Imam rose to stardom in the early 1970’s as a superstar for the new wave of Egyptian comedies of that era. Mentored by the legendary actor Fouad El Mohandes who is considered by some to be the greatest Egyptian comedian of all time, Imam didn’t just follow the path of his mentor but his impeccable talent created a comedy school of his own. He portrayed the daily life of the average Egyptian man in most of his movies, plays, TV and Radio series. Egyptians would find Imam representing their daily struggles and life hurdles. The man was the biggest name in the industry in Egypt in 1980’s and 1990s and still retains that title till now despite the heavy competition from his generation and new generation stars.Through his career Imam battled backwardness, terrorism and religious zealousness. He was the arch-rival of all the Islamists movements in Egypt and often portrayed them in a manner that is satirical and comical to draw attention of the populace to their divisive and sectarian rhetoric. Some of his movies reached international success like the 2006 “The Yacoubian Builiding” based on award winning novel by the same name written by Egyptian famous novelist Alaa El Aswany. The movie was set in 1990s after the first gulf war and describing the social rift and economic struggles between classes in Egypt after decades of the 1952 coup d’etat. These struggles are displayed in the portrayal of characters of different classes living in the same building situated in the heart of Cairo’s downtown. Yacoubian Building is considered by many as of his best masterpieces and received world wide acclaim and rewards.
As a payback to his continuous mocking and satire against the Islamists throughout the past decades, an ultra conservative Salafi lawyer from Alexandria sued Imam for what he deemed as anti-Islamic movies throughout Imam’s career. The weirdness and preposterousness of this claim is not new to the Salafi followers who try to witch-hunt many Egyptian artists, writers and poets, whom they claim to be anti Islamic and sue them for blasphemy and heresy. Unfortunately, some of these law suits find a hearing and a place in the judicial system that has been infiltrated recently by Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups.
The court has fined Adel Imam and sentenced him to 3 months in prison. Also, the same court rejected his appeal to drop the charges and sentence. This court ruling is considered to be one of the most outrageous infringements of freedom of expression in recent memory and set back to all the mottos and slogans of the 25th of January revolution.
Imam may have not been a great advocate of the Egyptian revolution and one can understand why now as the replacement of the old regime was nothing more than his old enemies the Islamists. The man who is nick named as “El Zaeem” or the Leader represents a great importance to every Egyptian for he was among those who portrayed the hardships of their daily lives under previous regimes on silver screen and TV. Despite being accused of siding to the previous regime and being a friend of the ruling family of Mubarak, the man still represents an artistic and cinematic icon of his generation and generations to come.
Egyptian cinema is considered to be the Hollywood of the East with over 300 million viewers in the Arab world and outside. This cinema industry is one of the main reasons that gave Egypt its prominent cultural position in the Middle East and particularly the Arab world. Also it’s a reason that the Egyptian accent is widely understood in most Arab countries as well as the Egyptian tradition, culture and sightseeing’s thus giving a great boost to the tourism industry. In short, the Egyptian cinema is part of the Egyptian cultural prestige in the region and the entire world.