In Cairo, Audience Disapproval Leads to Censorship of Play

Last week, the “BuSSy” (بصي) project staged its fifth annual performance exploring women’s lives in Egypt. The series of stories, titled “Look!” and originally inspired by The Vagina Monologues, took place at the Opera House complex last Wednesday and Thursday.

The space is managed by the Ministry of Culture.

On Wednesday night, the playwent as planned, according to Al Masry Al Youm. Nadine Emile, who acted in the performance, wrote up a report on events for the paper. The first night, Emile wrote, things went well. However, several audience members did walk out mid-show.

These audience members apparently complained, and the Supreme Council of Culture demanded that BuSSy organizers censor their Thursday-night performance. Director/organizer Sondos Shabayek already had a feeling something like this might happen. According to Emile:

As she was trying to secure a space for the performance, Shabayek got rejections from el-Sawy Cultural Wheel, the French Cultural Center, the Russian Cultural Center and the Mahmoud Mukhtar Museum’s new theater among other venues.  Some were honest to say that the script was not appropriate and half of it would have to be omitted, while some refused to answer calls altogether.

Rather than cancel the play’s second night—something that apparently crossed Shabayek’s mind—the group decided to radically slash scenes, but then also made a point of the censorship by miming slashed scenes at the  end.

Two of the omitted (offensive) scenes:

One of the omitted stories was entitled Do You Want to Have Kids and it recounted the experience of sexual molestation within the family. I was supposed to perform it. Its author was unknown to me, but I felt compelled to share it, to convey her emotions and her experience. The end of the story read, “I knew what I was going to do; I was going to leave my grudges somewhere and get on with my life.” The censorship didn’t even leave space for her to portray her sentiments through the play.

Heba el-Affifi wrote and performed another scene entitled I Took off My Veil, which received complaints from audience members during the first night and hence had to be cancelled. El-Affifi talked about her experience of wearing a veil then taking it off, which drew people’s judgments on her. The story was already published in a book by el-Affifi entitled On Behalf of my Body. According to her, it received many positive reviews from girls who said they identified with the story and felt the author spoke on their behalf.

The play has grown a great deal since its inception in the closed-off environment of the American University in Cairo. A shorter version had been staged at the Giza library on March 8, apparently without censorship problems.

From a report on the March 8 mini-performance:

Nevertheless, Bussy does not fall into the trap of self-censorship. We find performances that feature issues and terms not deemed fit for public discussion. From halawa-making (a local hair removal mechanism using a sweet paste) to sexual molestation by a teacher or a preacher, Bussy re-situates the original [Vagina] monologues in a more localized context.

Hopefully, next year organizers will remain just as bold.