President Shimon Peres and Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa have at least one thing in common. Peres, as the rumor goes, has an Arab mother and Moussa, as was "learned" this week, has a Jewish mother. Not just any Jewish woman, but rather the famous Egyptian actress Rakia Ibrahim, whose real name is Rachel Abraham Levy.
The claim is that Ibrahim married Moussa's father, and that Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, is the offspring of that union.
The publicity certainly didn't help Moussa, who is in the midst of a presidential election campaign. Moussa is one of several candidates finding their origins under close scrutiny during Egypt's first democratic election campaign.
Moussa quickly denied the rumor, but the Egyptian websites that distributed the questionable "news," also added other, more damaging claims to the story. Rakia Ibrahim, they claimed, was a Mossad agent, who helped facilitate the assassination of Egyptian atomic scientist Samira Moussa in the 1950s.
To support the account, the “Muhit” website located Ibrahim's granddaughter, Rita David Thomas, who confirmed in an interview that the two women, Samira Moussa and her grandmother, were good friends.
Ibrahim eventually moved to the United States. Her granddaughter said that according to Ibrahim's diaries, which were hidden in the library of her home in California, she photographed Samira Moussa's home on several occasions.
She even hid the key to Samira Moussa's house in a bar of soap, which she passed on to a Mossad agent in Egypt. A short time later, Ibrahim and Samira Moussa went out to the opera in Cairo, enabling Mossad agents to enter the apartment and photograph the scientist's research.
The friendship between the actress and the scientist ended in 1952 after Ibrahim offered to act as an intermediary for her friend with the American authorities, who were trying to convince her to move to the United States and work on nuclear development there. When Samira Moussa refused, Ibrahim warned her that "the repercussions would be grave."
And indeed, according to the granddaughter's story, when Moussa came for a visit to the United States in 1952, Ibrahim kept track of her through a mutual friend who informed her of all the scientist's moves. With the help of this information, the Mossad succeeded in assassinating Samira Moussa.
The story of the espionage and betrayal by the Jewish actress, who eventually immigrated to the United States and married a Jewish producer in Hollywood, inundated the Egyptian media this week.
Amr Moussa needed every bit of his persuasive skills to deny the family bond between himself and the woman who starred in 20 Egyptian films in the 1930s and the 1940s. “There is not a single grain of truth in reports of the marriage of Moussa’s father and Rakia Ibrahim,” said Moussa’s spokesman. “Moussa’s moter was Turiya Hussein al Hermil and his father was Dr. Mahmoud Moussa, who was a member of pariliament.”
Moussa has threatened to sue those claiming that his mother is Jewish. Moussa’s critics have also questioned other parts of his past; nothing that he did not serve in the army. This accusation, as in Israel, is considered a mark of shame. Moussa had to answer for this too, explaining that he reported for conscription but received an exemption as the only child of his widowed mother and the only breadwinner.
Non-Egyptians need not apply
Parental ties, family relationships, controversial citizenship and military service - all of these are issues playing an integral part in the presidential race that is set to end at the end of May.
Moussa's rival, preacher and religious scholar Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, dropped out of the race because reports emerged claiming that his mother is an American citizen.
Another candidate, Dr. Mohamed Salim al-Awwa, has also had to deny reports that his late father held Syrian citizenship and is therefore ineligible to run for the presidency according to the Egyptian constitution.
The constitution indeed stipulates that anyone whose parents were not Egyptian cannot be president of the country but that restriction is viewed as inappropriate and even bizarre by some Egyptians. "Are we suddenly natives of Switzerland that we need to preserve our racial purity?" wondered a surfer on the Al-Arabiya website. "Look at what is happening in America where the president is the son of a Muslim African father and is leading the strongest Christian country in the world," wrote the website user.
"Indeed, racism was born here, and has become permanent in our society," responded another website user. “Look at [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak. He was an Egyptian, his parents were Egyptians but that didn't help Egypt," wrote a woman from Alexandria.
For all the sensational and outrageous headlines concerning the candidates' origins, it is impossible not to be impressed by the larger phenomenon - this is the first time in 60 years that Egyptians are debating the merits of candidates for the presidency and the winner has not been decided in advance.
This is the most important innovation achieved by the popular revolution. It laid the groundwork for real multi-party elections and acquaintanceship with candidates of every outlook.
The exclusivity of the high priesthood has moved from the hands of military officers to civilians, and even someone who denies that "his mother is Jewish" can be president.
It remains to be seen if General Omar Suleiman, Egypt's former vice president and intelligence chief under Mubarak, will maintain his candidacy despite the harsh criticism leveled at him by supporters of the liberal and secular social protest movement. This week they heckled him: "Your place is in prison and not on the presidential chair."