Netflix wanted to strike a blow with its first pan-Arab production Ashab wala Aaz, The best friends in the world in Arabic. Objective achieved: in Egypt, the most populous of the Arab countries, some are agitated to banish him and others rush to see him. from Egypt, the two behemoths of Arab pop culture. And it is the remake of a successful Italian feature film, Perfect Strangers – whose French version, Le jeu, has already been a hit on the online platform. Three days after its release, Ashab wala Aaz, who tells a game with friends gone wrong, tops the ten most-watched films on Netflix in the Arab world. But in Egypt, a lawyer has appealed to the Ministry of Culture and the censorship service to “ban” a film which he says “aims to break family values” and the very zealous MP Mustafa Bakri has called for a extraordinary session of Parliament to look into the matter. Banning Netflix The story is about three couples – two Lebanese, one Egyptian – who meet for a boozy dinner. During the evening, they agree to play a game: put their laptop on the table and share each message or call with the whole group. Wives discover mistresses, friends of betrayals, husbands of liaisons and the group that one of them is homosexual, in an almost closed door. Akri, he claims to have scrutinized each plan. Results ? “There are more than twenty pornographic scenes”, he asserts, while no erotic scene, not even a kiss, appears in the film, which Netflix prohibits for children under 16 for its coarse language. The deputy, who regularly sets himself up as a guardian of morals, has gone on all the sets of the most watched talk shows in the country of 102 million inhabitants to demand nothing less than the outright banning of Netflix in Egypt. The fault of Ashab wala Aaz? Show a father discussing with his daughter her first sexual relationship after her mother discovered condoms in her bag and “defend homosexuality when we are an oriental society”, accuses Mr. Bakri. “There is a difference between not denouncing a phenomenon and encouraging it”, replies film critic Tarek al-Chennaoui in a country where homosexuality is not expressly prohibited but where the repression of LGBTQ + people has increased since the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in 2014. An actress criticized And above all, pleads Mr. Chennaoui, Egyptian cinema has never been cautious. Nearly 20 years ago, audiences rushed into theaters for Sahar el-Layali, White Nights in Arabic, the story of four couples who tear themselves apart after a dinner with friends with, on the menu, male impotence, adultery and gaps between social classes. Several Egyptian films, including The Yacoubian Building, adapted from the novel by Alaa Al-Aswani, have already dealt with homosexuality explicitly. And ironically, in 2016, the prize for best screenplay at the Cairo Film Festival was awarded to… Perfect Strangers! But in a country where conservatism and a rigorous reading of Islam have continued to progress, a woman concentrates all the critics: the only Egyptian actress of Ashab wala Aaz, Mona Zaki. On screen, she plays a woman caught between a stepmother who despises her and a husband who no longer touches her. In the city, Internet users reduce the actress – who was playing in Sahar al-Layali alongside her husband Ahmed Helmi at their debut – to her sole status as a wife. Rather than addressing her, they challenge M Helmi, one of the most famous Egyptian actors who is not cast on Netflix. “How could he allow his wife to play this role?”, Writes one. Others go even further and ask him to repudiate her immediately. “It’s a courageous and original film”, retorts on Facebook Khaled Ali, a great figure of the Egyptian left. “Everything he talks about does exist in our societies, no offense to those who prefer to ignore it, keep silent or attack”.
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