Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri withdraws from Egypt film festival in protest

Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri withdraws from Egypt film festival in protest
Mohammad Bakri has announced that he will no longer attend Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, because of the treatment of other Palestinian filmmakers at the hands of Egyptian authorities.
3 min read
20 October, 2021
The El Gouna Film Festival was set to honour Mohammad Bakri's work [Getty]

Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri has cancelled his planned appearance at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival after a fellow Palestinian filmmaker was denied entry into the country.

Bakri, who has appeared in HomelandThe Stranger, Wajib, and The Bureau, protested the treatment of Said Zagha, who was denied entry into Egypt and deported by the authorities. 

He was set to be honoured at the festival with a career achievement award. 

“I have decided not to go to the El Gouna Film Festival,” a statement issued by Bakri read.

“Essentially, this was a reaction, in principle, to the mistreatment of Palestinian artists, regardless of their passport, whether it’s Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli, or whatever,” he continued. 

“It is high time that Palestinians are granted full rights, like the rest of the world. This doesn’t only apply to Palestinian artists. I’m referring to all Palestinians.”

Zagha’s ordeal began prior to his arrival in Cairo, when he was told at Istanbul airport that he would not be able to board his Turkish Airlines flight to the Egyptian coastal town of Hurghada. The festival rebooked a ticket for him on an EgyptAir flight that landed in Cairo, where his problems continued. 

According to Bakri, Zagha was detained at Cairo’s airport by Egyptian authorities for 12 hours and “humiliated”, before being deported from the country. 

Zagha explained to Variety that upon his arrival, “Egyptian border control told me that I cannot enter without ‘special security coordination.’ The festival repeatedly assured me that everything is coordinated with the authorities, but the message I kept receiving from airport officials was the exact opposite.”

In his statement, Bakri also referenced another Palestinian actor, Ali Suliman, who was also denied entry into Egypt in 2018. Suliman was scheduled to serve on the jury of that year’s El Gouna Film Festival.

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While Bakri did not hold the festival’s organiser responsible for what happened to Zagha, he did ask them to understand the little influence they have over the Egyptian authorities, and to act accordingly. 

“I respect the people who are in charge of the festival and I respect the festival’s decision to pay tribute to my work. There is no disagreement on this,” his statement read.

“However, these people [the festival’s management] do not have the jurisdiction to protect and respect their Palestinian guests. They have no power over port authorities. Maybe they shouldn’t invite people in the future and spare them the humiliation,” he added.

Zagha, who is based in the UK, told Variety that “there appears to be systemic mistreatment of Palestinians at Egyptian border control.”

“There are plenty of precedents indicating this, including with world-class actor Ali Suliman and Palestinian cinematographer Ehab Assal (who shot the Oscar-nominated ‘Omar’). Both of them had endured similar ordeals,” Zagha said.