Show stolen from Egypt superstar in anti-Mubarak drive

Adel Imam’s Ramadan television special is put on ice after protesters criticize comments he made supporting Mubarak during the revolution.

Adel Imam 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Adel Imam 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Egypt’s purge of Mubarak-era figures has landed politicians and businessmen in jail and left others scurrying for exile. The former president’s name has come down from public squares and buildings. Now it has caught up with the country’s most famous actor.
At age 71, Adel Imam has starred in over 100 Egyptian films and 10 plays, mostly comedies, but his career may be over because early in the revolution he made statements supporting President Hosni Mubarak. Now, his television series due to be broadcast during Ramadan, the high point of the Arab world’s television year, is under attack by critics who say it depicts the deposed president favorably and espouses normalization with Israel.
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"I believe Imam lost a lot of credibility in the Egyptian street," Ali Khafagy, a resident of Giza and participant in Egypt's youth revolution, told The Media Line.  
The Egyptian president, who ruled for more than three decades, has been the focus of opposition rage as a symbol of everything that was wrong with the country. The president and his wife are both under house arrest and await trial, but protests have erupted again in Tahrir Square demanding reforms moves more quickly and decisively to bring an end to the old regime.
"Nagy Attalah's Team" has been removed from the Ramadan line up, due to be aired in August this year. Officially, the move was for technical reasons, but media speculation attributed the cancellation to the Israeli flags and portraits of Mubarak that appear repeatedly in the background. The film depicts five soldiers recruited by a retired army general, played by Imam, to rob a bank in Tel Aviv, wearing Israeli army fatigues.
Imam made his pro-Mubarak view known in a press release issued following the first demonstrations in Tahrir Square on January 25. Three weeks before the president was forced to quit, Imam called the protests "absurd." He accused the demonstrators of being sent by "hidden hands who do not want Egypt to see that light," and praised the regime.
"Imam is the artist most loyal to the values of the previous regime," Sariel Birnbaum, a researcher of Egyptian film and television at the State University of New York in Binghamton, told The Media Line. "Mubarak's main objective was to attack the Islamists and Imam served that purpose wholeheartedly."
In the 1993 comedy Al-Ihrab Wal-Kabab (“Terrorism and the Kebab”), Imam plays a disgruntled civil servant who accidentally holds an entire building hostage while all he is trying to do is change his son's school. Imam's sole request of the government is kebab for lunch, a request that wins him the sympathy of the hostages and eventually allows him to leave the building unscathed.
"In the film terrorism does not get its way. The terrorists quietly disappear and the regime stays okay," Birnbaum said.           
Imam is not the only artist whose reputation was hit by the Egyptian revolution. Calls to boycott the series Samara starring Egyptian actress Ghada Abdul Razaq for her support of Mubarak's regime were dismissed by the national Egyptian television.
"Television doesn’t play the role of judge in choosing what will be displayed on its screen," Egyptian national television director Nuhal Kamal told the Arab daily Al-Hayat on Saturday.
Another artist, popular singer Tamer Hosni, was banished from Tahrir Square on February 9 following statements he made in favor of Mubarak. Hosni explained to the BBC that he was in the Netherlands when the riots broke out in late January, and he was forced to condemn the Tahrir protesters as "terrorists entering houses and conquering the country" and "foreign agents." But Hosni's excuses didn’t help.
His latest album earned only 150,000 Egyptian Pounds ($25,000), a commercial failure compared to his previous works.   
Khafagy, the youth activist, said many artists such as Imam have revised their pro-Mubarak views following the revolution, but they have failed to apologize, winning them the collective pejorative nickname "the changers." "I think their artistic work is on its way out," he added.
But Sobhi Essaila, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, a Cairo-based thinktank, claimed that the naming and shaming campaign against Egyptian artists was no less than a public witch hunt.
"Artists are like any other segment of society -- soccer players, intellectuals. There is a media smear campaign taking place against anyone who didn't join the protesters' heart and soul," Essaila told The Media Line. He added that although Imam's films served the regime's agenda, they were in no way "pro-regime".
"In none of his films did he ever make government propaganda," Essaila said. "Today, there is intellectual terrorism taking place. You can't say anything against the demonstrations or you'll be accused of supporting the ancien régime." He added that any artists of Imam's caliber had to have certain connections to the regime in order to get ahead.
Birnbaum, the Egyptian film expert, said that in Egypt's atmosphere of social and political upheaval it was still too early to tell which artists would be permanently tainted by their loyalty to Mubarak.