News that Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s Islamist president, has promised to uphold his country’s long-standing peace treaty with Israel has been widely welcomed. Revealingly, however, Mr Morsi refused to refer to the Jewish state by name, sticking instead to a generalised statement that his government was “in full respect of international peace treaties”.
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, responded by urging Morsi to put his money where his mouth is. “We hope to see President Morsi receiving official Israeli representatives,” he said. “We want to see him giving interviews to Israeli media and we want to see him in Jerusalem.”
From the Egyptian perspective, Lieberman’s invitation will be perceived as a provocation. Morsi’s reluctance to say the word “Israel” points to a deeply ingrained anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiment that is widespread in Egyptian society; were he to appear to have a reasonable stance towards the Jewish state, his popularity at home would have plummeted. This is the case throughout much of the Muslim world. In this context, Lieberman’s apparent olive branch will be seen as nothing short of inflammatory.
Last month, Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, received a letter, in English, signed by President Morsi, stating that he was “looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East Peace Process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including Israeli people.” This was a response to a letter sent by Peres conveying Israel’s best wishes for the month of Ramadan.
However, when reports of Morsi’s conciliatory letter emerged, the Egyptian president’s office felt compelled to deny its authenticity. “This is totally untrue,” said Yasser Ali, a spokesman, adding that the letter was a “fabrication” by two Israeli newspapers. Which was odd, considering that it had been released by the president’s Jerusalem office as an official communiqué from the Egyptian ambassador, sent by registered post and backed up by fax.
That a letter such as this – which was not even instigating goodwill but echoing it – should provoke such vehement denials from Mohammed Morsi underscores the strength of anti-Israeli prejudice in Egypt.
Television can provide a useful window into Egypt’s cultural sensibilities. Last month, a popular Egyptian practical joke programme, Alhojm Baad Al Mozwawla (Judgment After A Prank), staged an elaborate hoax. The producers invited the Egyptian actor, Ayman Kandeel, to be interviewed, and then, mid-conversation, told him that he was appearing on an Israeli television network. An actor posing as an Israeli producer said to Kandeel “I am trying to be peaceful. I am not provoking you.” Revealingly, Kandeel responded: “The peace was decided on by governments. We as people have different criteria.” He then flew into a rage, demolishing the set, punching the female presenter, and drawing his gun. It took some minutes to calm him down and explain that it was all a “joke”. The episode – which can be watched here – ended with Kandeel apologising to the cowering presenter.
This was not an isolated incident. The show, which aired daily on primetime during the month of Ramadan, rehashed the same trick several times with different celebrity victims, invariably provoking a shockingly hostile response. Mahmoud Abdelghafar, for instance, another actor pranked by the show, grabbed the “producer” by the hair and shouted “I suspected you were a Jew.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website