A new private Egyptian film company, the Egyptian Underground Film Society, has announced its first production: "Toul Omri" ("All my life") by Maher Sabry.
The film will premiere at Frameline, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival from June 19-29 -- one of the world's oldest and largest gay film festivals in the world.
The gay men in Sabry's film face persecution and discrimination, specifically in the wake of the Queen Boat raid in Cairo in 2001, during which 52 men were arrested in the cruise ship's disco. They were later tried in a national security court.
One of the men arrested was Sabry's roommate.
Filmed over three years in Cairo and California, the production faced budget problems and depended on volunteer work and the assistance of the gay community.
Sabry, a gay activist who now resides in the Bay Area, earned the Felipa de Souza Award in 2002 from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for alerting the world to the Queen Boat arrests and helping those arrested. He founded the Egyptian Underground Film Society in 2005 with a group of artists and intellectuals who seek a creative outlet without the restrictions of censorship and conservative production values.
The title of the film, "All My Life," is based on the title of an Egyptian song from the 1930s by Mohamad Abdel-wahab. The song speaks of loneliness, and the search for a soul mate. The song is played briefly during the movie to remind Egyptians of an age when society was more liberal and private life more private.
Previously in Egyptian film, gay characters have held only minor roles, as in "The Bathhouse of Malatily" (1973), "Alexandria … Why?" (1978), "Mendiants et Orgueilleux" (1991), "Marcides" (1993) and, recently, "The Yacoubian Building" (2007).
According to human rights groups in Egypt, there are no protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. For those arrested for homosexual activity, Egyptian politicians routinely call either for their execution or for their relocation into prisons and mental institutions until they are reformed.
Same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships are all prohibited by law. Reports suggest that if such a relationship becomes public, the police may use it as evidence in a criminal indictment for the various laws against immorality.
Egyptian human rights organizations are fearful of defending sexual minorities.
Sabry has said, "We all build fences around ourselves to protect ourselves from pain; that's why it's easy, when we see others treated unjustly, to assume that they must have done something to deserve punishment. It's especially easy if they believe differently from us or live a lifestyle that we do not approve. Then it comes around to us, and others say the same, and so on until we all know what it feels like to be oppressed."
Egypt, Sabry's film will probably be attacked by Islamists in the parliament and conservative religious people, as happened after the screening of "The Yacoubian Building," when a petition to remove the scenes that featured a gay man was circulated. A move was also made to ban that movie and to hand over to the court everyone related to it.