Human rights come calling

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

What are human rights? is a question that the Cairo Human Rights Film Festival attempts to answer, hoping also to provoke a dialogue on human rights within Egypt.

The gross violations of human rights during the Second World War served as the springboard for the enactment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the year 1948. Today, more than 60 years later, a widespread culture of human rights still eludes us. Communities and countries are engaged in a perpetual struggle for the determination of their human rights and at its core is spreading awareness about the inalienable rights of all human beings.

The Festival, now in its second edition, got off to a dramatic start last year, when the Rawabet Theater, which was to host the festival, pulled out at the eleventh hour citing an official warning that the place wasn’t logistically equipped to host the event.

Undeterred, Dalia Ziada, the organizer of the Festival and the Director of the North Africa office of the American Islamic Congress, shifted the venue for the opening ceremony aboard a boat on the Nile.

“This gave the Festival a more interesting start anyways, Ziada told Daily News Egypt.

The Festival is back this year, stronger, with a larger line-up of films. And wiser too, avers Ziada as she decided not to go to the censors at all this year, after the trials and the tribulations that she had to undergo the previous edition for acquiring a censorship clearance, which in any case did not come through.

Maintaining the “accidental tradition, the opening ceremony of the 2nd Cairo Human rights Film Festival was held on Thursday, Dec. 17, aboard the Imperial Boat on the Nile. About 20 films, including five by Egyptian filmmakers, will be screened during a four day period which began on Sunday, Dec. 20 and ends on Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Ziada calls the Festival the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa region. Yet films from the region are conspicuous by their absence from the line-up of films at the Festival. Also, there is only a token representation of films and documentaries from the other geographical locations.

With respect to films that are set in a milieu outside the Arab world, Ziada asserts that “the Egyptian audiences will be able to identify with such films as they deal with issues that are very much related to what is happening in Egypt.

Notable among these is “Orange Revolution that chronicles the uphill march towards democracy in Ukraine.

“Persepolis, an adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s bestselling autobiographical graphic novel chronicles the trials faced by an outspoken Iranian girl during the Islamic revolution, is equally relevant today in light of events that took place in the aftermath of the recent elections in Iran.

“Sergio, much feted at film festivals around the world, is based on the Samantha Power’s biography of the UN envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.

Among the Egyptian films, “N70, a short film by Ahmed Nader, based on a true story of Emad El-Kabier, who was tortured in a police station couple of years ago, should also make for an important watch. The film focuses on the psychological and social problems faced by the victim after the horrible incident.

Animation grabs the attention of the viewer and is an effective medium to enlighten audiences on serious subjects; this is probably the reason why one day during the four-day festival has been dedicated to “Animation for Human Rights.

Ziada admits that there is a stigma attached to being a human rights activist in Egypt. But, she is also optimistic that people are becoming more aware of their rights and is hopeful that with the passage of time, this understanding will become more profound.

So, what is the secret to organizing a festival of this kind in Egypt? “Always have a Plan B ready, reveals Ziada. This year too, when the original venue, the Contemporary Image Centre, pulled out citing prior commitments, Ziada was ready and shifted the screenings to the El-Balad bookstore.

Though there is a long way for the complete implementation of human rights, the festival may be the first step in this direction as it contributes to creating awareness.

To begin with, an outing to the screenings at the Festival will make us feel less guilty when we take a day off. After all, the right to rest and leisure is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For more information on the films and the schedule for the screenings, visit the website of the festival at

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