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Saturday, August 28, 1999 Published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK

World: Middle East

Zippergate inspires Egyptian sex comedy

By Barbara Plett in Cairo

An Egyptian play is using the United States' recent presidential sex scandal to comment on the nature of relations between men and women.

Kemal and the Blue Dress is a comedy satire on the semen-stained dress that shot to world fame during the investigation into US President Bill Clinton's affair with the White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The play is about a married psychiatrist, Kemal, who has an affair with his seductive assistant, Monica. After their tryst she proclaims her love and comes to his house to beg him to marry her, but he refuses. Then she drops a bombshell.

She tells Kemal he has left a stain on her blue dress and uses it to accuse him of rape.

The events and characters are different, but the story has clear references to the sex scandal that shook the White House last year, in particular the famously stained dress that testified to the president's affair with his intern.

Universal theme

The playwright Faisal Nada said he wanted to show that the American scandal had a universal theme - that is, since the beginning of time men have not been able to resist women who try to seduce them.

Mr Nada says the blue dress is supposed to symbolise the apple which Eve gave to Adam in the Biblical creation story.

The dress, or apple, was the vehicle of temptation and Kemal, like Adam - and Bill Clinton - suffered for giving in.

The playwright said he was not making a moral judgement about who was to blame, but the play clearly presented men as victims too weak to stand up to the wiles of women.

And Kemal's female patients were all declared to be suffering from psychoses when they were called to testify about sexual harassment.

In the end, the comedy reflected less a universal theme, than attitudes in Egypt's conservative society. It tolerates some sexual promiscuity from men, but none from women.

Breaching a taboo

The actor who played Kemal, Yehya al-Fakharani, said he just welcomed the chance to talk openly about the senstive matter of sex - and thanked Mr Clinton for creating the opportunity.

" We couldn't deal with it except after Clinton and Monica," he said.

The US Embassy has not commented on the play, but a political dimension did emerge early on.

Mr Nada confirmed that Egyptian censors had told him to change his original title, which referred more directly to the presidential scandal. They said they wanted to protect Egyptian-US relations.

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