Egypt Cheers Films Critical of Police

Egypt Cheers Films Critical of Police

, Egypt — One of Egypt”s latest hit films opens with scenes of police brutally beating pro-democracy protesters and ends with angry masses storming a police station where demonstrators are tortured. The audiences cheer.

The film, “Heya Fawda” _ Arabic for “It”s Chaos” _ is a rare, frank look at police torture, corruption and political oppression that rights groups say is widespread in this top U.S. ally. It has been pulling in viewers and spurring criticism since opening in November.

“Egypt”s anti-Egypt cinema” ran a headline earlier this month in Rose el-Youssef, a staunchly pro-government newspaper whose editor wrote several long editorials denouncing the movie and accusing it of inciting people to revolt.

The film comes at a time of intense polarization in Egypt. The government has successfully suppressed a wave of pro-democracy protests that erupted in 2005, arresting secular activists as well as hundreds of members of the main opposition movement, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

But discontent with the rule of President Hosni Mubarak persists.

The government has faced a string of labor strikes _ more than 500 in 2007 _ demanding salary raises as the gap between rich and poor grows.

Meanwhile, bloggers have become more prominent in exposing police abuse. Videos of police torturing detainees have been posted on Web sites, prompting authorities to publicly prosecute and imprison several officers in unusual high-profile cases.

Even President Bush made a veiled reference to Egypt”s treatment of dissidents in a speech last week in Abu Dhabi.

“You cannot build trust when you hold an election where opposition candidates find themselves harassed or in prison,” Bush said. “And you cannot stand up a modern and confident nation when you do not allow people to voice their legitimate criticisms.”

“It”s Chaos” was directed by one of Egypt”s most esteemed filmmakers, 82-year-old Youssef Chahine, and Khaled Youssef, a longtime Chahine protege.

“My movies are not calling for chaos, they are warning of it,” Youssef told The Associated Press. The film “is not about torture, it”s about the repression and corruption that prevail in the Egyptian authority.”

“It”s Chaos” made more than $2 million in the first month, more than any of Chahine”s previous 30 movies did overall.

It tells the story of a corrupt policeman, Hatem, who tortures detainees with beatings and electrical shocks, takes bribes and stalks _ eventually raping _ the woman who lives next door to him, Nour.

The movie does make some apparent concessions to government sensitivities, likely aimed at ensuring it got past state censors.

It begins with a statement saying the film does not intend to depict the police as a whole, only a few bad apples. It also depicts a heroic public prosecutor _ Nour”s fiance _ who pursues Hatem and eventually brings him down, a nod to the recent prosecutions of police torture.

But it also shows Hatem”s superiors in the police covering up for his crimes and has some pointed criticisms of Egypt”s ruling National Democratic Party.

“You have been crushing our hearts for more than 24 years. This is enough,” the prosecutor”s mother shouts at an NDP election candidate in one scene. In another plot line, the daughter of a top NDP official takes drugs, gets pregnant outside marriage and gets an abortion.

The film also starts off with real footage taken from 2005 democracy protests that were put down by police beating and dragging away demonstrators.

It is not the first Egyptian movie to tackle the issue of torture _ but it is one of the few that shows it so overtly.

“I didn”t know there is such torture at police stations or prisons for ordinary people,” said one viewer, Amal Zaki, 25, as she was leaving the theater. “I thought they only torture terrorists.”

Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly defended the police Thursday, saying the entire force should not be criticized for the mistakes of a few officers.

“We can tolerate criticism and transparent review according to the rule of law and commitment to the constitution,” el-Adly said during a speech celebrating Police Day in Egypt. “But we reject that individual mistakes be exaggerated in order to propagate the sick and weird delusions of some.”

“It”s Chaos” was followed by another sharply critical film _ “Hayna Maysara,” Arabic for “Until Things Get Better,” about the inhuman conditions in Egyptian slums.

“Until Things Get Better” directed by Youssef, touches on a whole range of social ills and taboos _ prostitution, drugs, promiscuous sex, lesbianism, street children and Islamic militancy _ and shows security forces tackling problems with tear gas and brutal crackdowns.

It, too, sparked heavy denunciations in the pro-government press and constant debate on television.

Khaled el-Sergani, a columnist in the independent daily newspaper Al-Destour, said the criticism only highlights the reality of the films. “Why else would all these government writers be up in arms against them,” he wrote.

General Fouad Allam, former head of state security police, warned that “It”s Chaos” will “make people sympathize with the citizens against the police, it will reinforce us versus them. This is not in the state”s interest.”

“It”s Chaos” ends with the angry masses storming the police station to liberate jailed political activists. Hatem, the police officer, shoots himself after he tries to kill the prosecutor.

“Until Things Get Better” ends with police surrounding a slum as they chase terrorists, who battle police then set the area on fire. The terrorists escape, while many of the poor die in the blaze.

The final cut is to a message from the director, Youssef, apologizing to the viewers “for failing to depict the real slum dwellers. Their life is far harsher.”