A seminar organised by Ain Shams University's Centre for the Study of Contemporary Civilisations (CSCC) ended in uproar when several participating Egyptian professors discovered that Robin Firestone, the American professor delivering a paper on the "Problematic of the Chosen in Monotheistic Religions", was a rabbi....Notice that even the academic that invited Firestone bristles at the very idea that he wanted to have Israeli thoughts presented at an Egyptian university.
Mohamed El-Hawwari, head of the CSCC, defended the choice of Firestone as a lecturer. Interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly El-Hawwari stressed that Firestone, while entitled to call himself a "rabbi", does not work in the religious field. "He is an American academic professor and it was in this capacity that he was invited to deliver his lecture."
In a statement issued once the row had become public, El-Hawwari described Firestone as a professor of Jewish history at Hebro Union College, California, and the author of many books on both Jewish and Islamic history.
"I have known the guy for more than 20 years. He has never attacked Islam, which he respects and appreciates," said El-Hawwari. "His lecture was based on texts derived from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Talmud.
"When I invited Firestone to offer his lecture I did not expect him to utter the two testimonies of Islam and announce that he had become a Muslim. It's natural for him to adopt religious concepts different from our own," said El-Hawwari, commenting on Firestone's reference to Isaac [as the son almost sacrificed by Abraham - EoZ].
"Our main problem is that we still cannot accept the other. Whoever differs with us becomes our enemy," El-Hawwari continued. Yet the aim of holding such lecture series is to help in understanding the views of the other "in the hope this will facilitate a rapprochement between cultures and civilisations".
El-Hawwari dismissed allegations that the lecture's real aim was to provide propaganda for normalising relations with Israel as nonsense, and an insult to the integrity of Egyptian academics.
The furore has caused ripples beyond academia, with 20 parliamentary members quick to jump on the bandwagon and demand that the speaker of the People's Assembly summon members of the parliament's Educational Committee for an urgent meeting to determine who is responsible for the convening of such seminars.
They have also demanded that Hani Helal, the minister of higher education, be sacked.
"We are not going to allow Jews to desecrate our universities, spread their Zionist views and brainwash our students," railed independent MP Gamal Zahran.
A video tape and Arabic translation of the lecture are currently being studied by a committee formed by the university to investigate whether there is any substance to claims that the lecture was offensive to Islam.
Following the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, Egyptian educational institutions have refused to deal with their Israeli counterparts and have steadfastly refused cultural normalisation.
In other words, this article from an Egyptian English newspaper proves that academic freedom at Egyptian universities is non-existent and that free inquiry is not only discouraged - it is threatened when it accidentally appears.
Not to mention that Egyptian Parliament officials can spout anti-semitism without the slightest fear of being criticized.
I wonder if any European country will call to boycott Egyptian universities?