'Egypt's Al Pacino' sentenced to three months in jail for insulting Islam on screen


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The Independent Culture

Leading lights from across the Egyptian film industry are threatening to go on strike after one of the country's most famous actors was handed a jail sentence for insulting Islam in a number of his highest-profile films roles.

Adel Imam, a popular comedian who has starred in a string of hits since the 1960s, was last night facing the prospect of three months behind bars after being found guilty in a private prosecution brought against him by an ultra-conservative Muslim lawyer.

The case has renewed fears about the pervasiveness of radical Islam and the influence of hard-line MPs who now control a quarter of the Egyptian parliament. "It's very difficult for the Egyptian film industry when the courts are supporting these prosecutions," Ahmed el-Gazer, a film critic, said.

Hundreds of directors, actors and screenwriters were due to mount a protest outside a Cairo court today in support of Mr Imam, who was found guilty in a previous case but granted a retrial. The actor still has an opportunity to launch an appeal, but one leading producer and studio owner told The Independent that thousands of workers from across the industry are planning to go on strike if the verdict is not overturned. "I see it as the Islamists trying to stab us in the back," Mohamed al-Adl said. "I think they went for the biggest Egyptian actor so that other artists will get scared."

The prosecution of Imam, who in addition to his jail sentence was fined $170 (£105), hinged on a number of films in which he starred over the years. They included The Terrorist, which featured the actor as a wanted radical, and the 2007 film Morgan Ahmed Morgan, a movie that includes a scene poking fun at conservative Muslims.

Although most of the media attention has focused on Imam – whose fame in Egypt was likened by one director to that enjoyed by Al Pacino in the West – his trial coincided with that of five other high-profile industry figures, all of whom are due to be sentenced today. The prosecution has also thrown the spotlight on so-called "hisba" cases, a specific branch of Islamic law in which private individuals are entitled to initiate legal proceedings, often on religious grounds.

Actors and writers were targeted by conservative lawyers long before last year's uprising, but the Imam's stature has lent his case an added piquancy. Despite being a household name throughout the Arab world, Imam lost a little of his sheen last year after voicing support for Hosni Mubarak during the uprising. The toppled autocrat was known to be a friend of Imam's.