For decades, Muhammad Madbouli’s bookshop in the center of Cairo has been one of that city’s — and Egypt’s — major cultural landmarks. Egyptians and foreigners alike knew that Madbouli had the city’s best array of Arabic books of every kind, including those which aroused the ire of the regime of the day, though sometimes “dangerous” books had to be kept in a locked storeroom. Only those whose bona fides Madbouli accepted were granted access. Madbouli also owns an active publishing house.

Now Madbouli is in prison, convicted of printing and selling an obscure novel — The Distance in a Man’s Mind by ‘Ala’ Hamid — that the zealots at al-Azhar’s Bureau of Islamic Research deem blasphemous. This was not the first time that the Islamist watchdogs have denounced a book as “insulting to religion,” but it is the first time that government prosecutors have followed the Bureau’s recommendation and pressed blasphemy charges. Madbouli, author Hamid and printer Fathi Fadl were all tried, convicted and sentenced to eight-year terms under the draconian Emergency Laws that successive regimes have deployed for decades to keep control. Many Egyptian intellectuals fear that the “Cairo 3” are being persecuted so the Mubarak regime can enhance its Islamic credentials.

Ballooning Demand

The US Agency for International Development has suspended distribution of 50 million condoms in Egypt after receiving reports that earlier shipments had been bought up by wholesalers responding to free-market forces. The subsidized condoms were cheaper than unsubsidized balloons, accounting for a sudden 90 percent increase in the distribution of US-supplied condoms and raising the suspicion of USAID officials.

No Choice

It’s important (if unfashionable) to remember that the current wave of immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel was to a large extent “made in the USA.&rdquo. Israel was not the first choice of the great majority of Jews who have left the Soviet Union since emigration restrictions were eased in 1989. They were channeled to Israel only because in that year intense lobbying by Israel and its American partisans led the Bush administration to restrict the numbers of Soviet Jews allowed into the US, leaving those who wanted to leave the Soviet Union with no choice but to go to Israel.

What has happened when some of those rooted to Israel sought to move on and make their new lives elsewhere? The Israeli and European press have recently carried numerous stories about the Israeli government’s efforts to induce other countries to ship back to Israel Soviet Jews (along with some non-Jews from the Soviet Union) who have no desire to live in the Jewish state. The Dutch government, under Israeli pressure, has rounded up groups of Soviet emigrants and put them onto airplanes back to Israel. So far Germany has resisted Israeli demands that it do the same; perhaps it fears that the sight of German police rounding up and deporting Jews is likely to damage Germany’s image — even if those deportations are carried out at the behest of Israel itself. South Africa has reportedly revoked the residence permits of Soviet Jews who have come from Israel, while informing thousands of others who have applied for South African visas that they will not be admitted.

In Israel itself, the press has reported hunger among unemployed immigrants whose government benefits have run out, along with stories of suicides among despairing Soviet and Ethiopian newcomers. None of this has prevented the government from endorsing a new budget which increases spending on infrastructure and settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza; apparently the immigrants will be succored by loans to be guaranteed by US taxpayers. So it is that Zionism, like all other nationalisms, exacts its toll not only from among those officially defined as “outsiders” (in this case the Palestinians) but also from “insiders” — Jews who must live in Israel
whether they want to or not.

Defective Connection

Laurie Mylroie, former Saddam booster turned basher and most recently ensconced at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has resurfaced in a most unlikely spot: the January-February 1992 issue of Tikkun. Her review of Norman Stillman’s The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times basically rehashes Bernard Lewis’ fulminations about “Muslim rage.” In the same issue, editor Michael Lerner presents his analysis of how powerless people’s lack of self-worth and displacement of frustration onto allegedly threatening “others” underpins the popular appeal of fascists like David Duke. Then he publishes Mylroie’s portrayal of Muslims as irrational and violent defectives, a portrayal whose bloody consequences we have just seen demonstrated all too graphically in the Persian Gulf. Make the connection, Michael!

No Style

Last December Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek joined other Israelis in protesting the brutish takeover of several Palestinian homes in the city’s Silwan neighborhood by right-wing Jewish settlers. While it’s very nice that Kollek spoke out against this particular infringement of Palestinian rights, let’s remember that since 1967 he has himself presided over the establishment of vast exclusively Jewish neighborhoods on confiscated Palestinian land in and around Jerusalem. Some 180,000 Jews now live in new neighborhoods established on land that was under Jordanian control before 1967, increasingly confining Jerusalem’s Arab population to enclaves surrounded by blocs of Jewish settlement and cut off from the rest of the West Bank. And the land confiscation and settlement activity continue, with the mayor’s enthusiastic support. It’s not the seizure of Palestinian land for Jewish settlement that seems to rankle Kollek; it’s the settlers’ methods and their style, and the fact that their action has attracted unfavorable international attention. As long as the deed is done quietly, officially and in an orderly manner, all is well.

All’s Fair

Daniel Pipes, in the Washington Jewish Week of December 26, 1991, commenting on Syria’s willingness to negotiate with Israel and desire for good relations with the US: “It has potential benefits for Israel as well. I am of the opinion that you should kick an enemy when he is down. My desire is to get more concessions.”

What If

In the Egyptian left opposition weekly al-Ahali, Philip Gallab speculates about what might happen if other countries began to insist that the US abide by its own avowed principles. What if, Gallab wonders, Lebanon’s public prosecutor officially demanded that the US extradite to Lebanon the CIA officials and agents responsible for masterminding the March 1985 car bombing in south Beirut which killed more than 80 civilians? The massive car bomb was apparently intended to kill a top Hizballah leader, who escaped unharmed. Gallab admits that his scenario is fanciful, but it does put the Bush administration’s demand that Libya extradite security officials allegedly responsible for the December 1989 Pan Am airliner bombing in a somewhat different light.

How to cite this article:

Al Miskin "Al Miskin," Middle East Report 175 (March/April 1992).

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