Egyptian Ramadan drama depicts Israel’s destruction

“In every place in the world, we need justice,” said Amr Samir Atif, the show’s writer. “Justice will make this world a better place to live.” At the same time, he insists the drama has “nothing to do with reality, nothing to do with our politics.”

But the show, one of dozens being shown here during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when viewership spikes, has struck an angry chord with Israelis. For many, “The End” — or “El Nehaya” as it is called in Arabic — reveals an animosity that belies decades of cooperation between the two countries’ governments.

“This goes back to a narrative from before the peace treaty and everything we’ve done with the Egyptians,” said Itzhak Levanon, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt. “This sees that Israel will be annihilated. It is very disturbing.”

Egypt’s government did not respond to a request for comment.

In the always tenuous — at times violent — relationship Israel has with its neighbors, Egypt is both a success story and a sore spot. Since 1979, when they signed a breakthrough peace treaty, the countries have worked together on political, economic and security issues in the region, especially countering Islamist militancy. And yet, Israelis are keenly aware that public opinion in Egypt is among the most anti-Israel in the region.

The Israeli government has long been frustrated with the gap between the official relationship, which has only grown more cooperative under Sissi, and the ugly views on the street. Even as anti-Semitic cartoons and commentary have disappeared from state media, they have bloomed on social media.

“Anti-Israel or anti-Semitic themes in Egyptian media and entertainment are an old, old story, as are anti-American themes,” said Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They have appeared on and off in government-owned as well as privately owned media over the years, despite Israeli and American protests.”

She added, “Conspiracy theories and related imaginings are popular with the Egyptian public, which is probably why they get written into scripts.”

Still, “The End” is an anomaly these days. Israelis are accustomed to Ramadan programs that work anti-Israel story lines into breathless soap operas and macho adventure tales. But in recent years, Sissi’s officials have seized control of the production of soap operas, ordering up themes that praise the army and the police, or speak evil of the banned Muslim Brotherhood party.

In “The End,” the protagonist is a computer engineer living in a futuristic world filled with cyborgs. In the very first episode, a teacher discusses with his students a war that’s taken place to liberate Jerusalem from Israel. The Jews have been forced to flee.

A map of the United States, fractured apparently by civil war, is also visible. “America was the central supporter of the Zionist state,” the teacher says.

The controversy over the show emerged as Israel headed into its Memorial and Independence days in late April.

“I was surprised that the authorities let this happen [that] week,” said Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. “They know about our holidays; they know we, and all of human civilization, are under attack by the coronavirus.”

Atif, the show’s writer, said Israelis were overreacting.

“We are making a show. It’s entertainment,” he said. “But to escalate this thing to become a political problem or issue is weird. They are making a big issue out of nothing.”

He said Israel hardly comes up in the rest of the series, which has 30 episodes. The show, he said, is a warning about how the world is being destroyed in myriad ways, such as by global warming, and what the future might look like. The Israel reference, he said, was just “a sentence by one minor character.”

In interviews, Egyptians applauded the drama for its post-apocalyptic genre, special effects and use of technology. No one described it as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, but rather said the depiction of Israel’s destruction was appropriate given the long-standing quest of the Palestinians to regain their occupied lands.

“It is science fiction that was well done,” said Rehab Elgendy, 39, an electrical engineer. “It talks about Jerusalem, power, domination and many other topics. The story has nothing to do with Israel. It merely referred to a wish that is present in the hearts of all Arabs, a wish that their occupation ends.”

“It was not the Zionists’ land from the beginning, and it almost runs in every Arab that they have taken what’s not theirs by the power of the gun,” said Amr Mohamed, 30, a safety support specialist at Uber. “So it shouldn’t bother them to have an Egyptian drama mentioning those facts.”

Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip expressed similar sentiments, but viewed the calls for Israel’s demise through the prism of their own experiences.

“I watch the series because I love the main actor,” said Mahmoud Nahed, a 37-year-old civil servant in Gaza. “I noticed the political aspects, that Israel will not exist in the year 2120, but . . . I know the series is science fiction and not a realistic thing.”

Nahed said viewers like him were used to hearing that Israel will disappear, but he thinks the idea is likely to remain in the realm of fantasy. “Not because Israel is strong and indefatigable,” he said, “but because the Arabs are weak and divided.” 

Hendrix reported from Jerusalem. Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo and Hazem Balousha in the Gaza Strip contributed to this report.

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