Egyptian prank show exposes anti-Israeli sentiment

Ayman Kandeel grabs the producer of a television network and smacks the lanky young man, cursing angrily.

He throws studio furniture at the camera crew. Then he turns his attention to the beautiful female anchor. Before she can duck, he slaps her across the face, leaving her curled up in a corner of the room.

Kandeel is a famous actor in Egypt, but this is not a skit. He was victimized by a provocative new Egyptian television show called “Alhokm Baad Almozawla,” or Judgment After a Prank.

On the program, Egyptian actress Iman Mubarak talks with celebrities under the pretense that the interview is for an Arabic-speaking German network. After an often tense dialogue on Egyptian-Israeli relations, the show crew dupes the interviewee into thinking they are actually on an Israeli TV station and begin provoking and taunting the subject.

Reactions have included anti-Israeli slurs, desperate cries to leave and, as in Kandeel’s case, physical assault.

“This is a candid-camera program, but it is different than any other candid-camera shows that can be shallow,” said Haytham al-Feel, the show’s creator. “It explores a deep subject matter, and it covers an important gut-level issue. The issue is, of course, Egypt’s relationship with Israel.”

In one episode, panicked actress Dina Abo Elsoud spends nearly four minutes struggling to push away four men who are blocking the exit door and yelling “We are Israelis” at her.

“I swear to God I want to leave! Let me leave!” Abo Elsoud whimpers as she breaks down into tears.

Finally the crew shouts, “You are on ‘Alhokm Baad Almozawla.’ Everyone clap. Give her a big round of applause!”

Abo Elsoud continues to cry for a few moments. Still shocked and petrified, she mutters, “I just got scared they would kidnap me.”

In another episode, actress Mayar al-Beblawi says all Israelis are “real liars.”

“They keep whining all the time about the Holocaust or whatever it’s called,” she says. “With all the Palestinians that you have killed, you are still whining about the Holocaust and its lousy figures?”

The heated rhetoric and violent assaults on the program have prompted a firestorm of international criticism and allegations of anti-Semitism. And with the election of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy after more than a year of political upheaval, the show’s popularity has raised concern about the stability of Egypt’s three-decade-old peace accord with Israel.

“The program ‘Alhokm Baad Almozawla’ results in inciting public opinion against peace,” Ofir Gendelman, spokesman to the Arab media in the Israeli prime minister’s office, remarked on Twitter. “From our perspective, peace is fundamental and vindictive programs like this will not be broadcast in Israel.”

The show also appears to be no laughing matter for the Israeli press, with critical headlines ranging from “Audience applauds violent anti-Semitism on Egypt TV” (Jerusalem Post) to “Reality show reveals ingrained Egyptian hatred for Israel” (Israel Today Magazine).

But al-Feel said “there is a difference between expressing hate for Israel and its politics and expressing hate for the Jewish people.”

He said celebrities were happy to give consent so their footage could be aired on the show.

“Once the guests found out it was prank, they really loved the idea and enjoyed the show and agreed to be on it,” he said. “We felt there was an overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride in standing up for Egypt and the Arabs.”

All of the episodes were taped before the show became one of the top five Ramadan programs on Egyptian television station Al Nahar. The show also boasts more than four million YouTube viewers, and the show’s producers say the success shouldn’t be overshadowed by the punches and the insults.

“We have produced 95 episodes, and in only three did the personalities attack the crew,” al-Feel said. “The normal reaction is for people to reject the dialogue because they were duped. … Others refused to complete the interview because it was on an Israeli TV station and they boycott all relations with Israel, which is their right.”

“The program intends to deliver a message, and I believe the reaction by Israel is very natural,” said Waleed al-Feel, chairman of the show’s production company. “A majority of Egyptians will boycott any interaction with Israel after its historical oppression of the Arab people. We are not against, however, the peace treaty with Israel. We are against the apartheid.”

In post-revolution Egypt, the end to the censorship of the Mubarak regime has fueled a wave of original new content set to tackle taboo issues from sexual harassment to AIDS. But it also means the media community is less inclined to curb what might be offensive.

“In America and Europe, there is no censorship on cinema or TV. No topic is off-limits,” said Haytham al-Feel. “So why are people against our show? The show is an idea, and it is freedom of expression, and our guests also have freedom of expression to say what they believe.”