Women played a major role in the revolutions that swept across the Middle East, some even becoming icons of the new opportunities that surfaced when the older, oppresive regimes were overthrown. However, the days of the Arab Spring also marked a shocking and unchecked surge in sexual harassment cases suffered by women in Egypt. The region’s fight for freedom created further opportunities for repression and sexual violence; crimes that continue to go unpunnished. Against this background, Islamic woman have come to represent the front line in a clash between secularism and traditionalism.
Why I wanted to make this film
by Paul Moreira
I thought about it a long time ago. At first, it was a bit of a joke between me and my Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi fixers: “One day, I’m gonna make a film about sex in your country…” They always reacted with a big, enthusiastic smile: “Excellent!” And not just because it would mean another job for them.
Well, at least I hope not… It was only after, when I asked them how things were, that they started to look embarrassed. For some of them, I even wondered whether, as they reached their 30s, they were still complete virgins. Muslim societies erect barriers between men and women that are hard to cross. It’s a question of respecting women, they claim.
But it’s also about instilling fear, segregation, and violence, at times, when desire cannot be fulfilled. I recall talking about women with Syrian rebels. We were living together night and day in the same hidey-hole for ten days, we’d become friends. Ali asked me half-jokingly if I knew any French Muslim women who might like to marry him, handsome young Syrian freedom fighter.
“Sure, I know one,” I said.
“Yeah?” said Ali, getting more serious. “What’s she like?”
“Cute. And what’s more, free.”
“Free?!” Ali croaked. “Oh, no, not free. I don’t want free! Free? No way!”
Ali was risking his life daily for freedom. He would scream “Heurya!” (freedom) at the top of his voice during protests. He fought in the Free Syrian Army. He wanted political democracy. He wasn’t an Islamist. But the word “free” echoed like a threat the moment it concerned a women he might have loved. A “free” woman clearly means she is sexually free. And nothing is more terrifying than free sexuality.
It was no doubt then that I realized the subject was more than fascinating. It took us into the heart of the reactor, examining sex, male-female relationships, the status of women, their place in society, limited, restricted contained desire and its transformation into violence, domination, submission. I had my own desire: to investigate a basic hitch I had encountered a thousand times.
I didn’t want to establish a simple pattern: we, the Westerners, free and light-hearted; they, the Arabs, backward and tyrannical. I know how widespread patriarchy, male domination, the submission of women and the sanctification/commercialization of their virginity were in southern European countries not so long ago.