‘Homeland’ Palestinian Actor Mohammad Bakri Cancels El Gouna Festival Visit Over Deportation of Compatriot Said Zagha

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Iconic Palestinian actor-director Mohammad Bakri has canceled his visit to Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival over the issue of U.K.-based Palestinian filmmaker Said Zagha being deported from the country without being allowed to enter.

Bakri, whose acting credits include “Homeland,” “The Stranger” “Wajib” and “The Bureau,” was due to be honored with a career achievement award at the festival on Wednesday.

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However, on Tuesday, Bakri released a statement in Arabic saying he has canceled his visit in protest against the deportation of Zagha and other Palestinians who arrived at Cairo airport and were barred from entering Egyptian territory.

“I have decided not to go to the El Gouna Film Festival,” Bakri said in his statement. “Essentially, this was a reaction, in principle, to the mistreatment of Palestinian artists, regardless of their passport, whether it’s Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli, or whatever. It is high time that Palestinians are granted full rights, like the rest of the world. This doesn’t only apply to Palestinian artists. I’m referring to all Palestinians.”

“I’ve seen my people stranded in airports all over the world, but especially in Arab countries, under the mercy of [an airport] official,” Bakri added. “I’ve seen starved children with their parents, laying on the floors of airports. Sometimes they have to wait for days – not just one or two. I call on all authorities in the world, but especially Arabs, it’s enough. We’ve had it! I’m doing this to protest what happened with me previously and what happened with Ali Suliman as well. I’m also doing it to protest what happened with Said Zagha recently, who was detained for twelve hours and humiliated at the Cairo airport, and eventually deported. Although this was the last straw for me, my objection is in more general terms. I’m objecting on behalf of every Palestinian in this world.”

Palestinian actor Ali Suliman was turned away at the airport in 2018 while was travelling to serve as a juror at El Gouna.

Bakri said he doesn’t hold festival organizers responsible, but hoped that management will seek to find out who is behind the deportation.

“The management of the El Gouna Film Festival did not spare any efforts. They promised me that everything would be sorted out upon my arrival [at an Egyptian airport]. But if you’ve been bitten before, you tend to be cautious, lest it happen again. Do you know what I mean? I did not want to take the risk,” Bakri said. “I respect the people who are in charge of the festival and I respect the festival’s decision to pay tribute to my work. There is no disagreement on this. However, these people [the festival’s management] do not have the jurisdiction to protect and respect their Palestinian guests. They have no power over port authorities. Maybe they shouldn’t invite people in the future and spare them the humiliation.”

“Again, I commend and respect the festival’s management. I thank them for their tribute,” Bakri added. “But this is beyond their means. I thank [festival director] Intishal al-Timimi, who is also a friend. This is not a slight against him personally or the festival’s creative team. This is directed at the official – whom the festival should know. Who is rejecting our entry [into Egypt], regardless of our type of passport? Whether it’s me, Ali Suliman, or [Said] Zagha, the festival management should know who is responsible. If it’s not the festival, then who is it? Who should we accuse?”

When asked about the deportation of Palestinians from Egypt, Zagha told Variety, “While I don’t know the definite answer, there appears to be systemic mistreatment of Palestinians at Egyptian border control. There are plenty of precedents indicating this, including with world-class actor Ali Suliman and Palestinian cinematographer Ehab Assal (who shot the Oscar-nominated ‘Omar’). Both of them had endured similar ordeals.”

Variety has reached out to festival organizers and Bakri for comment.

One of Bakri’s most celebrated roles is in “Wajib” (2017) for which he won the Arab Critic Award at Cannes and best actor at the Dubai International Film Festival. For “Private” (2004), Bakri won best actor at the Locarno International Film Festival, Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, and the Cairo International Film Festival.

In 2010, Bakri was accorded the Free Speech Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival.

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