For two months now a fierce press campaign has targeted the rising film star Amr Waked, 35, on the charge of normalisation with Israel, writes Salonaz Sami.
Since making it past the local scene by playing a terrorist alongside George Clooney in Syriana (2005), Waked's international career has been the talk of the town. But news of him playing the late Iraqi despot's son in law and would-be successor Hussein Kamel in the upcoming BBC- Home Box Office biopic of Saddam -- featuring Israeli actor Nigal Yaor, 49, in the lead role -- has prompted a critique of Waked's stance. Kamel had been in charge of Iraq's nuclear programme before he defected to Jordan the better to challenge Saddam's authority and was eventually eliminated on his return in 1996 -- "a man who sought power," as Waked puts it -- and he makes for a rewarding role. Ironically, Yaor made his name in the same year as Waked, playing a Palestinian fida'i in Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005).
The present film is said to be critical of US Middle East policy and would have generated no contention if not for the fact that an Israeli plays Saddam, whose barbaric execution the day of the Feast of Sacrifice has, for some, turned him into a hero of Arab nationalism. Typically of the anti-normalisation discourse -- which, while having nothing to say about economic and political cooperation with Israel, will jump at the opportunity to turn cultural figures into scapegoats once they have interacted with their Israeli counterparts, even, indeed, the most anti-Zionist among them -- the Egyptian Actors Union is now chastising Waked. According to union chairman Ashraf Zaki, having failed to abide by the union's regulation against normalisation with Israel, Waked was interrogated for two hours by two members of the board and a Higher Administrative Court judge. A decision has yet to be made as to whether disciplinary action will be taken. Waked is currently filming in Tunisia and has refused to comment on the topic since the national television interview in which he said he had only discovered Yaor's nationality by coincidence and was momentarily breathless, not because he had a problem with it than but because he realised what the so called opposition press might do with the fact. "The only thing I am ashamed of is the reaction," he said, "especially coming from a country that is supposedly at peace with Israel." Had he known that would be the case, he would have declined the part; as it is, he added, he is under contract.
But if the union finds Waked's behaviour in violation of the anti- normalisation regulation, the actor may be banned from participating in Egyptian productions.