Out of Character for Egyptian TV

There's something different about Egypt's new television series `Agent 1001' - some of the Jews are portrayed as peace-loving people.

The death of Musa, a young Jew from the city of Tanta in northern Egypt, gives the Egyptian intelligence services an opportunity to plant a spy in Israel. Musa had planned to travel to Israel, and his waiting relatives don't know exactly what he looks like. The adventures of the spy who is sent in his place are related in the new Egyptian TV series "Agent 1001," which is now being filmed in Taba, and will be screened in the fall, during the nights of Ramadan.

The young actor Mustafa Shaaban plays Musa, who undergoes a long journey until he reaches Israel to carry out his intelligence mission. Rozan Mughrabi, a Lebanese broadcaster who became an actress, plays the young Greek woman who helps him to enter Israel. Lebanese actress Nour is the Israeli student who is his guide to the local political scene.

But this time there's something new. Not only in the cast of famous actors that enhances the series, but in the portrayal of some of the Israelis. No longer evil characters whose only goal is to harm Arabs, to occupy their land or to try to get their money, but good Jews as well. For example, the Jewish student who explains to Musa that she despises the extremist Jews and their acts against the Arabs. Some of the characters in the film are peace-loving Israelis who are opposed to Zionism, and Egyptian TV critics point this out.

There are of course bad Jews as well. For example, Egyptian actress Rahim Abd al-Ghafur plays an Egyptian Jewish woman from Alexandria who rebels against the accepted lifestyle and tries to entice a young Egyptian man to work for the Mossad.

The series begins in 1967, with the speech of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who announces his intention of retiring in the wake of the harsh defeat in the war against Israel, and ends in 1973. It is apparently based on the true story of General Mohammed Abd al-Ghafur - at least that's what Egyptian writer Dr. Nabil Farouk, who adapted the story into a screenplay, wants people to believe.

A story in himself

Farouk is a story in himself. He is a doctor and a surgeon, who worked in the profession until 1984, when he came across an advertisement inviting science fiction writers to participate in a writing competition. Farouk sent the story "Rays of Death" and won first prize from among 160 participants. At the age of 30 he was already a famous science fiction writer in the Arab world.

Farouk has published over 500 books and stories, but the Egyptian Writers Union has refused to accept him into its ranks, because he is not considered a "real" writer, although one of his books, "The Man Who Did the Impossible," describes an Egyptian intelligence operative who has been blessed with outstanding talents that help the nation.

For years no spy series have been produced in Egypt. The television industry there turned to other genres: historical series, or family-social comedies. Therefore, the decision to produce a series such as this one surprised Egyptian television critics, who wanted to know the source of the decision.

Actor Riad al-Khouli, who plays an Egyptian intelligence officer in the series, tried to explain. In an interview to the newspaper Al Wafed, Khouli explained that "works of this kind create a strong echo in the heart of the Egyptian spectator. The citizen is always excited by a work that demonstrates power and strength, and emphasizes the Egyptian's loyalty when confronting the dangers threatening him or the country ... These works are like military operations, and there is a constant need to present them, in order to emphasize the national roles carried out by people who are among the most loyal and noble of Egyptian citizens."

Who wants to play a traitor

Even the scriptwriter Nabil Farouk believes the heroes of series that work for the sake of "one Arabic dream, and against the one enemy who threatens all of us" arouse a positive response among the readers or the spectators. The audience's identification with the plot, and even more so with the actors - to the point where actors are afraid to play certain roles for fear that they will be identified with the character they are playing - has also caused this series several problems.

For example, at first, Jamal Abd al-Hamid was chosen to direct the series, but he discovered that actresses Hind Sabri and Nour were not happy with their roles, because these roles portray them as traitors. After several additional demands on the part of the actresses, Abd al-Hamid wanted to fire them from the series. That was already an impossible demand, first of all because they are important actresses who are allowed to dictate the type of role they will get, and second, because the producers had already signed a contract with them, and paid them an advance. Abd al-Hamid therefore decided to quit as director, and is being replaced by the Egyptian producer Shirin Adel.

The famous actors who are participating in the series, and the filming that is being done in Taba, Cyprus and Italy, guarantee the series will be one of the most expensive ever produced in Egypt. Apparently the Egyptian producers learned their lesson from last year's Ramadan series, which are making a lot of money for their investors. Last year, the series that were produced in Syria and in the Gulf states managed to sideline the Egyptian series. This time, there will be stiff competition: Syria is also planning to produce several new series, in order to compete for the money of the purchasers in the Gulf states.