Mubarak’s old men: Whatever happened to the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate?

Farah Montasser, Tuesday 19 Jul 2011

Ahram Online looks into talk of more protests and a sit-in at the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate after head Mossad Fouda called protesters violent intruders causing instability

Ali Badrakhan, Photo by Members of Egyptian Cinema Syndicate Group

Despite former head of Egyptian Cinema Syndicate Mossad Fouda winning elections for the second time last week, some members are rejecting his victory. On Monday, 17 July Fouda made a statement in which he described syndicate protesters as violent, saying they’d been embedded inside the syndicate to cause chaos and threatening to use force to remove them. 

“It is demeaning and unacceptable,” Walaa Saada, film editor and member of the syndicate, commented to Ahram Online, recalling Fouda's accusations.

Members’ rage has peaked since Mossad Fouda won elections for the second time last week.

On 11 July, the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate announced results of its election for syndicate head with Fouda winning with 925 votes against his opponent, director Ali Badrakhan who received 866 votes. Badrakhan's defeat came as a surprise to many who had followed the row.

Members of the syndicate took matters to Tahrir, joining the sit-in that began earlier this month, objecting to state influences in the syndicate and arguing that nothing about the power of Mubarak’s men has changed since the revolution.

“We marched to Tahrir not to protest against the results of the elections,” said Saada, continuing, “We came to Tahrir right before the announcement of results to announce our abandonment of the syndicate and formation of a new private one and to voice our objection to the judiciary system that ruled for elections to take place.”

Most filmmakers of Egypt welcomed the idea and joined the march, including the seven winning members of the syndicate board. “Seven members opposing Fouda won in by majority in the syndicate board; we all stand against him and demand that he resigns,” said Saada.

These seven members include screenwriter Tamer Habib, director Omar Abdel Aziz, shooting directors Mohsen Ahmed, Fawzy El Awamri and Sameh Selim, and Producer Mohamed Khedr. “They all agreed to either oust Fouda or form an independent syndicate for all cinema professionals in Egypt,” said Saada. By law, members of any syndicate may quit the syndicate and form an independent syndicate of their own to protect their rights.

Sit-in protesters, including the Youth Coalition, praised the syndicate members’ entry into Tahrir, saying their example should be followed everywhere in Egypt. According to the protesting members of syndicate, another syndicate sit-in will begin very soon rejecting Mossad Fouda’s leadership. “We don’t accept Mossad Fouda being head of the syndicate especially after he stood against the January 25 Revolution at the beginning.”

The Ongoing Battle

The messy story of corruption in the syndicate has its roots in years of Fouda’s management. It was after the January 25 Revolution that the fight for the syndicate’s purification began and documents were revealed in the process. Ahram Online looks into a brief history of yet another nest of corruption in Egypt.

On 7 February, members of the Egyptian Cinema Syndicate turned against the corrupt, old regime personified by Mossad Fouda, as they claim, pledging support for the revolution and joining the call to oust Mubarak and his regime.

“Members protested against Fouda for all his wrongdoings,” Saada told Ahram Online.

According to her, the entire syndicate had been monitored by a hierarchy of Mubarak’s men. These men included Mossad Fouda, Mamdouh El Leithy’s right arm, and Safwat El Sherif, “the Master of Puppets” during the Mubarak regime. Safwat El Sherif is known by many as the old regime’s manipulative eye on media of all Egypt who kept the public in the dark and loyal to Mubarak.

In March 2011, after the downfall of former president Mubarak, around 1003 out of 3000 members of the Cinema Syndicate signed a petition to the interim government to remove Mossad Fouda and form a temporary administrative board to guide the syndicate until elections scheduled for July. As members recall, the ministry of culture refused to accept the petition, prompting them to begin a 60-day sit-in at the syndicate during which members dug up files and documents of corruption to incriminate Fouda and El Leithy.

With their strike growing stronger, Minister of Culture Emad Abu Ghazi made a surprise visit to the syndicate to ask for an end to the strike, promising that their demands would be fulfilled. “He gave us a deadline of three days to look through the documents that we found and answer us back,” Saada recalls.

On the forth day, former vice prime minister Yehia El Gamal announced that Mamdouh El Leithy would monitor the elections to select a new syndicate head. Members appealed to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to stop the elections before conducting a full investigation the syndicate system and inspecting documents of corruption.

“In those documents, we have found that Fouda had given out memberships to non-professionals in the cinema industry of Egypt, including drivers, accountants and even former and current police officers, including some of the secret police services,” Shaker says. “One of the membership applications had a name and underneath, his profession: police officer. Yet he is registered as a film director with no professional profile,” Saada claims.

Furthermore, most of the syndicate members today who stand loyal to Fouda, were paid 50 Egyptian pounds to join the syndicate.

An ally of the pro-Badrakhan protesters, Art director Ahmed Shaker says “Of course those poor employees of the government won’t refuse due to the benefits the syndicate provides from healthcare to paid summer vacations every year,” Shaker comments.

All this fiasco angers members as well as people close to the field. Shaker, though not a member of the syndicate, stood with members against the corruption in the protests and the sit-in. He has been organising demonstrations since 7 February. “Shaker is considered one of us,” Saada told Ahram Online.

According to documents, only 35 per cent of the current syndicate members are actually cinema professionals, including directors, actors, art designers, and producers. This leaves only the men of Mossad Fouda to make up the difference, both Shaker and Saada agreed.

According to protesting syndicate members, the court hearing for the members’ appeal was scheduled for 6 July, four days prior to the scheduled election. It was rescheduled to 7 July. Meanwhile, Minister of Culture Emad Abu Ghazi requested a legal committee to investigate all documents and files at the syndicate before elections took place. Yet Mamdouh El Leithy, who was given authority by Yehia El Gamal, responded, as quoted by protesting members, “Minister Emad Abu Ghazi, you are not in authority to demand such a thing. Your job is only to approve the elections results.”

Three hours before the hearing, a message leaked outside the court hall to the angry protesters saying the judge would rule in favour of the protesters. “Then again the judge’s decision changed against us,” says Saada. And so came the elections.

Elections – a film by Mossad Fouda

Election Day may as well have been an action movie directed by Mossad Fouda himself, objecting protesters told Ahram Online.

On 10 July, the syndicate elections took place at one of Cairo’s smallest theatres, Faisal Nada Theatre. Protesters said it was the perfect choice for Fouda to insure voters would not last long in the hot weather. “It was such a very small hall that some voters left the scene quickly without voting, while a few fainted due to the hot weather and the non-working air conditions,” says Shaker who witnessed the whole scene.

Protesters also point out that the choice of having elections on a Sunday was Fouda’s way to guarantee that while his employees would make it to the polls, professional members of the syndicate would be stuck at work.

Furthermore, only Fouda’s men were allowed to stand behind the boxes and see the votes. “This led to a two-hour fight among attendees from 8 to 10am,” said Shaker. Egyptian director Khaled Youssef was among those who fought with Fouda’s men at the polls.

Pictures provided by the angry protesters show what kind of mess the polling hall became. Voting papers were on the floors everywhere, making it difficult to identify the trash from legitimate votes. “It was another hour or so of wasted time, as we tried to clean the area as Fouda’s men said there are no cleaning men to clean the hall,” said Shaker.

Saada added that during all this mess “members of the syndicate convinced Ali Badrakhan to leave syndicate and take the matter to Tahrir prior to the election results.”

At Tahrir Square, the Youth Coalition welcomed syndicate members and their supporters, quickly forming a tent for them. Members took to the podium and announced the formation of a new private syndicate for cinema professionals. “Abandoning the syndicate came as a shock to Fouda’s men at the syndicate and to the Supreme Army Council,” says Saada.

As the strike escalates, Mossad Fouda, in spite of him winning the elections, is being investigated.

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