October 10, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 2074

Iranian Film Calling Sadat Traitor Strains Egypt-Iran Relations

October 10, 2008
Iran, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 2074

In recent months, the Egyptian media has been intensely occupied with an Iranian documentary titled "The Assassination of a Pharaoh," which the Egyptians claim defaces and insults the memory of their late president Anwar Sadat by portraying him as an agent of the U.S. and Israel and by glorifying his assassins. The film has further strained Egypt-Iran relations, which have been unsatisfactory, and in fact nearly suspended, for many years. [1]

Egyptian officials condemned the film, saying that the Iranian regime was behind it. Egyptian Prime Minister Dr. Ahmad Nazif said that the film was "deeply hurtful to Egypt, though the Iranian regime denied any connection to it," and added that "Iran-Egypt relations were neither good nor stable." [2] The film was also denounced by the Egyptian parliament and by Al-Azhar.An official parliamentary statement called the film "a flagrant insult to an Egyptian hero" that "contravened both the precepts of Islam and the most basic principles of diplomacy." [3] The Al-Azhar Academy of Islamic Research, headed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, announced that the film reflected "the stupid behavior of the deviant group that produced it, and was a hideous violation of the principles and norms of Islam," and called to "burn [this] impudent and stupid film, which offends every Egyptian citizen." [4]

In protest against the film, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit canceled his plans to participate in the meeting of Non-Aligned Movement foreign ministers in Tehran in late July 2008, sending an aide instead. [5] In addition, Egypt's football federation canceled a match with Iran, [6] and the Egyptian police raided the offices of the Iranian satellite TV channel Al-'Alam in Cairo and seized equipment, claiming that the channel was operating without a license. [7]

Muhammad Hassan Al-Alfi, editor of the Egyptian National Democratic Party paper Al-Watani Al-Yawm and member of the party's information committee, told the Al-Arabiya website that he intended to retaliate by producing a film titled "Khomeini - Imam of Blood." He added that he had already begun writing the script, which he said would show how Sadat's assassins were influenced by the extremist ideology of the founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. [8]

Responding to the Egyptian outcry, the Iranian government and foreign ministry denied any connection to the film, saying it had been produced by an independent civilian Iranian organization called The World Islamic Organization for Remembering the Shahids. [9]

It should be mentioned that over the past few months, Iran has made attempts to renew diplomatic relations with Egypt. [10]

Following are some details about the film "Assassination of a Pharaoh," and excerpts from reactions by Egyptian columnists and by Iranian officials and journalists.

The Film is Based on an Al-Jazeera Documentary

An investigation has revealed that the film is based on an Al-Jazeera documentary that aired two years ago, and that The World Islamic Organization for Remembering the Shahids copied the film, deleted the parts that conflicted with its worldview, added Persian subtitles, and replaced the Al-Jazeera logo with its own. [11]

When these facts were made known, Al-Jazeera hastened to clarify that the Iranian organization had stolen the film, and that the channel had not cooperated with it in any way. Al-Jazeera stressed that the original film included segments that are missing from the Iranian version - such as a five-minute sequence in which senior members of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, the organization responsible for Sadat's assassination, express regret for their deed and call it a grave mistake.

A viewing of the Iranian version of the film shows that, despite the editing, it does not take a definite stand, and does not glorify either Sadat's assassins or the act of assassination. The claim that it presents Sadat as a traitor or agent is exaggerated; the film's first section depicts him as a "controversial" figure, whom "some saw as a hero and others as a corrupt dictator, traitor and agent."

Egyptian Columnists Condemn "Depravity of the Iranian Ayatollahs"; Express Skepticism at Claim that Regime Had No Part in Film's Production

Columnist Ibrahim Sa'ada wrote in the Egyptian government paper Al-Akhbar: "The Iranian film... reveals the depravity of the Iranian ayatollahs... Can anyone believe that the Iranian regime, which tells every citizen when to breathe and when to stop breathing, really knew nothing about this film, and that a 'group of people' [simply] decided to produce a film against the late Egyptian president and to glorify [the assassin Khaled] Islambouli and his gang, calling them 'innocent and kind-hearted martyrs'?!

"The Iranian ayatollahs, heirs of Khomeini, who have cut out the tongue, chopped off the hand, wrung the neck, and slashed the veins of every oppositionist... - [does anyone believe] that they let a 'group of people' write a script for a documentary, shoot it, produce it and air it [without their consent]?..." [12]

Columnist Makram Muhammad Ahmad, head of the Egyptian Journalists Association, wrote in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram: "I do not understand what motivates the ayatollahs of Iran to attack Egypt, which opposes the [Western] war on Iran and the interference in its domestic affairs, and which supports Iran's right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes...

"How would the heads of the Iranian regime feel if the Egyptians set up a statue of the [late] Iranian Shah in a Cairo square...?" [13]

Iranian Reactions

In an attempt to calm the situation during the early stages of the crisis, a senior Iranian official said that the film had never been aired on Iran's national TV channels, that there was no intention to air it in the future, that it was [merely] a documentary, and that no known actors appeared in it. He added that in light of these facts, Egypt's intense reaction to the film was puzzling, and that it was sad that there were some in both Iran and Egypt who did not wish for rapprochement between the two countries. [14]

Karim 'Azizi, a media advisor at the Iranian Interest Section in Cairo, said that the crisis generated by the film was over, since it had been proven that the Iranian regime was not behind the film. [15]

Iranian Columnist: "There Isn't the Smallest Glimmer of Hope" for Renewed Iran-Egypt Relations

Hassan Hanizadeh, international relations expert and columnist for the conservative Iranian news agency Mehr, wrote in response to the crisis generated by the film: "The fuss created by the Egyptian media [over the film] reveals the depth of the chasm between the policy of Egypt and that of Iran, as well as the attitudes prevailing in each society...

"In Egypt, it has reached to the point where the Egyptian security apparatuses have asked the Al-Azhar [scholars] to prepare a plan for confronting the spread of Shi'ism, [16] because the Egyptian government and its security apparatuses fear the civilized and open Shi'ite school.

"It is this that prompted these security apparatuses to warn Egypt's decision-makers against establishing [diplomatic relations] with Iran - because [such relations] will ultimately allow Shi'ism to enter Egypt, and ongoing ties between the Iranian and Egyptian peoples may prompt the Egyptians to embrace it...

"Renewed diplomatic relations between Iran and Egypt, which is being discussed in [diplomatic] circles in both countries, will be difficult to achieve in light of the [conduct of] the current Egyptian government. In these [circumstances], the Iranian people is [also] not keen to renew relations, since it knows how fragile the situation is, and how much the Egyptian people suffer under the pharaoh-like dictatorship [in Egypt].

"In light of this, there isn't even the smallest glimmer of hope for the future of the relations between Iran and Egypt." [17]

[1] Iran-Egypt relations were effectively severed in 1981, by the founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to protest against Egypt's peace agreement with Israel, and following Egypt's granting of political asylum to the deposed Shah.

[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 1, 2008.

[3] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), July 11, 2008.

[4] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), July 15, 2008.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 25, 2008.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 20, 2008.

[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 21, 2008; Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), July 27, 2008.

[8], July 14, 2008.

[9] Al-Misriyoun (Egypt), July 9, 2008. For more on the World Islamic Organization for Remembering the Shahids, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 439, "Iranian Women's Magazine Shut Down for Publishing Investigative Article on Martyrdom Movement," May 22, 2008, Iranian Women's Magazine Shut Down for Publishing Investigative Article on Martyrdom Movement.

[10] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 426, "Iran's Attempts to Renew Relations with Egypt," March 12, 2008, Iran's Attempts to Renew Relations with Egypt.

[11] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 5, 2008.

[12] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), July 9, 2008.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 9, 2008.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 9, 2008.

[15] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 8, 2008.

[16] On July 3, 2008, Al-Masri Al-Yawm revealed that Egypt's interior minister had invited Al-Azhar scholars to speak to security apparatus officers on "Shi'ism and its plan to infiltrate Sunni countries." One scholar said that he had been approached "following the infiltration of thousands of Shi'ites into the October Sixth district, and the attempts by Shi'ites to infiltrate Egypt's Sunni society."

[17], July 13, 2008.

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