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JewishJournal.com

June 3, 2009

Egypt Bans Marriage to Israelis

http://www.jewishjournal.com/world/article/egypt_bans_marriage_to_israelis_20090603

After the verdict was read in the Cairo courtroom, Nabih al-Wahsh, an Egyptian attorney, jumped for joy and received an avalanche of telephone calls from friends congratulating him on his latest legal victory.

Al-Wahsh has managed to extract a ruling from Egypt’s Administrative Court — which rules in disputes between citizens and the state — that would force the Egyptian government to strip Egyptians married to Israelis of their Egyptian citizenship. The May 19 ruling was met with the cheers of millions in this populous Arab country.

“This is an historic ruling,” al-Wahsh said to reporters after the ruling. “Egyptians married to Israelis are dangerous to Egypt’s national security, acting in ways that contradict the constitution of their country and Islamic laws,” he said.

Calls flooded into TV talk shows discussing the verdict and readers posted comments on Web sites of newspapers that wrote about it.

Everyone appeared united in elation at the ruling, as well as in hatred of the Jewish state and everything that related to it, even if it was originally Egyptian.

“Israel clamors to become an integral part of the Arab world and to do so it lures Egyptians to get married to its women,” one reader wrote to a local newspaper, commenting on the ruling.

A second writer warned against Israeli plans to use Egyptians married to Israelis as spies, while a third said the sons and the daughters of these people would one day claim property in Egypt, something that would “ease Israel’s hegemony over Egypt yet again.”

Such sentiments among a large chunk of Egypt’s population of about 80 million underscores the wide chasm that distinguishes Egypt at the official level and the same country at the level of its public.

Although Egypt was the first country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, almost 30 years ago, its government and its people still walk two different paths.

Egyptian officials visit Israel, meet members of its cabinet and sign agreements secretly and openly with them, but the people on the street still view Israel as an “enemy,” “imperialist” in nature, and those Egyptians who travel and get married there are seen as “traitors.” These same critics have consistently attempted to abort every possibility of breaking the ice that has blocked the way between Cairo and Tel Aviv for decades now.

In this sense, it is true that Egypt is the “heart of the Arab world,” as President Barack Obama and his advisers like to call it.

As Obama comes to Egypt this week to deliver his promised address to the Muslim world and to discuss prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians with Egypt’s octogenarian President Hosni Mubarak, the question arises: Does Obama need to talk with Mubarak about Egyptian-Israeli peace as well? (Visit jewishjournal.com for full coverage of Obama’s visit.)

Egyptian analysts say the court ruling asking the government to revoke the nationality of Egyptians married to Israelis should not affect peace between the Jewish state and the country that bore arms against Israel four times in the last 60 years.

“This is just an organizational matter that means to cement Egypt’s grip on its national security,” said Ahmed Omar Hashem, a researcher at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank in Cairo. “But I need to underline the fact that children born to Egyptian fathers and Israeli mothers would have more affiliation to Israel because they’ll spend most of their lives there. This isn’t an easy matter.”

Some estimates put the number of Egyptians living in Israel between 6,000 and 7,000, although al-Wahsh believes the number could be between 30,000 and 40,000.

The reason people leave Egypt for Israel is not a secret to the people in this country, even among decision-makers themselves. In addition to the fallout from the international economic downturn, which has weighed heavily on the Egyptian economy, Egypt has been suffering its own economic deterioration for years.

In this country, which features the oldest civilization in the Arab Middle East, more than 40 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

The economic reform policies of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party have failed to improve living conditions for the majority of the population and have even backfired at times, creating a new class of monopolistic businessmen who control the prices and availability of basic commodities.

Israel, by contrast, is a thriving multiethnic country that enjoys political pluralism and offers Egyptian job seekers a model totally different from in their own country, where jobs are rare, diversity is nonexistent and religious tolerance is scarce.

Part of the antipathy to Israel stems from what Egyptians see on their national TV and read in their newspapers every day. Israeli attacks against the Palestinians are fodder for the editors of news bulletins.

A few weeks ago, TV anchor Mahmud Saad, in an on-air telephone interview, lashed out at Egypt’s Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, who is seeking election to the top post of UNESCO, for inviting Daniel Barenboim, a conductor with Israeli origins and international acclaim, to lead an orchestra at the Egyptian Opera House.

“I hate Israel,” Saad, who hosts the popular talk show “al-Beit Beitak” (“Feel at Home”), shouted while speaking with the minister.

Days later, Egypt’s ex-mufti — a top religious leader who advises the country’s Muslim majority on religious matters —  lampooned Arab countries that sign agreements with Israel in a veiled criticism of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

He even called upon Egyptians to offer help to the Palestinians in their “struggle to liberate their lands from Israeli occupation.”

It is not clear whether the Egyptian government will enforce the ruling against Israeli-Egyptian marriages, but it seems to have quenched the thirst of millions here for an action against Israel.

“[These marriages] would usher in a new generation of people who would help Israel implement its imperialistic desires in this region in general and in Egypt in particular,” said Ibrahim al-Enani, a professor of international law from Cairo. “This court ruling doesn’t contradictwith either Egypt’s constitution or international laws,” he added.

Ironically, what might have been missed by the judges who passed the ruling is that most Egyptians living in Israel are married to Israeli women with Arab origins. These people speak the same language as the Egyptians and sometimes also share their same faith.

But in their desire to pour their anger at anything that might represent Israel, the judges and al-Wahsh, who filed the case months ago, did not bring that distinction to the table.

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