Earlier this month, Egypt summoned an Iranian diplomat to protest against an Iranian documentary about the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, saying it would hurt improving ties between the two countries. Official statements from Cairo gave few details as to the contents of the film, other than suggesting it glorified Sadat’s assassins and portrayed Sadat as a traitor who sold out the Palestinian cause.
But apparently calling in the Iranian diplomat was deemed insufficient censure of the film, and al-Azhar, the thousand-year-old edifice of Islamic learning, was called into the fray as well. The government-appointed Sheikh of al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, known for his close ties to the state, convened an emergency session of al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy to address the issue. The resulting statement was published in the state’s flagship al-Ahram daily.
Condemning the “deviant group” that produced the movie, the academy said the film was the worst kind of un-Islamic behaviour imaginable, the “worst kind of crime.” Sadat was a martyr who deserved praise for welcoming the shah of Iran and for making peace with Israel, it said. Those acts were evidence of his courage and wisdom, “of which the world of wise men stood in awe.”
Sadat was slain by Islamist assassins in October 1981, when his popularity reached its lowest point with Egyptians following his purge of and extensive crackdown on political opponents of his controversial peace with Israel. His welcoming of the deposed shah in Egypt earned him the enmity of the Iranian regime.