Cairo film festival’s art director resigns amid controversy

Ahmed Shawky
Image Credit: Cairo Film Festival

The art director of Cairo’s international film festival has resigned amid calls for his removal because of past inflammatory posts on social media, the festival said.

The resignation of Egyptian film critic Ahmed Shawky was announced in a statement by the festival’s advisory board. Shawky, who was acting artistic director of the 2019 festival, had been appointed artistic director of this year’s festival earlier this month.

That appointment brought criticism from activists and others who pointed to past comments Shawky made that apparently espouse violence. Those include referring to the death of dozens of Egyptian football fans in a notorious riot as them being “culled.”

The statement said the festival would continue preparing for its 2020 edition and “uphold our principles of championing diversity, bridging cultures, encouraging dialogue, celebrating new voices.” The festival is scheduled for November 19-28.

Cairo International Film Festival
Cairo International Film Festival
Image Credit: Supplied

In a lengthy statement, Shawky said he resigned from the festival because he did not want to “imperil their image,” while contending that he has been targeted by a “smear campaign accusing me of violence, sexism…”

He conceded that he did write “occasionally inappropriate posts” in 2013 and 2014 that were “directed towards a specific group of bigots and extremists.” He said he “never meant to offend anyone.”

Shawky said security authorities advised him to leave his home in Cairo to another “secret place” for fear about his safety after threats.

Shawky’s resignation comes after activists threatened to write to foreign filmmakers invited to the festival to inform them of his history.

Among the most controversial statements by Shawky were posts about a 2012 football riot that left more than 70 people dead in Egypt’s worst sports disaster and one of the world’s deadliest. In a 2014 post, he referred to the deaths of the football fans as their being “culled,” suggesting those who died were somehow inferior and selectively killed. Almost all of those killed were from The Al-Ahly club’s ‘Ultras’ — hardcore supporters of the Cairo-based team and the country’s largest fan association.

Following the recent backlash on social media, Shawky apologized this week, saying in a statement that he used “hurtful words” that were “painful to the families of the dead.”

He has since shut down his social media accounts.

Shawky was also sharply critical of Syrian filmmakers documenting the country’s civil war, accusing them of taking advantage of the suffering to gain Oscar nominations.

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