Rania Youssef is an Egyptian actress facing up to five years in prison over a dress. A group of lawyers filed a complaint to the chief prosecutor following the Cairo International Film Festival on November 29.
45-year-old Youssef wore a black lace dress that showed off her legs. She is now charged with public obscenity. Her trial is set to begin January 12, 2019.
Youssef released a statement following news of the charges, stressing that she had not meant to anger anyone. The issue has also raised questions about how religious conservatism continues to play a strong role in Egypt’s judicial system.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Rania Youssef Released a Statement on Social Media, Stressing That She Had Not Meant to Offend Anyone With Her Fashion Choice
Rania Youssef took to social media to share her reaction to the backlash against her dress.
Youssef stressed that she had not meant to offend or upset anyone with the dress. She wrote that she had not expected such a reaction, and that “if I had known, I wouldn’t have worn this dress.”
Youssef added, “I want to repeat my commitment to the values and ethics we have been raised by in Egyptian society.” She also mentioned how she was proud to be part of a “union of artists.” Roughly translated, Youssef appeared to mention that actors and other artists play a role in society that should be protected.
2. The Egyptian Actors’ Guild Stated That Actors Have a Responsibility to Abide by Society Values
The Actors’ Guild in Egypt did not jump to Rania Youssef’s defense. Instead, the group took a much more conservative approach and appeared to side with her critics.
The guild put out a statement over the weekend. According to a translation by the Guardian, the Guild promised that actors who wore inappropriate clothing during the film festival would face consequences.
The Guild added that actors have a responsibility to follow social norms because fans look up to them. “Although we absolutely believe in the personal freedom of artists, we appeal to everyone to shoulder their responsibilities toward the fans who appreciate their art and view them as role models. That should compel them to exercise a minimum level of commitment to society’s public values.”
3. Rania Youssef is a Well-Known TV & Film Star in Egypt; She Got Started in Her Career as a Model
Rania Youssef was born in Cairo in 1973. According to the Egyptian website Cinema, Youssef’s father worked as an officer and her mother was a flight attendant.
Youssef got her start in the entertainment industry as a model before earning roles in Egyptian television shows. The site states that Youssef’s choice of certain “racy” movie roles have “ruffled the feathers of many in Egypt.” One of those roles was in the 2012 movie “Wahed Sahih” in which Youssef played a gynecologist.
Youssef’s most recent project was the movie “Aswar Aaliya,” which means “High Fences.” She played the role of an artist who struggles to get her career back on track after being released from prison.
4. Youssef’s Personal Life Attracts Curiosity in Egypt; She Has Been Married Three Times & Has Two Children
Rania Youssef is reportedly single, after separating from her third husband earlier in 2018. Albawaba Entertainment, an independent news organization in the Middle East, reported in June that Youssef and her husband, identified as a businessman named Tareq Azab, had called it quits. The site did not name a reason for the split.
Yousserf’s first marriage was to Mohammad Mokhtar, a fellow actor and producer. Youssef reportedly filed for divorce in 2011 and claimed that he had threatened to physically harm her. But in 2012, Mokhtar told Morocco Today that he and Youssef had managed to work through their disagreements and had established a solid friendship in order to raise their daughters.
Just four months after divorcing her first husband, Youssef tied the knot a second time. The wedding was reportedly a quiet affair and was kept secret from the local media. The groom was identifed afterward as businessman Amro Al Shabrawi.
Youssef has two daughters from her first marriage, Yasmin and Nancy.
5. Rania Youssef Could Face Five Years in Prison if Convicted of Public Obscenity
Youssef is accused of “inciting debauchery” by exposing her legs in the black lace dress. If convicted, she could spend five years in prison.
Her case is similar to that of other Egyptian performers. Singer Shyma was sentenced to two years behind bars in 2017. Her crime? She appeared in her underwear in a music video while eating a banana. Like Youssef, Shyma was accused of “inciting debauchery.” The director of the music video was also arrested.
Two bellydancers, Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal Youssef, were both sentenced to six months in jail in 2015. As reported by the BBC, the women’s decision to wear revealing clothing in music videos was seen as a threat to “public morality.”
One of the lawyers who launched the case against Youssef, identified as Samir Sabry, has allegedly filed more than 2,700 similar lawsuits over the past 4 decades. The New York Times reports that Sabry has sued actors, politicians, bellydancers and even a puppet show that included a skit based on “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Egypt is not as strict as other Muslim-majority countries in terms of women’s dress. For example, women are not forced to wear hijabs or headscarves, although many choose to cover their hair anyway.
But visitors are cautioned to wear conservative clothing. Travel website Trip Advisor warns against wearing short shorts or sleeveless shirts. Loose-fitting or see-through clothing is also advised against.