Film Highlighting Plight of Divorced Christian Woman Sparks Row in Egypt

A movie that recently debuted in Egypt has stirred up considerable outrage and criticism from many within the country's small Christian population.

The protests over "Wahed-Sefr," or "One-Zero," stems from the movie's inclusion of a divorced Christian woman who struggles with the Coptic Church of Egypt for permission to remarry.

Under the national church body's laws, divorce is not allowed except in the case of adultery, annulment due to bigamy, or other extreme circumstances, which must be reviewed by a special council of bishops.

Though the divorced Christian woman is only one of eight main characters presented in the movie, which captures one full day of each, critics say "One-Zero" sends the wrong message to the people of Egypt, most of whom rarely see Christians in the media.

In the movie, the Christian woman's lawyer says after years of struggling she only has two options if she wants to remarry – sue the Church or convert to Islam, both of which she rejects as impossible.

"Christians and their issues are hardly discussed in the Egyptian media in general," noted Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association.

"[W]e fear that focusing on these negative issues when you first introduce the masses of the Muslim populations in Egypt to the Coptic people and their problems will definitely send the wrong message," he told The Christian Post.

Lawyer Najib Gabriel, meanwhile, told BBC that he believed the film was "a message to the Church to amend the Holy Book, which is unimaginable, or to encourage the 4,000 divorced Coptic women in Egypt to rebel against the Coptic Pope."

Pope Shenouda III, who serves as head of the Egyptian Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the largest Christian church in Egypt, has tightened restrictions on divorce since his papacy began in 1971, leading many Christian women to change their denomination in order to get divorced and remarry.

According to Coptic human rights activist Naguib Mekhail, several thousand Coptic women face the same dilemma presented in the movie, the script of which was written by a Christian screenwriter, Mariam Naoum.

The filmmakers, however, deny that the work hurts the image of Christianity and say that it simply presents a very realistic scenario that many Christian women encounter.

"I just wanted to speak about this problem, because I have some friends who have this same problem," Director Kamla Abou Zekry told NPR.

Similarly, moviegoers say the plight of the Christian woman in the film simply illustrated a relatively common problem.

"I have a friend who had been into this before," shared Rehab Ragaee, an Egyptian Muslim in Cairo, in her blog after seeing the "One-Zero."

"[T]he movie simply puts some light on an existing problem, without giving any solution to it, and without being disgraceful to the Christianity as a religion by any means," she added.

Ahead of the film's Apr. 1 release, a number of Christian lawyers in Egypt had pushed unsuccessfully for a ban, filing a complaint to Prime Minister Ahmad Nadeef and Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni.

The title of the film is inspired by Egypt's 1-0 victory over Cameroon in the final match of the 2008 African Cup of Nations, the continent's most prestigious soccer tournament.