Candid Camera-like pranks can be more telling than they might be funny. Egypt’s Al-Nahar TV featured separate interviews with three popular actors – two men and one woman – who were each told at some point that their appearances were being screened on Israel’s Channel 2. That alone sufficed to trigger violence and/or vituperation.
It matters little whether each of the three was genuinely outraged or just thought it prudent to defend his/her reputation from any possible perceived Israeli contamination. The remotest and most indirect connection to Israel was presented as justifying fury.
Actor Ayman “Tuhami” Kandeel, believing his female interviewer was Israeli, began punching her, knocked her to the ground and proceeded to hurl furniture at the technical crew.
Fellow actor Mahmoud Abdel Ghaffar slapped the interviewer and shook her fiercely before being assured that “we’re all Egyptians here.” He excused himself: “You brought me someone who looks like a Jew. I hate the Jews to death.”
The aggression of actress Mayer El Beblawi was verbal and dripped with Jew-revulsion: “Israelis are all liars. They moan about the Holocaust, or whatever it’s called. They murdered the prophets. Allah hadn’t cursed worms and moths as much as he cursed the Jews.”
This is but one of numerous illustrations of the nature of the New Egypt, the one forged by a so-called Arab Spring.
To be fair, anti-Israeli and Judeophobic propaganda permeated the state-controlled Egyptian media even before Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, but if any gullible Western observers had hoped for youthful, educated and liberal vibes from the Arab uprisings, such outbursts as these that entertain the Egyptian masses definitively dash credulous hopes.
In many ways, these seemingly spontaneous reactions are more ominous than last September’s violent attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, complete with the mob calling for the Jews’ death. The foremost difference is that there was no incendiary rabble frenzy at play here, no stoked mass-psychosis. Instead, the three actors are the celebrities of Egyptian society, members of its privileged elite, presumably more literate and expected to be less bigoted.
And it’s not just Egypt, despite the fact that we expect better of Egypt – if for no other reason then because it signed a peace treaty with Israel more than 30 years ago.
All Arab states, in concert, foster an interconnected dynamic that snuffs out any semblance of forward-thinking, even among the intellectual upper crust upon whom outsiders count to know better and to blaze trails toward tolerance and coexistence.
That’s what acclaimed Algerian author Boualem Sansal discovered in May after he dared put in a brief appearance at the third International Writers Festival in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim. He knew he’d stir a hornet’s nest but courageously decided to affirm his independence. As atypical as one gets in the Arab world, he has throughout been an outspoken critic of his country’s autocracy, as well as its Muslim fanatics.
Sansal’s defiant visit to Israel occurred after he was nominated in Paris for this year’s Editions Gallimard Arabic Novel prize for his book Rue Darwin. The Paris-based Arab Ambassadors’ Council partakes in the selection process.
However, the ambassadors got cold feet following vociferous Hamas condemnations. Despite the council’s backtracking and withdrawal of the 15,000 euro award, the French Gallimard committee members declared Sansal their laureate in an alternative ceremony.
Last week, Israel decided to openly speak out on the matter. It’s not that Sansal needs our help, but we perhaps need to let him know that we appreciate his nonconformity to a culture of hate.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels, asked all his interlocutors not to remain silent on the Sansal issue if they indeed believe their own declarations on behalf of broadmindedness and mutual respect.
This is key. It’s tempting to blame all Arab ills on the conflict with Israel, but these ills spring from within societies that zealously cultivate hate. If Europe and the West continue to conveniently ignore Arab hate in high places – sanctioned hate that has become de rigueur – then there is scant prospect for meaningful reform in the Arab world.