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Hailing the killer

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Hailing the Killer

A new documentary celebrating the assassin of Sadat reopens a bitter and unresolved chapter in Egypt-Iran relations, writes Rasha Saad

Little did Khaled El-Islamboli know that his name would not only be remembered as the assassin of late Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat, but also as an intractable hurdle in Egyptian-Iranian relations.

Islamboli was executed in 1982 for the killing of Sadat a year earlier. Subsequently Tehran named a road after him.

Diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran were severed in 1980, a year after the Islamic revolution, in protest at Egypt’s recognition of Israel, its hosting of the deposed Iranian Shah, and its support for Iraq during its 1980-1988 war with Iran.

After years of rapprochement attempts between Egypt and Iran, the two countries have finally reached a settlement in changing the name of Khaled El-Islamboli Street in Tehran — which Egypt has always held as a main bone of contention in restoring cordial ties.

Now a controversial Iranian documentary has appeared, glorifying Islamboli and his comrades as martyrs who assassinated a “traitor”, Sadat. It has caused a storm of criticism in Egypt.

Egypt called in Iran’s envoy to Cairo Monday to lodge a formal complaint over the documentary. Assistant Foreign Minister for Asian Affairs Tamer Khalil reportedly summoned the head of Iran’s interests section in Egypt to lodge protest.

The film “harms relations between the two countries” and “shows that Iran has no understanding of Egyptian sensitivities,” Khalil said.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit also condemned the documentary calling such works as “irresponsible”.

“We condemn this film in the strongest possible terms,” Abul-Gheit said. “We tell our brothers in Iran they must stop producing these works which reflect lack of responsibility,” he added.

Sadat’s family is also considering legal action against the film producers. “The producers should have asked for the family’s authorisation before making the film,” said Sadat’s daughter, Roqeya. “Such slander will receive a strong response.”

“Making this film is a low attempt to tarnish the image of the man and falsify history,” said Sadat’s nephew and parliament member Talaat.

The documentary, entitled The Execution of a Pharaoh, is produced by the Committee for Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement in Iran and was recently screened on the sidelines of a festival organised by them. The documentary CD carries on its cover the famous image of Islamboli shouting behind bars after he was sentenced to death following his conviction.

The movement has also produced other documentaries for those it considers “martyrs of the Islamic renaissance”, including Hizbullah’s strong man Imad Mughniyah and Palestinian “engineer” Yehia Ayash. On its Internet site, the movement reports that the documentary has caused a furore in Egyptian intellectual and political arenas.

Iranian officials, however, tried to distance themselves from the movement and its documentary. According to an Iranian diplomat based in Cairo who asked for his name to be withheld, “this film does not represent the official stand of the Islamic republic, but is [made] out by independent bodies and we are sorry for this behaviour.”

The official also said he hoped the episode would not affect relations between the two countries. Iran insists that the film was not aired on any official TV channel.

Cairo does not seem convinced. Hossam Zaki, spokesman of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, accused Iran of lacking transparency and that hence, “it is very probable that an official organisation is behind producing this film and [that it] put the name of a private independent source [on the film] as camouflage.”

Informed journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed also lashed at Iran in Al-Ahram daily, describing the documentary as “Iranian foolishness”.

Ahmed wrote: “I don’t know how the Iranians would feel if there was a popular effort to put a statue of the Shah in one of Cairo’s squares as an answer to this Iranian act.” He also warned: “the Ayatollahs who succeeded in gathering Western animosity to Iran can achieve the same success with the Egyptians when [we] find [ourselves] dealing with a regime that lacks the slightest decency in dealing with its neighbours.”

An Iranian source close to Egyptian- Iranian rapprochement efforts insists that the producer of the documentary is independent. But, “the significance of the issue of the film is that it confirms the worries of some Egyptian officials who complain that Iran has multi centres of decisions, which makes negotiations difficult,” the source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The source, however, believes that with no breakthrough in relations between the countries there will always be a “grey area” that will make Iranian “independent” parties act radically and sometimes irresponsibly.

” Such actions can always happen again as long as the issue of rapprochement with Egypt remains an open file, and thus there is no assertion from the Iranian supreme leader that Egypt’s [sensitivities constitute] a red line that cannot be crossed,” the source told the Weekly.

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