What If Israel Vanished?

 

Advert for he END Soap Opera

Advert of Egyptian drama “The End”- produced by Synergy

 

A science-fiction Egyptian Ramadan drama, “The End”, set in the year 2120, has depicted what many in the Middle East wish would become a reality____ the destruction of Israel. In one particular scene of the drama a teacher informs students that all Jews in Israel have “returned to their countries of origin, and that the U.S. has splintered into many regions.” This scene and the theme of the drama have provoked angry reactions in Israel, but triggered a sense of joy in some quarters, especially on social media.  Typical of the comments from those who favour this imaginary scenario was the question, “Don’t we have the right to dream?” – a sentiment echoed by several others on Twitter.

I learned the hard way that debating the Arab-Israeli conflict in our region does not lead to a productive discussion about possible solutions. It only triggers anger and hysterical reactions, and even accusations of treason. So, instead, let’s adopt a different approach. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the illusory dream of the anti-Israel camp will happen, and that Israel will miraculously vanish at the behest of some divine power. What would happen then?

Let’s take a closer look at what would happen in the anti-Israel camp once the expected fireworks and grand celebrations are over following this epic vanishing trick.

There are three main factions within the anti-Zionist, pro-Palestine camp: The Muslim Brotherhood and neo-Ottoman Islamist camp, the Iranian revolutionaries and their “resistance camp” and the Arab nationalists and leftist camp. All have close links with various Palestinian groups.

All three factions, of course,  share the anti-Israel rhetoric and dream of regaining Al-Aqsa mosque. Nevertheless, each faction within this eclectic camp has a different outlook for the future of Palestine. Some advocate a future Islamist Palestine that would be part of a grand Ottoman caliphate. Others dream of a  revolutionary Palestine loyal to the Iranian Islamic regime. The third group dreams of a leftist nationalist Palestinian utopia.

None of them, however, will ever address the tough questions about their future beloved Palestine. How will they reconcile their conflicting views on the future Palestinian state? How will post-Israel Palestine avoid the fate of post-Saddam Iraq or post Arab Spring Syria? Will the allies of the various Palestinian factions leave the Palestinian people to decide their fate, or will they try to impose their vision in exchange for financial and political support?

Will Hamas, Fatah and the other Palestinian factions that failed to unite under occupation reconcile their differences after “liberation”?  Will the Islamists in post-Israel Palestine accept the secularists and liberals, or turn against them as the Mullahs did in Iran, and as Erdogan did in Turkey? How will Islamists treat minorities, such as the Bahai community in Israel? What will the future of their beautiful Temple in Haifa? be? Will the prominent Palestinian diaspora, including Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and activist Linda Sarsour, leave their prestigious careers in the US and “return” to campaign relentlessly for the “right to return to Palestine” and serve their beloved new state?

These are tough questions, so let’s ask an easier one: Who will control the Al-Aqsa Mosque after the imaginary end of Israel? Hamas? Fatah? Jordan? Turkey? Iran?  Will the mostly Sunni Palestinians allow Shia Muslims to practice and celebrate the death of Hussein inside Al-Aqsa Mosque? Or will Shia be labelled “apostates”?

I once asked a hardcore pro-Palestine Islamist those questions. He was angrily dismissive. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is that we destroy the Zionist State first, then think of the day after.”

The“dream first, think later attittude” is a common mantra in our region. It has dominated the Middle East for decades, if not centuries. “Let’s get rid of colonialism and then consider what’s next.” “Let’s get rid of authoritarian dictators and then think what’s next .” The outcome has been decades of bloodshed, civil war, persecution of minorities, and weak or failed states.

In our region, opposition is easier than governing, and blaming is easier than taking ownership of failure. Israel succeeded, not because of the Belfour declaration or American support; Israel succeeded because those who believed in it had a clear vision of how to govern their future state and were willing to put their differences aside to make their dream come true. On the other hand, although all the factions within the pro-Palestine camp are united in their contempt for Israel, the demise of the Zionist state is the last thing they want.

Without Israel, the Mullahs will have no excuse to channel money to Hezbollah and other regional terror groups. Hezbollah will have no excuse to maintain its military empire in Lebanon. Political Islam will struggle to lure Arabs to join its dystopian caliphate dream. And without Israel, the identity politics chorus in America will run out of  fancy slogans and excuses for their emotional outbursts. All the pro-Palestine tweeps will be rendered useless troll, and all regional drama producers will run out of fancy populist ideas for their fancy movies and soap operas.

It may come as a shock to many, but Israel is a golden asset for every faction within the anti-Israel, pro-Palestine camp. Without Israel, they will run out of excuses to justify their celebratory status, fake brands, empty slogans, poor governance, divisive politics, populism, and regressive ideologies. So do not fall for their faux outrage and false patriotism to the Palestinian cause.  It is as dystopian as the Egyptian soap opera that fantasized about it.

 

An Arabic version of this piece is published in Al-Hurra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Egypt, Israel, Middle East, Palestine | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

On Naoum Shebib and the Systematic obliteration of Jewish history in the Arab world

 

Naoum Shebib 2

No Egyptian citizen or visitor to Egypt does not know or has not heard of the iconic Cairo Tower, one of the most important landmarks of the Egyptian capital. Very few people, however, know the man behind this interesting building that was once the tallest building in Africa____ the gifted Egyptian architect Naoum Shebib (Chebib).  Even fewer are aware, or willing to acknowledge, that Shabib was, in fact, a Jewish Egyptian. 1

Shebib has left a great historical legacy in Egypt. Besides the Cairo Tower, Shabib designed the beautiful building of the oldest Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, the stunning Church of St. Fatima in Heliopolis, and many other architectural wonders, not just in Cairo, but in the city of Port Said too.

Naoum Shabib 1

Cairo Tower and other buildings by Shebib

I remembered Shabib when I read about the controversy sparked by the new Ramadan Gulf series “Umm Haroun,” which portrays the historical Jewish presence in the Gulf States in the early twentieth century. And even before the series started broadcasting, accusations of “normalization with Israel” were directed at it. For example, an official from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Basim Naeem, condemned the series even before it aired and told Reuters that portraying Jewish people in a sympathetic light is “cultural aggression and brainwashing.”

The Hamas official’s choice of words is clear – “The Jewish people.” In our region, particularly among the Islamists and the “anti-Israel resistance camp,” the words “Jews” and “Israelis” are synonymous. At best, detractors are willing to acknowledge Judaism as a religion, but most Arabs reject the Jewish identity and link it with the “Zionist entity.” Moreover, the vast majority of Arabs believe Jews of Arab decent have voluntarily left their countries to settle in Israel. With such a widespread myth, Jewish identity is awkward to handle and triggers suspicion, accusations of treason, and normalization with the “Zionist entity.”

Noam Shebib, however, is a striking example that debunks such lazy, shallow claims. Shabib was assigned to build the Cairo Tower during the era of the Egyptian president and anti-Israel leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and by one of Nasser’s intelligence officers2, according to some Egyptian reports. In 1971, at the age of 56, Shebib left Egypt for Canada, not Israel. However, none of the very few Arabic articles that praised his work mentioned he was Jewish. And none asked the tough questions: Why did a successful architect like Shebib immigrate to a distant country like Canada at a late stage of his life? Why are the vast majority of Egyptians not aware of him?

The story of Naom Shebib is not unique; most Jews from Egypt and the Arab World were forced to leave their native countries, because of direct or indirect persecution via loss of citizenship rights and protection, loss of jobs in the private and public sectors, no prospect of future employment, dispossession of assets, death, and expatriation/expulsion. Some have had their passports stamped “exit, with no return.”

Through a brief search on social media, one can encounter many such “exiles” sharing old photos from their homeland and maintaining what they regard as their proud Arab traditions.

Headline from Ahram newspaper September 1948

(explosion in the Jewish quarter in Cairo)

There is no logical explanation of the current hysteria about a soap opera that happened to portray a Jewish Gulf family. The real “cultural aggression and brainwashing” has been the systematic negative portrayal of Jews of Arab descent in the name of defending Palestinian rights.  Kicking the Jews out of Arab countries was not just unjust, but frankly stupid. It deprived the Arab world of the contributions of a flourishing minority, and ironically rewarded Israel with more Jewish occupants for its new state.

Seventy years of systematic obliteration of the history of the Jews did not benefit the Palestinians’ cause, but only served the toxic agendas of the radical left, the Mullahs and the varies Islamists groups. The result has been a slow decline and ugly transformation of our societies from open, multicultural ones to closed regressive and fragile ones, engulfed by suspicion and fear.

Some efforts have been made in Egypt to renew the country’s Jewish heritage. The latest was the renovation of the stunning Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria. But the country is still struggling to handle its Jewish people, individuals such as Naoum Shabib. It is as if remembering any Jew, regardless of the context, is a sin Egyptians are unwilling to commit.

I hope the story of Shebib inspires Gulf societies to embrace TV dramas such as “Umm Haroun,” and reject the hysteria and noise of the Islamists and “resistance” camps, who aim to weaponize this TV series against the growing culture of tolerance and multiculturalism in the Gulf.

 

An Arabic version of this piece was published in Al-Hurra

References:

Naom Jewish 2

Naom Jewish 1

 

 

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, Israel, Middle East | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

This Week in Egypt: Week 21-2020 ( May 18-24)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt is willing to resume dam talks with Sudan and Ethiopia
  • Coronavirus cases in Egypt could be over 71,000
  • Egypt makes wearing facemasks mandatory in public places
  • Egyptian security forces killed 21 terrorists during raids on their hideouts in North Sinai
  • Egypt Pardons ex-Cop Jailed for Lebanese Singer’s Murder
  • Egypt’s unemployment rate 9.2% in April due to coronavirus

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

  • Egyptian security forces killed 21 terrorists during raids on their hideouts in North Sinai
  • AU Commission welcomes revival of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over GERD
  • Gas production to resume at Leviathan gas field after brief halt

Sunday

Reports

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From Twitter

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 20-2020 ( May 11-17)

Top Headlines

  • Ethiopia to start filling its mega dam in July despite lack of agreement with Egypt and Sudan
  • Russia launches production of Su-35 fighter jets for Egypt
  • Egypt, Greece and Cyprus’ foreign ministers denounce Turkey’s latest activities in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Turkey accused Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates of seeking to form an “alliance of evil”
  • A popular Egyptian influencer is arrested “for violating family values”
  • Editor-in-Chief of Mada Masr Lina Attalah is released on bail after she was arrested outside Tora prison

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

  • Egypt tightens coronavirus restrictions for Eid holiday
  • Mada Masr Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah is released on bail after she was arrested outside Tora prison
  • Egypt records 510 COVID-19 cases, 18 deaths
  • First Abu Dhabi Bank puts talks to acquire Bank Audi’s Egyptian business on hold.
  • Egypt to loan Egypt Air $127 million to help it through coronavirus crisis
  • World Bank provides US$ 50 million to Egypt in support of Coronavirus emergency response

Reports

Read

 Photo Gallery 

  • Overlooked and Forgotten: Egypt’s historic Port Said. Tayara

From Twitter

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 19 – 2020 (May 4-10)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt extends night-time curfew until the end of Ramadan
  • Egypt expects to secure final approval to borrow $2.7 billion from the IMF
  • Egypt’s annual inflation jumps to 5.9%, monthly rate up to 1.6% in April
  • Egypt’s foreign reserves fall to $37.037 billion at the end of April
  • Egypt raises new tax on fuel as it confronts coronavirus crisis
  • Israel to discuss with U.S. reported Sinai peacekeeper cutback plan

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday 

  • Egypt records 488 new coronavirus cases Saturday, bringing total to 8964
  • Egypt’s 9th doctor dies from coronavirus
  • Egyptian doctor becomes first health care worker to die on Kuwait’s coronavirus frontline

Sunday

Reports

Read

From Twitter

 

 

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 18-2020 ( April 27- May 3)

Top Headlines

  • Ten Egyptian army members were killed or wounded in a bomb attack 
  • Islamic State claims responsibility for Egypt’s Sinai attack
  • Egypt says security forces kill 18 militants in Sinai
  • Egypt announces 272 new coronavirus cases, total reaches 6,465
  • Filmmaker who mocked the Egyptian President dies in prison 

 Main Headlines

 Monday

  • Egypt reports the highest single-day coronavirus death toll at 20, plus 248 new infections on Monday
  • Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church announces first-ever coronavirus cases among clergymen
  • Egypt’s Negelah quarantine hospital open despite two staff deaths from coronavirus

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

  • 298 new coronavirus cases reported in Egypt on Saturday; total cases surpass 6,000 surpass 6000
  • Egypt could be an unexpected winner from Lake Victoria’s water levels have surged to their highest level since 1964
  • Egypt saw no injuries, property damage from Crete earthquake
  • Filmmaker who mocked the Egyptian President dies in prison

Sunday

Reports

From Twitter

  

 

 

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 17 ( Apr 20-26)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt to start discussions with IMF for new financial support
  • Egypt eases some lockdown restrictions for Ramadan
  • Egypt sends medical supplies to the US to assist in the fight against coronavirus
  • Spain arrests British-Egyptian rapper who became Islamic State fighter
  • Egypt’s Commercial International Bank buys 51% of Kenya’s Mayfair
  • Pompeo urges Egypt to keep American prisoners safe from coronavirus

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

  • In role reversal, Egypt sends medical supplies to the US to assist in the fight against coronavirus
  • Pharos Energy exits group looking to buy Shell’s Western Desert assets
  • Egypt starts production from two Mediterranean gas wells

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

  • Pompeo urges Egypt to keep American prisoners safe from coronavirus
  • Egypt’s Commercial International Bank buys 51% of Kenya’s Mayfair
  • 201 new coronavirus cases in Egypt, bringing the country’s total number of confirmed cases to 4092
  • Sandstorm wreaks havoc across Egypt
  • Egypt announces the discovery of coffin containing a mummy dating back to the 17th dynasty in Luxor

 Saturday

  • Benha University Hospital announces 16 Covid-19 cases among its staff
  • New Valley governorate’s total COVID-19 cases rise to 13
  • Tourist boats are back to work in Red Sea governorate after two weeks of suspension

Sunday

Reports

Interview

From Twitter

Plus

  • Egypt’s antiquities ministry to launch virtual tour of Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser

 

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Egypt, Sudan and the Ethiopian Dam conflict

 

 

Sudan Egypt

 

Last month, many Egyptians were surprised by Sudan’s reservation about a resolution by the Arab Council for Foreign Ministers supporting Egypt in its dispute with Ethiopia over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD).

This was followed by a declared desire by Sudan to “mediate” between Egypt and Ethiopia. Both moves were rightly seen in Cairo as a sign that Sudan is drifting towards Ethiopia in the GERD dispute.

Sudan and Egypt have had their political differences for a while. For starters, there is a border dispute between the two countries over the Red Sea’s Halayeb Triangle, which are currently under Egyptian control. Nonetheless, observers of the Sudanese issue will notice the extent of rapprochement that exists between the new leadership in Sudan and Ethiopia, following the ousting of Al-Bashir’s regime.

Moreover, many Sudanese consider the Ethiopian president a national hero. Although both Egyptian and Ethiopian leaders contributed to the negotiations of Sudan’s power-sharing agreement and both signed it as witnesses, many in Sudan consider President Abi Ahmed the central player, and his diplomatic efforts are the main factor behind its success. This sweeping popularity was reflected in the loud reception and intense applause the Ethiopian president received during the signing ceremony of the power-sharing agreement between the Sudanese military and civilian forces, compared to the lukewarm reception Egyptian Prime Minister, Mustafa Madbouly, received at the same ceremony.

Furthermore, there is a surge of populism in Sudan following the ousting of its dictator, Bashir, and new slogans, such as “Sudan first”, are emerging on the streets. Sudanese writer Mohamed Mustafa Jameh, who has criticized the Egyptian stance towards Sudan in the past, defended Sudan’s position in a recent article, stating “the youth of Sudan who blew up the blessed December revolution today raises the slogan of Sudan first.”

With this “Sudan first” mindset, Sudanese policy makers see the GERD project as adventurous for Sudan.  As Attia Essawi wrote, Sudan not only stands to get cheap energy from the GERD, but the dam will also prevent flooding and the associated damage it would cause to large tracts of land on either side of the Blue Nile in Sudan. The Sudanese leadership is also hoping the Ethiopian leader will do more to promote a comprehensive agreement with the rebel movements in the Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur states.

Alarmingly too, the Egyptian outlet Mada Masr reported an alleged lack of agreement within the senior leadership in Khartoum over the dam dispute. According to that report, the military representatives of the Sudanese leadership, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairperson of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, are more inclined to accommodate Egypt’s position regarding the text of the agreement, while PM Hamdok is more in line with Ethiopia. The report added how PM Hamdok lived in Ethiopia for years, as did many of his closest aides, and he has close ties with the Ethiopian PM.

To prevent Sudan from drifting towards Ethiopia, Egypt has increased its diplomatic efforts to win Sudan back. Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel visited Sudan twice recently, and his visits seem to have shifted the Sudanese stance in favour of Egypt. Early this month, Sudan’s Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, said Khartoum was committed to the Washington text “as a term of reference” to a final agreement on the filling and operation of the dam. Egypt agreed to this text, but Ethiopia rejected it.

On the other hand, Addis Ababa has reiterated its pledge to begin filling the reservoir during the wet season between late June and September. Hailu Abraham, an official of the GERD’s Popular Participation and Mobilization Coordination Council said: “We have managed to build the GERD, and shattered the very foundations of Egypt’s reliance on colonial-era agreements.” Such a hostile statement is part of a coordinated PR campaign to stoke anti-Egypt feeling. Ethiopia is also trying to mobilize Nile Basin countries against Egypt, with the hope of winning hearts and minds in Africa in support of its GERD project.

For years, the Ethiopian leadership has managed to play its cards well by courting Sudan and winning the hearts and minds of many of Sudan’s policy makers. Now, Egypt is running out of time, particularly as the entire world is pre-occupied with the Coronavirus pandemic. The subtle favourable re-shift of Sudan’s stance towards Egypt is a good step, but more has to be done to re-push the GERD conflict back onto the international front. With less than two months before Ethiopia starts filling the dam in June, the Egyptian leadership cannot afford to let the GERD crisis fade from the global political scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Week in Egypt: Week 16-2020 ( April 13-19)

Top Headlines

  • Egyptian policeman and seven suspected militants were killed in a gun battle in Cairo
  • Number of coronarivus cases in Egypt passes 3,000
  • Moody’s keeps Egypt’s credit rating at B2 with stable outlook amid global challenges
  • Egypt sends medical gowns for British health workers
  • Egypt puts 13 people including ex-MP on terrorism list
  • Khartoum seeks cooperation between all involved parties to reach a final agreement

 

Pyramids Corona 2

Main Headlines

Monday

  • Lecico Egypt closes Alexandrian factory temporarily after two workers test positive for coronavirus
  • 3,378 Egyptians stranded abroad
  • Egypt’s tourism revenues expected to drop by $5 billion over COVID-19
  • As foreign reserves dip, Egypt’s economy slows down
  • Revenues of East Port Said economic zone is up 80% despite COVID-19 impact
  • Coronavirus could subside in June if Egyptians adhere to precautionary measures: Information minister

Tuesday

  • ‪Egyptian policeman and seven suspected militants were killed in a gun battle in Cairo
  • Egypt’s real GDP growth to plunge to 2% in 2020 amid coronavirus outbreak, IMF forecasts
  • Egypt’s Sisi discusses coronavirus efforts with top military leaders
  • Egypt sends medical gowns for British health workers
  • Egypt’s health ministry launches coronavirus mobile application
  • Khartoum seeks cooperation between all involved parties to reach a final agreement on GERD

Wednesday

 Thursday

  • Egypt to suspend public transport, close shops, parks on Sham El-Nessim/Easter holiday
  • Egypt quarantines a Kafr El-Sheikh village following detection of 10 coronavirus cases
  • Six new coronavirus cases among Egyptians in Kuwait
  • Egypt receives 4 tons of medical supplies from China
  • Al-Azhar Grand Imam greets Pope Tawadros II, Copts on Easter
  • Egypt’s budget deficit hits EGP 267.99 billion in 7 months

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Reports 

  • Ethiopia turns to upstream countries amid Nile Dam dispute with Egypt with Egypt. Ayah Aman
  • Egypt courts Sudan as time runs out in Ethiopia dam dispute. Mada Masr
  • Egypt’s soap operas defy a deadly virus for Ramadan prime time. But at what cost? Lina Wardani and Sarah El Sirgany, CNN
  • Khartoum moves closer to Cairo on GERD. Doaa El-Bey

Read

  • Out of Egypt: Understanding the revival of interest in the country’s Jewish past. Ofer Nordheimer Nur

Photo Gallery

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This Week in Egypt: Week 15-2020 ( April 6-12)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt sees 126 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 2065
  • Egypt extends coronavirus night curfew until April 23
  • Egyptian government cuts fuel prices
  • Egypt’s army distributes free face masks to the public
  • Egypt’s Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State discuss efforts on combating coronavirus and regional developments
  • Demand increases on Egyptian vegetables, fruits to be exported to countries severely affected by COVID 19

 

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

  • Egypt will keep mosques closed during Ramadan because of coronavirus
  • Egypt’s international reserve drop to $40.108bn amid COVID-19 outbreak
  • Egypt’s Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State discuss efforts on combating coronavirus and regional developments

Wednesday

Thursday 

Friday

Saturday

  • Egyptian police dispersed crowd attempting to prevent burial of coronavirus victim, 20 arrested
  • Egypt intervenes as Gaza warns Israel over medical aid
  • Egypt to send Libya 44 detergent containers, to provide staples, medical aid

Sunday

Reports

Fact box

  • Egypt’s capabilities in facing coronavirus in numbers

Interview

From Twitter

 

 

 

Plus

  • Egypt breakthrough: ‘Precise location’ of Alexander the Great’s tomb revealed by expert
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