Quite a bit of digital ink has been spilt concerning the production of the film and trailer known, at varied points in its history, as Desert Warrior(s) / Innocence of B[i]n Laden / Innocence of Muslims / The Real Life of Muhammad. One of the things that has stood out for me as I survey the writing and commentary (here on dKos and elsewhere) is the absence of any substantive discussion and awareness of precisely how the trailer for the film gained attention among Egyptians who were, or so it seems to me, the intended audience. In a sense, our collective attention has been focused on a) aspects of the production of the film here in the U.S. and b) the events associated with the protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Garden City, Cairo. This diary is an effort to address what I consider to be an important yet neglected question: namely, how did a crappily-produced fourteen-minute trailer that, in all honesty, should have sunk into oblivion gain attention in Egyptian media?
Fascinating as the early history of the film is (production as Desert Warrior; the one-time 23 June screening as The Innocence of B[i]n Laden; the clip [The Real Life of Muhammad] and trailer [Muhammad Movie Trailer] posted to the "Sam Bacile" YouTube channel on 1 and 2 July respectively) I'd like to begin this particular event-history on 4 September with the appearance of the dubbed Egyptian (Cairene) Arabic trailer on the “Sam Bacile” YouTube channel and the subsequent promotion of the dubbed trailer by Morris Sadek.
(4 September) Sadek contacts Gamal Girgis, a journalist with the Cairo-based al-Youm al-Sabaa newspaper who writes often on Coptic expatriates and Coptic/Islamic issues, drawing Girgis' attention to the trailer.
(5 September) Sadek posts a link to the dubbed trailer on the website of his National American Coptic Assembly under the heading "World-Renowned Film on the Life of Muhammad, Prophet of Islam" (nota bene: the Arabic word used by Sadek [ 'ālamï ] for "world-renowned" also has connotations of "erudition"). The link on the NACA page is positioned above both a cartoon critical of Muhammad and an announcement of Terry Jones' “International Judge Muhammad Day” scheduled for 11 September (link [in Arabic]).
(6 September) Sadek emails a newsletter featuring a link to the trailer to NACA members and like-minded Coptic activists, and also sends an email to international journalists promoting Jones' 11 September “International Judge Muhammad Day” with a link to the trailer.
(6 September) Gamal Girgis publishes his three-paragraph commentary on the trailer in al-Youm al-Sabaa, a piece filed under "Local News" (article [in Arabic]). As far as I've been able to determine, Girgis' piece is the earliest mention of the trailer in the Egyptian media. My translation follows:
Copts Produce a Film Offensive to Islam and to the Life of the Prophet MuhammadI find Girgis' piece instructive for a number of reasons. First, he frames the trailer as intended primarily to stir up conflict among Copts and Muslims in Egypt. Second, he describes the trailer as being produced by what amounts to "the usual suspects": expatriate Copts led by Zaqlamah and Sadek who are allied with the likes of Terry Jones and his history of anti-Islamic provocations. Third, he notes that Coptic leaders in Egypt have denounced the trailer and distanced themselves from the agenda of its producers. Taken in sum, Girgis' commentary reads as a somewhat resigned "look what these idiots are up to this time."
Thursday, 6 September 2012, 20:49
In a shocking move that confirms their plans for harm against Egypt, calls for sectarian discord and fuels the feelings of hatred between Muslims and Copts, just as they have worked against the attainment of stability for Egypt since President Muhammad Morsi took up the reins of state, a number of expatriate Copts led by 'Ismat Zaqlamah (who has called for the division of Egypt and names himself the President of a so-called “Coptic State) and by Morris Sadek (who has never ceased to attack Egypt in every international forum and provoke foreign sentiment against it) allied with the bigoted Reverend Terry Jones (who has burned the Qur'an numerous times) have produced a film about the life of Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him, which contains profound abuses and extensive deceptions against the Holy Prophet, confirming the deep hatred that the producers of this film hold for Islam and the sublime Prophet.
At this time a number of Egyptian Coptic leaders have already denounced the film, emphasizing that the producers of the film are advancing their own agenda, and these leaders have rejected any abuse of the Holy Prophet and have denounced the production of the film as an offense against God, just as it is an offense against Islam.
Dubbed in fluent Arabic by the producers, the film represents Muslims as terrorists and as bearing collective responsibility for the attacks of September 2009. In this way, the film opens with the killing of a Coptic doctor and his daughter in Egypt by the hands of Muslims with encouragement from Egyptian police officers, a scenario that does not exist in reality because Egyptians, both Muslims and Copts, are woven together in a single nation and are not separated by sectarian strife. Whatever happens is nothing more than a passing crisis and imperils neither the unity nor commitment among Muslims and Copts.
(7-8 September) Other Egyptian newspapers, web-fora and social-media begin to pick up Girgis' story and framing: namely, that "the usual suspects" (expatriate Copts + Terry Jones) are attempting to stir up sectarian conflict within Egypt. On his 8 September evening show on the Cairo-based ultraconservative religious al-Nas television channel, Khaled Abdullah holds up a newspaper story entitled “New Film Attacks Islam” (try as I might, I just can't determine which newspaper he's holding) and then airs a two-minute clip from the dubbed trailer. The essence of Abdullah's and co-host Muhammad Hamdi's spirited commentary is that expatriate Copts are yet again attempting to light the flames of Coptic/Islamic conflict, and that their efforts should be rejected by Egyptians, Muslim and Copt alike. Abdullah and Hamdi both emphasize that Egyptian Coptic leaders have condemned the film and distanced themselves from the expatriate provocateurs (video [in Arabic]).
(9 September) Likely inspired by Abdullah's broadcast, the first calls are heard for an organized protest of the film outside the U.S. embassy in Garden City, Cairo, on 11 September to coincide with Terry Jones' "International Judge Muhammad Day." Wisam Abdel Warith, the president of the Cairo-based ultraconservative Salafi al-Hikma television channel, is a prominent voice among numerous Salafi leaders calling for protests. It is at this point that the issues surrounding the film bloom into a more comprehensive Salafi discourse of American-Egyptian ties and "American"/"Western" attacks on Islam, and it is at this point that we see the emergent demands for 1) an official American denunciation of and apology for the film and 2) the immediate release of "the Blind Shaykh" (al-Watan article, 10 September [in Arabic]). It is likely that these two days before the protests in Cairo, with chatter across various Salafi satellite- and social-media, saw the "internationalization" of the trailer from Egypt to Libya and beyond.
Alea iacta est... The initial somewhat dismissive attitude toward the trailer and film as the product of disaffected expatriate Copts and their fringe allies, like Terry Jones, transformed by 10 September into a protest-movement reflecting varied interests within Egyptian society. The 11 September protests in Cairo also reflected domestic political struggles reaching far beyond that among Copts and Muslims to include the struggle between marginalized Salafis and the empowered Muslim Brotherhood, between Salafis willing to participate in the electoral process and those who are not, and even between anti-authoritarian Ultras and the Egyptian state.