Sometimes we forget how lucky we are in the United States to have a (nearly) unrestricted freedom of speech.
This week, Egyptian court upheld a conviction against Adel Imam (he was originally tried in February but appealed), one of the leading comedy actors of the Arab world. The blasphemy charge, a crime that still exists throughout the Middle East, rose from several of the roles he played in recent films. In these parts, Imam played a terrorist and a corrupt business man, both of which were portrayed as parodies of Islamic men. He was sentenced to three months in jail and fined about $170.
After the Facebook-led revolt that ousted Mubarak last year, many ultraconservative Salafi leaders took 25 percent of the seats in parliament. This case raises concerns over new attempts to curb freedom of speech in Egypt. Imam has the right to appeal, but if the conviction stands, entertainers might think twice before poking fun at religion in Cairo.
In the last 50 years, the United States has made leaps and bounds in its expansion of free speech. From Lenny Bruce’s obscenity charges to George Carlin’s FCC Supreme Court (which, though a loss, caused a conversation) case to Larry Flynt, this nation has been learning to take a joke and not take itself so seriously. I hope that Egypt, as well as any country that restricts its citizens’ rights to artistic expression, finds its way in coming years.