An Egyptian documentary called "Jews of Egypt" was supposed to hit theaters Wednesday, but won't because state security officials have blocked its release, according to the film's producer. Egyptian producer Haytham el-Khamissy posted the news to Facebook, outraged because he said the film had already been approved by censorship officials.
Judaism is a sensitive subject in Egypt, where the old synagogues are mostly just visited by tourists. Thousands of Jews fled the country or were expelled in the 1950s, a "second exodus" under Gamal Nasser's nationalistic rule. The wars with Israel, disastrously lost, deepened public hostility toward Israelis and, by unfortunate extension, Jews.
That exodus and its aftermath are the subject of Khamissy's film, the trailer for which is embedded above. He had secured official approval back in 2010 but, well, things have changed in Egypt since then. State security officials are delaying its release because, as Khamissy describes their position, "the film’s title might cause public uproar, particularly after Essam El-Erian’s statements on Jews, and in light of the tension on the street." He says he's considering suing to collect losses from the delayed, or potentially halted, release.
Perhaps the state security officials are thinking of the protests that erupted last September when clips from an anti-Islam film called "Innocence of Muslims" made their way online. The film was made by a Coptic Christian living in the United States, making it a piece of cross-religious agitation. Of course, the difference here is that "Innocence of Muslims" sought to offend and denigrate, whereas "Jews of Egypt" appears to be a portrayal of actual events. The other difference is that "Jews of Egypt" could potentially play an important role in confronting one of the darker moments in Egypt's history.
According to the Lebanon-based Naharnet, the film was creating a stir in Egypt even before its blocked release. A December article in Foreign Policy described the film's goal as "disentangling Egyptians' impressions of Jews from their intense hatred of Zionism" and said that an early screening in Cairo had been a hit.
"Egypt is changing, with people becoming less tolerant of one another especially under the current regime," the film's director, Amir Ramses, told Foreign Policy in December. He was explaining his rationale for making the film, but this might also be the state's motivation for blocking it.