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Palestinian actor-director Mohammad Bakri, known for his onscreen work in Homeland, Wajib and The Stranger, has canceled his visit to Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, citing the country’s decision to deport Brit-based Palestinian filmmaker Said Zagha from the country.
Said Zagha and other Palestinians who arrived at the Cairo airport en route to the festival were barred from entering the country and were turned away. Said Zagha had been invited to El Gouna to present his upcoming film Weedestine at the festival’s CineGouna Springboard platform. But upon his arrival at Cairo airport on Saturday, he was detained and then deported back to London some 12 hours later.
THR has reached out to El Gouna organizers for comment.
Bakri released a statement on Tuesday saying the incident prompted him to cancel his visit in protest. Bakri was set to receive a lifetime achievement award at the El Gouna festival on Wednesday.
“I have decided not to go to the El Gouna Film Festival,” Bakri’s statement, released in Arabic, 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. 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.”
Bakri continued that he has seen “my people stranded in airports all over the world, but especially in Arab countries … I’ve seen starved children with their parents, laying on the floors of airports. Sometimes they have to wait for days — not just one or two. I call on all authorities in the world, but especially Arabs, it’s enough. We’ve had it!”
Bakri cited the previous case of Palestine actor Ali Suliman (The Kingdom, Lone Survivor) who in 2018 was also turned back at the airport while en route to be a member of the jury at El Gouna.
“I’m doing this to protest what happened with me previously and what happened with Ali Suliman as well. I’m also doing it to protest what happened with Said Zagha recently, who was detained for twelve hours and humiliated at the Cairo airport and eventually deported. Although this was the last straw for me, my objection is in more general terms. I’m objecting on behalf of every Palestinian in this world,” Bakri wrote.
Bakri said he doesn’t hold the El Gouna festival responsible for the incident but called on organizers to find out who was behind the deportation.
“I respect the people who are in charge of the festival and I respect the festival’s decision to pay tribute to my work,” he noted. “[However] they have no power over port authorities. Maybe they shouldn’t invite people in the future and spare them the humiliation.”
One of the most recognized and acclaimed filmmakers in the Arab world, Bakri won the Arab Critic Award at Cannes and best actor at the Dubai International Film Festival for his role in Wajib (2017). He took the best actor prize at the 2004 Locarno Film Festival for Private (2004) and was honored with the Free Speech Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2010.
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