CAIRO: The 31st Cairo International Film Festival’s main sponsor Naguib Sawiris was attacked Wednesday by a journalist from the independent daily El Arabi El Nasiri newspaper who accused him of disrespecting the Egyptian press during a press conference that followed the screening of the Egyptian film “Alwan El Sama El Saba’ (The Seventh Heaven).
The conference following to Saad Hindawy’s film got off on a good start with critics showering the movie – starring Laila Elwi, Sherif Ramzy and Mona Hala who were present at the conference – with praise.
But soon enough journalist and film critic Faten Mohammed Ali started a litany of verbal attacks targeting Mobinil CEO Naguib Sawiris in a response to rumors that he had intentionally blocked Egyptian journalists from attending the festival’s opening ceremony. The rumors propelled a large number of opposition papers to boycott the festival.
Ali started by saying that she decided to cover the festival despite the stance of other opposition papers. “This is our festival above all and we want to honor our country even though the festival is owned now by Sawiris, she said.
She accused Sawiris of “shaping the festival the way he liked and insulting us [the press].
Moderator Khaireya El Bishlawy failed to curb Ali’s attacks. Actress Laila Elwi tried to cool things off, politely inviting her to calm down.
“Don’t interrupt me, Ali fired back. “You’re not the moderator.
Elwi, who eventually lost her nerve, shouted “I’ve been attending the festival for more than 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.
Ten minutes later Hindawy had the microphone taken away from her.
After the press conference, Ali told Daily News Egypt that Sawiris, allegedly prevented reporters from attending the opening ceremony “because he wanted the festival to look good.
The critic claimed that Sawiris has hinted repeatedly in his interviews that the press members are the main reason behind the festival’s lack of organization and that they create chaos with their disorderly behavior.
She said that Sawiris’ comments and actions were so humiliating that a group of journalists went on strike in front of the Minister of Culture’s office to file a complaint. “The minister didn’t stop to talk to them and he disregarded them as usual.
“Our country was sold a long time ago to foreign countries, the Gulf and businessmen, she said. “Sawiris completely humiliated us with his remarks and attitude.
She also claimed that Sawiris was given 90 percent of the invitations. “He gave the invitations to his employees, who later sold them in the black market.
But Louis Greiss, head of the press department of the festival, told Daily News Egypt that Ali’s allegations are unfounded.
“Sawiris may have been given an extra 20 tickets at most, he said. “But it’s impossible and unreasonable that he could have been granted 90 percent of them.
The authority to send out invitations, he said, lay in the hands of the Ministry of Culture and the festival’s vice president Sohier Abdel Kader. Priority is given to Egypt’s most important cinematic, artistic and literary figures.
The remaining number of invitations, according to Greiss, is very few.
Nevertheless, Greiss acknowledged the press complaints and blamed the festival committee for not allowing the press office to handle the invitations.
“It’s a matter of disorganization, that’s all, he said. “Many important journalists and other figures were overlooked. I didn’t even receive an invitation this year.
On a different note, several other controversial remarks continued to disrupt the the press conference.
One reporter accused young actress and children’s TV presenter Mona Hala of destroying her image as role model after she appeared in brief love scenes in the film.
“I’m not a role model and I never pretended to be one, a surprised Hala said. “This is who I am. Accept me or not.
Another angry journalist expressed his disdain towards Hindawy and the other cast members for choosing to set the events of the film in the holy month of Ramadan.”All this nastiness and indecency in Ramadan, he said. “How dare you. You can never be Muslims.