Comedy against peace
Egyptian film mocks peace with Israel
'Arab Charlie Chaplin' shows 25 years of peace has done little to alter Egyptian attitudes towards Israel
A quarter century after the Camp David Accord, a film released this week in Cairo shows that Egyptians' uneasiness over peace with Israel dies hard.


Sharif Arafeh's "An Embassy in the Building" seeks to humorously depict the average Egyptian man's rejection of normalization.


Horror of Israeli flag


The plot centers around an Egyptian businessman and womanizer who returns home after getting rich in the Gulf to find, to his horror,

that Israel has opened an embassy in his building.


Popular slapstick comedian Adel Imam is petrified when he discovers the Star of David-adorned flag floating above the balcony nearest to his flat overlooking the Nile, not unlike the actual building that houses the Israeli embassy in Cairo's Giza neighborhood -- a stone's throw from the University of Cairo, which is a stronghold of anti-Israeli sentiment.


But Imam is in for another surprise when he bumps into the Israeli ambassador, played by Lofti Labib, in the lift.


"An actor must play every role, even that of the nasty guy," Labib told AFP.


From communist to Islamic radical


From then on, Iman's life turns into a living hell, as the prodigal son becomes an intruder in his own home.


He can no longer take his conquests home without being subjected to body searches and questioning.


The dazed and confused hero is preyed upon by Marxist intellectuals who overwhelm him with slogans and Islamist radicals who suggest he might want to have a go at being a suicide bomber.


But Imam displays good old common sense and draws much laughter from the audience by poking fun at leftist rhetoric and at the so-called martyr manufacturers.


He rebels and becomes the street's living idol after he asks the judiciary to evict the embassy from his building.


Troubles continue


One night, Imam takes home a gorgeous young woman who turns out to be an Israeli spy. Mossad agents barge into his bedroom and snap pictures.


Bamboozled, again, and now the victim of blackmail, he agrees to host a party for the Israeli ambassador.


Director Arafeh insists he didn't want the movie to give a particular answer to the Middle East conflict, but he steps out during the reception and television footage of a dead Palestinian child he got to know in the Gulf catches his eye, and the film ends with the hero leading a large protest against Israel's repressive policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.


Israelis stay home


Imam, described as the "Arab Charlie Chaplin" by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for which he works as a goodwill ambassador, diplomatically chose not to comment on whether the 1979 peace deal between Israel and Egypt should translate into warmer ties.


By contrast, the Egyptian public and most critics seem to have understood the movie's not-so-hidden message: Israelis should stay home and if there's peace, then it should be cold.


Refuting local press reports, Israel's ambassador to Egypt said he did not intervene with local authorities to try and stop the movie from being broadcast.


"We see this as a form of artistic expression and thus see no reason to comment on it," Yacov Setti, the embassy's press adviser, told AFP.


Asked by AFP whether he would be ready to meet the Israeli ambassador, Labib answered with a flat no.


"I will wait until there is a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."


פרסום ראשון: 07.25.05, 18:39
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