Greetings, Ms. Dina Habib Powell. And congratulations on your appointment as America's Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. I assume that if you were an Israeli, our newspapers would be running the headline, "Israeli woman appointed Assistant Secretary of State," and we wouldn't even mention the fact that you were an U.S. citizen. But since you are Egyptian by origin, the daughter of former Egyptian army captain Onsy Habib, and have so quickly reached such a senior position, at age 33, permit me to shake your hand.
I can only hope that your friends in Cairo, especially the editor of the Al Ahram newspaper, Ibrahim Nafi', whom you visited last October, will not be angry that an Israeli is congratulating you. As you have no doubt discerned, Nafi' and his friends are still carrying on with the war against Israel. The Journalists' and Writers' Union not only forbids its members visiting Israel, it prohibits them even from talking to Israelis.
But it is not about this that I wanted to write you. I formed the impression from your meeting with Al Ahram's editorial board that you aspire to develop the human relationships between the United States and the peoples of the Middle East, what is usually called "people to people." To promote exchanges of students and intellectuals, to bring the cultures closer together and all those decent acts that all of us have been in engaged in for decades now. I thought, therefore, that you were the right address to turn to with the story of my friend Ali Salem.
Though you left Egypt at the age of 4, I have no doubt that your mother, who taught at the American University in Cairo, is quite familiar with Salem the playwright and author. Your cousins who remained in Egypt grew up on his plays and became acquainted with his clever tongue. They also know of his great betrayal - his trip to Israel, his meetings with Israelis, his participation in conferences in Israel, all contrary to the strict orders promulgated by the bosses of the unions of intellectuals with whom you met.
The thing is, on the day you were called before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to present your views and obtain formal approval for your appointment, `Ali Salem was standing in a different place entirely. He had been waiting for two days at the Taba border crossing and was ejected from there with his head hanging down. This time not by the Israeli police, but rather by the Egyptians. Later, he went to the Cairo airport where he was sent packing as well. Somebody really did not want him to get to Israel that day.
And there was good reason for this. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva had decided to award `Ali Salem an honorary doctorate for his contribution to literature and drama and his work for peace. This is the second time the university has awarded such a degree to an Egyptian. The first was to ambassador Mohammad Bassiouni. I cannot recall that any Egyptian university has ever awarded an honorary degree to an Israeli, although some citizens of your former homeland have received doctorates and master's degrees for research on Israeli writers.
In any case, Ms. Habib, and forgive me for dropping the second part of your name - Powell - as I particularly want to appeal to the Egyptian part of you. I am convinced that it is exactly as a former Egyptian that your sense of outrage will be as deep as mine in view of the humiliating way in which the Egyptian playwright was treated. An Israeli honorary doctorate is still proof of treason.
True, the Israeli authorities cannot boast of clean hands. Many Palestinians, citizens of Israel or residents of the territories, are not permitted to leave the territories or Israel because of various excuses, the most popular of which is "reasons of security."
But, Ms. Habib, I am allowing myself to make a modest proposal to you. We have already seen that both Israel and Egypt generally obey when there is an American scolding. As it is now Egypt's turn to take pride in the appointment of one of its former citizens to a high position, why not take advantage? Why not initiate, for example, the award of an honorary doctorate by an American university to `Ali Salem for his contribution to peace between the peoples?
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