Over the past few days, a number of firsthand accounts by several women accusing Egyptian filmmaker Islam El Azzazi of sexual misconduct began circulating on social media. The allegations against Azzazi were submitted anonymously to Daftar Hekayat, a feminist blog that shares the stories of sexual violence survivors in their own words.
The alleged incidents recounted by Azzazi’s accusers range from harassment to assault, with one victim claiming that the director drugged and raped her when she was 21 years old and that he confessed to her that he once assaulted an unconscious woman. Another entry describes aggressive sexual advances made by Azzazi toward a temporarily disabled woman recovering from back surgery.
The accounts began circulating as Azzazi was gearing up to showcase his first feature film Anha (About Her), which premiered last night at the 42nd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). In response to social media outrage, which saw activists demand that the first-time director be disinvited from the event, CIFF announced that it was against all forms of violence against women and vowed that the film would be disqualified from its international competition if the allegations against Azzazi are confirmed. “In the meantime, the festival is committed to showing the film at the pre-announced times,” a statement by CIFF reads.
Additionally, the festival announced it had cancelled the press conference and Q&A initially planned for the film’s cast and producers.
In a now deleted Facebook post, Azzazi denied the allegations, saying they were “filled with inaccuracies and slander.” The filmmaker also called on his accusers to take the matter to the appropriate authorities for an official investigation and ended his statement with a plea to social media users. “I hope the virtual community will proceed with caution and understand that verification is required by all parties before passing judgment,” the filmmaker’s statement reads.
Others have also weighed in on the allegations, including filmmaker Salma El Tarzi who issued a statement corroborating the allegations against Azzazi, saying some of his victims have, in the past, confided in her. “I, Salma El Tarzi, can attest to the veracity of two [sexual misconduct] incidents involving the survivors/victims violated by Islam,” she wrote in a Facebook statement.
It is worth noting that the platform, Daftar Hekayat, has played a pivotal role in Egypt’s #MeToo revival when it shared over seven personal accounts by women who accused renowned Egyptian investigative journalist Hisham Allam of sexual misconduct, with allegations that amounted to rape and kidnapping. Allam has vehemently maintained his innocence throughout and declared his intention to sue his accusers for libel.