The editor-in-chief of the Egyptian state-run weekly magazine, Al-Demokratiya, Ms. Hala Mustafa and the editor of another Egyptian newspaper, October, Mr. Hussein Serag, are facing undue threats a ban and an actual ban from the Egyptian Journalists Union for advocating normalization of relations with Israel.
Mustafa had earlier created a media controversy in September 2009 after receiving Israeli envoy Shalom Cohen at her home. Ms Mustafa went on to further shock the Journalists Union by saying she does not believe a boycott of Israel helps the Palestinians - and that she does not think unions should impose Israel boycotts.
The Egyptian Journalists Union [EJU] had sent Mustafa a letter of protest for having invited the Israeli ambassador, although, earlier EJU had decided to expel her.
In a response to questions by a Western news agency on what action Mustafa would be taking against such actions by EJU, she said that she would go to court to defend her views and her right to speak to whomever she wished.
Ms. Mustafa is reported to have claimed that the union’s ruling undermines freedom of the press; she apparently told a news agency that she “totally” rejects the warning that a ban might be imposed on her work, as it has been with Mr. Serag, and may seek legal redress for what she said was a “moral injury.
“It goes against freedom of expression which the union should protect,” she said.
Mustafa was accused of violating a 1985 journalists union resolution that effectively bans members from meeting with Israeli officials or taking any other steps towards normalizing relations. Mustafa has repeatedly urged that the 1985 resolution be revoked.
“This resolution was adopted almost 25 years ago. It is high time that it is annulled in favor of encouraging dialogue with the Israelis,” Ms Mustafa said.
Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but relations have remained mostly on a governmental level; cultural exchanges and travel to Israel are discouraged by the Egyptian government.
Mustafa is a senior member of President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party and an expert on Islamic militancy, as well as being an advocate for reform. She has in the past called the ban "obsolete" and out of touch with political developments in the region. She told the news agency Associated Press that the reprimand reflected the heavy-handedness and meddling in politics of security agencies, as well as the country's "ambiguous" policy toward Israel.
Meanwhile Hussain Serag, the deputy editor of October magazine, an Arab political and cultural weekly, was suspended by the union’s disciplinary committee for three months.
Mr. Serag, the magazine’s expert on Jewish affairs, has translated books from Hebrew to Arabic, the latest being Between Tel Aviv and Cairo, a memoir by Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, David Sultan. Serag said all his visits to Israel were approved by the October magazine and security officials.
"My field of specialty is Israel and Hebrew. If I do not visit Israel, how can I understand these people?" Serag said. "This is hypocrisy, pure and simple."
Under Egyptian law Mr. Serag cannot work as a journalist while he is suspended from membership of his union.
The Egyptian Actors’ Union [EAU], like the Egyptian Journalists’ Union, has a long-standing ban on members having anything to do with their Israeli counterparts. Soon after the Journalists’ Union attacked Mustafa for her meeting with an Israeli diplomat, another prominent female union member - and superstar -- Ms. Hend Sabry, came under attack.
Sabry, a Tunesian who has starred in many of the most beloved Arab films of the past decade, lives in Egypt, and is a Goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, is not the first actor to come under threats by the Egyptian actor’s guild. Two years ago,
Amr Waked - a prominent international Egyptian actor who came to fame after his role alongside George Clooney in “Syriana” - also came under attack for his role in the BBC miniseries, “The House of Saddam.” Amr Waked acted alongside an Israeli actor in the film. Ironically, the Israeli actor, of Iraqi origins, was playing the role of the late dictator.
The outgoing Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen, told Galei Tzahal [Army Radio] that despite the treaties that exist between Israel and Egypt, there were numerous threats against his life during his tenure.
He added that despite diplomatic relations, the Egyptian media remains hostile to the Israeli diplomatic entourage, and that officials in Israel must act to compel a change.
I failed to find the exact words of outrage on EUJ and Egyptian Actors Union on their attitude towards these members of press and entertainment world. Hussein Serag and Hala Mustafa deserve the fullest international admiration and support for their bold stand in favor of global peace and for their courage in rejecting the threats of radicals.
Being an editor of a newspaper facing sedition, treason and blasphemy charges for confronting militant Islam in a Muslim nation, and for advocating relations between Bangladesh and Israel, I fully understand the gravity of a threat any individual would encounter when he or she speak in favor of the Jewish state.