Rachel Silverman

Let’s hear it for Egypt’s peace movement

Israelis should appreciate the brave Egyptian peace activists who challenge their country's hostility to Israel and Jews

I believe that Egypt’s peace movement deserves to receive much greater coverage, recognition, and respect in both the Israeli and Western media. Israeli Jews do not understand and consider the enormous risks that Egyptian Arabs face when they dare to stand up for Israel and the Jews. Israeli Jews take their democratic freedoms for granted and do not recognize the dangerous conditions under which Arab dissidents are forced to operate. Arab dissidents face the risk of prison, torture, rape, and death when they dare to speak up for democracy, human rights, and peace with Israel and the Jews.

For example, Maikel Nabil Sanad, who has blogged at Times of Israel, was imprisoned for ten months from March 28, 2011, to January 25, 2012, simply because he challenged the post-Mubarak military regime and defended Israel and the Jews. His original sentence was 3 years in prison. He suffered two comas and nearly died after over four months on a hunger strike. He has been the target of virulent anti-Semitic attacks not only by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military, as would be expected, but also by many secular democrats who share the prevailing ideological anti-Semitism in Egypt.

He survived and was released largely because of the extensive support he received from the German government and people. He has shown incredible courage under impossibly dangerous conditions, and he deserves the support of Israeli Jews even if you don’t agree with his pacifism. I am an American Jewish Zionist. I support him even though I don’t share his pacifist beliefs.

Ali Salem, a famous author, playwright, and peace activist, has been systematically shunned by his fellow Egyptian intellectuals since he visited and drove through Israel in 1994. He wrote a book based on his trip called “Journey to Israel.” The book sold 60,000 copies, making it a bestseller by Egyptian standards.

He was expelled from the Writers Union in 2001 for his peace activism. And he cannot find producers for two plays and one movie script. But he continues to defy Egyptian anti-Semitism. He not only visited Israel ten times but meets in public with Israeli visitors to Cairo. He is married with three daughters.

He received a human rights award, the Civil Courage prize, in 2008 for his efforts. In his speech, he discussed the need to educate the Arabs to embrace peace and life rather than war and death. He says that his goal is “To educate him that he will be courageous not when he kills himself and the others, but when he lives in peace with them.” He also encourages Arabs to challenge their instinctive tendency toward self-censorship and social conformity and begin freely expressing their innermost thoughts.

Salem has been motivated in his peace efforts by his brother’s death as an Egyptian soldier in the Six Day War. He felt that his brother’s death in combat with Israel and the Jews was futile. He said,”At that moment, I realized that there are people who are gambling with the lives of the Egyptian youth.” He understood that the Nasser regime was prepared to waste the lives of its young men for the sake of a pointless war and a hollow propaganda victory. His goal is to prevent the deaths of future generations of young men in useless conflicts. He said:

I would say to him (my brother): I do what I do so that nobody else will be killed like you in the Sinai desert.

Like Maikel Nabil Sanad, Salem has shown moral courage by defending his convictions in the face of social ostracism by the Egyptian intellectual elite. Their stories and efforts deserve to receive more attention and coverage in Israeli society.

About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.