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Egyptian virginity documentary stirs controversy

Critics said it propagated immorality

An Egyptian documentary about honor crimes and pre-marital sex drew harsh criticism and accusations that it promoted immorality.

The 35- minute film written, directed, and produced by journalist Amal Fawzi took 150 hours to shoot and featured interviews with men about their opinions on marrying women who were not virgins and interviews with women who had deceived their husbands into thinking they were virgins before marriage.

A seminar following the screening provoked debate on the issue. Journalist Nour al-Hoda Zaki praised the film for tackling violence against women and criticized the violation of women's rights in Egypt.

Since losing virginity is considered a disgrace to the woman’s family, she often becomes a victim of domestic abuse. A woman who is not a virgin is unlikely to find a partner so hymen repair operations -- hymenorophy -- have become common in the Arab world, though they are performed clandestinely.

Another question presented to men in the film was whether they would marry a woman he had slept with before marriage, and the answer was also no she was considered to have given up her honor and thus threw suspicion on her ability to maintain honor after marriage.

Interviews with people in the street about what consequences a woman, who loses her virginity before marriage, should face showed that the majority said she should be killed for the disgrace she brought upon her family.

In Muslim countries, sex before marriage is prohibited from a social and religious perspective. The majority of Arab men would never agree to marry a non-virgin and in more conservative parts of the Muslim world, usually the countryside, a woman could be killed by her family if she was discovered to have lost her virginity, known as an ‘honor crime.’

Marriage and sex counselor Dr. Heba Qutb spoke in the film about how families in the countryside would rather let a woman die than give her medical treatment for a blocked hymen.

Director and playwright Mohamed Zoheir lashed out at what he called the one-sided approach in the movie since there was no mention of the religious view on the matter.

But women rights expert Mervat al-Amari, who appeared in the film, said there was no need for men of religion in the film.

"We wanted to present our point of view, which is not opposed to religion. We wanted for example to say that rape is not a sexual act, but an act of aggression where the rapist wants to prove his domination and power."

Amari pointed out that there are many beliefs the Egyptian society needs to get rid of, particularly ones related to women's honor.

"There is still this woman who deflowers the bride herself to make sure she is a virgin."

One such woman explained to Amari that her job is a serious one, especially in cases when the bride is not virgin. The woman explained that she used the pigeon sac method behind the groom's back then tells him the bride was a virgin.

Critic Samia Kamel accused the movie of propagating immorality and justifying pre-marital sex. She also objected to its portrayal of women as victims while conspiring to hide sin.


(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

We wanted for example to say that rape is not a sexual act, but an act of aggression where the rapist wants to prove his domination and power

Mervat al-Amari, women rights expert