Who Owns the Rights to the Life of Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat?

A new series about the slain president promises to supply plenty of headlines.

Every year, the conclusion of the Muslim holidays - Ramadan, Eid el-Fitr, the pilgrimage to Mecca and Id al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) - marks the start of a season of TV creativity. There has to be a choice of series that will entertain TV viewers during the peak season that kicks off at the beginning of Ramadan and continues for 30 days. This is also a time of scandals and deals: Producers hunt for cheap actors, script writers look for producers, and TV channels chase after exclusive rights.

This year, a new series about late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat promises to supply most of the headlines. In fact, we are already seeing headlines. Roqeya Sadat, the daughter of the former president, who was assassinated by an extremist in 1981, is suing the producer of the series and the script writer, Anis al-Deghaidi, for failing to ask permission from the family to broadcast the series. She claims in the suit that the producers and script writer are obliged to receive not only the approval of the censor to show the film but in this case also the family's agreement, since the reference is not merely to a public figure but to a private person.

The trial, which is due to open at the beginning of January, is already causing a sensation. The central issue to be debated is to whom does the life of a public figure "belong" and who has the right to the royalties from this series. This is a weighty question since the series will have 60 parts and will involve huge sums of money. The figure of Sadat will be played by Nicolas Cage, who has already signed a contract with the producers in which he will be paid $40 million.

Incidentally, the actual producer who prefers at this stage to remain anonymous, stated by way of his representative, Egyptian producer Okasha, that he had wanted Will Smith to play the lead role "because of the similarity in skin color of the hero and the actor." However, Smith stated that "he wants to rest from portraying public figures" according to the producer. Then the choice fell to Cage, who is "the hero of the producer's dreams." Cage will also be able to choose the chief director of the series who will work with director Yussef Sharaf al-Din, who has directed a large number of Lebanese and Egyptian films.

Because of the high sum being paid to Cage, this is likely to be the most expensive Arab series ever produced and its cost is expected to reach between $60 million and $ 80 million. It is still not a certainty that the series will be sufficiently profitable to cover these high costs but, according to reports in the Egyptian press, the first consideration is the prestige that the series will bring to the production company. The intention is to produce it in two versions - one in Arabic and the other in English.

The major problem, meanwhile, is the script and the script writer. Anis al-Deghaidi has earned the reputation of a sensationalist writer, who inter alia wrote a book about Saddam Hussein in which he claimed that Saddam was never caught and that it was his double who was executed in Iraq.

Another book of his supposedly documents all members of President George Bush's White House staff and the way in which they influenced his policies. Recently he published a book about the Lebanese actress and singer Suzanne Tamim, who was apparently murdered by Egyptian businessman Hisham Talaat.

In newspaper interviews he gave after hearing about the suit, al-Daghaidi said that Sadat was a public figure who belongs to all the Egyptian people and that his family does not have a monopoly over his life. Therefore he does not intend to request the family's approval. He added that he has the recordings of six telephone calls with Roqeya Sadat in which she begs him to write a series about her father because "he loves her father so much and defended him in his many writings against his rivals."

What is no less interesting is the actual life of Sadat which has already been portrayed in another Egyptian film when the late actor Ahmed Zaki playing the hero.

However. "the hero of war and peace," as Sadat is called, is not a very popular figure among the Egyptian public, and in particular the youth of Egypt.

A year ago the Egyptian newspaper Rose el-Youssef ran a survey among Egyptian youth to glean what their fields of interest were. The 500 participants in the survey were asked, among other things, which figures they viewed as Egyptain national heroes. Gamal Abdel Nasser won seven percent of the vote in this survey while Sadat got only 5.7 percent. President Hosni Mubarak was not on the list.