Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/8/2012 (1386 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A travel tip for the international executive class: If you find yourself doing business in Egypt and you feel the urge to insult your interlocutor, 1) try not to insult your interlocutor; and 2) if you must, cast aspersions on the chastity of the person's mother or sister. This insult will be taken hard, but it may eventually be forgiven.
Whatever you do, don't accuse the person of being Jewish. That may cause an irrevocable breach and could even provoke violence.
Anti-Semitism, the socialism of fools, is becoming the opiate of the Egyptian masses. And not just the masses. Egypt has never been notably philo-Semitic (just ask Moses), but today it's entirely acceptable among the educated and creative classes there to demonize Jews and voice the most despicable anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Careerists know that even fleeting associations with Jews and Israelis could spell professional trouble.
The level of anti-Semitism in Egypt has consequences, of course, for Middle East peace and for the safety of Jews. But, importantly, it has consequences for the welfare of Egypt itself. The revolution that overthrew the country's dictator, Hosni Mubarak, held great promise, but it also exposed the enormous challenges facing Egyptian politics and culture. And anti-Semitism, if nothing else, has always been a sign of a deeply damaged culture.
As Walter Russell Mead has written on his blog, countries "where vicious anti-Semitism is rife are almost always backward and poor." They aren't backward and poor because the Elders of Zion conspire against them. They're backward and poor because, Mead argues, they lack the ability to "see the world clearly and discern cause-and-effect relations in complex social settings." He calls anti-Semitism the "sociology of the befuddled."
Egyptian television is filled with such sociology. One popular series depicts an Egyptian diplomat stationed in Tel Aviv who robs Israeli banks on the side. The show was promoted by a Middle East satellite channel, which claimed it would "surprise the audience with the sweetest jokes about the cheap Jew."
A television show called Il Hukm Ba'd il Muzawla, a kind of Candid Camera knockoff, provides further evidence that Judeophobia in Egypt has become pathological. The show lures celebrities into an interview under the pretence that it will air on a foreign television station, and then tries to discomfit them by claiming they're actually being interviewed for an Israeli show.
Recently, the show targeted actor Ayman Kandeel. The episode didn't proceed as smoothly as planned. According to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute, the interviewer, an Egyptian woman named Iman Mubarak, surprises Kandeel by admitting that he's appearing on Israeli television, and not German, as he was promised. A producer named Amr Alaa appears on set and asks Kandeel if there's a problem.
Kandeel responds, "May I ask who you are?" Alaa, who is Arab, answers, "I am an Israeli." More words are exchanged, and then Alaa says: "This is my channel. I am never afraid. It is you who are afraid, and that is why you are carrying a gun."
"I don't have a gun," Kandeel responds. "To use my gun against you, I need to feel that you are worth something. But let me tell you what I can do. You stand right here. Relax."
Kandeel then attacks Alaa, slapping him and shoving him, throwing chairs and cursing. He wheels on Mubarak, slaps her -- knocking her against a wall -- and curses her. A staff member runs onto the set: "Ayman, please, it's a prank. Shame on you for hitting a woman."
Kandeel is given Mubarak's identification card to prove that she isn't Israeli. Finally, he says, "She's Egyptian?"
"You hit me so hard," Mubarak says.
Kandeel: "It was just one slap." The audience applauds. Then he makes her an offer: "After the show, come to my car with me. I'll put some lotion on your back."
The next guest, the actress Mayer al-Beblawi, unburdens herself of an anti-Semitic tirade before being told the show is an Israeli production. The Israelis, she begins, "are real liars. They keep whining all the time about the Holocaust, or whatever it's called. With all the Palestinians that you have killed, you are still whining about the Holocaust and its lousy figures?" She goes on: "They are the slayers of the prophets, what else can we say about them."
The host, Mubarak, then provokes her: "You've got it wrong. They are the Chosen People."
Al-Beblawi responds: "The Chosen People? Allah did not curse the worm and the moth as much as he cursed the Jews."
Al-Beblawi didn't resort to violence. But the next guest, Mahmoud Abd al-Ghaffar, did, screaming at Mubarak, "You are a Jew!" and then pulling Alaa by the hair. Mubarak shouts: "Mahmoud, this is a Candid Camera show. We are all Egyptians. Long live Egypt!"
Al Ghaffar says, "You brought me someone who looks like a Jew," and then hugs Alaa. He turns to Mubarak: "If you weren't a girl, the moment you told me you were Jewish ... I hate the Jews to death."
Mubarak then makes a statement that captures almost perfectly the moral perversion of the prank: "I'd like to tell you that I enjoyed today's episode with Mahmoud. I didn't know that there could be such patriotism, but it exists in every Egyptian who breathes the air of this country."
In a column published last week, the Washington Post's Colbert King correctly indicted the leadership of Iran as sponsors of "the most virulent form of state-sanctioned anti- Semitism since Nazi Germany." It is true that the Iranian leadership is wildly anti-Semitic, but, on my visits to Iran, I've never personally felt the hatred of Jews on the popular level.
Not so in Egypt, where the virus has spread widely. As we just saw in the Sinai region, where militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers and tried to storm across the Israeli border on Aug. 5, Egypt has serious problems, and they don't have much to do with "cheap Jews."
Any country in which anti-Semitism is considered a form of patriotism is in dire trouble.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for the Atlantic.