Photo: Tal Cohen
Salem: Staying at home
Photo: Tal Cohen

No honor for you

Egyptian author, peace activist prevented from leaving country to accept honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University. Read text of speech below

TEL AVIV - Egyptian officials have prevented author Ali Salem from traveling to Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva.


After being prevented by Egyptian security officials from boarding the plane for Israel, Salem asked that Israeli author Amos Oz read the speech in his name at the awards ceremony. In the end, Oz did not read the speech.


Salem told "Yedioth Ahronoth" in a phone interview he was not angry about the incident, but "mainly very sad."


"There is nothing good that can come out of this, not for Egypt and not for Israel, and I am very worried about the impact it will have on public opinion in both countries," he said.


'Drive to Israel' best seller


The story began more than a month ago, when the university notified Salem, a well-known peace activist in Egypt, of its intention to bestow an honorary doctorate on him in recognition of his work to promote peace in the region.


Salem has visited Israel several times, and his book "A Drive to Israel" was a best seller in throughout the Arab world, and has been translated into Hebrew and English. He was at BGU last winter for a one-day conference on Arab media.


Salem was also scheduled to lecture in the university's Middle East Studies department during his visit.


Last Wednesday, as Salem approached the border crossing at Taba, he was notified by security officials he was forbidden to cross the border, despite having acquired a permit to do so.


He returned to Cairo, and attempted to fly to Israel, but he was again prevented from leaving the country. At that point, he contacted Oz and asked him to read the speech in his absence.


'Screwed' twice


"Egyptian authorities have screwed themselves twice over," Oz said.


"First, by their claim to be moving in the direction of democracy. Only in North Korea or Iran would an author be dragged off a plane on the way to accept an invitation by a university in a neighboring country. Second, by their claim that they are an agent for peace in the region. To prevent a veteran peace activist from leaving the country is a serious blow to others who support peace."


Text of Ali Salem speech (supplied by Ben-Gurion University):


Ladies and Gentlemen:


My name is Ali Salem. A dramatist, a satirist, a columnist. Some day, an actor, a director and many things else which I forgot. But I will never forget the only thing I’m sure about myself , that I’m a person who loves to live in peace with himself, with his people and with his neighbors. I’m one of your neighbors.


I feel that this doctorate is not bestowed on me as a person but as a private in a battalion. I mean those liberal intellectuals in the Arab world who are battling for freedom democracy and peace in very gloomy circumstances.


11 years ago, I came to Israel driving my car for the fist time in my life. I spent 23 nights driving in the streets wandering among cities surrounded by friends looking for an answer for two questions; who are those people and what are they doing?


I told my people what I thought was the answer in a book.


In the last pages of the book, in a chapter titled The Sun on my Right…


"I have no illusions as to what awaits me in Cairo; I know what I will confront. There is no limit to the pain felt by most people when you suddenly raise their curtain of illusions and lies. However, after the storm subsides, younger generations may think of my trip calmly and discover what I want them to discover ــ that the condition of mental war is defective and it obscures from us the sun of freedom and development. Between us and Israel there are no minefields, only the paved roads that I traveled."


On my way south to the Egyptian border, I didn’t rely on maps; I just made sure to keep the sun on my right.



Ladies and Gentlemen: For eleven years it has been as Coleridge said, a weary time, a weary, weary time. Only five months ago I came here to tell people that the Israeli Egyptian peace relation will not be cold any more.


As a peace activist, it seems to me that I have succeeded in proving the most difficult equation on earth, which was and will be forever 1+1=2.


Peace between us the Arabs and the Israelis, is not only a necessity or a must, it is a destiny. No one can escape his destiny so, let us yield to it, and let us make it beautiful and productive.


Nowadays, some of my fellows greet me as a winner, so I started being afraid, because I know that people may forgive you when they believe or like to believe or pretend to believe, that you are wrong, but they will never forgive you when they discover that you have been right all the time.


Ladies and Gentlemen: On my way south in that ancient day of May 11 years ago, the sun was on my right. And when I came this week from Elat driving towards the north, the sun was at my left. That was good; it is good to be accompanied by the light of the sun while going on towards your destination.


פרסום ראשון: 06.01.05, 13:15
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