Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: A director and her unblinking camera

June 16, 2008 | 11:23 am

Inas_eldegheidy Inas El Degheidy is as unflinching as her camera work. The Egyptian director has been exploring women's rights and evoking Western-style bluntness in her films long before the first half-naked pop diva wriggled across the Arab consciousness.

She has been criticized as a sensationalist and praised as a fearless auteur, exposing the sins and lies gnawing beneath the facades. Her movies, such as "Teenager Diary," about a girl's sexual freedom, and "Cheap Flesh," about families prostituting their daughters to rich men in the Gulf, drew her threats of assassination from Islamic fundamentalists. El Degheidy and other Middle East artists, writers and actors recently spoke about the impact Western culture has had on their work.

"Western influence comes with pros and cons," El Degheidy said. "The Western media has brought freedom of thought and freedom of expression to the Muslim world. But the West has different perceptions of human relations that go against our traditions. The eastern society refuses to see sexual freedom as a right. So now we're seeing more Islamic fundamentalist TV shows trying to counter the West. But I'm not trying to imitate the West. I'm trying to change this closed society."

She added: "It's not only men who are criticizing me, but the women in their hijabs are becoming more conservative too. ... The spread of the hijab is a contamination, but many women are pressured to wear it as a sign of religious decency. This conservatism has been happening for a while, and the atmosphere is not as liberal as when I started making films decades ago. New women directors are not taking my path. They are afraid they won't be able to withstand all the attacks I have encountered."

— Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Director Inas El Degheidy. Credit: