About 200 Jewish activists demonstrated outside the Egyptian Embassy in Washington yesterday to protest a television series scheduled to begin airing this week on Egyptian state television.
Organizers of the protest said that the 41-episode dramatic series, "A Knight Without a Horse," is anti-Semitic and accepts ideas from the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a fabricated document from the early 20th century that has been used as a pretext for the persecution of Jews.
The program also will be shown on 22 Arab satellite television stations in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon and will air during the month of Ramadan, when television audiences in the Muslim world tend to be especially large because many families stay home after breaking the daily fast. The series was produced by Dream TV, a privately owned Egyptian satellite station, and features Mohammed Sobhi, a well-known actor in the Arab world.
In the series, an Egyptian journalist fighting British occupation in the late 19th century discovers the plan of an international movement to control the world. A co-writer of the drama has acknowledged that this part of the story was inspired by the protocols, a document fabricated by the secret police of Czar Nicholas II of Russia that purported to show how Jewish leaders were plotting world domination.
Yesterday's demonstrators called on the Egyptian government to cancel the program.
"We are here today to say in no uncertain terms that we will not turn a deaf ear to the hateful propaganda emanating from Egypt," said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of the B'nai Tzedek Congregation in Potomac.
Weinblatt questioned why Egypt, Israel's partner in peace, is perpetrating such "vicious, despicable lies."
"In a totalitarian country, which is a dictatorship, just as in all the other nations in the Arab world, the media is controlled," he added, "and so let us not be so naive as to accept feeble explanations of those hiding behind the veil of free speech."
Hesham El Nakib, director of the press office at the Egyptian Embassy, said the series was reviewed by government officials and found to be clear of any references that would offend religious values.
"Egyptians are proud about their history, and this series handles an important stage of our history," Nakib said. "The series is in no way anti-Semitic, and I truly don't understand how anyone could criticize a work before they even see it.
"The Egyptian media and arts are a reflection of the Egyptian street and its passions," he added.
Those participating in the protest said their criticisms of the program were based on e-mails they received from organizers of the rally.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Mohammed Baghdadi, one of the drama's writers, said the series does not confirm or deny the existence of the protocols. "The book is available in the market, and I am not saying it is either real or fraud, and the series is a fictional drama that doesn't presume that this has actually happened," he said.
The U.S. State Department has contacted Egyptian officials to express concern about the series, and 45 members of Congress have written a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak urging him to stop the broadcast.
Demonstrators held banners reading "Hate Kills" and "Teach Love Not Hate" and shouted anti-Mubarak slogans.
Leah Chanin, who took part in the protest and lives in Washington, said she considered it "appalling" that Egypt would allow the broadcast.
"The book has been lying dormant for so many years, and now Egypt resurrected it," she said. "And if Egypt really considers itself a moderate nation, and one that receives millions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, then it should start acting like one."
Weinblatt called Egypt "a society fed a steady diet of hate" and noted that a song on last year's Egyptian hit parade was called "I Hate Israel."
Among the other speakers at the demonstration was the Rev. Roy Howard of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, who said that historically, the invocation of the protocols has been followed by the killing of Jewish people.