In case anyone should underestimate the regime’s fear of union power, let us remember the story of murdered student Giulio Regeni
It was comical, farcical, droll. An actor’s dream if you were going to put the drama on stage or screen – but the three principal characters were actors themselves. The lead player, as usual in Egypt, was His Excellency Field Marshal President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the theme of this theatrical production was an old and familiar one: the power of trade unions and the fear of real revolution.
But we’ll start with the latest act, virtually ignored in the west where freedom of speech, workers’ rights and liberty are “precious”, “sacrosanct”, “close to our hearts”. This week, two prominent Egyptian actors, Amr Waked and Khaled Abol Naga, were expelled from the government-controlled Egyptian actors’ union for “treachery”. They were condemned for “betraying the nation” and working for “the agenda of conspirators against Egypt’s security and stability”. The head of the union told AFP that the two men “will no longer be allowed to act in Egypt”.
Although Waked won the best actor award at the Dubai film festival five years ago and starred in 2005 film Syriana with George Clooney, the starring performance of both men came last Monday when they used the platform of a US congressional hearing to condemn the worsening human rights situation in Egypt and the extraordinary legislation which may allow Sisi to stay in power until 2034.
Naga, a star of many Egyptian movies, described a country whose people were either imprisoned or lived in fear of arrest. Waked said that the regime run by Sisi, who staged a military coup against the first elected Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in 2013, had developed an “allergy” to the truth, a claim which contained its own painful irony. For both Waked and Naga – like dozens of novelists, artists, journalists and other Egyptian literati – were among those who originally and naively supported the bloody coup which brought Sisi to power. Waked, whose criticism of the government earned him, this month, a sentence of eight years in an Egyptian prison (in absentia, of course, because he lives in Europe) pointed out that the union’s prohibition on his acting hardly mattered. “If I go back to Egypt, I won’t even have time to act,” he has said – because he’d be locked up at once.