Actor Rania Youssef said she didn’t mean to offend anyone with her Cairo International Film Festival ensemble, after walking the festival’s red carpet last week in a black leotard layered underneath a sheer, beaded black gown. “It was the first time that I wore it and I did not realize it would spark so much anger,” said the 44- year-old, citing the influence of celebrity stylists. “I reaffirm my commitment to the values upon which we were raised in Egyptian society.”
Three Egyptian lawyers — Amr Abdel Salam, Hamido Jameel al-Prince and Wahid al-Kilani — known for using the courts to engage in moral vigilantism, according to The New York Times, filed a lawsuit against Youssef, accusing her of wearing an outfit that constituted “incitement to debauchery.”
The actress’s gown “did not meet societal values, traditions and morals and therefore undermined the reputation of the festival and the reputation of Egyptian women in particular,” complainant Samir Sabri, The supporter of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi, Egypt’s current and sixth president, claims to have filed over 2,700 lawsuits over 40 years, targeting actors, clerics, politicians and belly dancers.
Sisi came to power in 2013, when many Egyptians supported a military takeover that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, who was perceived to be determined to restrict women’s rights and social freedoms.
The Times writes: “The vigilante-driven court activism of the Sisi era has also led to harsh restrictions on some minorities, last year prompting the harshest crackdown on the gay community in decades. The case against Ms. Youssef also highlights the highly variable speeds of Egyptian justice.”
The star is scheduled to appear in court on January 12 over the obscenity charges, carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
On the heels of the controversy, Egypt’s Artistic Syndicates Union says it will instate a dress code for female stars walking the red carpet. “Criteria will be set for the clothes to be worn by actresses at festivals after this crisis,” said Omar Abdul Aziz, head of the union. “This is part of an approach aimed at addressing mistakes within the concerned professional union.”
If anyone expects Egypt’s Actors’ Guild to support Youssef, think again. The Guild said that it intended to discipline actors who wore “inappropriate” outfits to the Cairo International Film Festival. “Although we absolutely believe in the personal freedom of artists, we appeal to everyone to shoulder their responsibilities toward the fans who appreciate their art and view them as role models,” read the statement. “That should compel them to exercise a minimum level of commitment to society’s public values.”
Youssef’s new movie ‘Aswar Aaliya’ (High Fences), features her in the role of a famous artist sent to jail. When she leaves prison, trying to pick up her life from where she left off, she finds that she has lost everything. The Arab press notes that Youssef has divorced her third husband.