A prominent Egyptian journalist who met with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt is under attack by many of her colleagues, who are accusing her of violating a boycott of Israelis.
The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate criticized Hala Mustafa for hosting ambassador Shalom Cohen in her office at the semi-official Al-Ahram newspaper in Cairo.
Mustafa is editor-in-chief of the weekly Democracy magazine, one of numerous publications belonging to the mass-circulation Al-Ahram. She is also known in Egypt for her close ties with Jamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak.
The invitation to the Israeli ambassador was seen by some Egyptians as part of Jamal Mubarak's efforts to win backing in the US and Western countries for his bid to succeed his father as president.
The meeting between Mustafa and Cohen took place in her office and lasted for one hour. Security guards stationed at the Al-Ahram building were surprised to see Cohen, but were not told to stop him from entering the offices.
The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm quoted Mustafa as saying that during the controversial meeting, Cohen had asked her to participate in a symposium featuring both Israeli and Egyptian speakers.
The paper said that Al-Ahram chairman Abdel Moneim Saeed had found no clauses in the newspaper's regulations and rules that barred guests of certain nationalities or political orientations.
Sources at Al-Ahram said Saeed had rejected two previous requests to meet with the Israeli envoy.
The visit has enraged many journalists, who have demanded that Mustafa be expelled from the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate for breaking a regulation prohibiting all forms of normalization with Israel.
Syndicate chairman Makram Muhammad Ahmed said he would not accept any violation of the normalization ban. Denying reports that he himself was in favor of normalization with Israel, Ahmed said the syndicate would hold an emergency meeting later Thursday to discuss the repercussions of Mustafa's meeting with Cohen.
Earlier, syndicate member Yehya Qallash accused Ahmed of facilitating normalization with Israel by welcoming Israelis into newspaper offices.
"Hala Mustafa would not have been able to invite the Israeli ambassador to visit Al-Ahram had she been confronted by a strong syndicate," Qallash told the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi. "She should be dismissed from the syndicate for violating the ban on contacts with Israelis."
Mustafa said in response that the visit had been coordinated with her bosses and that many Israelis had visited Al-Ahram, the largest newspaper in the Arab world, over the past few decades. She said that the uproar caused by the visit was unjustified, accusing her critics of trying to defame her by calling for her expulsion from the syndicate.
She added that not only had Saeed known about the ambassador's visit in advance, he had met with Israelis on several occasions and had even visited Tel Aviv. Mustafa pointed out that she had never been to Israel and that she was not an advocate of normalization with Israel.
According to Al-Quds al-Arabi, many of Mustafa's colleagues at Al-Ahram reacted with fury upon learning about her meeting with Cohen. They are now demanding that she be expelled from the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate and that she be banned from writing in local newspapers.
Earlier this month, a group of Jordanian journalists came under heavy criticism for visiting Jerusalem.
Jordan's 14 professional unions, which represent some 150,000 employees, said the visit was an act of normalization with Israel, and called for punitive measures against the delegation members.
The unions have been leading an anti-normalization campaign since the signing of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel in 1994. Members who apply for visas from the Israeli embassy in Amman or make contact with Israeli officials face disciplinary measures, which include expulsion from their unions.