Friday, May 23, 2008

Egyptian Culture Minister: "I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt"!

Artist's impression of a manuscript storage room in the ancient Library of Alexandria. Source: Carl Sagan's Cosmos television program (1980).

Agence France Presse, May 24, 2008

CAIRO: Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, a candidate to head the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has drawn fire for saying he was prepared to burn Israeli books. "I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt," Hosni said in Parliament on May 10 in reply to questioning from an opposition MP.

The comment, which Hosni admits making but which he says must be put into perspective, sparked an official protest from Israel's ambassador in Cairo, Shalom Cohen, to the Foreign Ministry.

And this week the Wiesenthal Center, a non-governmental organization that supports the Jewish state, wrote to UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura, saying that Hosni had now ruled himself out as a possible successor to head the Paris-based body.

The letter, from the Wiesenthal Center's director for international relations, Shimon Samuels, charged that Hosni's comment was "couched in the language and actions of Nazi 'Minister of Culture' Josef Goebbels." The letter added that "the sting in this tail is that literary pyromaniac Faruq Hosni is considered a serious candidate to replace (Matsuura) as Director-General of UNESCO."

In his defense, Hosni told AFP that he had only used "a popular expression to prove something exists," - to be specific, Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.

"A minister of culture cannot demand that a book be burnt, and that includes an Israeli book," he added, and pointed out he had spoken in favor of Israeli books being translated into Arabic during a televised debate on the subject.

Embracing the position of Egyptian intellectuals, who oppose any "cultural normalization" with Israel, Hosni said such links could only take place after a "just and global peace" in the Middle East.

"We cannot dance with them, sing together or watch a piece of theater when there are bloody attacks every day against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he said.

Thirty years ago in 1978 Egypt broke ranks with the rest of the Arab world and concluded the Camp David accord with Israel, leading to a peace treaty being signed the following year.

President Hosni Mubarak's regime has political, security and economic links with Israel, but does nothing to promote cultural cooperation between the two former foes.

Israeli works are rarely translated, and no Israeli-made film - even pacifist - is shown in Egypt where a total boycott is imposed on all artists and intellectuals from the Jewish state.

Ambassador Cohen told AFP: "To come out against cultural normalization is one thing, but to exude hate which goes counter to good political dialogue is unacceptable.

"I have informed the Egyptian Foreign Ministry of our astonishment at such a remark which only revives the somber memories of recent history," Cohen added.

Hosni has responded by saying that "I have nothing against the Jews," and by saying that he has worked to preserve the cultural heritage of Jews in Egypt by restoring synagogues "which were in a deplorable state."

There are now fewer than 100 Jews in Egypt, where 80,000 lived at the start of the 1950s. Israel encouraged them to immigrate, and many of those who initially stayed behind were recruited as intelligence operatives, making the community's position increasingly untenable.

Hosni, culture minister for the past 21 years and close to Mubarak, is slammed by Islamists in Egypt for being too liberal and also shunned by intellectuals hostile to the regime. (Daily Star)


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