A pro-government Iranian militia is planning to produce a damning documentary about Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in retaliation for an Egyptian film which is set to present a negative biographical portrait of Iran’s late spiritual figurehead Ruhollah Khomeini.
Hussein Qanadian, a member of the pro-government militia Basij, announced that his group would produce the film following a recent decision by an Egyptian court to allow local activists produce the film on Khomeini.
"If the decision by the Egyptian court is not annulled or repealed on this matter, we will be forced to retort with a film about the Egyptian President," Qanadian told Iranian media.
Iran and Egypt have not had full diplomatic relations since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution when Egypt hosted the deposed Shah of Iran.
In 2008 Iranian national television aired a film titled "Assassination of a Pharaoh", glorifying the assassins of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The Iranian film infuriated Egyptians, instigating condemnations from both parliament and Egypt’s leading Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, which called for "burning such a ridiculous film, which affronts all Egyptians."
Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, said that despite amicable relations between Egyptians and Iranians, the latest crisis reflects tension on the political level.
"It’s only natural that when the Iranians make a film, the Egyptians will reciprocate," he told The Media Line. "This is an indication of the hostility that exists between the two governments."
Khonsari pointed to Iran’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the recent discovery of an Iran-backed Hizbullah cell in Egypt as reasons compounding existent animosity.
"Another serious underlying factor reflected in the Egyptian press is anti-Shia rhetoric," Khonsari added. "This is especially dominant due to Iranian involvement in Iraqi politics in the aftermath of the elections."
On Wednesday Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Iranian Chargé d’Affaires in Cairo, demanding an explanation for recent statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Mottaki accused unnamed Arab leaders for "betraying their people by entering negotiations with the Zionist Entity." Egypt took this as a tacit attack on President Mubarak, and canceled Muttaki’s planned visit to Cairo on Septmeber 5.
Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and editor of arts and culture for Daily News Egypt said that traditionally Egyptian-Iranian cultural relations focused on film.
"Egyptians really appreciate Iranian film," Fahim told The Media Line. "However the cultural relationship has significantly deteriorated since the production of the Iranian film about Sadat."
Fahim noted that Iran’s film industry has done exceptionally well in 2009, with many new award-winning productions. However, the absence of Iranian films in the last Cairo International Film Festival was particularly indicative of the current crisis.
"Every year there used to be at least one Iranian film in the festival," Fahim said. "The absence of one this year was very telling of the deterioration in relations."
Fahim said he believed a film about Khomeini could not be produced in Egypt, due to the lack of funding for such a project. The Egyptian film industry has suffered recently due to the global economic downturn, with the number of new productions cut by more than half.
"I don’t think that a film about Khomeini has any prospects of succeeding commercially," he said. “Any producer would loose lots of money by making it. Logistically it makes no sense."