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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Egypt: Prosecutors question actress Rania Youssef over revealing dress

She is accused of public obscenity for her clothing choice at a Cairo film festival

Egyptian actress Rania Youssef poses on the red carpet at the closing ceremony of the 40th Cairo International Film Festival. AFP
Egyptian actress Rania Youssef poses on the red carpet at the closing ceremony of the 40th Cairo International Film Festival. AFP

Prosecutors in Egypt have questioned actress Rania Youssef for nearly four hours on charges of public obscenity in connection with a revealing dress she wore during a film festival gala in Cairo.

The prosecutors ordered Ms Youssef released on Wednesday pending the completion of the investigation, an indication that she might be summoned again, according to her lawyer Shaaban Said.

On a different legal track, the 45-year-old actress is facing trial on January 12 at a Cairo criminal court. If convicted, she could face up to five years in jail.

The controversy began last Thursday when Ms Youssef showed up on the red carpet of the Cairo International Film festival’s closing ceremony wearing a long black dress with its see-through skirt revealing her legs in their entirety. Images of her posing for photographers were widely and swiftly shared on social media networks, triggering a flood of comment and opinion.

The dress and news of her trial have dominated discussions on social media over the past week, made front-page news for several newspapers and inspired opinion pieces. The controversy over her dress has also sparked a debate on whether individuals should be taken to task on what they wear and if those outraged by the dress should direct their anger at some of society’s grave injustices.

Many on social media used religion to denounce Ms Youssef, while others faulted the judicial system for bowing to conservatives on an inconsequential issue at a time when the country is grappling with much more pressing questions like the economy or fighting terrorism.

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Ms Youssef said in a statement issued over the weekend that she did not mean to offend anyone and urged her critics to believe her good intentions. “I want to repeat my commitment to the values and ethics we have been raised by in Egyptian society,” she said without offering an outright apology.

In choosing that dress, she wrote, she had heeded advice from fashion designers who may have in turn been influenced by the preferences and standards seen at international film festivals.

“The dispute is not about how much of her body Rania Youssef’s dress revealed, but it’s to do with the debate about many other important issues,” Emad Hussein, editor of Cairo’s independent Al Shorouk daily, wrote on Wednesday, citing unresolved questions about identity in Arab minds, double standards and the difference between ethics and the law.

The government in Egypt is uncompromisingly against any form of political Islam and President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, in office since 2014, has been tirelessly calling for the country’s religious discourse to be cleaned of hatred, violence and bigotry, in part to improve the image of Islam.

Ms Youssef’s questioning on Wednesday came just hours after the complaint filed against her by a group of lawyers – an action that resulted in her swift referral to trial next month – was withdrawn. The lawyers said they withdrew the complaint because they believed her “apology” was sincere and also to protect the reputation of her two young daughters.

“We would like to reassert our full respect and appreciation of art and artists,” the lawyers said in a statement. “We had taken legal action against a specific incident that we think has crossed the boundaries of freedom and societal norms.”