Last week, entertainment industry professionals from around the world came together to celebrate the Cairo International Film Festival, a weeklong event dedicated to honoring performing arts accomplishments. Following the festivities, though, controversy emerged as Egyptian actress Rania Youssef could face prison time for simply wearing a lace sequined dress to the festival.
As The New York Times reported, Youssef has been accused of creating an “incitement to debauchery” by wearing a long lace dress through which her legs were visible. As the paper explained, three Egyptian lawyers filed the aforementioned criminal lawsuit against Youssef following the film festival. In their lawsuit, the attorneys cited a law that allows Egyptians to file charges against each other for reasons including "immorality" and "insulting the nation," as the outlet's Declan Walsh explained.
USA Today reported that Youssef apologized for wearing the dress in a statement she posted on on Instagram on Nov. 1. "I probably miscalculated when I chose to wear this dress. … It was the first time that I wore it and I did not realize it would spark so much anger," she said (in a translation from Arabic). "I reaffirm my commitment to the values upon which we were raised in Egyptian society."
Time reported that Youssef is scheduled to face trial on Jan. 12. The New York Times noted that similar charges previously brought against public figures have typically failed to result in a conviction or prison time. However, this is not always the case. As the paper explained, an Egyptian singer is currently in prison after she reportedly suggestively ate several different fruits in a music video. As Fox News reported, this singer, Shaimaa Ahmed, was fined hundreds of dollars and sentenced to a year in jail.
In addition to a lawsuit being filed against Youssef, Egypt’s actors guild asserted that it plans to more broadly investigate actors' festival attire — and discipline those whose outfits it deems contrary to “the traditions, values and ethics of society.” As the Associated Press reported, the actor's guild said in a statement that it believes that Egyptian entertainers need to prioritize "public values," noting:
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. That should compel them to exercise a minimum level of commitment to society’s public values.
The New York Times also indicated that the controversy over attire at the film festival serves as another example of recent crackdowns on public freedom that have occurred under Egypt's authoritarian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. These crackdowns have occurred despite the government's assertion that Egypt is a secular country, as the Associated Press pointed out.
It remains to be seen how Youssef's trial will unfold after it commences on Jan. 12 of next year. Certainly, many around the world will be watching to see how Egyptian authorities approach the matter, especially in light of the significant attention Youssef's case has received.