“You know, last week I won the prestigious Silver Frog award in Poland and then a few days later I was being detained in Egypt,” remarked Palestinian cinematographer Ehab Assal in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
Egyptian authorities denied entry to Assal last Thursday when he attempted to pass through border control to begin work on his latest production.
Assal arrived in Egypt on a flight from Amman with his team, including twice Oscar-nominated director Hany Abu Assad. The team was to scout out locations and prepare for shooting in January on their latest film, but authorities rejected granting the West Bank Palestinian an entry visa.
Assal, the director of photography on the new production, said he was questioned by border authorities over the reason for his visit before having all his possessions including his telephone taken from him. He was detained for six hours before Egyptian officials deported him without reason by a flight later in the day, recovering his belongings upon arrival back in Jordan.
“I heard later that some officials said I was deported because I did not have a visa, but this is something we took care of. I went to the Egyptian consulate in Ramallah and they told me that because I was over 40 [years old] I did not need a visa before arrival,” Assal said. “We went back to double-check because this is a big project, we have staff working on it all over the world, but the official said ‘100%’ I don’t need a visa.”
Assal’s team, including director Abu Assad, tried to convince border control to grant him entry to Egypt and presented a formal letter of invitation from the film’s local director of production, to no avail.
Assal won the Silver Frog award in Poland last week for his previous work with Abu Assad called “Omar” – a multi-award winning and Oscar-nominated film about a Palestinian man attempting to uncover an Israeli informant in the West Bank.
In a statement on Sunday, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said despite the “government’s statements concerning its intention to support the cinema industry…this incident is a clear violation of the right to movement and defames the cinema industry in Egypt”.
Ahmed Moussa, head of the political section at the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt “this is not normal, it should not happen without a reason”, though Moussa said he had not been informed of Assal’s case.
Independent cinema often struggles to gain the consent of authorities in Egypt. Permits for shooting are notoriously difficult to acquire, and often applications are rejected on the basis of how socially or politically sensitive the proposed production’s content is. In post-production the government also subjects films to censorship. In late-November the administrative court revoked Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s ban on “Halawet Rooh” (Sweetness of Spirit) after he prohibited cinemas from screening the film due to what was deemed as excessive use of sexual innuendo.
Assal said that the new production’s sequences due to be shot in Egypt will now be relocated to Jordan.
“Egypt is the source of culture in the Arab world. It’s not what we wanted. We love the Egyptian people,” he said. “We still love the Egyptian people, but what are we supposed to do?”