Egyptians still consider Israel the Enemy...
Despite a peace treaty, you still see things like this...
A gigantic storm has been brewing among Egyptian intellectuals ever since Egyptian poetess Iman Mersal permitted one of her books to be published in Hebrew ("An Alternative Geography," translated by Sasson Somekh, Hakibbutz Hameuhad publishing house). How, they demand, could any Egyptian writer cross the lines, defy the writers association's orders and destroy the bases from which the war against normalization with Israel is being waged?
In the latest round of this public debate, writer and critic Jaber Asfour, director of the National Center for Translation in Egypt, weighed in.
Asfour's institute has itself come in for criticism, due to his decision to allow Hebrew books to be translated into Arabic under an agreement reached between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few months ago, when Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny was competing for the position of UNESCO director general. Hosny was not elected, for which he blamed Israel. But the translation project is still on.
In an interview with an important Egyptian literary magazine, "Akhbar Al Adab," Asfour wrestled with the definition of the term "normalization."
"Normalization means an act from which the one who commits it derives economic or spiritual benefit," he said. "That did not happen in Mersal's case." In other words, she received no money for letting her book be translated.
That is also how he defends his agreement to translate books from Hebrew: He stressed that he signed no agreements with any Israeli publishing house, thus ensuring "that the Egyptian public's money would not go into Israeli hands."
Instead, the translations are being done by foreign companies, from English or French into Arabic.
If normalization means economic benefit, Asfour was asked, what is "spiritual benefit?" He replied: "If Israeli papers write about you favorably."
"But that is no criterion," objected the interviewer, Mohammed Shair. "After all, if Haaretz were to write nice things about you tomorrow with regard to your cultural role in Egypt, would I then accuse you of normalization?"
"No, I don't think so," Asfour replied. "But if it was in the context of cooperation between me and them, then it would be normalization."
Asfour drew a distinction between translating from Hebrew into Arabic and translating from Arabic into Hebrew.
"We have to get to know the enemy, to understand his strengths and weaknesses, so that I can know how he thinks and what he is plotting against us," he explained, offering an excuse for translations into Arabic.
But what about the opposite direction? "I prefer that translations into Hebrew should not be done with the writers' consent. If they steal our literature, that is another matter."