Al-Ghazali Harb’s apology and the transformations of normalization and normalizers | Opinions

Under a one-word headline: “Apology” with an exclamation mark behind it, Dr. “Osama Al-Ghazali Harb” wrote two days ago in his daily column in “Al-Ahram” newspaper what was unimaginable from him and other symbols of normalization with Israel in the press and culture in Egypt and the Arab world over a period of about Four decades. He said in text: “Today, I have followed, with anger, indignation, and pain, the crimes and atrocities that have occurred and are still occurring in Gaza that devastate humanity… I say: I apologize for my good opinion of the Israelis, who revealed a hateful, criminal, racist spirit. I apologize to the martyrs of Gaza, and to every child.” And a Palestinian woman and man. I apologize!”

I do not know whether it is just a coincidence that Dr. Harb published this article on the forty-sixth anniversary of the act establishing the official normalization announced in the Arab world. What is the visit of the late President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977? But what I and others know is that the author of the “Apology” article published in the same column on March 22 this year under the title: “Journalists and Normalization,” objecting to the General Assembly of their Egyptian Syndicate renewing its decision to ban normalization in all its forms, and he said in text: “This decision is professionally, nationally, and legally wrong.” …Going to Israel is a legal right for any citizen.”

What I know, and no one else, is that the author of the article – even if we take it as a case study for the group of typographers on this open front in the press and political culture in Egypt since the 1970s – summarizes the transformations and contradictions that deserve to be placed under the microscope, today with the entry of the Zionist war of annihilation against the Palestinian people and the new phase of The Palestinian Arab armed resistance is in its seventh week. Here I will try to examine the lessons and lessons learned in the course of this situation among our prominent writers and researchers, and with references to the positions of others in the Al-Ahram Foundation itself, and also by using my testimony and practical experience regarding some of the normalization that happened to it and to it.

From studying the Zionist enemy to normalization

When preparations were underway after the defeat of 1967 to “remove the effects of aggression” with the term “Nasserist” in reference to the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and to avoid its causes, such as ignorance of the enemy, the Center for Political and Strategic Studies was born in Al-Ahram in 1968 and under the name: “Center for Palestinian and Israeli Studies,” under the auspices of The late President and Professor Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and Editor-in-Chief of its daily newspaper. The Center was born with the origin and foundation to study Zionism, Israeli society, and the Palestinian issue. Today, according to its website, it is proud to include 6 units and 3 research programs, but none of them appear to have been established first with its goal and for its sake. The center’s list of periodical publications has now become 12 publications. Only one of them addresses this concern, and it is titled: “Israeli Selections.” The last issue, No. 286, was published in December 2019, after continuing as a monthly publication starting in 1995.

In 1977, about 9 years after the founding of the center, “Dr. Harb” joined it among a group of his fellow young researchers, graduates of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, and it soon seemed that a number of them had gone to normalization, in a reversal of their personal past and the beginnings of their research efforts. This is despite the fact that their previous affiliations ranged from Nasserism, Arab nationalism, and leftism, along with going through the experience of the “Socialist Youth Organization” which was established by the Egyptian state in 1966, although this did not prevent arrests among them a few years before joining the center, and “Dr. Harb” was among those included in this. Arrest.

At least three – out of a total of the four most prominent among this batch of Center researchers – became on the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate’s condemnation list between February and March 1997 for violators of its decisions to boycott, with the penalty of “drawing attention” to each of them.

. This is after the three of them and other writers and journalists at Al-Ahram and others met or visited Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the Prime Minister of Israel, in Cairo.

I, in turn, witnessed – when I moved to Al-Ahram Foundation and the Arab Affairs Department of the daily newspaper in the spring of 1998 – to the depth of the normalization breakthrough that occurred with the “Oslo” wave, with direct or indirect encouragement from the Palestinian Self-Government Authority. I was immediately surprised that a good number of my colleagues in the department spoke without embarrassment about visiting Israel, occupied Jerusalem, and the West Bank, and of course with the approvals and visas of the Zionist state. For many years, I was also a witness to and a party to an almost daily struggle over the terminology used in editing newspaper news about Palestine and Israel.

A coup at the Center for Studies with the transformations of the seventies

During the nine years between 1968 and 1977, a lot of water flowed into the river, with the change in the perception of Zionism and Israel in official Egypt, and thus “Al-Ahram” and its center. This would not have happened if researchers, writers, intellectuals, and the Center itself had the due independence vis-à-vis the authority in the press institution and the state. I can describe what happened, specifically as a “coup,” even though Dr. Harb said in an interview about his career with the Center and “Al-Ahram” in the August 6, 2021 issue of the newspaper – and after he referred to the state of anger among Egyptian intellectuals as a result of the “Camp David” operation and the options… And the authority of the late President Anwar Sadat: Yassin (Mr. Yassin, director of the Center from 1975 until 1994) restructured it…and allowed a great deal of freedom to adapt to the position away from the idea of ​​boycott. For example, we received some writers on the Israeli left and met with them and discussions took place.”

In fact, what happened is considered a “coup” in a center that issued “The Encyclopedia of Zionist Concepts and Terminology: A Critical View” by the late Dr. “Abdul Wahab Al-Mesiri” in 1975, and where he was responsible for “the unity of Zionist thought” from 1970 until the year the encyclopedia was published. He told me – may God have mercy on him – how the difficulties and obstacles began surrounding the issuance of this encyclopedia, and from within Al-Ahram and its center with the transformations, directives and new leadership. As a result of this, he decided to begin working on his largest encyclopedia, “Jews, Judaism, and Zionism,” with his own effort, starting in 1983, away from the center and “Al-Ahram.” What happened in the mid-seventies – and Yassin took over the management of the center and changed its name – was that 6 research units were formed for social and economic studies, international relations, political systems, Arab affairs, and the military. Thus, there is neither Palestine nor Zionism.

Dr.. Sami Mansour and an independent and opposition position

Here, I cannot fail to point out that among the victims of this “coup” was the late Dr. Sami Mansour. Perhaps he was more deserving of managing the center. For considerations related to research competence, integrity, and scholarship, and because he was also from within Al-Ahram and the center since its founding. I do not believe that the marginalization of this stature – until his departure in November 2015 – is due to the fact that he was affiliated with “Heikal” after “Sadat” became angry with him and dismissed him from the presidency of “Al-Ahram” in February 1974. This is because many were affiliated with a “structure” that was less capable and competent than it. They later rose to leadership positions in the institution and the Egyptian state, and continued publishing. It is also noteworthy that the Center’s trio – whose normalization was documented by the union during the 1990s – also held leadership positions, unlike the rest of the generation of researchers who joined the Center with the post-mid-1970s coup.

The truth is that Dr. Mansour has well-known positions against normalization. He was the one who took the initiative – and from the position of rapporteur of the Freedoms Committee and a member of the Journalists Syndicate Council on the day of the opening and inauguration of the Israeli embassy in Cairo – to submit to the Syndicate Council a memorandum of proposals in order to address the repercussions of this event with a professional boycott and preserve the culture of anti-colonialism. Zionist racism and its development. I have a scanned copy of a piece of news about this memorandum that Al-Shaab, the only remaining opposition newspaper at the time, only published in the issue of February 26, 1980. This was while all other Egyptian newspapers, including Al-Ahram, abstained.

On November 17, 2015 and November 25, 2016, I had the opportunity to publish two articles in “Al-Ahram” with the passing of “Dr. Mansour” and on his first anniversary, and I ended the last by noting his initiative against normalization, and in this way: “This position is the choice of a writer, intellectual, and leftist Nasserite of a special type who decided on consistency.” With his thought and conscience, while the Camp David men – who accompanied Sadat to occupied Jerusalem – began to tighten their grip on the press and research institutions, and confiscate every different opinion and information that (the president) did not like. Perhaps the cost of this choice is what helps us understand Sami Mansour, the man and the phenomenon.

“Schizophrenia” is a journalist

In contemplation of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate activating its historic decisions to boycott and ban normalization in all its forms, professionally, personally, and unionically, which carries paradoxes and contradictions, as if we are facing a state of schizophrenia, but in a collective manner. On the one hand, those who were involved in visiting Israel were elected to the union councils. Here, “Dr. Harb” himself succeeded on the list of the late Captain “Ibrahim Nafi” in the 1999-2003 session, even after he was convicted of violating the union’s decisions banning normalization and attracted his attention. On top of all this, Nafie himself and the late Captain Makram Muhammad Ahmed had visited occupied Jerusalem before they were elected to head the union in terms extending between 1985 and 2009, and for five terms each.

In conclusion, and today, the union councils’ implementation of penalties for violating boycott decisions has not been at the level of its texts, or the enthusiasm witnessed in its general assembly meetings until this year to stress the ban on normalization. Very few of the normalized members of the union reached the stage of being investigated, and they were content with the simplest thing to “draw attention.” It is lower than the disciplinary penalties that begin with a warning and end with removal from membership. As for those who appeared before the union investigation, their punishment did not exceed a ban from practicing the profession for less than one year, with doubts about the perseverance in following up on the implementation of the punishment. On top of all this, the boycott decisions of the Journalists Syndicate – which is truly considered a pioneer among Egyptian professional unions in this context – have remained the subject of controversy and tension regarding their interpretation, definition, and validity.

Return of absent and banned terms

In comparison with a previous article on the Al Jazeera Mubasher website published on October 8 under the title: “Nothing less than stopping normalization,” I can see the extent of progress in unofficial Egypt compared to the first days of the war on Gaza and the legendary steadfastness and resistance of the Palestinian people. Unions – including the Journalists’ Syndicate, along with parties and writers – quickly abandoned their desire to avoid diverging too much from the state’s position. This was the case previously for about ten years, and in light of the strongest wave of “demonization of Hamas” in Egypt. Thus, there were explicit calls demanding not only the withdrawal of the Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Cairo. Rather, it returned, after a long absence, to the call to put the “peace” agreements with Israel to a popular referendum to cancel or freeze them. This is while recalling the facts that this “peace” was never acceptable to the majority of Egyptians. And also due to the fact that it was an option made exclusively by a ruler, authority, and social-political forces, in a non-democratic context, and without allowing the people to express their opinion and influence this option by legitimate, peaceful means, and to continue with it today.

It is now noticeable that the “Al-Aqsa Flood” and the ongoing war of genocide against Gaza have, over time, brought about shifts in the discourse and vocabulary of political culture among many parties and unions, and even state-owned newspapers such as “Al-Ahram,” and not “Dr. Hurr B” alone, as stated in Article two days ago. These are transformations that rediscover and clarify the truths of the Zionist-Arab conflict after decades of deliberately obliterating, ignoring, and even banning them. For example, who would have imagined that after all these decades, titles would appear on the pages of Al-Ahram that used vocabulary in the language, such as: “The Zionist entity,” describing it as a “terrorist,” and even a “coward”? And even in the sports pages, it appeared a few days ago. The title included words like this: “The Zionist entity’s team.”

What happens when the guns fall silent?

But from the experience of many years – during which this unpopular and undemocratic “peace” in Egypt, normalization with an “unnatural state”, and acceptance and recognition of a racist, terrorist doctrine (Zionism) approved for a “state” that cannot coexist with – has endured – it is difficult to trust in the permanence, stability and ability of these recent transformations. To influence official policies. This applies whether at the level of journalistic, political, or trade union discourse in general, or for those like “Dr. Harb.” Simply because the country, like other Arab societies, lacks effective democratic mechanisms and a connected heritage rooted in respect for the citizen, his rights and choices, and the awareness of the majority of intellectuals about the essence of independence from authority, and the importance of their organizations exercising it. Also, because normalization was accomplished over about 46 years by influential economic, social, and political forces and interests, at the highest, most dangerous, and most influential levels. This is in contrast to the continued opposition to him from the majority of the Egyptian people, as indicated by numerous successive opinion polls.

In any case, the gesture remains “Apology!” Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb and others like it have their importance and implications, even if it is too early to answer the question: Is this a real, comprehensive and productive review that will last after the guns are silenced?

Perhaps the same question is also valid regarding the outcome of another apology that came one evening, the publication of an article by “Dr. Harb” from a mass conference in Casablanca, by the Secretary-General of the Islamist “Justice and Development” in Morocco, “Abdul-Ilah Benkirane,” about his party’s government signing the normalization agreement with Tel Aviv. On December 10, 2020.

truly; Will these new declared positions hold up after the silence of the guns?


The reference here is to Drs: “Abdel Moneim Saeed” and “Taha Abdel Aleem”, in addition to “Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb”. They all graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University between 1969 and 1972. Council decisions were issued regarding them to “draw attention” due to normalization during the year 1997. 

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