Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Egyptians freak over idea of studying Hebrew

In the interests of normalization, Israel's ambassador to Egypt suggested that Egyptians study Hebrew in their schools.

The reaction is both hilarious and telling:
The Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen, called for the Hebrew language be taught in Egyptian schools on Tuesday evening . The suggestion has provoked an angry response from Egyptian political parties who claimed that the demand came as part of the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt in 1978.

Jamal Zahran, an independent Egyptian lawmaker, told the Al-Khalij daily newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates that the Israeli ambassador’s comment reflected Israeli efforts to encourage the Egyptian young people to learn the Hebrew language and travel to Israel to ‘assimilate in its society.’

He criticized the Egyptian government for remaining silent in the wake of Cohen’s comments. Zahran urged Egypt to announce its rejection of the demand and to warn Israel against what he called intervention in internal Egyptian affairs.

"The Hebrew language does not possess any heritage or civilization, and it is spoken by very few people, and so Egypt can't adopt it in its schools as a foreign language," the deputy president of the Nasserite party, Husam Issa said. He described the Israeli ambassador's demand as "stupidity and triviality" and reminded the ambassador that most of the Egyptian people antagonize the Israeli government for its brutality against the Arabs in general and the Palestinian people in particular.
The fact that Egyptians are worried that hundreds of millions of Arabs could "assimilate" into Israeli society betrays a deep insecurity in their own culture. The fact that an Egyptian politician can even utter a sentence such as "the Hebrew language does not possess any heritage or civilization" also shows how hate can trump common sense.

Interestingly, there is increasing interest in Hebrew language instruction in Egyptian universities, as YNet noted recently:
An unexpected new trend among Egyptian university students... Hebrew language studies. Foreign Ministry data indicate that over 1,400 Egyptian students are currently enrolled in full-time Hebrew studies programs.

More than 10 Egyptian Universities currently offer Hebrew courses, usually as part of Oriental Language faculties that also teach Turkish and Persian.

Two major Egyptian universities, Ain Shams University and al-Azhar University, even boast a separate Hebrew language faculty. This is a major accomplishment, especially in universities that are considered bastions of strong anti-Israel sentiments.

One Hebrew lecturer, an Egyptian that has never visited Israel, recently told an Israeli diplomat that he teaches his students Hebrew through “Ha'Gashash Ha'chiver” comedy skits and Israeli music.

The lecturer even asked the Israeli diplomat for new movies to show his students, stressing that they must show absolutely no sex or nudity, or he could be charged with corrupting his students with Israeli pornography.

State officials explained that this burgeoning interest in the Hebrew language stems mostly from Egyptian curiosity, but also of a keen desire to “know the enemy”. Many students are sent to Hebrew studies programs by Egyptian intelligence, who frown upon students who study Hebrew of their own initiative.

Students who attend the Israeli academic Center or frequent the Israeli embassy in Cairo are likewise harassed by security personnel, who incessantly question them and often warn them not to return. Those few students brave enough to attend Hebrew lecturers are deemed highly courageous.