Outrage in Egypt over Israeli book at Cairo fair

Egyptian parliamentarian demands inquiry after Army Radio analyst's book is allowed into a book fair in Cairo.

Ben Ariel,

Books (illustration)
Books (illustration)
iStock

Peace agreement notwithstanding, Israeli culture symbols are apparently still not welcome in Egypt.

An Egyptian parliamentarian is demanding that his government investigate how an Israeli book was allowed into an international book fair taking place in Cairo, Haaretz reported on Tuesday.

The book in question, “Arabian Nights.Com,” was written by Jacky Hugi, an Arab affairs analyst for Army Radio. The book is described by Hugi as “a nonfiction introduction for Israeli readers to contemporary social, cultural and political discourse in the Arab world.”

The book was published in Hebrew in 2011, and was only recently translated into Arabic by Egyptian translator Amr Zakaria in preparation for the Cairo book fair. The fair, which opened last Thursday and closes on February 10, features some 3 million books at 850 booths from 34 countries, according to Haaretz.

But shortly after the fair opened, the discovery of Hugi’s book raised a storm, primarily because Hugi works for a military radio station.

Mohamed Al-Masoud, a member of parliament for the Free Egyptians party, which is considered liberal, promptly demanded that Culture Minister Helmy El Namnam investigate how such a lapse occurred.

“If we don’t translate Hebrew books, how will we know what’s being written about us?” countered Zakaria in an interview published on Sunday in the Egyptian daily Akhbar el-Yom. “This book in particular was written about our society. How long will we hide our heads in the sand?”

“If the situation goes on this way, the state should abolish the universities’ Hebrew language departments. Every year, they produce 2,000 graduates. If they work in tourism, they’re considered normalizers. If they translate, they’re also considered normalizers,” Zakaria continued, according to Haaretz, a reference to the fact that many Egyptians oppose “normalizing” relations with Israel.

Dr. Haitham El-Hajj Ali, head of the public committee that organized the fair, told a local television station that, while he hadn’t yet encountered the book, he intended to hunt it down and examine its content to determine “whether it harms national security or not,” given that “media reports say the book’s author is an Arab affairs analyst for the Israeli army.”

“I must stress that many people in the Culture Ministry believe we should translate from Hebrew, but we won’t pay Israelis for the translation rights,” he was quoted by Haaretz as having said. “We must translate them to become familiar with their culture and learn how to deal with them, but we won’t sign contracts with them.”

Despite the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries, there have been constant calls on the Egyptian side to annul the pact, with those calls coming from both politicians as well as citizens.

In fact, a recent poll found that Egyptians see Israel as the "most hostile" of their neighbors, despite the peace treaty.

In 2013, the movement that led the opposition to former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi said it would target the peace treaty with Israel, by collecting signatures to a petition calling for its cancellation.

There have also been strange incidents where locals were arrested for sympathizing with Israel. In one incident, an Egyptian lawyer was accused of spying for Israel because he was surfing on Israeli websites in an Internet cafe.

In another case, Egyptian authorities arrested a 24-year-old resident for allegedly writing to Israeli nationals through Facebook and criticizing Egypt and Egyptians, as well as declaring his love for the Jewish state.

Responding to the outrage over his book, Hugi said, according to Haaretz, “The campaign against normalization was born as a means to pressure Israel on the Palestinian issue, but it’s absurd. When you prevent an Egyptian citizen from reading Hebrew literature or watching an Israeli film, the boycott is against him.”

“It’s strange that Israeli governments have watched the Egyptian regime drying up relations for 30 years now, but swallowed the insult without a jot of protest,” he added.




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