Egypt's Ramadan TV Series Controversial at Home as Well as Abroad

By Hammond, Andrew | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

Egypt's Ramadan TV Series Controversial at Home as Well as Abroad


Hammond, Andrew, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


CairoCommunique

Despite calls from the U.S. State Department on Cairo and other Arab governments to ban it for alleged anti-Semitism, a controversial Egyptian TV drama was aired during the peak viewing season of the holy month of Ramadan, which began on Nov. 6. The allegations were based on the series' reference to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a text put together in 1907 by Russian agents to discredit the Czar's liberal enemies who were allied with Russia's Jewish community. The book outlines Jewish plans not only to establish a Jewish state in Palestine as Zionist congresses in Europe already had clearly announced-but to take control of the entire world. Hitler subsequently made use of the text in Nazi propaganda as proof of Jewish designs.

Produced more than a year ago by the Egyptian private satellite channel Dream TV, the program, "Horse Without a Horseman," initially was given the cold shoulder by Egypt's state-owned television-possibly because the screenplay mention of the Protocols. Word about its ambitious anti-Zionist plot and lavish costume production created a groundswell of interest in Arab countries, and some 20 Arab stations-including Egyptian state TV-bought the series. Lastminute lobbying by Washington likely was behind Moroccan TV's decision to shelve the series, even though the station bought it, because, authorities there said, "it does not involve the Moroccan history."

The series stars Mohammed Sobhi, a respected and intelligent comic actor known for his nationalism (many of his successful plays have a nationalist content).

The story takes place in Egypt following the the British occupation in 1882. Sobhi plays Hafez Naguib, the son of a Turkish noblewoman and an Egyptian fellah. Naguib goes to Paris for his extensive classical education and learns the art of disguise. He also masters a number of languages, including Russian.

Returning to Egypt, Naguib engages in guerrilla operations against the British. Because of his skill at disguises, he cleaverly avoids arrest. Sohbi's skill as a comic merges with his impersonations of different Arab nationalities and their Arabic dialects, giving the serial pan-Arab appeal.

Naguib's first encounter with the Protocols occurs in the home of a British official, where he easliy reads the Russian title. When he learns that a group of secretive aging Jews are imploring the British to remove the book from Egypt, he becomes preoccupied with discovering the secret of the Protocols.

The series' underlying theme is that Zionist plans for Palestine were available in the book and, had the Arabs only read it, they would have been able to effectively prevent the Zionist conquest of Palestine.

According to advance publicity, the 41-episode series ends where it began, with Naguib taken prisoner in 1948, having failed in his effort to mobilize people to end occupation in Palestine after successfully fighting occupation in Egypt.

At this point in the TV series, it is not known if the theme has Europe's Jews carrying out plans to control the world. After one episode in the series, viewers were invited to win a cash prize by phoning in the answer to the question, "Which Zionist Congress agreed on Palestine as the national home for the Jews-the sixth, seventh or eighth?"

The hullabaloo abroad, however, has inevitably strengthened authorities' resolve in most Arab countries to show the entire series. Egypt has seen a plethora of press conferences, seminars and TV talk shows to affirm that Egypt is against Zionism, not Judaism. "We reject intellectual terrorism," series star Sobhi has said in widely-published remarks. "I do not produce artistic works to discuss religion. I know there is a great difference between Zionism as an idea and the Jewish religion."

Interestingly, the show's first reference to the Protocols looked suspiciously like it had been added specifically to appease State Department officials monitoring the show from Washington. …

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