By The Associated Press
The chairman of Egypt's Actors' Union said Thursday that the group planned to investigate one of the country's brightest young movie stars for appearing in an upcoming miniseries with an Israeli actor.
The controversy began when the group discovered that Amr Waked, who starred in the Hollywood film Syriana, was in Tunisia filming a four part series on Saddam Hussein's life opposite Yigal Naor, an Israeli of Iraqi descent.
"We found out Amr Waked was participating in a movie with an Israeli artist and so when he returns from abroad he will be investigated," union chairman Ashraf Zaki said. "The Actors' Union here is against normalization with Israel."
Media and artistic circles in Egypt remain deeply opposed to improving cultural relations with Israel even though the country is one of only two Arab nations that has made peace with Israel.
Nearly a dozen articles have appeared over the past week condemning Waked for participating in the series, titled Between Two Rivers and backed by the British Broadcasting Corporation and Home Box Office.
"Who will hold Amr Waked accountable?" read a headline Monday in Egypt's opposition daily el-Wafd.
Zaki said Waked would be questioned by a committee made up of two members of the union's board and a senior judge from the country's Administrative Court.
Waked declined to comment on the upcoming investigation, but in earlier interviews with Egyptian media, the actor said he did not know the nationalities of every person involved in the project.
The Egyptian actor also indicated he has no intention of leaving the series, in which he plays the role of Saddam's son-in-law Hussein Kamel, who defected from Iraq to Jordan but eventually returned and was executed.
Naor, who played a Palestinian character in Steven Spielberg's film Munich, stars as Saddam in the series. Many in the Egyptian press found it disturbing that an Israeli was playing the former Iraqi leader, who is still lionized by many Arab nationalists.
Though Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, professional and artistic associations have resisted opening up to Israel, citing the continued occupation of Palestinian lands.
Anti-Israeli sentiment flared in the country during the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, much of it led by left wing academics and artists who have long been Israel's fiercest critics in Egypt.
"The [film] industry is in general very left wing and stays away from normalization as a whole," said Richard Woffenden, the former cultural editor of the local Cairo Times weekly.
Woffenden, who hailed Waked's emergence onto the Egyptian film scene in 2001 as part of a new generation of Egyptian actors, noted that he was one of the few Egyptians in recent years to surmount the language barrier and cross over to Western films.
Egyptian actor Khaled el-Nabawy appeared briefly in Ridley Scott's crusader movie Kingdom of Heaven - for which he was also criticized by the Egyptian media.
The investigation could have serious ramifications for Waked's career in Egypt, where the majority of his films are still made.
When Egyptian actress Sawsan Badr appeared in the 1980 film Death of a Princess about Saudi Arabia, it caused a furor for allegedly being anti-Arab, and it was years before she appeared again in an Egyptian film.