Morocco bans 'Exodus', a film retelling the story of Biblical Moses' exile from Egypt

It caps a bad week for freedom of expression and art in North Africa, as Tunisia also jailed a blogger.

MOROCCO has banned cinemas from showing the biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” just one day before the Hollywood blockbuster was due to be screened, media reports said Thursday.

It was unclear why officials decided to ban the movie which had been given the green light by the state-run Moroccan Cinema Centre (CCM), which implements all rules concerning the industry.

Theatre managers said they received “verbal” instructions from the CCM not to begin screening the movie as planned on Wednesday, according to news website media24.

Threat of closure

Others said CCM officials had informed them of the ban in person.

Hassan Belkady, who runs Cinema Rif in Casablanca, told media24 that he had been threatened with the closure of the business if he refused to implement the ban.

“They phoned and threatened they would shut down the theatre if I did not take the film off the schedule,” said Belkady.

The managers of the Renaissance cinema in Rabat said they were told the ban was nationwide, reported TelQuel magazine.

CCM chief Sarim Fassi-Fihri declined to comment on the decision.

Ridley Scott’s historical blockbuster stars Christian Bale as Moses and retells his exodus from Egypt.

Moses is an important figure revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Muslims consider Moses a prophet and Islam opposes the depiction of its prophets.

The ban of “Exodus” closes a bad week for freedom of art and expression in North Africa. 

On Thursday Tunisian authorities arrested a blogger as he returned from a trip abroad weeks after he was convicted of defaming army officers, his lawyer said Thursday.

Yassine Ayari, 33, was taken into custody overnight after landing at Tunis-Carthage airport and was whisked to jail in line with the court verdict pronounced against him. 

The military prosecutor said Ayari had been sentenced in absentia on November 18 to three years’ jail on charges of having “defamed army officers and senior defence ministry officials”. Ayari, who was returning from France, had accused these officials of financial abuse, the prosecutor said in a statement. The blogger was unaware of the verdict against him for “undermining” the army, his lawyer Sami Ben Amor said, adding that the verdict was “very harsh”. 

Undermining freedom of speech

Ayari, who has posted on Facebook that he stands by every word he has written, has appealed the charges against him and a new hearing in the case has been set for January 6, Ben Amor said. “This case undermines freedom of speech and is the first of its kind to emerge under the reign of Beji Caid Essebsi,” said the lawyer, adding that “Yassine Ayari is paying the price of his political views”. 

Essebsi, an 88-year old anti-Islamist, won Tunisia’s first free presidential election on Sunday, capping off the transition to democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. 

His victory follows October legislative polls won by his Nidaa Tounes party. In recent months, Ayari had published blogs very critical of Nidaa Tounes. Essebsi is a veteran politician who served under previous Tunisian regimes, including in the government of autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted in the 2011 uprising.

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