Disturbing questions

Disturbing questions

The statements of Egyptian human rights activist Samira Ibrahim and Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Mohamed Tawfik point up a dangerous dichotomy facing Israel and her neighbor to the south.

As you’ll recall, the Chronicle reported in its March 7 issue that Tawfik reassured an audience of the American Middle East Institute on his March 3 visit to Pittsburgh that his country’s peace treaty with Israel was in Egypt’s “best interests” and would remain in force.

“Polls consistently show that a majority of Egyptians support the peace treaty with Israel,” Tawfik said. “We have been a state for 5,000 years. We see ourselves as a responsible state, and we respect our commitments. And that’s not going to change.”

That may be true, but we think the anti-Semitic tweets of Ibrahim give an even truer sense of Egyptians’ opinion of Israel.

She tweeted on July 18 that the terrorist attack on Jewish tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, constituted “very nice news.”

The following month, she tweeted Hitler’s notorious quote claiming that “no crime, no act against morality” lacks the hands of the Jews in it.  She also tweeted an attack on the Saudi royals, saying they were  “dirtier than the Jews.”

And yet, Ibrahim was slated to be

honored at the State Department last Friday, along with nine other recipients, with the International Women of Courage Award.

Fortunately, news reports from several media outlets prompted the State Department to review her statements and not give her the award, narrowly avoiding a very embarrassing incident. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama presided at the ceremony.

For her part, Ibrahim at first claimed her Twitter account had been hacked — though she never removed the offending tweets — then she appeared to acknowledge them without a trace of remorse.    

“I refused to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America on the previous statements hostile to Zionism under pressure from the American government, so the prize was withdrawn,” Ibrahim tweeted Thursday.

There are two disturbing questions we must ask: How did the State Department let this woman, an online hate monger, come so close to receiving a high U.S. honor? And who really represents the true opinion of most Egyptians, Tawfik or Ibrahim?

The answer to the first question will require a serious investigation.

As for the second question, one must be careful not to paint one nation with broad brushstrokes, but Ibrahim’s voice is part of a growing anti-Israel symphony in Egypt, where a mob attacked and ransacked the Israeli embassy last year and where its president, Mohammed Morsi — part of the anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood — has called the Israelis “warmongers” and “blood-suckers.”

Ibrahim was one of seven women during the initial 2011 Tahrir Square protests police subjected to forced “virginity tests.”

She was selected for the Women of Courage Award because of “the incredible bravery and courage she displayed at the time of the Tahrir Square protests,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Neuland said. She also became a real leader in her country in trying to address gender-based violence and other human rights abuses.

Under normal circumstances she would have been an obvious candidate for the award, but her statements changed the dynamics indeed.

We have one more disturbing question: If the State Department wanted to honor an Arab/Muslim woman of courage — which we have no problem with — surely there must have been someone who met the criteria without speaking disparagingly of a whole nation of people.

And if there wasn’t, what does that tell us?