- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

CAIRO | When it seemed that all was going smoothly on the Cairo-Tehran diplomatic front and full relations were not far off after a near 30-year hiatus, out comes a movie in Iran praising the assassins of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that throws the two governments into a bitter row.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak summoned a senior Iranian diplomat in Cairo to explain the reason for the film, titled “Assassination of a Pharaoh,” after it was shown on Iranian national television.

The movie, which praises the assassins, has embroiled Egyptian sentiments that long have been festering after Iran blatantly named a street after Mr. Sadat’s killer.

Tehran backed off then by ending its glorification of Mr. Sadat’s assassin, whom many in Iran see as a hero because of Mr. Sadat’s peace deal with Israel.

The movie, however, has torn off the bandages of decades of wounds between the two nations.

Some think Iran will suffer from the renewed animosity more than Egypt.

“It is obvious that this will definitely be worse for Iran, because Iranians are the ones who mostly want to have political relations with Egypt. This simply gives Egyptians another reason to hate Iranians,” said Joseph Fahim, Egypt’s Daily News arts and culture editor.

The countries have not had full diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, when Mr. Sadat hosted the deposed Shah of Iran in Egypt as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power.

Egypt’s parliament has entered the fray, issuing a strong condemnation to Iran over the movie.

“Iran’s production of a film that insults the late Egyptian leader is ridiculous behavior that harms the long history of relations between Egypt and Iran,” says a statement from the parliament’s foreign relations committee.

The statement adds that “glorifying the assassins of Sadat contradicts” Islamic teaching and “violates all human ethics and diplomatic norms.”

Meanwhile, Egypt’s leading Sunni institution, al-Azhar, slammed the Iranian film as a heinous violation of Islamic rules and values. After an emergency meeting, its Islamic Research Academy called for “burning such a ridiculous film, which affronts all Egyptians.”

The academy criticized what it described as a “hypocritical group” for producing a film that insults Mr. Sadat and glorifies his assassins.

The academy cited Mr. Sadat’s hosting of the former Iranian shah during his illness and his subsequent visit to Israel in order to realize peace “as proofs of Sadat’s wisdom and bravery, not treachery as the film claims.”

Many Iranians view Mr. Sadat as a traitor for making peace with the Jewish state in 1979. Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a treaty with Israel, and it likely cost the Egyptian president his life.

Despite so much diplomatic controversy over the film, the average Egyptian is paying little attention to power politics.

An Egyptian man who runs a pirated film stand in Cairo boasting hundreds of titles from around the globe said he had not heard of the film.

“I don’t know this film. Who made it?” he asked when approached for a copy.

Mr. Fahim thinks the controversy will remain within the confines of diplomatic circles and is unlikely to spill into the larger population. He noted that the majority of coverage was in the Western press and in Egypt’s state-run newspapers, which predictably rehash the government line on the affairs of state.

“Culturally, I doubt it will affect average people on both sides. And here in Egypt, even fewer will care about the film,” Mr. Fahim said.

“Egyptian intellectuals will be able to understand that it is simply a film, because we know and understand how many restrictions there are in Iran,” he said. “So, they will see it as an attempt by Tehran to put forward sentiments, but it shouldn’t change how ordinary Egyptians and Iranians interact.”

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