EXCLUSIVE: Where Noah failed, Moses is trying to get past Egyptian censors. Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings might be facing a tough fight with Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar to get approved ahead of the film’s planned December release in the Arab world’s most populous country, but help could be at hand from an unlikely ally.

egypt-flagMinister of Culture Gaber Asfour is leading the charge to ensure that the film is released in Egyptian cinemas despite objections from religious authorities. A well-respected critic and professor of Arabic literature, Asfour was appointed minister in June. He had served as Culture Minister for one week during the 2011 Egyptian revolution before resigning for health reasons.

Asfour’s support for passing Exodus is being seen as a key test of whether the minister can impose a more liberal agenda on the country’s conservative religious establishment.

“The minister wants to take the decision out of the cleric’s hands and into the people’s hands,” said one local exhibitor. “He believes people, including Egypt’s Christian population, should have the choice to see the film if they want to. It’s a question of principle, especially after Noah was banned here.”

Image (36) noah-ark__140331001138-275x183.jpg for post 705857It is generally prohibited to depict prophets and religious figures in Egyptian, and Islamic, societies. Those laws saw Darren Aronofsky’s Noah banned across large swathes of the Arab world in March. At the time, the Egypt-based Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest authority, criticized Aronofsky’s film. “Al-Azhar renews its rejection to the screening of any production that characterizes God’s prophets and messengers and the companions of the Prophet (Muhammad),” a statement from the authority read. “Therefore, Al-Azhar announces the prohibition of the upcoming film about God’s messenger Noah — peace be upon him.”

Ironically, if Exodus does get released there, Egyptians are in for a re-creation of the 10 plagues that devastated Ancient Egypt — if the epic trailer is anything to go by. Not that it’s likely to put off audiences in the country from turning out.

“We may have lost many battles, but Egyptians will never lose the war,” the exhibitor joked.