Human Rights. Porn-watching Egyptian actress arouses passionate debate

CAIRO . The Egyptian actress Entisar Abdel Baset Ali Mohamad, known simply as “Entisar,” sparked controversy last month when she acknowledged that she watches adult movies and denounced preventing young people from watching them. 

On Oct. 6, during the nighttime talk show “Nafsana,” hosted by Entisar and the actresses Heidi Karam and Shaima Sayf, Entisar wondered what young men should do if they can't afford the cost of marriage, saying that until they can, some might find pornography useful.

The actress Entisar faces trial for allegedly encouraging young men to watch pornographic films to educate themselves before marriage about sex.

Entisar justified people watching adult movies, stating, “These films, in addition to books, help explain sexual relationships to many men before marriage, which will prepare them for marriage.” Expressing her taste for pornographic movies with a dramatic twist, the actress, without naming names, criticized countries banning such movies, which includes Egypt, and claimed that they have high rates of homosexuality.

According to a report on the porn industry published Sept. 26 in The Economist, Egypt ranks 18th globally in the number of visitors to PornHub, one of the biggest porn sites, and leads all Arab and Islamic countries. Egypt registered 2% of total traffic, which was more than 18 billion total visits to the site in 2014, while the United States came in first, with 38%, followed by Britain with 14%.

A large number of social media users denounced Entisar's statements while others rejected those criticisms on the ground that watching porn is a real phenomenon spreading among Egyptian youth. The hashtag #Calm-Down-Entisar launched on Twitter, attracting thousands of supporting and opposing tweets about the actress' assertions.

“There is a difference between committing a mistake because you are weak or compelled to and between encouraging the commitment of this mistake,” wrote Mohamed Diab, a young director, in a Facebook post. “In general, the subject of sexual repression is much deeper than the proposals of solutions, such as watching pornographic films or allowing prostitution; sexual repression is a symptom of a disease known as a failed state, and unfortunately, there are no easy solutions.”

Hany Elnazer, former head of the National Council for Research, pointed to what he considered to be potential health and societal risks that might arise from watching porn movies. He wrote on Facebook, “First, they cause a hormonal imbalance resulting in some sort of porn addiction by young men, and second, they change young men's perception of women and paint a wrong and completely different picture of the nature of a proper marital relationship.”

Reuters reported last year that educational psychologist Simone Kuhn and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin had conducted a study that involved questioning 64 adult males about their pornography habits to determine the effects, if any, on the brain. The researchers found that the men who reported watching a lot of pornography tended to have less volume and activity in brain areas associated with motivation and rewards, which itself raised a number of additional questions.

Ashraf Zaki, head of the Actors' Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “I do not judge an artist based on his opinion and ideas. Artists should act responsibly since the opinions they express via the written and televised media on various issues can affect public opinion.” He said, “Actors and actresses should act responsibly because their fans will imitate them in everything they say and do.”

Mohammed Zaki, an Al-Azhar imam, attacked Entisar, accusing her of spreading debauchery. In his Oct. 16 Friday sermon, Zaki called for combating and standing vigilantly against such ideas as Entisar’s, claiming that her statements were no less harmful than the terrorism practiced by extremist groups seeking to destabilize Egypt's security. He directly addressed Entisar, saying, “I remind you and those who are like you of the following Quranic verse: Those who like to publicize indecency among the believers will face painful torment in this world and the hereafter.”

Entisar later justified her assertions, arguing that states have to face up to their problems instead of running from them, because progress can only be achieved by confronting issues in order to solve them. In videotaped statements sent to the daily Al-Masry al-Yawm and broadcast on al-Qahira Waalnas TV on Oct. 21, Entisar denied that her statements were aimed at encouraging young men to watch pornography. “Some young men will turn to porn to educate themselves sexually before starting a new phase of their lives,” she said.

The controversy sparked by the actress’ statements also reached beyond social media to the courts. On Oct. 13, Egypt’s attorney general, Nabil Sadiq, instructed prosecutors to open an investigation of Entisar for possible charges of inciting debauchery and immorality and religious contempt.

Parties filing complaints about Entisar, said Sadiq, reported that she had introduced the name of her program in a suggestive manner and described the Egyptian people as sexually repressed and addicted to web porn. The complaints also said that Entisar had claimed that Egypt had the highest rates of homosexuality and immorality.

The first hearing into Entisar’s case is scheduled for Nov. 10. The Supreme Administrative Court has on several occasions issued judgments blocking porn sites, most recently in May 2015. The Ministry of Communications, however, acknowledges the impossibility of blocking all such sites, citing technical difficulties.