), the editor added. At the time, not many people, including the Muslim Brotherhood, said much against the regime.

"This amazing artist … had the guts to criticise people in power, corruption, rigged elections and so many other things when Mubarak was still president; he didn't wait until all Egyptians had rallied in the streets against him.

"In a way, Adel Imam was in Tahrir Square way before the Brotherhood, the Salafists and Egypt's intelligentsia," according to the editor.

Speaking to Asharq Al Awsat last week, Mr Imam's lawyer, Khaled Abu Bakr, described the verdict as a form of censorship on art and the whole case as a gratuitous move by hard-line Islamist forces.

The Egyptian film industry was outraged after the ruling was handed down last week and at least two marches, in Cairo and Alexandria, were organised in support of Mr Imam, according to the Saudi newspaper Al Sharq.

In 1982, Mr Imam was sued for holding the Egyptian justice system in contempt in his film The Advocate. He was acquitted in appeal after issuing a public apology.

Sudan: war or prelude to a settlement?

Amid contradictory accounts between feuding brothers in Sudan and South Sudan, any attempt to foretell how the standoff will end up is no cakewalk, opined Hayfa Zaetar in the UAE-based newspaper Al Watan.

"Each party, South and North, deems itself the rightful owner of oil riches in Heglig," she said. "The calm that prevailed following the withdrawal of South Sudan's troops from oil-rich Heglig remains unclear; what is clear though is that there isn't enough room for optimism, seeing both sides on the alert for any possible escalation."

The row between Sudan and South Sudan is akin to a game of poker, according to the head of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Marc Lavegne. "The frustrations of secession in the North are on the rise while the South is bragging the double blessing: natural resources, and international support, namely from the US and Israel," Mr Lavegne is quoted.

Many tend to rule out the potential of an all-out war on the grounds of the spillover effects on both countries. "The spectre of war and the killing of over two million people still loom heavily in the minds of the Sudanese," the writer said.

The interest of the great powers that might get hurt in case of a war comes decisively into play. "The primary cause for a prospect of a settlement remains the Chinese and American endeavours to this end."

Tunisian minister calls for ties with Israel

While Tunisian forces are calling for incriminating normalisation with Israel in the new constitution, the Youth and Sports Minister, Tarek Diab, a member of the Islamic Ennahda Party, had to swim against the current stating that his country is "ready to accept aids even from Israel", said the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej in its editorial yesterday.

This announcement has come from a senior official who is member of an incumbent political party; therefore it is not a personal view. This statement goes in line with former "ambiguous statements" of Ennahda leaders on the issue of Israel.

"Ennahda's literature before the ascension to power was against any form of relations with the Israeli enemy; in fact, it incriminated any such attempt from Islamic and nationalist perspectives, blaming the regime for its overt and covert ties with Tel Aviv," the editorial said.

The explicit and careless remark of Ennahda's minister on relations with Israel opens the door to legitimate queries on Islamic parties retracting their earlier constants.

Asked to apologise for his statement, the Tunisian minister replied: "There is no apology, I have nothing to apologise for." This proves the minister is fully aware of what he said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk