An Interview with Raymond Stock
by Jerry Gordon and Raymond Stock (November 2012)
In December 2010, after spending two decades in Egypt as an academic and translator of the works of Egyptian Nobel Laureate, the late Naguib Mahfouz, ex-pat Detroit native, Raymond Stock was denied entry and deported by the Mubarak regime. He had apparently crossed the line when in 2009, he authored a Foreign Policy article, “Very, Very Lost in Translation,” about the anti-Semitic rants of former Mubarak cultural minister, Farouk Hosni, who was jockeying to be nominated as head of UNESCO. Stock wrote of Hosni:
To say that Farouk Hosni doesn't much like Israel is putting it lightly. According to the Anti-Defamation League, he has called it “inhuman,” and “an aggressive, racist, and arrogant culture, based on robbing other people's rights and the denial of such rights.” He has accused Jews of “infiltrating” world media. And in May 2008, Hosni outdid even himself, telling the Egyptian parliament that he would “burn right in front of you” any Israeli books found in the country's libraries.
Less surprising but also sadly true is that Hosni's opinions about Israeli culture are par for the course among Egypt's intelligentsia, for whom 30 years of official peace with the Jewish state, the longest of any Arab country, have done virtually nothing to moderate its rampant Judeophobia. If anything, the opposite might be true.
Stock went on to cite Israeli PM Netanyahu relenting from a full court press and discussing concessions with former strongman Mubarak, who fell during a revolt nominally led by secular liberals but which was in fact dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, in February 2011.
Currently a Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, Stock spent two decades in Egypt, having gone there in 1990. He is a 1980 Graduate of Grand Valley State University in Mass Media and Foreign Affairs who went on to take a Masters in Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan in 1983. He holds a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania earned in 2008. He had a Guggenheim Fellowship (2007) and was visiting Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University in 2010-2011.
During his long term sojourn in Egypt he befriended Naguib Mahfouz, becoming translator of a great many of his works, notably, the novels Khufu’s Wisdom and Before the Throne, among others. He is under contract to the publishing house of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for completion of a full length biography of Mahfouz. Articles on Middle East commentary by Stock have appeared in The Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Harper’s, International Herald Tribune, and London Magazine, Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), The Gatestone Institute, PJ Media and Middle East Quarterly.
Stock’s views on his relationship and the literary heritage of Mahfouz can be found in an interview with him published in December 2011 on the web site, Arab Literature ( in English), “Q&A with Naguib Mahfouz Biographer Raymond Stock: On the Author’s Life, Archives.”
Stock has no blinders on about what has occurred in the wake of the presidential victory of former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Mursi in Egypt and even before that. In a May 2012 Jerusalem Post interview, “US academic watches in despair as Egypt unravels” they noted:
Stock says he could sense Egypt’s Islamists gaining strength as early as the 1970s, but that the influence was tempered by a wave of domestic terrorism in the 1990s that cost hundreds of lives and ground tourism to a halt. “Even though I saw it coming, it pained me to see more and more Islamists on the street while I was still in Egypt,” he said. “By 2010 it was apparent the Islamists had really taken off.”
“Like most everyone, I was deeply moved by the scenes of heroism and Christian-Muslim solidarity shown in the demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak. But I also knew, given the growing levels of anti-Christian feeling in the country in recent decades, that this miracle wouldn’t last,” he said.
“The April 6 movement which took credit for starting the revolution in the social media was itself long in league with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “When Mubarak fell, it was the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi whom the army called back to lead the victory celebration the next Friday in Tahrir. He is a man who has called upon the Muslims to complete Hitler’s work against the Jews, and on that joyous occasion, he called for jihad against Israel. At that moment, people should have realized who really owned the ‘revolution,’ and it wasn’t the liberals – it never really was.”
Stock's views about the dangerous conspiratorial strategies of the Muslim Brotherhood emboldened by Mursi’s victory were on display in an FPRI E-Notes article, “The Donkey, the Camel and the Facebook Scam: How the Muslim Brotherhood Conquered Egypt and Conned the World,” July 2012:
Like Mohammed Mursi, most people deny that Arabs were to blame for the 9/11 attacks (though many had cheered them on the day itself). They insist that it had it to be an inside job, aided if not planned by Mossad. Then they will tell you, “But if America doesn’t watch out, we’ll do it again.” Dwelling in a sea of lies (much of the Egyptian press is what American supermarket tabloids would look like if directed by Joseph Goebbels and Ayman al-Zawahiri), with few trustworthy sources of information, coupled with growing access to the open data (and disinformation) highway of the Internet, the conspiracy theory reigns supreme. There is a virtually all-enveloping belief that Israel and America lurk behind every problem in Egypt and the Middle East. Yet the real tragedy is not that they believe in conspiracies, because some of those do exist. The trouble is that they—and the Western media, governments and academe—typically don’t believe in the real ones, especially those hatched by the Islamists to exploit this seething mass of ignorance and discontent. This is an art form the MB has mastered through many years of patient struggle and organization from the bottom up, going back most of a century.
In this well-documented article Stock chronicles the history of Egypt's nuclear program, China's possible underwriting of the El- Dabaa nuclear power plant and possible technology transfer from Iran. Stock notes the rising demands for possible development of its own nuclear devices under the regime of Egypt's first Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohammed Mursi, as a threat to Israel and that they fear no reprisals given the weakened US presence in the Middle East under the Obama Administration. Note Stock's chilling conclusions:
Certainly Mursi’s visit to China, immediately followed by Iran, and his confident proposal for a Middle East quartet including Iran to negotiate the end of the Syrian civil war (which the local MB branch is winning, also with American backing), show that he fears, like other Middle Eastern despots at present, very little from U.S. pressure. . . For Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who for decades have demanded war against Israel and death to the Jews, while calling for the subjugation and destruction of the U.S. too, the road to nuclear jihad may soon open before them—and with America's complicity. Who, then, would stand in their way?
Jerry Gordon: Ray Stock thank you for consenting to this interview:
Raymond Stock: Thank you very much for inviting me, Jerry.
Gordon: What is your academic background and training in Arabic language and culture?
Stock: I have a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania (2008), an M.A. in Middle East Studies from the University of Michigan (1983), and a B.A. in Mass Media/Foreign Affairs from Grand Valley State University (1980). While earning my B.A., I studied twice in Egypt on month-long programs (as well as summer-long studies in France and the former Yugoslavia). The first of those trips, in December 1977, was my initiation to the region and to the Arabic language as well. It was during that visit that I resolved to master it and to become a specialist on that part of the world. It was love at first sight.
On my maiden trip to Cairo, a chance viewing of a film about the Sphinx (Arabic name, Abu al-Hawl, “the Father of Terror”) in which a man read a vibrant poem in classical Arabic, changed my perception of the language, which, as to many Westerners, had seemed to me no more than a sputtering, pharyngeal mush (especially the colloquial). But the lush, rolling cadences of this poem conjured real power, a language rich in rhythm and resonance, whose sound carries meaning even to the unversed listener in the same way that some experience music as color. This, and a bit too much exposure to the international press corps and their gypsy lifestyle, prompted a decision to learn Arabic – -not only in hopes of becoming a successful reporter in the region, but also in the Joycean desire to bend difficult foreign tongues into tools of literary invention.
From then on I focused on foreign studies, especially the Middle East. There were, however, as noted, also two undergraduate summers in Europe. One was in Sarajevo, which I remember as surrounded by dense forests from which the wolves came down at night, to prowl near a town boasting the most beautiful Muslim, Christian and Jewish monuments in the Balkans. (Other wolves would later come down, by day and by night, seeking to wreck the lovely town which they were fortunately not able to enter.) The other summer was in Tours, France – la ville de Balzac – where, I was told, the French is most pure, and the Loire full of quicksand. But for me, quicksand appeared wherever I stood still too long. Though I came back often, I could not stay home again.
I have been blessed with many great teachers of Arabic. One of the earliest, who affected me deeply, was James Bellamy at the University of Michigan. Professor Bellamy generously allowed me, quite prematurely, as a second year student of the language to take his very advanced class in reading and translating the mu`allaqat, the pre-Islamic (and extremely difficult) masterworks of Arabic poetry. It was there that I learned how to really parse Arabic, to use all sorts of dictionaries (modern and traditional), to patiently seek out le mot juste in translation, and watch for and try to create anew (if not capture), the original cadence and rhythm–things I use to this day, in prose as if it were poetry.
But it was Roger Allen, the dean of Arabic literary studies in the English-speaking world, who really nurtured my career in this field–I have learned enormously from him. We met in Baghdad in the fall of 1988: we were both there to attend the annual al-Mirbad poetry festival, then the largest literary gathering in the Arab world, sponsored by Saddam Hussein -whom I met in the Rashid Theatre on November 30. (This was my second time there out of three visits for the festival.) Professor Allen, who had played a major role in advising the Swedish Academy about Naguib Mahfouz – whose Nobel Prize in literature had just been announced in Stockholm, the first to an Arab writer – kindly encouraged me to study with him for a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. Eventually, in 1992, I was offered a fellowship there, and so began my doctoral studies – most of which were spent doing field work in Egypt.
Gordon: What auspices brought you to Egypt more than two decades ago and did you plan on making Egypt a long term sojourn?
Stock: The background to that is rather complex. After completing my Middle East M.A. in Ann Arbor, I worked in the Near East Reference Section of the Rackham Graduate Library at the University of Michigan for a couple of years. In the summer of 1984 I landed a temporary job at the Near East Reference Section of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. – a three-month assignment. Fortunately, I was able to find other work in Washington – as a reporter covering labor issues and as the assistant editor of Middle East Insight Magazine – until I was hired as head of the Academic Section of the Qatar Embassy’s Cultural Attaché. There I was in charge of the office that advised Qatar’s several hundred undergraduate and graduate students on fellowships in North America.
After nearly five years with the Qataris, a friend, Dr. Donald Herdeck – who was Naguib Mahfouz’s sole American publisher at the time – told me of an opening for the first acquisitions editor at The American University in Cairo Press (AUCP). The AUCP was then already the largest English language publisher in the Middle East (which it still is), and – then as now – represented Mahfouz in all his foreign language publishing contracts (except, at that time, for the few that Herdeck himself had acquired). I applied, and in late February 1990, arrived in Cairo to start my new role. The appointment was for three years. But due to the loss of foreign visitors – and hence the market for our books – following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, I and another person hired at the same time were laid off the next summer. My letter of termination began, “Saddam Hussein has left me no choice.” At that moment, it seemed as though my career in the Middle East–and my association with Mahfouz, which I greatly treasured–had ended almost as soon as they had begun.
Gordon: When did you first make contact with Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz and how different was he from the Egyptian intelligentsia you encountered?
Raymond Stock with Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz
Stock: I first met Naguib Mahfouz on Sunday, March 4, 1990—my first full day on the job at the AUCP In those days, he came to our offices every Sunday morning at about 8:45 to pick up his mail. As he passed by my desk on his way to see the then-director, the late Arnold C. Tovell, one of us said hello: I can’t recall which. I introduced myself, and we shook hands: he was very warm and kind. There was little conversation then – but it wasn’t long before we became friends. He was different from other Egyptian intellectuals in three principal ways. First, unlike the vast majority of his peers, he was disciplined, always writing on a regular, utterly inflexible daily schedule. (In fact, he was so much a creature of habit – even timing how many cigarettes to smoke per hour, and exactly when – that his friends called him “the human watch.”) Second, though he usually preferred dissent by stealth, carefully embedding social and political criticism in his often-allegorical fiction, he was one of the few who dared to publicly advocate peace with Israel. And third, he was a towering genius: that set him apart not only from most of his Egyptian contemporaries, but also from most writers on earth, throughout his long life.
Incidentally, to complete the story of what happened when I left the AUCP, it was then that, while looking for work in New York publishing, I called John Glusman, an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, to whom I had been sent, very kindly, by the Syrian-American novelist Mona Simpson. I had guided Mona around Cairo, the Giza Pyramids and environs on request of the U.S. embassy, which had arranged her visit, shortly before I left Egypt. (Much later I learned she was the sister of Steve Jobs). John loved Mahfouz's writing, had been to his homeland and had a special passion for Alexandria. He told me that he had no jobs to offer me, but would I consider writing Naguib Mahfouz's biography? After recovering from the shock of being asked to do something I had considered but a dream, I drafted a detailed proposal and by the next February, contract in hand, I was back in Cairo, in Mahfouz's office at the newspaper al-Ahram, where he quickly consented to cooperate in my research. A Mahfouzian turn of fate, indeed.
Gordon: What were the circumstances behind your being invited to translate some of Mahfouz’s oeuvre?
Stock: I had begun translating as a freelancer for individuals who needed Arabic documents or articles rendered into English while still living in Washington, D.C. While in Washington I also helped translate interviews for the editor of Middle East Insight, George Nader, with people like Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah of Hizbullah, and liked to translate Arabic poetry on my own. But I had not even considered translating Mahfouz until the early 1990s, when I began submitting some of his short stories to magazines, licensed by my former employers, the AUCP, whom I approached with the idea. Eventually, in summer 2000, having chosen Mahfouz’s long-neglected works set in ancient Egypt as the subject of my doctoral dissertation, I asked the AUCP to consider commissioning the translation of all his works from that genre – at that time, mainly five novels and five short stories. They had already published one of the Pharaonic novels, Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, translated by Tagried Abu Hassabo, in 1998, when I had recommended her manuscript to them.
But Mahfouz had resisted authorizing the translation of his early Pharaonic triad (Khufu’s Wisdom, Rhadopis of Nubia and Thebes at War) because critics had largely neglected or panned them. I, however, thought they were brilliantly written and charming as well. In the end, I translated three of his books in this line. The first was a collection comprising those five stories, called Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales, published in 2002. The second was his first published novel (and my first in translation), Khufu’s Wisdom. And the third was his historical novel-in-dialogue, Before the Throne in 2009.
I have also translated four other books of Mahfouz’s work mainly set in modern times: The Seventh Heaven: Supernatural Tales (2005), plus his final novel, The Coffeehouse, as well as two volumes of his last work, a series of very short pieces based, he said, on his dreams. These appeared as The Dreams (2004) and Dreams of Departure (2007). All of them except The Coffeehouse have since appeared in paperback editions via Anchor Books/Random House. One (Khufu’s Wisdom), was included along with Rhadopis of Nubia (trans. Anthony Calderbank) and Thebes at War (trans. Humphrey Davies), in an Everyman’s Library edition called Three Novels of Ancient Egypt (introduced by Nadine Gordimer) in 2007. In addition, I have published Mahfouz stories in more periodicals than any other translator (including Bookforum, Egypt Today, Kenyon Review/Stand Magazine, London Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, Nest: a quarterly of interiors, Southwest Review and Zoetrope All-Story, and with the largest circulation (Harper’s Magazine). As is customary in this field, in every case, the book titles and stories were proposed by me to the AUCP. I have also published my translations of stories by other writers, notably Egyptian satirist Ali Salem, and the Berlin-based Iraqi writer, Najem Wali. Most recently, I have been translating the fiction of another brilliant Egyptian author, Sherif Meleka, whom I hope to help find the recognition that he so richly deserves.
Gordon: In a recent article, you spoke of how prescient Mahfouz was in giving voice to the Arab Spring rebellion in Egypt. Could you tell us the significance of Mahfouz’s fictional character’s remarks in his book, Before the Throne?
Stock: Before the Throne ingeniously covers – in roughly 150 pages- – about five thousand years of Egypt’s history via a series of afterlife trials of Egypt’s rulers (and, in the Middle Ages, a number of minor Muslim and Christian figures). The setting is a stripped down version of the Osiris Court, which judged the souls of the dead in ancient Egyptian belief. Early in the book, Mahfouz tells the story of a popular uprising in the waning days of the 6th Dynasty (about 2125 B.C.) after many years of stagnant rule under the aging Pharaoh Pepi II. One of the revolt’s leaders, a probably apocryphal character named Abnum, is chosen to speak for them.
“History remembers the elite, and we were from the poor – the peasants, the artisans, and the fishermen,” he declaims. “Part of the justice of this sacred hall is that it neglects no one. We have endured agonies beyond what any human can bear. When our ferocious anger was raised against the rottenness of oppression and darkness, our revolt was called chaos, and we were called mere thieves. Yet it was nothing but a revolution against despotism, blessed by the gods.”
Change “thieves” to “foreign agents,” make the revolt not one of just the poor, but of people from all classes and walks of life, replace “gods” with God, and we are in Cairo’s Tahrir Square early last year. The conditions in which those ancient rebels rose up against the established order were rather like those under President Hosni Mubarak. And like all those exonerated by the court, Abnum is invited to join the tribunal that judges those who had come after him. He uses that opportunity to constantly preach for bloody revolution, always eager to vindicate the impulse of the masses to thrown off their masters in the name of social justice. In this sense, especially, Before the Throne seems to have been especially prescient about the January 25th Revolution.
I have written more about this in a piece published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute in May 2011.
Mahfouz wrote about rebellions and revolutions in numerous other works, too. One of the earliest is a (entirely fictional) revolt against the 6th Dynasty Pharaoh Merenre II in his second novel, Rhadopis of Nubia (1943). He idolized the leader of Egypt’s 1919 movement for national independence, Saad Pasha Zaghloul, not only in his Cairo Trilogy and many other works (including Before the Throne, The Coffeehouse and his Dreams series), but in real life as well. Zaghloul remained the greatest hero of his life until the day he died.
Gordon: Mahfouz was an outspoken supporter of the Camp David Accords of 1978 that resulted in the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979. Given your relations with him what was his rationale?
Stock: When Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi visited the offices of al-Ahram, Cairo’s largest newspaper, where Mahfouz was a staff columnist, in early 1971, Mahfouz asked him if the Arabs could beat Israel militarily? When Qaddafi answered, “No,” Mahfouz began to shift in favor of a negotiated peace with the Jewish State. In addition, he admired Israel’s democracy, intellectual culture, and its scientific achievements too. He felt that a just peace, which would involve the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, would lead to the Arabs gaining a great deal in all these fields from their former enemy. His stand was courageous from the start. He received death threats, his books and films (he was a major figure in Egyptian cinema) were boycotted, and he lost a lot of friends. He never gave up the Palestinian cause, however, and spoke up for it in his Nobel lecture in Stockholm, delivered for him by Mohamed Salmawy. Still, even his Nobel was attacked, both by Arab nationalists who claimed it was a reward for his support for peace, and by Islamists, who believed it was in thanks for his novel, Children of the Alley, which they consider blasphemous. Of course, it was neither, but both these myths still persist, and probably always will. Unfortunately, in later years, as his eyesight and hearing weakened and he relied more and more upon others to help him follow the news, he came to support Palestinian suicide bombings, at least for a while, after the 2002 Israeli operation in Jenin. (He had been led to believe that the early, quite hysterical reports of a massacre of hundreds, even 1,500 or more, of Jenin's residents in that eleven-day battle were true. However, a U.N. investigation proved that the Israeli estimate of 52-to-54 Palestinians – mostly armed combatants – and 23 Israeli soldiers killed was correct.) Yet he never renounced the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty, and still hoped for a two-state solution one day.
Incidentally, the other major message of Before the Throne was a defense of that treaty, especially in the trials of Pharaoh Seti I, his son, Ramesses II, as well as Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Sadat. For example, asked why Seti I eventually came to terms with Egypt’s deadliest enemies, the Hittites (who threatened from the northeast, the general direction of modern Israel), the king replies, “A treaty of peace is preferable to a war without glory.”
Gordon: Mahfouz had expressed hope for Egypt under former President Mubarak. Did he change his views of Mubarak in later years?
Stock: As noted earlier, Mahfouz’s real political loyalty was to the person and principles of Saad Pasha Zaghloul, a moderate, non-sectarian Egyptian nationalist, as well as to Fabian Socialism, which he acquired from one of his mentors, the Coptic secularist thinker Salama Musa. After the 1952 Free Officers Coup, Mahfouz was pleased by the overthrow of the monarchy but was appalled by Abdel-Nasser’s dictatorship, which replaced the old, if corrupt, parliamentary democracy established in the 1920s, that drove most of the foreigners from the country, ruining the economy. He backed Sadat’s drive for peace with Israel, but bridled at his too-abrupt opening of the country to foreign investment, blamed for a great deal of hardship for the poor. When Mubarak took over after Sadat’s murder, in 1981, he took a very cautious view, applauding him for keeping the peace that Sadat had signed, and his more gradual support of economic reform. On the whole, however, Mubarak ignored him, at least until his Nobel in 1988, and again when Islamists stabbed Mahfouz for his novel Children of the Alley in 1994. Though his views were well-known through his novels (and his studiously bland weekly column in al-Ahram), Mahfouz never formally joined a party (not even Zaghloul’s Wafd), nor publicly endorsed a candidate until 2005, when Mubarak instituted a bit more openness in the parliamentary and presidential elections that year, under pressure from George W. Bush. That, of course, was both the first and the last time: Mahfouz died the next year (at age 94), on August 30, 2006.
Gordon: Mahfouz once said, “God did not intend religion to be an exercise club.” Was he specifically referring to Islamic extremism or religion in general?
Stock: Mahfouz was not referring to extremism per se, but to criticisms made by Islamists (and perhaps by others) that he did not pray in the prescribed manner: that is, with prostrations and other physical motions and gestures. At least from the time he discovered he was suffering from diabetes in the early 1960s, he also stopped fasting in Ramadan. Yet he said that he read the Qur’an every day – not only for religious inspiration, but to mine it for stories and out of love for the Arabic language. Of course, that cut him no slack with the militants.
Like a number of educated Muslims (and others) of his generation, Mahfouz went through a period of religious doubt in his youth – and may never have really left it. He also read the Bible, and had many Christian and Jewish friends. His novel, Children of the Alley, an allegory of the rise of mankind from the time of Adam and Eve to the age of modern science, was condemned by three clerics in al-Azhar as it was being serialized in al-Ahram in 1959 as heretical. There were threats on his life, and mobs stormed out of Cairo mosques calling for his death. The novel was banned from publication in Egypt, and the controversy died down until his Nobel, when the Swedish Academy cited it as one of a number of works that justified his prize. Shortly thereafter, on February 14, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for his novel, The Satanic Verses. Two months later, the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, issued his own fatwa against Children of the Alley, declaring that if Mahfouz had been punished for his blasphemous novel in 1959, then Rushdie would not have dared to publish his in 1988. In 1992, the brave anti-Islamist activist and friend of Mahfouz, Farag Foda, was murdered on orders of the Blind Sheikh.
Two years after Farag’s murder, on October 14, 1994, Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck while sitting in his friend Dr. Fathi Hashem's car outside his Nile-side home by an Islamist: two young men were later hanged and eleven others went to prison for their alleged part in the conspiracy. After the attack, which left Mahfouz unable to write at all for several years due to damage in the nerve that controlled his right hand and arm, his public statements began to sound more pious, and he slowly distanced himself from the novel that nearly cost him his life. Yet he never completely renounced it nor repented for it either, as some Islamists demanded, though he refused to allow it to be published in Egypt in Arabic out of respect for al-Azhar, which continued to ban it – even if Mubarak’s regime no longer did. He also maintained an ambiguous stance toward religious belief. For example, in early 1995, someone from the German Embassy in Cairo called me, asking if I could persuade Mahfouz to receive an official from one of that country’s major parties who was then touring the Middle East in order to meet with “moderate” Muslim thinkers and writers. The goal, I was told, was “to correct the image of Islam” which allegedly had been distorted by negative media coverage of Muslim terror attacks. But when I went to Mahfouz, who had left the hospital little more than a month before, and told him of the German politician’s request, he swiftly declined. “How can I correct the distorted image of Islam,” he asked me bitterly, “when I am someone who was stabbed by Islam?”
Gordon: When did Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups first impose their Shari'a doctrinal views on secular, minority Muslims and Coptic Christians?
Stock: There is no single moment that one could identify as the beginning of that process. Of course, Shari'a came to Egypt with the Muslim conquest in 642 A.D. – yet even that is too simple. Shari'a itself was still in its infancy then, though scholars in Egypt historically played a large role in developing it. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB: in Arabic, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun), began in Ismailiya in 1928, but Salafi groups are much older, going back to 18th century Arabia (though their origins and definition are disputed). In fact, the MB is a Salafi organization, one which adopted its own gradualist strategy called “al-Da'wa,” which calls for building up an Islamic state through preaching, education, the creation of independent charities and civil institutions, and ultimately through revolution. The Salafis (a term meaning roughly, “followers of the pious ancestors”), as we know them today, under Mubarak were largely apolitical, seeking to establish their idea of a just society primarily through example. But when the Mubarak regime fell – as a result of a revolution that was mainly led by the MB soon after its inception, and which the MB played a key role in starting as well – the Salafis chose to seek state power too, sometimes as competitors with the MB, but mainly as its allies.
Both groups are hostile to Christians, Jews, people of other religions, atheists and secular or liberal Muslims – not to mention gays and women. The MB denies that it is so intolerant (at least to the outside world); while the Salafis are more open about their goals. Some Salafis baldly call for driving the Coptic Christian minority – the oldest Christian community in the world – out of Egypt. Of course, this did not begin with Mubarak’s departure. There have been assaults and discrimination against Copts for centuries. The jizya tax against non-Muslims, as well as violence (especially during the 14th century), eventually turned Egypt into a majority Muslim country, up to seven hundred years after it fell to the Arab invaders. Even in the modern period, church bells could not be rung in Egypt until the reign of the great modernizer, Mohammed Ali Pasha (ruled 1805-1848), who gradually opened Egypt to the West. Though things improved even more under the British occupation (1882-1956), equality remained a distant dream.
There was a brief golden age in the liberal period between the world wars, when violence and intimidation fell to a minimum, Christians and Jews rose to high office and enjoyed good relations with Muslims overall. But by the time of my first trip to Egypt, in 1977, when Sadat was president, some of his key advisors, who hosted our student group, told us that (even then) there was a war against Christians raging mainly in the conservative rural areas of Upper (southern) Egypt, which was kept entirely out of the press. Under Mubarak, with the Islamist uprising led by the Blind Sheikh in the 1990s, Christians as well as foreign tourists and policemen were targeted. Many shootings of Copts were the result of their resisting Islamist attempts to levy the jizya tax (outlawed in modern Egypt), a practice that continues to this day. Christian women evidently are often abducted and forced to convert, and public campaigns waged to frame Christians for doing the same. Muslim crowds are often whipped up against the Coptic Church authorities for not permitting Coptic women who (it is claimed) had converted to Islam to go to their new Muslim families – these accusations typically turn out to be false. And even under Mubarak, the police, State Security and the army units sent to deal with anti-Coptic violence often aided and abetted the aggressors, rather than uphold the law.
But since Mubarak’s departure, things have gone from bad to almost infinitely worse. During 2011, it was reported that about 100,000 Copts had fled abroad that year. Though there is no way to verify that figure, no doubt the actual number is quite large. And there is no reason to think that this picture will improve with the Islamists in power. Quite the contrary: in recent weeks, the Islamists have been openly forcing the Christians out of the Sinai and parts of Upper Egypt, in what appears to be a wave of ethnic cleansing. President Mursi has said he will protect them, but no one believes him: his own allies are behind these crimes. Very dark days seem likely ahead.
Gordon: How much influence did the Muslim Brotherhood exert among the leaders of Egypt’s military during the Mubarak reign?
Stock: The Muslim Brothers were early allies of the Free Officers who led the 1952 coup against King Farouk (who himself had Islamist tendencies) before they made their move on July 23, 1952. General Mohammed Naguib, Egypt’s first President (deposed by Nasser in 1954) is thought to have been sympathetic to the MB, but outwardly displayed little or none of its bias against Christians and Jews – he deliberately reached out to the latter especially, something that became impossible before very long. Nasser, the Free Officers’ real leader (albeit from behind the scene at first), however, refused to share power with the MB. When they apparently retaliated with an attempt to assassinate Nasser as he gave a speech in Manshia, Alexandria on October 26, 1954 (an incident that may or may not have been genuine), their erstwhile collaborator had them banned, arresting and torturing quite a few of their members. Having already dissolved the major political parties, especially the nation’s largest – the Wafd – his dictatorship was henceforth complete. In 1966, Nasser had several of the MB’s most prominent figures hanged, including its chief theologian – Sayyid Qutb, who – as a literary critic in 1944 – had been the first to really recognize Mahfouz’s work (for which Mahfouz rewarded him with friendship until the end). Qutb was also the chief architect of the modern jihad, influencing everyone from Hamas to al-Qa'ida.
When Sadat, Nasser’s vice-president, succeeded Nasser in 1970, he had to deal with the Leftist factions loyal to his former boss. For help he turned to their nemesis, the MB, releasing its activists from prison and allowing them to take over both the university campuses and the various professional syndicates. More importantly, he allowed the MB to revive and expand its massive organizational networks, and its influence grew enormously. This also included the ranks of the army – which, after all, is but a reflection of Egyptian society. This should have been apparent when members of the armed forces shot Sadat to death during a parade on the eight anniversary of his sole military victory, on October 6, 1981, through a conspiracy that possibly involved several thousand military personnel and civilians as well. (The assassination was also a signal for the start of a formidable Islamist uprising in the Upper Egyptian town of Assiut, which took weeks to suppress.) Yet most observers dismissed that as a fluke, at least as far as the army was concerned. Not so Mubarak, Sadat’s Vice President, who was wounded in the hand as he sat next to him during the parade. Incensed, he cracked down on the MB, re-confirming Nasser’s original ban, and once again the prisons and torture chambers were filled with Ikhwangis.
But naturally, the MB, and later its more radical offshoots, knew that they had time on their side. And so their infiltration into every layer of society, including the armed forces, continued unabated, despite Mubarak’s best efforts to appoint only officers that he could trust politically. Yet all was in vain. By the time that he fell, my own sources have told me, even the staff of his long-time Minister of Defense, Hussein Tantawi, was full of MB sympathizers, if not members. Thus it should have been no surprise that the group of generals who forced Mubarak to resign on February 11, 2011 (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – the SCAF), and which ran the country during the transition afterward, were eager to cooperate with the Ikhwan. And that they did, on the whole, despite occasional tiffs (mainly over the timing of the handover to civilian rule, and over control of the writing of the new Constitution), and the dispute over Mursi’s attempted recall of the Islamist-dominated parliament, which the SCAF had disbanded following a June 14, 2012 ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court. Again, the consensus among foreign governments, the mass media and regional experts was that the MB and the SCAF were actually at total odds with each other, when in reality they were probably just negotiating over items that had the generals worried. These were mainly threats by the MB to prosecute some of them for their profitable ties to the Mubarak regime, and to place the military budget, for the first time in decades, under civilian control.
The August 5, 2012 attack on the Israeli border with Sinai, in which Islamists murdered 15 Egyptian soldiers without managing to get a single Israeli, was extremely embarrassing for both Mursi and the MB. Even more crucially, it provided Mursi with a pretext to remove a number of military commanders and the governor of North Sinai, who were Mubarak appointees. Within just a week, on August 12, Mursi was able to persuade Tantawi and his number two, Sami Anan, plus the heads of all the services to retire: Tantawi and Anan became his advisers. Shortly afterwards, at least sixty more generals agreed to go on pension. Thus the career roadblocks that Mubarak had created by leaving his trusted loyalists in place for so long were suddenly lifted. Mursi was thus able to advance not only MB supporters, but also politically neutral professional soldiers who would now be beholden to him for their long-awaited rise through the ranks – a stunningly shrewd move. But it is also a sign of just how careful and thorough the MB has been as it has marched ever onward, its eyes always fixed on the distant horizon of power, for the past 84 years. Now that it has arrived at last, it is doubtful that it will ever let go willingly. Nor do the examples set by other Islamist regimes – the Iranian mullahs, the Taliban, Hamas, Hizbullah- – give us any reason for hope in that regard.
Gordon: Appalling anti-Semitism has been prevalent in Egyptian media through press, editorial cartoons and even dramatic TV series. How prominent was that in your experience and why did the Mubarak regime tolerate it?
Stock: Anti-Semitism, to be sure, long pre-dates my time in Egypt. German Egyptologist Jan Assmann, in Moses the Egyptian, traces the original conspiratorial theories about the Jews- – the roots of those later found in Europe – to the Aegyptiaca, by the Ptolemaic-era Egyptian historian, Manetho. A vivid portrait of traditional anti-Jewish prejudice can be found in Edward W. Lane’s early 19th century work, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. During World War II, the Nazis disseminated considerable propaganda against the Jews throughout the Arab world, including Egypt. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, sponsored the translation and mass circulation of Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Arabic, and broadcast on behalf of Hitler from Berlin. A personal friend of not only Hitler, but of Himmler and Eichmann, who visited Auschwitz and helped send thousands of Hungarian Jewish children to their deaths rather than let them go to Palestine, al-Husayni recruited 100,000 Muslims to create a special division of their own in the Waffen-SS. Both Hitler and Himmler thought that Muslims made ideal Nazi warriors because of what they saw as the martial nature of the religion and its natural antipathy toward the Jews. One of Husayni’s greatest admirers was King Farouk himself, who helped him escape from Paris to Cairo in 1946 when he was about to be arrested for his crimes in the war.
The growth of the MB, armed and financed by the Nazis, and which was involved in riots against the Egyptian Jewish community in the late 1940s, no doubt increased popular anti-Semitism dramatically. By the time that I moved to Egypt in 1990, it had been common to see caricatures of bloodthirsty Jews with huge hook noses, etc. in Egyptian newspapers for several decades. The Egyptian cultural establishment, officially led by Farouk Hosni (who became Minister of Culture in 1987, and was still in that post when the regime collapsed), refused to allow cultural exchanges with Israel or even contact with any Israelis. Such contacts were also banned by the Egyptian Writers’ Union and all other professional syndicates (doctors, lawyers, engineers) and even the universities (including the faculty senate of the American University in Cairo) had the same policy. At the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada, in the fall of 2000, Egyptian TV was filled with Muslim clerics and alleged experts on Judaism denouncing the Jews as betrayers of Muhammad (whose biography states that he had two Jewish tribes massacred for failing to honor a military pact with him), who are always untrustworthy, and whose religion is inferior to Islam. People wrote to the government-controlled newspapers, calling for the completion of Hitler’s task of liquidating the Jews. The regime’s own anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda, along with the often inflammatory coverage of the international media, created not only a general sense of public hysteria, but also set the stage for the confluence of anti-Mubarak and anti-Israeli forces in the opposition (all of whom opposed Mubarak’s maintaining the 1979 Treaty) that eventually led to the coalition that launched the January 25, 2011 Revolution.
During all the twenty years I lived in Egypt, conspiracy theories about Jews were common. Sometimes the Israelis were accused of flooding Egypt with aphrodisiac chewing gum, aimed at the virtue of Egyptian women. Or Israeli women were being infected with AIDS and sent to spread the disease among Egyptian men. Meanwhile, the legacy of al-Husayni’s zeal for anti-Semitic translations could be seen in the numerous Arabic editions of Mein Kampf (Kifahi, or My Struggle, in Arabic) and The Protocols found in virtually every street booksellers’ and news vendors’ kiosk. Upscale bookstores had the same works in prominent displays, sometimes along with shelves devoted to anti-Semitic encyclopedias and other malicious screeds on Judaica and Zionism.
Soon after I left Egypt to live in the U.S., reports appeared, backed by claims of Egyptian officials, that Israel was directing sharks to attack tourists in Egyptian waters of the Red Sea by means of GPS devices implanted in their bodies. And now the President of Egypt is a 9/11 truther. Perhaps he subscribes to the common Egyptian dictum: “Arabs didn’t bring down the Twin Towers—the Jews did. But if America doesn’t watch out, we’ll do it again.” Thus he, like many of his compatriots (and too many others around the world), meets Oscar Wilde’s definition of a genius: one who is able to believe in two opposing ideas at the same time.
Gordon: Who do you consider the architects of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist ascendency in Egypt?
Stock: The MB we’ve already covered: the traditionally quietist Salafis had risen to millions of adherents, mainly in the countryside, before the revolution. I would only add that the Salafis gained immediate prominence after Mubarak’s deposition when the SCAF allowed them to take over a number of satellite TV channels and to appear for the first time on state television. Madcap Salafi shaykhs such as Mohammed Hasaan and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail suddenly had millions of new followers, when just months before they had been virtual nobodies in national politics. Yet beyond Mursi, the MB’s Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, and leading figures such as Essam al-Erian and the charismatic Kheirat al-Shater, the real architect in a sense was Hosni Mubarak, who, in the effort to co-opt the Islamist movement, by the late 1980s had made religion the language of public discourse. That may have helped him in the short term, but in the end he could not compete in that department with the Islamists themselves.
Gordon: Great play was made in the Western media about the use of social media to rally opposition by secular groups, given what occurred at the outset of the Arab Spring rebellion in Egypt.
Stock: The so-called Facebook or social media revolution was conceptually the creation of ostensibly secular activists who had a limited popular following of their own, but which had cooperated in the most ambitious project to shake the Mubarak regime, prior to 2011. That was an attempted national strike on April 6, 2009 in solidarity with protesting textile workers in the Delta town of al-Mahalla al-Kubra. The strike – which the MB also joined – was quickly put down, but it left behind a network of anti-Mubarak organizations dedicated to finding another way to unseat the regime. They found it in the 2010 beating death of a social media activist, Khaled Saeed, by police in an Alexandria internet café. A Facebook page called “We Are All Khaled Saeed” played a key role in mobilizing for the first major demonstration in protest of his death, to be held on National Police Day on January 25, 2011. Interestingly, what few knew at the time was that the two people who were ran that page, Dubai-based Google executive Wael Ghonim and Alexandrian anti-Mubarak activist Abdel-Rahman Mansour were linked to the MB. (Ghonim had joined the group for a year and a half when he was seventeen, and Mansour owed the Ikhwan his “political loyalty,” according to Essam al-Erian.)
By January 23, the MB had announced its support for the protests. On the first day, January 25, they sent their youth wing to take part in them. When the Ikhwan’s leadership saw that the demonstrations had drawn more people to take part than previous street actions had done, they used their networks in the mosques to bring many thousands more out on the second day, Friday, January 28. From that day onward, the revolution really belonged to them – not to the “Facebook youth,” who immediately lost whatever control they might have had over the movement. Yet amazingly, few in government, media or academe seemed to notice.
Gordon: When did you see the first visible signs of US government ‘dialogue’ with the Muslim Brotherhood?
Stock: There were reports of at least informal dialogue between the MB and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo the whole time I lived in Egypt (1990-2010). From at least the 1970s, under Sadat, and through the Mubarak era, there was a widespread belief that the U.S. government was supporting Islamists in the region, including Egypt, as a bulwark against Communism – Sadat certainly used them that way. But at the same time a wave of paranoia about CIA penetration swept the organization during his rule. Ironically, what may justly have been considered in the past anything from a distorted view of American policy to a wacky conspiracy theory (depending on the timeframe, and the place: there is no doubt it applied in the mujahidin war against the Soviets in Afghanistan) is now clearly a reality. The Obama Administration obviously views the MB as a bulwark against al-Qa'ida, a tragic illusion for which not only our country, but the people of Egypt, are paying dearly.
Gordon: What was the Egyptian intelligentsia, Muslim Brotherhood and the Military response to President Obama’s “New Beginnings” speech at Al Azhar University on June 4, 2009?
Stock: Given that the Egyptian military was then under Mubarak and did not issue independent political statements as a rule at that time, it would be hard to say what the generals thought of the speech. I would assume, however, that they drew the same conclusions that the MB would have internally. That is, they read it as President Obama’s declaration that the future belonged to the Brotherhood. After all, Obama was the first US President to address something called the “Muslim world,” a hitherto unknown political entity in American diplomacy, and had invited the leaders of the MB to not only attend it, but to sit in the front row. He thus snubbed and insulted his official host, President Mubarak, who could not attend such a hostile event, in favor of his mortal political enemies. No doubt it was this gesture; more than any other that signaled the real beginning of the 2011 revolution.
As for the intelligentsia, they were generally pleased by the speech. At least one prominent figure, the head of the Arab Writers’ Union, Mohamed Salmawy, who has questioned the figure of six million Jewish dead in the Holocaust, was upset that Obama had insisted on the veracity of that figure. (In the West, some were upset that he had seemed to equate the travails of the Palestinians with the monumental horrors of the Shoah, but this, to be sure, was not a problem for most local observers.)
Gordon: Why did the Mubarak regime oust you from Egypt in 2010 following the publication of your Foreign Policy article in 2009 critical of Cultural Minister, Farouk Hosni?
Stock: My article on Farouk Hosni in Foreign Policy Magazine – quite unexpectedly to me – was front page news in Egypt when it appeared online in late August 2009. And it revived a controversy about Hosni’s anti-Semitic and excessively anti-Israel policies that had been raised by three prominent Jewish intellectuals: Bernard-Henri Lévy, Claude Lanzmann, and Elie Wiesel, in a piece they wrote for Le Monde the previous May. The three were outraged that Hosni, who had offered to burn any Hebrew-language books found in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (a UNESCO-initiated project to recreate in modern form the ancient library of Alexandria), was then the leading candidate to head UNESCO. My piece brought this issue back to public prominence after it had lain dormant for months, not long before the voting at the organization’s Paris headquarters in September. Though he had formerly been seen as the overwhelming favorite to win, in four successive ballots, the vote tied over Hosni. Then, at the last minute, some Egyptian dissidents also attacked him, while reports emerged that, as a diplomat in Rome in the 1980s, he had helped the terrorists who had seized the cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, and murdered a wheelchair-bound American Jewish invalid named Leon Klinghoffer, to illegally flee Italy. As a result, he lost on the fifth ballot by three votes, and Irina Bukova of Bulgaria was elected instead.
After the article appeared, I left Egypt twice for short periods and each time was allowed to return without incident. Thus, when I moved back to the States to teach at Drew University in August 2010, and made arrangements for a return visit on December 9, I had little reason to believe there would be any problem. Instead, I was denied entry at Cairo Airport, questioned (very politely) by State Security, informed that I had been blacklisted for unspecified reasons of “national security,” and held overnight pending deportation on the next available flight on the identical carrier (BA) and route (via London) to my point of origin in Newark the next morning. The U.S. Embassy, to its credit, promptly sent an investigator to see me at the airport and frantically tried to contact high officials to block my deportation, but – it being a Thursday night (the weekend in Egypt) – it was hard to reach them, and so I was forced to leave the next morning. This was particularly upsetting, as I not only had come to do field research and see dear friends, but had planned to attend the launch of The Coffeehouse at the AUCP’s annual Naguib Mahfouz Award in Literature on December 11, 2010 and was due to give a lecture on Mahfouz at the residence of the British ambassador, Dominic Asquith, on the 19th. But sadly, that was not to be.
An unnamed security source at the airport told the blog, Bikya Masr, that I was blacklisted for my “actions against the regime” and against “the image of Egypt.” But as to the timing, I can only assume that, in view of the Obama Administration’s feeble response to the obvious fiddling of the November 2010 parliamentary elections (which plainly set back any reform gains made in 2005), the Egyptian authorities felt they could turn away even an American citizen who had a well-known, long-established relationship with the country, with impunity. And so they did.
Despite the best efforts of both the American and the British Embassies in Cairo, and the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, all of whom have made inquires on my behalf, it remains unclear if I am still blacklisted. But I do hope to see Egypt – my home for so long – again soon.
Gordon: In your view, did the US Congressionally-chartered Republican and Democratic International Institutes (NGOs) training Parliamentary candidates in Egypt, actually help facilitate the Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt?
Stock: Yes, I believe they probably did, at least to a degree. Partly that may have been the result of Egyptian State Security’s alleged insistence under Mubarak that these NGOs – whose operating licenses were reportedly withheld in order to keep control of them – focus their efforts on Islamist groups rather than secular liberals. (It has long been my belief that the Egyptian security services have largely been penetrated by the MB and its fellow travelers, just like the army and every other part of the bureaucracy). The Obama Administration is said to have directed their efforts at the Islamists as well. Nor was this approach strictly limited to the NGOs. The rationale was strangely circular. Dr. Walid Phares has pointed out that, according to Marina Ottoway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which worked with the White House to bring an MB delegation to Washington last March for discussions and further training in democracy, “Since the liberals aren’t organized,” she said, “we engaged the Brotherhood.” That’s a bit like saying, in 1930s Germany, “Since the Social Democrats were in disarray, we decided to help the Nazis.” It seems never to have occurred to them that if the liberals also received such aid, they too could be “organized” enough to at least compete with the Ikhwan. But this, evidently, was not their goal, and Christians and secular liberals alike have complained that they were not able to get such assistance during the transition.
Gordon: There have been Islamist terrorist actions in the Sinai along the border with Israel that resulted in the Egyptian army returning to the demilitarized zone. What in your view caused that and whom do you believe may have fomented these Islamist actions in Egypt?
Stock: The August 5, 2012 attack on the Israeli border from Sinai was the product of a long security breakdown in that area, that began with the alliance of some of the Sinai Bedouin tribes with Palestinian militants and al-Qa'ida in the early 2000s. That in itself was a complex phenomenon that has its roots partly in the historic neglect of the area by the government in Cairo, and the equally old tradition of distrust and dislike between the peoples of the desert and those of the Nile Valley, which goes back to antiquity. Though relations between the Israelis and the local population, especially in North Sinai, were generally good prior to Israel’s final withdrawal in 1982, in recent years a great many of the locals have been radicalized under the influence of Hamas in Gaza and others. Some of them, working with outside elements, took part in bombing attacks on Red Sea tourist resorts in the mid 2000s, and thousands of local tribesmen were rounded up and held indefinitely by the Egyptian authorities in response. In Mubarak’s last years, there were also a number of incidents in which sometimes very large groups of armed Islamists broke out of Gaza and spread not only in Sinai, but throughout the country.
Finally, after Mubarak, a variety of Salafi groups have established themselves in Rafah, al-Arish and other parts of Sinai, occasionally attacking Egyptian police and army outposts, and preparing for an escalating jihad against Israel. One such attack, in August 2011, killed eight Israelis inside Israel. When Israeli forces killed five or six Egyptian soldiers or border police, whom they evidently confused with the attackers (dressed in similar uniforms), there was such rage in Egypt that a mob sacked the Israeli embassy (with passive collusion from the Egyptian authorities). So attacks like that of August 5, 2012 (and at least one lesser attack since, in which an Israeli soldier was killed by Islamist gunmen in Egypt while giving water to thirsty African refugees who were trying to enter the Jewish State from Sinai), should only be expected.
To deal with the short-term security threat posed by the militants’ presence in Sinai (which is buttressed by advanced weapons smuggled from Qaddafi’s former military), Mursi moved additional troops, more armored vehicles, heavy tanks and anti-aircraft batteries near to the Israeli border, and waged a manhunt (“Operation Eagle”) that his government claims has killed a number of militants. Such major military items are barred in Sinai under the Peace Treaty. Though Israel had agreed to some reinforcements in order to shore up security, there was no obvious need for the heavy tanks, and certainly not for the anti-aircraft batteries. Following their objections, the heavy tanks departed, but the anti-aircraft batteries remain – an unsettling decision. Even more unsettling is that Mursi’s regime is allowing its Salafi allies to conduct negotiations with the Sinai militants. I fear that what is really happening is an attempt to bring all the terrorist groups into the government’s program. That is, in future, all attacks must avoid killing Egyptian troops and inflict only Israeli casualties. Moreover, they may be used to create the right sort of incident that could escalate – perhaps by accident, perhaps by design – into the next Egyptian-Israeli war.
Perhaps most alarming is Mursi’s charge that, by not withdrawing entirely from the occupied territories, Israel has violated the Peace Treaty with Egypt. That, of course, is simply untrue. There were provisions for negotiations between Israel and the Arabs for “full autonomy” in the West Bank and Gaza in the first of the two frameworks that make up the Camp David Accords. While Israel was not enthusiastic about the idea, it was the Palestinians under Yasser Arafat who totally rejected all negotiations or even recognition of either Israel or the Accords (as well as of the peace treaty itself). Yet Egypt seems to be moving toward a unilateral abrogation on the treaty with arguments like this.
Gordon: Israel is quietly concerned about what has transpired this summer along its southern frontier with Egypt. Should Israel have concerns about future relations with an Islamist President Mursi?
Stock: Yes, Israel should be (and is) genuinely concerned by Mursi’s intentions. The Muslim Brotherhood does not recognize Israel, and has often threatened either to have the Peace Treaty amended (which it cannot do unilaterally, and to which Israel would not agree), submitted to a popular referendum (which would probably go against it) or scrapped outright. At other times it has pledged to uphold it, like all of Egypt’s other international agreements, but Mursi and the MB have an outstanding record of breaking their word. Moreover, the MB openly called for jihad against Israel (and the U.S.) in a statement by Mohammed Badie, now its Supreme Guide, in October 2010. At the inauguration of Mursi’s presidential campaign, one of his closest associates, Shaykh Safwat Higazi, the chief speaker at the event, called for a caliphate – a United States of the Arabs – with its capital in Jerusalem, and for millions of martyrs to achieve it. Mursi and his MB colleagues cheered approvingly. And Badie issued a similar appeal after Mursi’s election. In mid-October, Badie issued another blatantly anti-Semitic call for jihad against the Jews, accusing them of corrupting the earth. And again, the White House and State Department have said nothing.
Though Mursi is still dependent not only on the 1.6 billion dollars in annual U.S. aid (1.3 billion of it military), but also on the credibility that continued aid brings him when pitching to other donors (such as the IMF, which may soon loan Egypt 4.8 billion dollars). He is casting a wide net, asking China for 3 billion dollars to fund his expanding nuclear program (that, quite ominously, Iran has offered to assist materially), and receiving pledges of several billion dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well. And while Egypt can barely afford to pay for vital food and fuel imports, Mursi’s military may soon take delivery of two Class 209 diesel-electric submarines from Germany, for a cost of 1 billion dollars, the same amount that Obama has proposed for a debt relief package to Egypt this year. And he is already saying publicly that he will be more “independent” than Mubarak – a code word for less friendly to Israel and less susceptible to American pressure in general. In other words, he could well strike out on his own, by striking at Israel, someday – and perhaps even sooner than anyone imagines.
Mursi also played a duplicitous game in the September 11 breach of our Cairo embassy walls, by backing the demonstrations that were allegedly in protest of the film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” that had recently been shown on Cairo TV by a couple of local Islamist broadcasters to whip up sentiment against it. (Ironic, isn’t it? They are reportedly being prosecuted for airing it themselves.) Demonstrations had also been planned for that date by the Blind Sheikh’s organization, al-Gama'a al-Islamiya (the Islamic Group), to demand his release: members of the IG had been camped out near the embassy since Mubarak’s fall in quest of the same. Not only did Mursi fail to immediately condemn the violation of our embassy’s sovereignty when a group of protestors scaled the outer wall and replaced an American flag there with the black banner of jihad, he also tweeted (in Arabic) his outrage at the film trailer to stir up passions against it. One of his tweets said, “The noble Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him salvation) is a red line: whoever transgresses against him, we shall treat as an enemy.” Such statements were hardly going to calm anyone. His group, the MB, even called for a “million-man march” against the embassy for that Friday, rescinding it later, apparently under pressure from Washington. Worse, he knew that angry crowds were apt to descend on the embassy on that tragic anniversary, but failed to provide adequate security to protect the facility – which can only have been deliberate. No demonstration could ever approach the place under Mubarak. Yet he told Charlie Rose during his visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly later that month that when President Obama called him about this business, the subject of aid never came up. In other words, the White House is obviously not concerned enough about his appalling behavior to threaten him with any financial consequences for it.
Gordon: You are scheduled to publish a biography of Naguib Mahfouz in 2013. If he were alive today, what might he have said about the sea change that has occurred in Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring?
Stock: There is no definite timetable now to publish the biography, which is currently under Senior Editor Alexander Star at Farrar, Straus & Giroux (where it began under then-Senior Editor John A. Glusman, who invited me to do it, in 1992: Paul Elie had succeeded him for some years in between). I very much hope to complete it next year, but that mainly depends on my having sufficient financial resources – this has been a most difficult, expensive (and extremely rewarding) project. Though I have received much generous help over the years, mostly recently a precious grant from the Middle East Forum Educational Fund to deal with some aspects of the project this year – for which I am very grateful – I still need a great deal more to see it through. Do wish me luck.
(For more about my work with Mahfouz, both as biographer and translator, here is the link to an interview with me by Michael C. Dunn, Editor of The Middle East Journal, and the links to two others by Marcia Lynx Qualey for her blog on Arabic literature in English, all conducted for Mahfouz’s centenary last December: (http://mideasti.blogspot.com/2011/12/for-naguib-mahfouz-100th-interview-with.html, http://arablit.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/qa-with-mahfouz-biographer-raymond-stock-on-the-authors-work-archives/, and http://arablit.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/mahfouz-centenary-5-thoughts-from-a-translator/).
As for what Naguib Mahfouz would think of the “new Egypt:” he probably would have been glad to see the Egyptian people rise up again, but would feel sorry for Mubarak, whom he liked, as well. He would certainly have been appalled by the chaos that followed the fall of the ancien regime, the hugely increased crime, the ongoing strikes and violent demonstrations, the loss of tourism and foreign investment and the advent of Islamist rule. As a genuine democrat, he always favored allowing the MB to take part in political life, but likely did not believe they would win an electoral majority.
Naguib Bey (as many of his close friends called him, after the Ottoman honorific) would have been even more shocked by the success of the Salafis. He would fear for the country’s Coptic citizens, and worry that the treaty with Israel would not survive. Yet while a pessimist in fiction, he was an optimist in real life – and would probably be the very last Egyptian to give up entirely on the future of his country.
Gordon: Thank you for this fascinating, highly informative and wide ranging interview.
Stock: You are most welcome and thanks again for inviting me.
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