Insulting film on Sadat re-opens old Iranian-Egyptian wounds
Egypt media irate over film about leader who made peace with Israel; ties first worsened during Shah's reign.
The Al-Rifa'i Mosque, an elegant edifice in southern Cairo, first opened its doors in 1911 after 40 years of planning and construction. Not only are Egypt's dead kings buried there, but also a love story that met its tragic end - the short-lived relationship between the Egyptian royal family and the Shah of Iran, whom the ambitious King Farouk always made sure to nurture.
Last week, after the chairman of the Egyptian soccer federation, Samir Zahar, announced that "for political reasons" the friendly match between Egypt and Iran would be canceled, a new incarnation of the same, ironic story once again bubbled up to the surface.
What are the "political reasons" that forced the cancellation of the match, which was scheduled to be played on August 20? Those reasons first stemmed from the film which was produced by "The Committee for the Glorification of the Names of Martyrs from the Islamic Movement," a radical Iranian organization. The film describes the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat as a traitor who sold his soul to the West and signed a peace agreement with Israel. "34 Shots at the Pharaoh," as the film is titled, which provoked an epic firestorm in relations between Egypt and Iran.
On the face of it, this is a documentary film that chronicles the final moments of Sadat's life and counts, one by one and in slow motion, the shots fired by the Islamic radical Khaled Eslamboli.
After the assassination, Eslamboli was declared a hero in Iran. Tehran's main street was renamed in his honor, and the issue became the main bone of contention which frustrated Iran's attempts to renew full diplomatic ties with Egypt, the only Arab state which does not maintain full official representation in the Islamic Republic.
While Iran decided to officially change the name of the street, a sign bearing the assassin's name remains at the entrance to the street and a large mural of him adorns buildings on the road.
"The Hero of War and Peace" - Sadat's moniker in Egypt - is besmirched in the Iranian film, and the Egyptians are crying foul. Iran has officially distanced itself from the film. The regime claims that it was made by underground, amateur filmmakers and that it was not screened on state-run television but sold in markets and passed on from individual to individual.
The press in Egypt pounced on Iran with a ferocity not seen in many years. The Egyptian paper Ruz al-Yousef wrote that Iran is concocting the potential threats against it from Israel and the U.S. and that an attack against it is not realistic. The newspaper claims that the reason behind "Iran's fabrications" is tied to its efforts to gain Arab-Muslim support for its development of nuclear weapons.
"Iran's real goal is to extend its influence from the Mediterranean Sea to Asia, and to stretch its Shi'ite ideology from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut," the newspaper wrote. Iran's underlying goal, wrote the paper's editor-in-chief, Abdallah Kamal, is to deny Egypt its hegemonic place in the Middle East.
The claim that Iran is developing "an Islamic bomb," which is supposedly meant to defend Muslim states, is a lie.
"The truth is that we are talking about a Persian bomb, meaning it isn't even Arab. And now, rather than have Iran win the adulation of the Arab-Muslim world by confronting Israel and the West, it decided to shatter its business with Egypt," Kamal wrote.
And yet, the polemic nature of the writer's article did not put an end to the ruckus. Now it's the turn of cinema to make waves. If Iran slings mud at Egypt, and in the process damages the reputation of the man who signed a peace agreement with Israel, then Egypt wants to prove that it can also fight fire with fire.
Two Egyptian producers, one of whom is the editor of the Al-Watani al-Yom, Mohammed Hasan al-Alfi, and the other, Fathi Uthman, a scholar of Islam, announced they plan on releasing a series of films that will present "the truth" about the Ayatollah Khomeini and his path to power.
Al-Alfi's film will be titled "Khomeini, the Imam of Blood" and Uthman's movie will be named "Khomeini, Between Truth and Imagination." Both movies will show, among other things, the alleged ties of the Khomeini regime to Israel and its spy agency Mossad.
History repeats itself
Egypt is meant to be well versed in Iranian betrayal, and perhaps vice versa ? Iran has learned more than once about Egyptian treachery. The heroes buried in the Al-Rifa'I mosque are witnesses to this. In 1939, King Farouk decided that his beautiful sister, the princess Fawzia, should marry Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the heir to the Iranian thrown.
Farouk hoped that this marriage, which would one day make his sister into the Queen of Iran, would bring him closer to his heart's desire ? the unification of all Muslims under his rule as Caliph. Fawzia, a naïve girl who liked to spend most of her time in the library, allowed her brother to advance the match and ultimately celebrated at the magnificent wedding when it was finally achieved.
However, after a certain amount of time Farouk received reports from an Egyptian citizen living in Iran according to which Fawzia had become frustrated with married life. One rumor even claimed that she had had fallen in love with her Persian teacher and they planned to run far away from Tehran.
Farouk decided to take immediate action. He asked the Shah, his father-in-law, to allow Fawzia to visit Egypt. The Shah agreed, and unknowingly put an end his son and Fawzia's marriage. Farouk arranged sanctuary for Fawzia at his palace and forbade her from returning to Iran. He told Fawzia to be afraid as plans were being made in Tehran for her disposal, and ordered her write to her husband asking for a divorce.
Iran was in shock. The heir to the throne could not understand what had happened, but it later became clear that all the reports about Fawzia that had reached Egypt from Iran were wrong. A year before the divorce, in 1944, the Shah Reza Pahlavi died at the age of 66 and was buried in the Al-Rifa'i mosque in Cairo. His son was named as the next Shah, and after he received notice of the divorce from Fawzia, he angrily ordered his father's body transferred to Tehran.
In 1980, nearly 30 years later, Mohammad Reza died of cancer and was buried according to all the traditional rituals in the very same mosque from which he removed his father's body. The state burial and the decorous reception that preceded it, served for years as a pretext for the fraught relations between Khomeini's Iran and Egypt. The Iranians' anger over Sadat paying his last respects to the late Shah in a state funeral is similar to that of the Egyptians' over the respect accorded to Eslamboli by Iran. Apparently, it is difficult to determine who betrayed whom first.
One woman, alone in the desertShe is known as "Umm Khaled" - the mother of Khaled, her only son. He was the product of her marriage at the age of 12, when she left her small Egyptian village for her uncle's house in Cairo to get married.
She was divorced by the age of 16, and to this day, at the age of 52, she maintains that she does not "think of love and marriage." But Umm Khaled has one great love - her life as a truck driver.
Her driver's cab has been described in the local media as heavily decorated, completed with a television, religious literature, a mattress and even a hoard of chocolates. And yes, she is the only woman truck driver in Egypt.
Her life behind the wheel began when she became a taxi driver, which taught her to endure the curses and sexual harassment of the other drivers. "Once a taxi driver shouted at me to get a car that was more suited to my size," she recalls. "He meant that I should buy a private car and not drive a cab, but instead I decided to really get a vehicle that suited my size - a truck."
But, she conceded, "I don't propose that anyone who doesn't have a tough nature follows this path."
Even now, as she makes her way from Port Said to Sharm el-Sheikh, or from Cairo to the Libyan city of Tripoli, a journey of some 1,800 km, she is subject to harassment and verbal abuse.
"But I am not afraid," she says. "Even when the truck got stuck and I needed to spend the night alone in the desert."
Umm Khaled cannot even take on a cab-mate, as there are no other women drivers in Egypt and she is unwilling to travel long distances with a man in the truck, lest there be malicious gossip.
In Egypt, women drivers are a common sight, and even women taxi drivers are not rare. But in Saudi Arabia, Umm Khaled's story is one that can only cause envy among women, for they are completely forbidden to drive, although many own cars. A Saudi woman doctor who decided to drive in order to try to save a life was arrested and punished.
The new Saudi transportation law, which came into effect last week, doesn't in fact differentiate between men and women when it comes to the rules of the road, but the religious authorities and moral police have banned women from driving. And their word is above the law.