November 8, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 109

Arab Press Debates Antisemitic Egyptian Series 'A Knight Without a Horse'

November 8, 2002
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 109
On November 6th, 2002, some Arab television channels aired the first segment of a 41-part serial called "A Knight Without a Horse," which is based on 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'

The series was slated for broadcast on Egyptian state television, the Egyptian "Dream" channel, Iraqi state television and Hizbullah's Al-Manar channel.[1][2]

The series, which was produced by Muhammad Subhi (who also plays the lead role), was slated for broadcast last Ramadan but was not completed in time, and is therefore being aired this year. The series sparked protests in the West, with the U.S. State Department calling on the Egyptian government to prevent the broadcast - a demand that was rejected out of hand by Egyptian Information Minister Safwat Al-Sharif. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that the minister reached his decision after viewing all the episodes having to do with the Protocols[3].

The series aroused much debate in the Egyptian and Arab press. Most writers supported the airing of the series, but a few criticized Egypt's obsession with antisemitic writings.

The series was viewed and approved for broadcast by a committee appointed by the Egyptian Censor. A committee from the Egyptian Radio and Television Association declared the series "a landmark in the history of Arab drama." The Egyptian Information Minister stated that "the dramatic views expressed by the series contain nothing that can be considered antisemitic."

Columnist Mark Sayegh: What if Israel had Done the Same Thing?
Mark Sayegh, a journalist opposed to the series' broadcast, found an unusual way to express his protest in his weekly column in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat. In his article, titled "The Protocols of the Arab Elders: Enough, Egypt… Enough," Sayegh presented a reverse scenario - that is, Israeli television airing a program based on the "Arab conspiracy" to take over the world: "In an atmosphere of secrecy, Israeli television began producing a series to air on Israel Television and some American channels during the coming month of Yom Kippur [sic]. The content of this series was worrisome. The program's script writer claimed that Jews from Aleppo had given him a document that no one had ever heard of before… [it said that] during the 1920s, after the fall of the Arab kingdom and the shattering of the dream of Arab unity, a meeting of representatives from all the Arabic speaking regions was held in Aleppo, in response to the cruel imperialistic attack to examine how to regain Arab control of the world…"

"…According to the Israeli series, within 80 years, the Arabs succeeded in encouraging emigration and forcing themselves on European society, while placing ministers into the French governments and members of parliament in the other European countries, and forcing countries such as France to respect Arab sentiment and adopt an Arab policy…"

"The Lebanese representative sent to the Aleppo meeting was a farmer, because the Lebanese elite at that time was preoccupied with Francophone matters.[4] The Lebanese farmer from the Biqa' Valley said, in a natural manner, that he was planning to uproot fruit trees and plant hashish, and then flood the markets of the Zionist entity and the colonialist countries with the hashish, so as to subdue them to the Arab will at a later stage…"

"Naturally, an argument broke out in Israeli cultural circles about the authenticity of this 'document' and the racism of its allegations. Many among the Aleppo Jewish community doubted its authenticity. But the Israeli professor 'Mustahiq Mabdai' summed up the debate by saying: 'I do not know whether this document is an invention or an authentic one, but I do know that the Arab leaders tried to carry out most of its parts.'"

"Obviously, this story is no more than the imaginary," wrote Mark Sayegh. "The Israeli intellectuals and artists, who reached a maximum level of violating the rights of the Palestinian people, did not reach (and who is capable of reaching?) the level of idiocy of some of our own intellectuals and artists. Next week, during the month of Ramadan, Egyptian television will begin airing the program 'A Knight Without a Horse,' which is based on the historic forged book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion… The historic truth does not interest some in the Arab and Egyptian 'elite.' For example, instead of demanding that their government cancel the peace agreement with Israel - the agreement that has been carried out successfully for a quarter of a century - some Cairo artists turn to drums, microphones, and media idiocy that exacerbate the Palestinians' situation."

"The series' protagonist, Muhammad Subhi, hastened to clarify that 'the dramatic treatment of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is artistic'! Artistic, just like the 'I Hate Israel' symphony, by ironing stand owner Ludwig Sha'aban.[5] Enough, Egypt… enough."[6]

Columnist Ibrahim Al-Arabi: The Arab and Islamic Public is Stuck in the 19th Century
Writing in Al-Hayat's movie column, Ibrahim Al-Arabi also opposed the airing of the series: "… By means of the series, the art of Arab television managed to place itself at the heart of a lengthy debate, going back over 150 years, about the book, which today is known with certainty to be a 'fabrication' by the Russian Czar's secret police aimed at justifying attacks on the Russian Jews. This book always served fascist, racist, and antisemitic regimes, for stepping up persecution of the Jews - with a more disastrous result for the Arabs than for the Jews, as it turned into a political and historic argument supporting the idea of a 'national homeland for the Jews' and the establishment of [the State of] Israel…"

"For months, people with awareness in Egypt have been talking about this project. Some say that the main support for Muhammad Subhi's project came from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein personally - as if the damage he has caused the Arabs was not sufficient and he is now setting a trap for Egypt, its artists, and its reputation in the world…"[7]

Egyptian Government Press: The Series is Based on "Legitimate History"
The Egyptian press endorsed the opposite approach. The editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar, Galal Duweidar, wrote: "In our belief in democracy, which is based on the values and principles of freedom, we must oppose the barbaric attack to which Egyptian and Arab art is subject… Under cover of deceit and deception, the new Zionists deny, as did their fathers and grandfathers [before them], the principles calling for freedom of expression when they conflict with their own goals and conspiracies. This is nothing unusual when speaking of them [the Jews], because they even denied what is said in the [Islamic] holy scriptures!!…"

"Thomas Friedman, the Zionist agent with the Israeli identity and the American citizenship, continued his hostile, filthy attack against Egypt and on behalf of the goals of the aggressive Israel, with his condemnation, in a New York Times article, of Egyptian Television's intent to air this series during the month of Ramadan. [He] claim[ed] that it focuses on a Zionist plot to take over Arab land -which is a fact. He attacked the program, but ignored the fact that at issue was scientific literature based on legitimate history. He continued by accusing the Egyptian leadership of disseminating hatred against the Jews... This despicable Friedman did not find a weapon to wave in the face of Egyptian and Arab thought except the weapon of extortion and terror based on the charge of antisemitism…"[8]

Al-Akhbar columnist Sanaa Fath Allah was angry that "the American Congress did not oppose the play Mama America [a 1993 Muhammad Subhi play against American rule and hegemony in the world, in which the Statue of Liberty is smashed] but is now opposed [to the 'A Knight Without a Horse' series] because [it focuses] on the history of the Jews…"

Fath Allah praised Subhi and expressed her hopes that the Jihad would continue in every possible way. In her words, "We need an artist like Subhi… Blessings on the 'eye-opening' series."[9]

Interviews with the Series Producer
In an interview producer Muhammad Subhi told the Egyptian opposition weekly Al-Usbou': "The series tells part of our history in the Arab region, and what the Jews did… This work is unconnected to the Jewish religion and it does not encourage bloodshed and killing. The truth is that the series condemns terror… My message to the world is that the Islamic religion prohibits killing innocents, women, and children, but does not prevent us from waging Jihad and fighting to regain the land…"[10]

In an interview with the Egyptian government daily Al Gumhouriya, Subhi added, "The series has no connection to semitism, and it does not concern any religion. The censorship committees viewed it more than once, and approved it; they even praised it, which is happening for the first time in 20 years. I do not know why they fear a series from which the censor did not delete a single scene… If they claim that the series is antisemitic and supports terror… what is their response to the clerics among them who curse Islam?"[11]

After his return from Baghdad, where he had gone to observe the referendum in which Iraqi president Saddam Hussein won 100% of the votes, Subhi said he was "not interested in Israel's protests, and unaffected by their hysterical screams… because I am exposing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and see them as the basis of Zionism. I found that the memoirs of Hafez Najib [on which the series is based] are fertile ground for a work that will expose these protocols… They [the Jews] cannot accept any criticism, especially if it is from an Arab. They realize that discussion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion will expose their true racist face, their expansionist intentions, and their objection to any peace."[12]

The Palestinians: Watching the Program is a Pan-Arab Duty
There was criticism of the series in Palestinian circles, but it focused on how the Arab media provided the Arab regimes with a way to pretend to support the Palestinian struggle while in fact doing something. The editor of the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Hafez Al-Barghouti, wrote: "… The series came as an attempt to anesthetize, or to sigh in relief, because the repressed Arab citizen, prohibited from expressing solidarity with the slaughtered Palestinians, will feel that he is fulfilling his pan-Arab duty by sacrificing an hour a day to watching the small screen, and can relax because his turn has not yet come to be slaughtered, according to Washington's time - and that of its Arab suburbs, the Arab capitals are [also] in line for slaughter…"[13]

The Airing of the First Episode
The series began airing on November 6th. Episode one begins with a recollection of the Palestinian/Arab defeat in 1948 by the "Children of Zion, who took it [the land] with treachery." The explanation, says the narration, lies in the past. It begins with the story of a kidnapping of a 5 year-old child in Cairo in 1855 by the Turkish pasha, who keeps the boy in his home despite his wife's and daughter's objections [since his wife gave birth only to girls]. The kidnapped boy, Hafez Nagib, is the person on whose later memoirs the series is based.

[1] According to the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, six other Arab countries decided not to broadcast the series as planned, so as to avoid disrupting relations with the U.S. Ramadan TV Special: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 3, 2002.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 1, 2002.

[4] A mocking reference to the 2002 Francophone countries summit held in Beirut.

[5] A mocking reference to Egyptian singer Sha'aban Abd Al-Rahim, who wrote the popular Egyptian song "I Hate Israel, I Love Amr Moussa."

[6] Al-Hayat (London), November 3, 2002.

[7] Al-Hayat (London), November 1, 2002.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), November 3, 2002.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), November 4, 2002.

[10] Al-Usbou' (Egypt), November 4, 2002.

[11] Al-Gumhouriya (Egypt), November 2, 2002.

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 1, 2002.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), November 3, 2002.

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