Just Whack the Jewish Piñata
In the Middle East, the oldest publicity trick still seems to work: when you are in need of social acceptance, just hit the Jewish piñata. Will Egypt and other countries of the Arab Spring move forward or will they keep blaming their shortcomings on "the evil Jews?"
Egyptian activists seem to believe that Egyptian actor Adel Imam — possibly the most famous Arab actor — took Mubarak's side amid the Egyptian revolution that toppled him in 2011. As a result Imam has been blacklisted by Egyptian activists, but nonetheless Imam has made a comeback with a miniseries that is full of anti-Semitism and demonization of Jews and Israel. Is this just plain hate for Jews or is it a stunt by Imam to win the public? And if so, what does it mean for Egypt and the Arab world?
First, it is worthwhile to examine who Adel Imam is. In 1994, the Los Angeles Times described Imam as a popular actor, noting that: "His expressive and not particularly handsome face has become the mirror of the Egyptian middle class, with its tribulations, celebrations and frustrations."
In fact, Imam's popularity earned him the position of a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). On its website, the UNHCR notes that Imam "mobilizes many other celebrities, business community and media for the refugee cause." Furthermore, the UNHCR's website edition of Imam's biography describes him as the "Arab Charlie Chaplin", and the "most famous actor in the Arab world."
The above strongly suggests that Imam is, indeed, a heavy-weight Arab celebrity. Nonetheless, Adel Imam's popularity suffered a major blow when he allegedly sided with the Egyptian regime amid the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Shortly after Mubarak was overthrown in February 2011, Dubai-based TV network Al-Arabiya reported that Adel Imam had been blacklisted by Egyptian political activists of the 25 January revolution, along with other Egyptian actors and actresses, because Imam was one of the "Egyptian actors, musicians, and media figures that showed support for the country's former President Hosni Mubarak". Al-Arabiya confirmed that Imam's pro-Mubarak stance was "the big surprise" for Egyptians as "it contradicted his previous leading roles in many nationalist and anti-establishment films". However, Al-Arabiya notes that this should not be a surprise as Imam was known to be a close friend of Mubarak's family. Since then, Imam made several media appearances, including one on Al-Jazeera, claiming he was supportive of the revolution, but his name remained on the blacklist, signifying the potential damage to his career.
This July, Imam made a comeback with a miniseries titled "The Naji Attalla's Squad." The miniseries will air all through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which began on July 2th for most Muslim countries. The Naji Attalla's Squad tells the story of Naji Attalla, a retired Egyptian military officer serving as a senior diplomat at the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv, where he runs a thriving gambling business under the cover of his diplomatic immunity. Attalla draws the attention of the Israel Security Agency -- better known as the Shabak -- who freeze his assets because of the unexplained funds compared to his income. Choosing to take revenge, Naji Attalla (Imam) puts together a group of ex-servicemen who had served under him, with the purpose of going to Israel to rob Bank Leumi where his frozen assets are kept.
In an interview with the Egyptian Private TV network, Dream, Imam described the mini-series as "A historical landmark". Let's see what Imam's "historical" miniseries has looked like so far.
Imam's first appearance in the miniseries begins with him telling a joke. Imam says: "One time, a Jewish guy went to France, he found a French girl, he spent a night with her and then gave her 50 Euros, the next day, he spent another night with her and gave her 50 Euros, third night was the same and the fourth was the same. The lady got impressed, she told him: A generous Jew? 200 Euros in one job! I love Jews now and by the way my aunt lives in Tel Aviv, the Jewish guy responded: I know, as she's the one who sent you the 200 Euros".
In another scene, Imam is shown making another joke about Jews being too cheap to a laughing and an impressed Jewish Israeli real estate agent. In another scene, an Egyptian diplomat who was newly-appointed to Tel Aviv is shown telling Imam how he feels like he is in a nightmare for having to live among Israelis, noting he could not forget "their despicableness...and our folks still getting killed in Gaza and Palestine", to which Imam responds "it is better to get know your enemy...in order to know how they think, as they (the Jews) have always been trying to learn how we think".
In a different scene the Egyptian Embassy's driver tells the fresh Egyptian diplomat "May God burn them (Israelis) in hell, when Hamas carries out an operation against them, or when Hezbollah fires a couple of rockets my heart will be jumping with joy".
Throughout the miniseries, Israelis are portrayed as Arab-hating bigots; one scene shows an female Israeli student giving a speech to a large crowd of students at Tel Aviv University, complete with the University's coat of arms behind her. The Egyptian actress spoke in Hebrew, with Arabic captions, saying Israel did a great job "killing thousands of Arabs in Lebanon and Gaza", and ended her passionate speech with her and the crowd chanting "Death to the Arabs". The miniseries does not stop with portraying Israelis as prejudiced against Arabs, but also as prejudiced amongst themselves: In one scene, a Jewish Bank Leumi manager of Iraqi background is shown chastising one of his employee of a European background for missing days at work, telling him "Whom do you Ashkenazim think you are? You think you are a big deal? We Sephardim have held this country on our shoulders".
The miniseries is a joint project between a private production company and the Production Section at the Egyptian TV, a state-owned and run institution, as confirmed by the Alarab website.
This miniseries is not the first, nor will it be the last, demonization of Jews and Israel in the Arab mass media. Nonetheless, the weight of the Arab star, Adel Imam, is huge, and therefore the miniseries is likely to have a more lasting effect in the minds of the younger generation in post-Mubarak Egypt.
Imam's act is nothing new. Before him, a less popular Egyptian actor, Muhammad Sobhi, earned himself greater fame when he starred in a miniseries names "A Horseman Without A Horse", which revolved around an alleged Jewish manual to control the world, better known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
At the time, Western criticism of the miniseries served its star, Muhammad Sobhi. As that contributed to Sobhi's fame, Adel Imam too might end up with more fame and public acceptance if his new miniseries brings about a Western or a Jewish uproar.
In the Middle East, the oldest publicity trick seems to still work: When you are need of social acceptance – or forgiveness in Imam's case – just hit the Jewish piñata.
Will Egypt and other Arab Spring nations move forward or will they keep blaming their shortcomings on "the evil Jews"?
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