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Last update - 08:34 01/06/2005

Egypt blocks prominent playwright from entering Israel to receive honors

By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent

Egypt has blocked Egyptian playwright and satirist Ali Salem from entering Israel to receive an honorary doctorate Wednesday from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Salem, considered one of Egypt's most prominent contemporary playwrights, thanked the university for the honor and apologized for not being able to attend the ceremony.

University President Prof. Avishai Braverman said in response: "I don't understand Egypt's conduct in not permitting the well-known writer Ali Salem to come to Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva to receive the honorary doctorate, especially after every effort was made to enable his coming."

The university is involved in numerous projects to promote peace between Israel and its neighbors and has nurtured ties with Egypt since the peace treaty with Israel was signed. Anwar Sadat visited the campus in May 1979, accompanied by Hosni Mubarak, to receive the Star of Peace along with Menachem Begin. In 1995 the university bestowed an honorary doctorate on Egypt's then-ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Bassiouni.

Salem, 69, was among the generation of Egyptian playwrights that arose after the 1952 revolution, bringing with it theatrical flourishing. He was an actor and member of the state puppet theater in Cairo.

Salem is known for his biting prose, and his plays have savagely attacked various phenomena in Egyptian society. In recent years he has published a series of articles in the Egyptian and world press, alongside humorous pieces and short satirical stories. His stories have been anthologized and are very popular.

Since the Oslo Accords, Salem has braved criticism for publicly preaching peace and normalization of ties with Israel.

He has visited here several times, and chronicled his first trip in the book "Journey into Israel," which became a best seller in Egypt and was published in Hebrew and English.