Global Freedom of Expression

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Naguib Gabriel and others v. Minister of Culture

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    November 30, 2004
  • Outcome
    Dismissed
  • Case Number
    99822/58
  • Region & Country
    Egypt, Middle East and North Africa
  • Judicial Body
    Administrative Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Artistic Expression
  • Tags
    Blasphemy, Religion

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Egypt’s Administrative Court dismissed a request to suspend a decision of the Minister of Culture permitting the showing of a movie called “I Love Cinema”. After the plaintiffs watched the movie, they felt that its idea and message offended Orthodox Christians and the Orthodox Church, specifically the Coptic sect, and favored the Evangelical sect. Moreover, they claimed that the movie disturbed social stability and amplified sectarian strife. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, holding that a movie that addresses matters concerning Egyptian Christians does not amount to a breach of either public order or national security. The court affirmed that the content of the movie constitutes a form of freedom of creativity and expression. Therefore, the Minister’s administrative decision allowing for the showing of the movie was in accordance with the constitution and the law.


Facts

The defendant “Minister of Culture” issued a decision permitting the showing of the movie “I Love Cinema”. After the plaintiffs’ lawyer Naguib Gabriel Mikhael and others watched the movie, they felt that scenes in the movie, its idea and message offended Orthodox Christians and the Orthodox Church, specifically the Coptic sect, and favored the Evangelical sect. Moreover, the movie showed contempt for religious rituals/practices, places of worship and the Christian symbol of the Cross. Thereby, the movie promoted sectarian strife and disturbed social peace. Accordingly, on July 8, 2004, the plaintiffs brought the case before the Administrative Court, requesting it to urgently suspend the implementation of the decision of the Minister of Culture No. (25/2001) which permitted the showing of the movie “I Love Cinema”.

Before the court, the plaintiffs, on one side, argued that the minister’s decision violated law No. (430/1955) as the movie included acts of vice taking place inside the church, such as hitting and insulting a priest, cursing religion and life, inappropriate expressions and blasphemous phrases. They also argued that the movie contradicted Egyptian social mores and violated children’s rights, for instance in one scene showing a child watching his mother naked, or others where paintings and pictures of nudes featured prominently. On the other side, the defendants argued that artistic work is based on creativity and does not represent religious views and the movie at hand was objectively assessed and approved by the members of the oversight committee. They further explained that the movie merely presented a model of an Egyptian family which was both influenced and affected by Egyptian society during certain historical and political circumstances.


Decision Overview

The first chamber of the Administrative Court issued this decision after its members moved to the National Center of Cinema in order to watch and assess the movie at issue.

The main issue before the court was whether there were sufficient grounds to justify looking into the suspension request submitted against the relevant minister’s decision. However, the court first noted that the decision of the Minister of Culture is an administrative decision, thus, is subject to its supervision, rejecting the defendants’ argument that the court lacked jurisdiction over the dispute. The court then decided not to consider whether law No. 430/155 violated freedom of expression guaranteed under articles 47 and 49 of the 1971 Constitution since the defendants failed to specify the provisions that contradict the mentioned constitutional articles.

The Court established its decision in accordance with the following provisions:

– The Egyptian constitution: article 47 which protects freedom of expression and opinion and article 49 which emphasizes the importance of freedom of scientific research and culture, and artistic creativity;

– The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: article 18 (freedom of conscience and religion) and 19 (freedom of expression and opinion);

– Egypt’s law no. (430/1955): article one which stipulates that “All cinema tapes, plays, monologues, songs and voice tapes, records or similar, are subject to censorship, in order to protect public morality and keep the public order and security and the high state interest”, and article 2 which states that “Showing cinema tapes in public places is not permitted without permission from the ministry of culture”;

– Egypt’s law no. (150/1980): section 2 of article 7 which specifies that “the High Council of Culture shall have a general secretariat responsible for censorship on artistic works”.

First, the Court noted that the Egyptian constitution aligns with international human rights conventions by deeming freedom of expression a fundamental right through which other rights are derived, such as the right to criticize social phenomena and social changes. The court also emphasized that such a right represents a pivotal basis of democratic societies, stressing that individuals’ right to express their opinions does not necessarily have to be consistent with the general social mores the state adopts.  People in general and intellectuals in particular need to exercise their right to freedom of expression even if doing so exceeds the norm, as long as this transgression does not substantially affect the nation’s principles and beliefs.

Second, the Court clarified that a creative work of art reflects what is different from the norm and that is why it is almost impossible to create consensus on it. Moreover, the Court explained that creativity in its different forms is a constitutional right that should be protected by the state especially as it facilitates development in all fields of society. Furthermore, the court noted that artistic work should only be evaluated within the context of art, emphasizing that cinema has the power to enlighten by shedding light on the past and envisioning the future without external scrutiny but only based on the imagination of the author. The Court also explained that the movie represented a social and political value because although the movie depicted a Christian family, it tackled issues that face Egyptian families more generally.

Finally, the Court affirmed that “heavenly beliefs support and recognize freedom of thought and creativity as long as they do not impair their established origins and principles” holding that all disputed scenes are acceptable within the context of permissible artistic work and the movie did not favor one Christian sect over another, as the plaintiffs claimed.

Therefore, the Court concluded that the contested permit was issued in conformity with the law as the ideas portrayed in the movie constituted forms of freedom of expression protected under the constitution and pertinent international conventions. Hence, the Court rejected the plaintiffs’ request to suspend the showing of the movie “I love Cinema”.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The Court’s decision expands the interpretation of the right to freedom of expression, particularly in such a religiously conservative society. The Court affirmed that the decision complies with the constitutional provisions aligned with international treaties concerning freedom of expression; Articles 18 & 19 of the ICCPR in particular.

The Court reasoned that “heavenly beliefs (Islam, Christianity, and Judaismacknowledge and support freedom of thought and creativity as long as they do not impair their established origins and core principles”. However, the court should have clarified what exactly these core principles are since no legal precedents do so. This could have provided an important reference for future disputes and acted as a guideline for legislative and executive authorities.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • ICCPR, art. 19
  • ICCPR, art. 18

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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