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The Arab world's most prominent comedian and movie star, Egyptian actor Adel Imam, has shocked many of his fans by expressing understanding for Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Imam, a longtime outspoken critic of Islamic fundamentalism, lashed out at Egyptians who have been demonstrating against Israel's war on Hamas. He said calls for general strikes in solidarity with the Palestinians "harmed our economy and benefited Israel alone."
Imam was also quoted in the Egyptian press as strongly criticizing the leader of the country's Muslim Brotherhood organization, Mahdi Akef, for having accused Egypt's leadership of "collusion" with Israel.
The veteran 68-year-old movie star blamed Hamas for the violence, pointing out that the Egyptian leadership had warned the Islamist movement against an impending Israeli military operation.
"Hamas ignored our warnings and chose to lead an asymmetrical war," Imam said, echoing earlier statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "It's preferable for Hamas to stop [the rocket attacks]. They should have known that Israel wasn't going to receive the attacks with roses."
Imam's remarks have been condemned by many of his colleagues in Egypt who have come out in support of Hamas.
One of Imam's popular but controversial films, The Terrorist, depicts Muslim extremism as alien to Egyptian values. The film drew sharp criticism from extremists, some of whom issued death threats against the actor.
In the film, Imam plays the role of a terrorist who attacks a tourist bus. Concealing his identity, he later seeks refuge with an Egyptian family, during which time he meets run-of-the-mill Muslims and Christians.
The most significant scene is when the terrorist, together with a Christian, watches the Egyptian national soccer team play in a championship match. The terrorist complains that Egypt's flag should be more Islamic and that football is a symbol of corruption, but when the Egyptian team scores the winning goal, he gets so excited that he jumps up and hugs the Christian, and together they sing the Egyptian national anthem.
Imam's most recent film, Hassan and Morqos, also enraged extremists, prompting them to launch a campaign to boycott the actor. The movie is about a Muslim cleric and a Christian priest whose paths cross as they face threats from Muslim terrorists. Some of Imam's critics accused him of using the film to promote "apostasy."