Middle East Times

Egypt bans 'The Da Vinci Code'

By Joseph Mayton
Middle East Times

Published May 31, 2006

On May 19 The Da Vinci Code, with all its controversy, was released to theaters worldwide. Middle Eastern countries, however, have been quick to pull the plug on the film. In Egypt, the film based on Dan Brown's international bestseller did not make it to its planned release on May 23, as censors did not give the go ahead.
    Many in the country speculate that the reason behind this decision is that the government does not want to upset the Coptic population following incidents of sectarian strife and violence over the past year.
    "It isn't going to be shown here because they are afraid the Christians will get upset and say it is the conspiracy by the Muslims and the government," says Joseph Fahim, a Cairo film critic. "But, according to the reviews from Cannes, the film isn't very good anyway, so we shouldn't be too upset."
    Coptic Christians, the remnants of the first Christian church in history, make up approximately 10 percent of the population in Egypt.
    According to a statement released by Jordan, Egypt's neighbor, which has also banned the film, the film "tarnishes the memory of Christian and Islamic figures and contradicts the truth as written in the Bible and the Koran about Jesus".
    The film is a fictional portrayal that speculates that Jesus did not die on the cross, but instead married Mary Magdalene and that their descendants exist in secret up to this day. Following a murder in the Louvre, the story takes the viewer on a whirlwind tour through ancient secrets that unfold to reveal that Christ's heirs still survive. It is a fictitious account of what could have been.
    "If the movie was given the go ahead, it would [have been] criticized by the Coptic Church and that is one thing the government can't afford at this point," adds Fahim.
    Despite the ban on the film, Egyptians are heading toward the black market in order to watch The Da Vinci Code.
    "I am sure we will be getting this movie soon," a black market DVD seller says. "People are already asking about it," he added, but refused to give his name, explaining that the government was attempting to crackdown on black market sales in the country.
    Had the film been released in Egypt, it is estimated that it would have earned between $350,000 and $520,000.
    "We have a huge market here for films that get banned," the seller says. "I know right now that there are at least 50 people in my group that have asked to get a copy as soon as it becomes available ... it is going to give us a lot of money."
    The seller described Egypt's DVD black market DVD, which is an eye-opener as to how Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations deal with banned films.
    First, one must join a movie group. After buying a lifelong membership - around LE 50 ($9) in Egypt - a member gains access to a library full of Western films of all types. After this, the member may rent a film for a couple of days for LE 7.
    "We let people purchase films as they choose," the dealer says. "For only LE 80 to LE 100 they can buy any film in the inventory. The films that get banned in this country help us sell movies much quicker and at a higher price."
    Farah, a member of the group, says that she cannot wait until The Da Vinci Code is available.
    "I want to see what all the conspiracy is about and why they banned the movie here in Egypt," she says. "It is difficult for me to grasp why fiction is so often banned in this country ... it just doesn't make sense, but with this new movie club I don't have to worry about not seeing anything," she adds.
    The black market DVD copy of The Da Vinci Code is expected to run at least at LE 120 ($24), according to the dealer.
    Egypt has a long history of censoring and banning films. The Ten Commandments, which was partially filmed in Egypt was banned shortly after its 1956 release due to some accusing it of Zionist propaganda. It is still banned today.
    In 1997 The Devil's Advocate made a brief appearance on the big screens, only to be eventually banned. The final speech of Al Pacino's character, the Devil, was originally screened without Arabic subtitles, but that did not stop the censors from cracking down.
    However, not all films with controversial themes are banned in Egypt. Just last year, Kingdom of Heaven was received favorably by both Muslim and Christian Egyptians.
    "They are quick to ban films without really taking into account what is going on," argues Fahim. "Look at V for Vendetta. That movie is exactly what Egyptians are facing today, but they didn't ban that ... I don't see the consistency."
    At present, the only Middle Eastern nations scheduled to show The Da Vinci Code are Israel, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The film should be showing now, although no confirmation could be made.
    The Da Vinci Code is currently storming the American box office, remaining in the number one spot for the second straight week, despite poor reviews at the Cannes Film Festival.

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