03/26/2004, 00.00
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Gibson's "Passion" arrives in the Middle East

Doha (AsiaNews) – The "Passion of the Christ" has made its debut in the mostly-Muslim Gulf Arab States. Mel Gibson's film, which has made headline coverage around the world, has been showing three times a day in a general theatre in Doha, Qatar since Sunday, and will continue to be screened for at least another month.

"We submitted "The Passion of the Christ" to the censorship committee, which has no objection to its screening" said Abdul Rahman Mohsen, the director general of a private Qatari cinema company. The censorship committee previews and may edit scenes or images depicting prophets from holy books. Although "The Passion" narrates the experience of "Prophet Issa (Jesus)", the film has been released in the integral version.

In the United Arab Emirates, the movie will open for public viewing March 31st, having received clearence from the Ministry of Culture and Information. "The UAE must be complimented for allowing the film to be screened. The authorities have not only afforded a considerable amount of Chiristian expatriates an opportunity to see the film, but have also recognised artistic freedom.... Christians, as well as people of other faiths, can choose to see the film or ignore it. Still, as scholars and reviewers have pointed out, the film is so close to the human condition in its depiction of betrayal, greed, falsehood, forgiveness and love" an editorial in Gulf News, Dubai read.

Differing opinions about the film's release in the UAE  were expressed to Gulf News during interviews in the pluralistic city. A number of people agreed that "Dubai is the right place for such a movie to be aired because it's a multicultural and multi-religious community," as stated by American student AllisonWeavor, who hoped that none of the movie's violent scenes would be censored. Yet Ayla Tosun from Turkey wonders if the movie would be better  seen at a later date, "Dubai is of course the place to host such a movie, but I don't think it's the right time."

Ahmed Mohammed Saif, a UAE national student is opposed to the movie's presence at all in his part of the world, saying that "prophets should never be personified" in such a way as in "The Passion" where Christ can be physically seen and heard. "I do believe and respect freedom of expression. Yet movies that tackle religious issues or personalities mustn't be directed like this film. I call on authorities to prevent the movie theatres from airing the film" he stated.

In Saudi Arabia, where expression of any religion other than Islam is forbidden, pirated copies of the film on DVD have been "selling like hotcakes" on the black market, being bought from street vendors who had underestimated the demand for the illegal versions of the controversial film, according to Arab News. "My customers don't like subtitled movies, but they are buying this one," an anonymous vendor representative stated.

Among Middle Eastern leaders who have seen the film, Yasser Arafat commented that the drama was "historic and impressive",  though one of his closest aides, Nabil Abu Rudeneh, related his personal thoughts that, "The Palestinians are still daily exposed to the kind of pain Jesus was exposed to during his crucifixion."

Three other Gulf states are still reviewing the film for possible release.

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See also
Islam and Jesus: almost a "love affair" (profile)
"Issa's" (Jesus's) crucifix fascinates today's Islamic intellectuals
After seeing "The Passion" Muslims start searching for the Gospel
"The Passion of the Christ" for Christians-only viewing
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