Egyptian director Muhammad Diab rubs his hands anxiously. Since his new movie hit the screens last month, he has been dealing with a wave of complaints and lawsuits filed against him and the female protagonists of his film.
Even tough it won numerous awards during the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival – including the award for best film – Diab's movie, titled "6 7 8," has stirred unprecedented controversy and has become the talk of the day on the bustling streets of Cairo.
Human rights organizations have complained repeatedly about the film and lawyers insisted that it be removed from the screens despite its unparalleled success.
"We've made a lot of noise," says Diab, adding "just let us convey the correct message and then we'll make history."
"6 7 8," named after the crowded minibus line that drives back and forth from the capital's downtown area to the government offices located at Cairo's satellite city 6th of October, depicts the story of three women who go through a similar experience.
Faisa, a married woman and mother-of-two from a low socioeconomic background, deliberates over what to wear every morning before boarding the minibus – just so she doesn't attract any attention and gets to her destination without being harassed.
She wears long dresses and a headscarf in order to give her gentile facial features a more severe look.
'Harm family honor'Saba'a is a well-groomed jeweler who is married to a successful doctor with whom she has children. She and her family live in one of Cairo's luxurious neighborhoods.
One day, in broad daylight, she is kidnapped by a gang of hooligans and undergoes violent sexual abuse.
The third character is Nelly, who gets dropped off at her parents' doorstep by her fiancée after watching a standup comedy show, and is sexually harassed by a passerby.
After he rubs himself against her, Nelly manages to drag the assailant to a police station and files a complaint; however, her future husband's parents urge her to drop the charges because "it might harm the family's honor."
The film features acclaimed Egyptian actors, including Bushra, who won the best actress award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and Maged El Kidwany, who received the same award in the male category for his role as the bad cop.
83% of women get harassedThis is the first time an Egyptian film deals with the phenomenon of sexual harassments, which has been plaguing the country.
According to a poll published by a women's rights advocacy group in Cairo, some 20,000 cases of sexual harassments and rape are reported in Egypt annually. The findings also reveal that 83% of local women are subjected to sexual harassment, while among female tourists the number reached as high as 93%.
Despite the soaring figures, women are reluctant to complain, and when a selected few do go to the police with an intention to file a complaint, they are often discouraged by friends and family members.
Some 62% of male respondents admitted that they have sexually harassed a female on at least one occasion, but 52% stated that "women are guilty due to their seductive clothing or provocative behavior."
The movie's opening caption states that the plot is based on true stories, but during a press conference following the release of the movie last month, the director repeatedly stressed that the plot was not fictional.
Noha Rushdi Saleh, a 28-year-old documentary filmmaker from Cairo made headlines two years ago after she chased a man who sexually harassed her on the street, and physically dragged him to a police station to file a complaint.
"When I told them that he groped my intimate parts as he was driving in a car next to me, they raised an eyebrow and wondered 'who could it be?', Rushdi recalled.
"They thought I was making the whole thing up, and were convinced only after the man apologized and his family even offered me financial compensation," she said.
Rushdi's story sparked the imagination of the "6 7 8" creators, who went searching for similar stories.
"Every woman who boards an Egyptian bus is playing with her honor and her fate," says Nelly Karim, who plays a role in the film. "She is forced to undergo an unpleasant experience," Karim adds.
Like Rushdi, the film's female protagonists also decide to take matters into their own hands. One of them carries a sharp blade and stabs her harasser multiple times in his private parts.
'Incitement to violence'The first angry response surprisingly came from an Egyptian human rights organization that claimed the film created "incitement that encourages women to use violence.
"Every frustrated woman is now given the license to stab someone and claim she's been harassed," the organization stated.
Along with the harsh criticism, the film also received many accolades, including from Egyptian feminism activist Mona Mona Eltahawy. "I myself tried to file complaints against harassers a number of times, but was sent home shamefully," she laments.
Eltahawy published a piercing article in the Washington Post, which aroused the fury of many, but also drew some support for the cause.
Despite the media frenzy in the Arab world surrounding former Israeli President Moshe Katsav's sexual harassment affair, a group of parliament members in Cairo have urged women to "curtail the embarrassment" by keeping check on their appearance and behavior.
At the same time, the parliamentarians took an extremely tolerant approach toward the sexual harassment phenomenon and dismissed the movie, calling it a "superficial film that harms Egypt's reputation and might severely damage the tourism industry in the country."
Singer and actress Bushra, who plays the role of Faisa, volunteered to speak out and salvage the trampled honor of thousands of women.
"You tell me what's more important," she told the film critics," to safeguard the country's reputation and allow harassers to continue with their acts, or join forces to root out the phenomenon while the law turns a blind eye?"
- Follow Ynetnews on Facebook