Ali Salem, author of 15 books and 27 plays, alongside numerous news articles, has been a controversial figure in Egypt ever since 1995, when he published a book entitled My Drive to Israel following a visit that he made to the Jewish State upon the signing of the Oslo Accords. During that visit, he spent three weeks in Israel, where he interviewed Israelis from all walks of life, enabling his writings to offer Egyptian audiences a glimpse of everyday life in Israel that challenged common stereotypes. Since that visit in 1994, Salem has visited Israel on numerous other occasions and in 1996, he became the co-founder of the Cairo Peace Movement.
Salem has paid dearly for this pro-peace activism, since many Egyptian theaters have boycotted his plays and numerous Egyptian newspapers have refused to publish his articles. He was even temporarily barred from the Egyptian Journalists’ Association. Many Egyptian and other Arab intellectuals have also attacked him. Such anti-Israel views in Egypt have only grown stronger since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. An Egyptian writer’s conference in Sharm El Sheikh maintained that all Egyptian writers and intellectuals should be against normalization with Israel, while being opposed to relations with Israel is a precondition to being an Egyptian newspaper editor. Yet despite all of this, Salem’s support for peace with Israel hasn’t waned.
Recently, Salem asserted on Al Kahera Wal-Nas TV that “poverty and a lack of freedom,” not Israel, are the “most dangerous to Egypt” and that “Israelis are not the enemy.” When pressed on who was the greater threat, Iran or Israel, he answered Iran, for they have “an extremist religious regime.” When the interviewer pressed him on the matter, claiming that Egypt has a border with Israel yet not Iran, Salem responded, “In today’s world, borders are meaningless, because Iran might have people here, and it might be supporting certain people here, in order to force us to implement its governmental system. On the other hand, so long as there is an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, protected by the whole world, Egypt does not face any danger from Israel.”
When questioned about what he would say to his brother who was killed during Israel’s 1967 War with Egypt regarding his current perspective on Israel, Salem replied, “This was not his war, and I could not believe it when he told me… He was due to set out the following morning. He told me he was with people wearing simple peasant robes. Although he was a reserve soldier in the medical corps, he was sent to an infantry unit. He told me he was given a gun he had never seen before. His comrades were wearing peasant robes.”
Salem continued, “At that moment, I realized that there are people who are gambling with the lives of the Egyptian youth. If you ask if I was proud – I was miserable and sad, because I realized, beyond any doubt, that they were gambling with the lives of the Egyptian youth. You expect me to be proud of that? […] We have reached peace. Whoever wants to benefit from peace can do so.”
To view a video of Ali Salem’s TV interview, see below!
By Rachel Avraham