Egyptian academic under fire for lecture at Israeli university

Ibrahim’s visit was a major setback to opponents in the Arab world of normalization with Israel.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim speaks on a panel during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 21, 2011.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Saad Eddin Ibrahim speaks on a panel during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 21, 2011.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of Egypt’s most distinguished academics is facing a torrent of condemnation for traveling to Israel and giving a lecture at Tel Aviv University in violation of a taboo on “normalization” of relations.
Sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, 79, attended an international conference about Egyptian society at the university on Tuesday and lectured to a packed auditorium on “Lessons from 100 Years of Changes in Egypt.
About 20 Arab students disrupted the lecture with shouts of “Long live the Palestinian struggle,” branded Ibrahim a “traitor” and a “paid agent,” and then left.
Ibrahim’s visit was a major setback to supporters of the academic boycott of Israel and to opponents in the Arab world of normalization with Israel. This is because of both his academic and human rights credentials and the credibility he commands for having been imprisoned as a critic of then-president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
He spent most of his career teaching at the American University in Cairo and also achieved renown as founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies and the Arab Organization for Human Rights.
In 2000, Ibrahim was imprisoned for, among other things, “defaming” Egypt’s image abroad. In his lecture on Tuesday, he seemed physically frail and said his years in prison had ruined his health, leaving him unable to walk even after five operations.
“If I am a paid agent, it would be nice if they at least would pay me,” he quipped after the disruption, according to The New Arab website.
Much of his talk was devoted to his personal recollections of the 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak.
Ibrahim said he had been in America when the protests started and was invited to Washington, where he gave his analysis to a group that was joined by president Barack Obama.
He said he obeyed orders from his wife to come home to Cairo, and learned of Mubarak’s ouster on the flight, whose passengers erupted in celebration. He joined the crowds in Tahrir Square. But when protesters told him they have no leaders, he began worrying the revolution would be “hijacked,” he said, according to The New Arab.
At one point, Ibrahim referred to Hebrew University professor emeritus Shlomo Avineri, who shared the panel with him, as “my mentor.” He also said he supports Israel’s economic integration into the Middle East.
In Cairo, Egyptian members of parliament and journalists competed with one another over who could more vociferously condemn Ibrahim.
While security ties between Egypt and Israel are close, public opinion is overwhelmingly hostile toward Israel. Israel does not appear on maps in school textbooks, and the media are rife with reports that it aids the Islamic State insurgency in Sinai.
MP Nashwa al-Deeb called Ibrahim’s trip “treason and normalization that is completely rejected.”
She termed the timing “catastrophic,” noting that it came after US President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “Israel is still the primary enemy of the Arab countries,” Deeb said, according to the Tahrir website.
MP Ashraf Rashad Osman demanded that Ibrahim be put on trial, according to the Sada el-Balad website. Osman warned of “the penetration of the Zionist entity into Egypt through those who term themselves intellectuals.” He said so-called intellectuals who support normalization are “more dangerous to Arabs and Arabism than terrorism.”
In Israel, a senior activist in the Balad party, a component of the Joint List, criticized Ibrahim’s visit.
“People who care about human rights should not deal with Israel as a normal state until there is a historic compromise between Palestinians and Israelis,” said Sami Abu Shehadeh, a member of the Balad central committee.
“We are more angry when such visits come from an Arab state, because we see the Palestinian people as part of the Arab nation, and we know also that the vast majority of Egyptians are against normalization,” Abu Shehadeh said.
“When you have Arab intellectuals, important figures, actors or singers come to Israel and deal with it as if there is no occupation and there is nothing wrong, of course it gives more legitimacy to Israel, and Israel uses this visit to claim there is no occupation and everything is under control and there are no human-rights violations.”