A few days ago, the Egyptian authorities prevented the Palestinian director, residing in London, Said Zagha, from entering the country in order to attend the activities of the El Gouna Film Festival, and detained him in a room at Cairo Airport for 12 hours, during which he was subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, before being taken to a plane leaving Egypt and forcibly deported. .
This is not the first time that a Palestinian artist has been prevented from entering Egypt without mentioning the reason, which reflects the duplicity of the Egyptian regime’s discourse in dealing with the Palestinian issue. On the one hand, the regime claims that the issue is at the heart of its concerns and that it is better to bear its concerns and mediate in it because it is the “big brother.” On the other hand, Palestinians are treated at Egyptian crossings and airports in the worst manner, and they are often denied entry.
Official invitation but no visa
Zagha came to Egypt at the official invitation of the El Gouna Film Festival management to attend the activities of the fifth edition of the festival, where he is participating in his feature-length fiction project, Hasheishistan, within the El Gouna Platform, which provides an opportunity to fund distinguished cinematic projects.
Realizing the burden of holding Palestinian citizenship, Zagha went to the Egyptian embassy in London to obtain a visitor’s visa to Egypt, and there, officials told him that he could enter Cairo with his Palestinian passport. He also received assurances from the embassy that “there is no impediment to his entry into the country.” Despite this, the Palestinian director spent 12 hours confined to a “dirty sewage-smelling” room at Cairo International Airport, deprived of water, food and access to a bathroom, before being forcibly deported to Britain on an EgyptAir plane, in the company of an officer holding the rank of colonel. .
What happened with “Zaga” angered many Palestinian filmmakers, as Palestinian artist Muhammad Bakri announced his refusal to attend his honor at the El Gouna Festival, in protest of what Palestinian artists are exposed to when they participate in Egyptian art festivals. “I decided not to go to the El Gouna Film Festival,” Bakri said in a statement. “This is a reaction, in principle, to the mistreatment of Palestinian artists, regardless of their passport, whether Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli or whatever. It is time to give Palestinians their rights.” Complete… This does not only apply to Palestinian artists. I am referring to all Palestinians.”
The Palestinian film critic, Ola Al-Sheikh, expressed her dissatisfaction with what happened with Zagha, and appealed to the Egyptian festivals and authorities to observe the special security conditions that Palestinian artists are subject to when they come to Egypt. She wrote: “Consider him a please… When a Palestinian filmmaker is invited to any Arab film festival, you must confirm that he will enter those Arab countries, not be detained and taken as a criminal to the plane and his passport confiscated. The Palestinian filmmaker is not a criminal.”
Not the first
For years, Palestinian artists were denied entry to Egypt on the basis of their identity, in stark contrast to the Egyptian regime’s claims of embracing the Palestinian cause and defending the Palestinians. El Gouna Festival witnessed another similar incident in 2018, when Palestinian director Ali Suleiman received an invitation to participate in the jury of the second session of the festival, but the security authorities prevented him from entering Egypt and detained him at Hurghada Airport before deporting him.
In 2015, the Egyptian authorities refused to grant a visa to the international Palestinian director Hani Abu Asaad, whose films “Paradise Now” and “Omar” competed for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, from attending the screening of his film “Omar” in Egyptian theaters, as well as preventing the heroes of the work who are Palestinians too from entering the country. In 2009, actress Nisreen Faour, the heroine of the movie “America”, directed by Sherine Deaibes, was prevented from attending the film’s screening at the Cairo Film Festival, although the film was competing for the Golden Pyramid Award, and Nisreen herself was competing for the title of best actress. Thus, the Egyptian authorities become a partner of the Israeli occupation authorities in restricting the Palestinians and creating all aspects of their lives, instead of being the “big sister” who works to alleviate the suffering of her brothers and gives them platforms to express themselves before the whole world.
The Egyptian regime does not realize that its actions contradict its ambitions, as how can it aspire to become the exclusive agent for the Palestinian cause in the case, which burdens its regional role, while it does not hesitate to insult the Palestinians and treat them inferiorly, refusing to enter the country and forcibly deporting them.