Cairo film festival’s art director resigns amid controversy

By Canadian Press

CAIRO — The controversial 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 Tuesday 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.

His recent 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 soccer fans in a notorious riot as their 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 Nov 19-28.

The festival statement did not provide reasons for Shawky’s resignation. The film critic did not answer phone calls and messages seeking comment Wednesday.

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

Among the most controversial statements by Shawky’s were posts about a 2012 soccer 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, Shawky referred to the deaths of the soccer 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.

Shawky used the same word to describe the death of the daughter of a Muslim Brotherhood leader who was killed in the summer of 2013 when security forces descended on supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

“No-one should feel sorry for her,” he said. “If I know someone like her … I would kill her with my own hands.”

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.

By Samy Magdy, The Associated Press

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