x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The Imam example

A court verdict, and a presidential chat with actors and artists, are small but promising signals about how Islamists will govern a troubled Egypt.

Egyptian star and humourist Adel Imam, one of the Arab world's best-loved comedians, walked out of a Cairo courtroom on Wednesday as a free man. He had just won his appeal against a lower-court sentence of three months in jail, plus a fine, for portraying Islamists in a bad light in his comedy.

Elsewhere in Cairo that day, an angry crowd was assaulting the US embassy in response to the offensive US video. It was a day that needed some good news, and the acquittal of Imam was just that.

The electoral ascendancy of Islamist parties in Egypt has generated alarm across the artistic community. Egypt's humourists, and some in the literary field and the performing arts, are known for making light of authority figures, pushing the limits of what is permitted. And some of those artists fear that what is permitted from now on may be even less than was permitted before the revolution.

The overturning of Imam's conviction should ease those fears a little. So should this week's meeting, by all accounts cordial, between President Mohammed Morsi and a cross-section of actors and writers.

Egypt is the epicentre of Arab show business, and these hints that it will remain so are a welcome indications about how Islamists will govern.