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Sadat Autopsy Photo Stirs Controversy - 2002-06-03

An Egyptian newspaper has sparked controversy by publishing what it says is an autopsy photograph of the late President Anwar Sadat.

It has been described as the first photograph ever published of the corpse of President Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic fundamentalist soldiers.

The color photo shows the naked torso and head of a man, identified as the late president, laid out on a white sheet.

When the photo appeared in the weekly Egyptian tabloid Al-Maydan last week the publisher fired an editor, calling the decision to run the picture "extraordinarily inappropriate."

Now the editor-in-chief of the tabloid is speaking publicly about why the photo was published.

Said Abdel Khalil said the photo is "an important historical document that should send a message to everyone in the region" and that it "contains information about the most famous assassination-autopsy case in the history of Egypt."

He says the reason he agreed to publish the photo was to send a message telling everyone that Mr. Sadat was "killed by terrorists, that terrorism still exists, and everyone needs to be aware."

But not everyone agrees with him. Former Egyptian prime Minister Mustafa Khalil, an architect of the Egyptian-Israeli peace process, said he thinks the photo was published for other, darker reasons. He said the photo has political meaning, conveying the message that those who follow Mr. Sadat's policy will suffer the same fate.

Mustafa Khalil said Egyptian policy makers "should not be forced to reach decisions under the pressure of subtle threats."

Nabil Zaki, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Ahlai, thinks the photo was published because "tabloids are always looking for a sensational story." In addition, he said, the political climate in Egypt during Mr. Sadat's presidency was much different than it is today. Mr. Zaki says Egypt is not as isolated from the Arab world under the current president, Hosni Mubarak, as it was during Mr. Sadat's final days. He says the tabloid should not be criticized for exercising freedom of speech at a time, when "freedom of the press is suffering in Egypt."

The tabloid newspaper has not explained how it managed to get the photograph.