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May 16, 2002
Why Ilan Pappe faces expulsion from Haifa University

By Ahmed Amr.


This weeks Al Ahram Weekly, an English language paper published in Cairo, has an incredible article by Ilan Pappe on the Nakba, the catastrophe that resulted in the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. For all his trouble in uncovering the events of 1948, Ilan Pappe will is now also facing expulsion from Haifa University. The Pappe article is in a special supplement to the paper titled "Demons of the Nakbah." Unfortunately, as of this hour, the article has yet to be posted on the site. But it is a must read for any serious student of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Keep checking at the following site and they will eventually post it (www.ahram.org.eg/weekly/2002/585/index.htm). According to the publication they update the site on Saturday at 11.00 GMT, which is 2 PM local time. Why does it take two days to post the articles on their web site? I don't have a clue.

This is my first week reporting from Cairo and I can tell you that the media here is far from being a state controlled mouth piece of the government. Aside from the government press, every one of the seventeen political parties have their own publication and that makes for sixteen 'dissident' publications. Add to that all the independent newspapers and you have a Cairo newsstand that is vibrant, competitive and very relevant. They even have tabloid journalism that would put a smile on Rupert Murdoch's ugly mug. My Arabic is not quite up to speed, but I do manage to get through a couple of dailies.

So, the oft repeated charge that Egypt does not have a free press is a little dated, like twenty years behind the times. Thomas Friedman and the New York Times need a quick refresher course before they circulate more of their bile. Considering Sulzberger's Stalinist control of all public discourse, including censoring the story of how he got a black eye from a bike messenger, maybe the gray lady should first mop up the censorship squads on 43rd street before they go about the business of tarnishing journalists on this side of the pond.

Before moving on, allow me to take another of my daily swipes at the New York Times where Safire openly admits that he acts as a public relations agent for Ariel Sharon. Why is that not a media scandal? When George Will was discovered moonlighting as a speech writer for Reagan, an issue was made of the matter and the pundits had a go at little George for his 'faux pas'. I detest George Will, but at least he was working for an American President, not an Israeli Prime Minister with a record of serial mass murder.

Yesterday, I went to cover a demonstration in support of the Palestinian resistance and I encountered a number of the journalists working for some of the independent papers. They seemed quite sure of themselves and had no fears criticizing government policies. The demonstration had been called to demand a break of diplomatic relations with Israel, a position the Egyptian government has refused to even consider. The police were out in force, but the crowd was not even mildly intimidated by their presence. I talked to a couple of their officers and they displayed no hostility to those demonstrating. I suspect that if they were in their civilian clothes, a few of them would have shown up for this rally which was held to also commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Nakba.

The demonstration was given front page coverage in the Weekly Al-Ahram. I would write more about the event, except that it would be just a repetition of an excellent article by Amira Howeidy which will also be posted in the next update of the Al-Ahram website.

Just to make sure you remember to read Pappe's article we will be posting the link as soon as it becomes available. As one of the 'new historians', Pappe is part of a small but growing movement of Israeli Historians who are willing to challenge the assumptions of Israeli mythology. He writes that "A circle has thus been closed. When Israel took over almost 80 per cent of Palestine in 1948, it did so through settlement and ethnic cleansing of the original Palestinian population. The country now has a prime minister who enjoys wide public support, and who wants to determine by force the future of the remaining 20 per cent." Pappe's article tackles the central essence of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is a serious scholarly journalism that debunks much of the Israeli public relations drivel that is regularly published in The New York Times and Washington Post.

The real news in Cairo is that the drive for a boycott of all Israeli and American goods. Considering the consumption level here, it amounts to a symbolic protest against American policies in the region. However, the more prosperous Gulf countries are also participating in this grass roots passive resistance movement. By some accounts, American sales in the region are down almost 30%, although such figures are hard to confirm. I hope a few of the loud mouth expultionists in Congress are paying attention, although I suspect they are tone deaf.

The lighter side of Cairo

On a lighter note, I got a real buzz out of a weekly TV show hosted by Samir Sabry, a real entertainment wizard. His show is styled like a Parisian cabaret out of the 1920s, complete with orchestra and dancing girls, a little comedy and a live audience in a cafe environment. Apparently, it is a local sensation. It is like a night out on the town. Cairo despite all its troubles retains its love of song, dance and making merry. They don't call it the Hollywood of the Arab world for nothing.

On a sadder note, one of Egypt's greatest movie stars, Ahmed Mazhar, died this week. He was Egypt's version of Gary Cooper, tough but always on the right side of the fight. His funeral was attended by thousands of fans. Every paper in town carried a respectful obituary of his career. They are running a number of his old movies from the fifties and sixties. It is like a walk back in time to a Cairo without traffic jams, full of idealistic forward thinking dreamers who always got the girl at the end of the movie.

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