Last month, the great conductor Daniel Barenboim was invited for a concert in Cairo. Among his many passports, Barenboim has also an Israeli one, a fact that reopened, in Egypt, the public debate about normalization.
At the Austrian Cultural Center of Cairo, the maestro tried to justify his presence in Egypt: “I don’t represent the Israeli government and I am here as a person who has never hesitated to criticize the Israeli government.” Despite Barenboim’s rich record in supporting Palestinian rights, his many projects aimed at promoting high-level music in the West Bank and his known friendship with late Edward Said, his performance in Cairo was criticized by many Egyptian intellectuals and presented as an un-direct way to promote normalization with Israel. “I strongly protest against his coming”, wrote the well known writer Yussef el-Qaed, “and don’t tell me that he has a Palestinian passport or that he was a close friend of Edward Said. I don’t want to hear it. Just after the Israeli attack on Gaza, at the beginning of 2009, such a visit is not timely, to say the least.”
There were opposite opinions too, like the one expressed by Gamal Ghitany, chief editor of the cultural weekly Akhbar al-Adab, who wrote: “This is by no way normalization, and it is a dangerous game to pretend it is. This conductor is a monument. He has always been active for peace and opposed the Israeli aggression in the Middle East. We cannot reject someone only because of his religion. Barenboim is a citizen of the world who has two passports, an Israeli but also a Palestinian one. Personally, I have nothing against him.”
Ghitany is suggesting to re-open the political debate on normalization with Israel: “If I meet an Israeli colleague in a conference, do I have to leave the hall or will I confront him and present my point of view?” The rejection of normalization among Arab and Egyptian intellectuals includes the decision not to come to the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and Ghitany doesn’t like it: “Honestly, I would like to go to Ramallah and to support, there, the Palestinians. If I don’t do it, it is only because I don’t want to be under a fire of critics.”
Ibrahim Aslan, another Egyptian novelist, supports the idea of an Arab conference on normalization and adds: “I am extremely sad that no one was abler to share with the Palestinians their joy when Jerusalem was chosen as the 2009 capital of Arab culture.”