Egypt's Most Popular Comedian, Adel Iman, Guilty of Insulting Islam

Adel Imam

The verdict of a popular Egyptian comedian convicted of offending Islam has been upheld by a Cairo court, raising fears among Egyptian liberals and secularists about the Islamic tide rising since the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak last year

Imam, one of the Arab world's most famous actors, was first convicted in February of "contempt of religion" - illegal under Egypt's penal code - and appealed. The case was brought against him by an ultra-conservative Islamist lawyer named Asran Mansour for three films Imam made in the early- to mid-1990s. The titles are "The Terrorist," "Morgan Ahmed Morgan" and "Terrorism and Kebab."

Imam, 71, played a fundamentalist terrorist in the first and a corrupt businessman in the third. Mansour accused Imam of blasphemous mocking of Muslim symbols like beards and the jilbab, a loose-fitting robe worn by some Muslims.

The sentence was three months in jail and 1000 Egyptian pounds, around $170. Imam's lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict that was "given on the wrong legal basis."

"My client's films were certified, not censored, by surveillance authorities before their release to the public," lawyer Sawat Hussein told Reuters today.

Condemnations poured in from Egypt's art world and beyond. The Egyptian Creativity Front said the ruling would limit the freedom of expression and lead to restriction on art. Author of "The Yacoubian Building" Alaa al-Aswany said on Twitter that he disagrees with Imam politically but the ruling sends Egypt "back to the darkness of the Middle Ages."

"This is an unimaginable crime of principle in developed nations," Aswany wrote.

A similar situation arose in January when a case was brought against Coptic Christian businessman Naguib Sawiris by Islamist lawyers for tweeting a cartoon of Mickey Mouse with a long beard and Minnie Mouse with her face veiled. The case was later thrown out. In January, Islamists won about three quarters of the seats in parliament and several Islamist candidates are frontrunners in next month's presidential election.

The conviction of  an Arab icon with a career spanning half a century  has liberals shuddering.

"[Imam's case] will make any writer, director or actor think before considering the role of a Muslim figure," Egyptian entertainment reporter Tarek el-Shinnawi told Al Ahram newspaper.