"It's my pleasure if my program is responsible for more than 50 percent of anti-Americanism in Egypt... The fact that my views are identical with my audience's is God's greatest gift to me."'
CAIRO, Egypt (AP - 11 Dec) - When Egypt's most popular television commentator, Hamdi Qandil, called for a boycott of U.S. goods, which his government opposes, it got past the censor. But he was stopped from repeating it.
The first time he said on his program ``Editor-in-chief'' that Americans were dropping food to Afghans so that they could ``fatten them up before they slaughter them,'' it was cut - but he slipped it in the following week.
``We are playing a cat-and-mouse game. I don't always win, but I'm surprised at what I've gained so far,'' he said.
Mohamed El-Wakil, who doubles as Qandil's censor and director of news for Egyptian TV, said sometimes cuts are necessary because Egyptian television, after all, ``is owned by the government, and the Egyptian media is executing Egypt's foreign policy.''
But El-Wakil also insisted Qandil was free to project ``the Egyptian, Arab and international media's pulse.''
The thin, elegantly dressed 65-year-old Qandil is unapologetic - his views make his weekly program among the most-watched on Egyptian television.
``It's my pleasure if my program is responsible for more than 50 percent of anti-Americanism in Egypt,'' Qandil said with his famous smile and deep voice. ``The fact that my views are identical with my audience's is God's greatest gift to me.''
Qandil says he hates America's policies, not its people. He was bashing the United States even before it started its military campaign against Afghanistan, targeted for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. He saves his bitterest barbs for the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he and many Arabs see as pro-Israel.
Since the Palestinian-Israeli clashes broke out last year, a black-and-white keffiyeh, a checked scarf worn by Palestinians, has become part of his studio decor, draped over a chair. He often refers to Israelis as ``the lowest of the low.''
During an interview, Qandil flipped over the lapel of his own jacket to reveal a German designer label - proof, he said, that he rejects American products as he has counseled viewers to do. His apartment is furnished with pieces from Italy and France. He quit Marlboros for German cigarettes and drives a Jaguar.
During one recent show, he mused: ``I won't be terribly sad if one or six of (America's) planes plunged, if one or sixteen of its soldiers are captured, because what we are witnessing in Afghanistan is terrorism.''
Foreign observers, particularly Americans, have questioned whether the Egyptian media shouldn't present a more balanced view. El-Wakil, the news director, says it is Israeli action and American policy that creates hostility, not what's said in the media. But some Egyptians are concerned.
``I find programs like Hamdi Qandil's to be extremely destructive, as the dose of anger is excessive,'' said political commentator Tareq Heggy, who believes Qandil's program should be balanced ``by a counter podium by people who might not have the same charisma but certainly (would be) capable of more rational dialogue.''
Elham Makhlouf, a 51-year-old Cairo housewife, says she tries never to miss Qandil.
``I like his cynicism while addressing serious issues,'' she said. ``He is a very eloquent and attractive presenter. His program is captivating.''
Qandil's program, started in 1998, is shown at 10:30 p.m on Mondays in Egypt, and on Tuesdays on Egypt's satellite channel, which reaches viewers worldwide.
He starts each 90-minute show with a review of the week's headlines and a monologue on the week's most important events. Then he interviews his guests or moderates a panel discussion before wrapping up with a recitation of newspaper comment.
He spends at least 12 hours daily reading, and still finds time to contact each potential guest himself.
Qandil helped run Egyptian television 40 years ago for President Gamal Abdel Nasser. After Nasser's death, Qandil, an avowed leftist, clashed with the new leadership. He stopped presenting programs for a quarter-century, spending most of that time in Europe working for the United Nations and gaining expertise in Western media operations, particularly satellite broadcasting, and perfecting his English and French.