| Medical student Shaimaa Yaaqub outside Basra University’s School of Medicine without a hijab or veil. A number of female students in Basra have been harassed by Muslim radicals for not wearing the veil. (AFP)
Basra, May 28 (Reuters): Just 11 people came to watch the matinee at Basra’s dingy al-Rashid cinema when it reopened this week after a 16-day closure. The reason' Not enough sex.
“We don’t dare show any romance movies, only action,” said 40-year-old cinema manager Mohammed Hazim, puffing a cigarette in his office surrounded by fading posters of women in their underwear advertising long-forgotten soft porn films.
“Nobody wants to see action. They all want romance. Usually 300 people would be here. It’s a disaster.”
Basra’s three cinemas closed their doors earlier this month after several visits by serious young men on motorbikes who told them that if they showed “sinful” movies they would be burned to the ground.
This week they tentatively reopened, showing old Arabic films and American action movies.
“Romance” — the Basra euphemism for films showing as much naked female flesh as possible — was strictly off the agenda.
“We can’t even show people kissing,” Hazim said.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Shia clerics have become the most powerful political players in southern Iraq. Many want to impose strict moral regulations on the region similar to the austere religious rules of Iran.
Christian alcohol merchants have been told to end their trade, and two were shot dead in their shops earlier this month.
“Before we could show what we liked,” said Hazim. “Under Saddam, some scenes were forbidden, but we just bribed the right officials and we were able to show them.”
Going to the movies was never a family pastime in Basra over the last decade. Young men queued up to watch soft porn films in the cavernous cinemas, and pickpockets armed with razors lurked in the darkness among the often boisterous crowd.
“Women would never come to the cinema,” said local schoolteacher Abdul Razak. “They could be robbed, or worse.”
At the nearby Atlas Cinema, a comedian with a loud hailer has been hired to stand outside and drum up business with florid descriptions of the Sylvester Stallone movie on show.
But fewer than 50 people have turned up, compared to the usual crowd of 500. An elderly bearded beggar sitting by the ticket booth for hours has had slim pickings.
Cinema manager Hashim Mohammed Ali, who started work at the Atlas as a projectionist in the 1960s, says business has never been this bad, even in wartime.
“We just want security so that people can watch what they want to watch,” he said. “But we are afraid.”
BBC dead soldiers’ footage
Britain’s BBC television said today it would broadcast footage of the bodies of two British soldiers killed in Iraq, defying government requests not to show the images.
Film of the corpses of staff sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, and sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, lying on a road in southern Iraq, will feature in a programme on Sunday.
The soldiers’ families are furious at the decision and, with the support of the ministry of defence (MoD), have asked the publicly funded BBC not to air the clip which was originally shown on the Arab news channel al Jazeera.
“We have requested that the footage of the two dead soldiers be taken out, which is our wish and more importantly, the wish of the families,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
But the BBC insisted it would not allow the government to censor its coverage.
The programme, part of the Correspondent series, deals with differences in war coverage in the Arab world and the West.
“In the context of the programme, we believe the short clip being shown -- with footage of the soldiers heavily disguised -- is in the public interest,” a BBC spokeswoman said.
The images were shown on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera in March after the soldiers' bodies were discovered near Basra following an ambush on their vehicle.
Even though the soldiers' faces will be disguised in the BBC clip, which lasts a few seconds, the MoD said it was still unacceptable because it would upset the families.
Cullingworth's widow Alison, who has written to Prime Minister Tony Blair to get his support, said she was horrified images of her husband's body would be broadcast.