The protocols, from the early 20th century, purport to be the plans by a secret group of Jewish leaders plotting to take over the world. But historians have long dismissed the writings as a forgery concocted by Russian Czar Nicholas II's secret police to blame the country's problems on Jews. In the Egyptian TV series, "Horseman Without a Horse," the serial's hero--a journalist played by Mohammed Sobhi--tries to find out if the protocols are true.
The U.S. State Department asked Egypt not to telecast the series. "At a time when the Egyptian government is working to promote peace in the region, a program that promotes hatred would be extremely unfortunate and counterproductive," said Anne Marks, a State Department spokeswoman.
But Egypt's Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif denied that the series--which was broadcast early Thursday--contained anti-Semitic material and government spokesman Nabil Osman said in a statement that the program should not be judged before it's aired. "Prejudging a work of art, a dramatic series, before seeing the actual production is simply an immature unintelligent attitude," Osman said. Any criticism before that, he added, "amounts to a kind of intellectual and emotional terrorism."
The first episode of the 40-part series began with a narration by Sobhi as he and scores of others, looking disheveled and exhausted, walked through a desert in the aftermath of Israel's 1948 creation on what was once Palestine. "The armies of the free have been defeated by treachery," he said in a deep and somber voice. "Beloved Palestine is lost, grabbed by Zion's sons through organized plundering."
Israel's press and U.S.-based Jewish groups have also condemned "Horseman Without a Horse," calling it anti-Semitic and asked President Hosni Mubarak to block the show. And 46 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter on Monday to Mubarak expressing concern about the program.
Sobhi, the show's star and producer, on Monday said he agreed that the protocols were a forgery and argued that only a small portion of the series is based on the work. The series is based on the diaries of real-life Egyptian journalist, Hafez Neguib, played by Sobhi--though biographers of Naguib say the diaries never deal with the protocols.
The series is running on Dream TV, which is owned by a private Egyptian television company, and on government-owned Egypt-TV during the holy month of Ramadan. Egypt's state-run--or heavily state-influenced--media often have been accused of carrying anti-Semitic material, but officials argue that material deemed anti-Semitic are expressions of Arab anger at Israeli policies, not a hatred of Jews.