Tunisian Novelist Kamel Riahi: UAE Money in Exchange for Normalization
A widespread debate erupted between writers and thinkers about the crime of cultural normalization with Israel, sparked by an obscure director of a government institution, who suddenly turned into a wealthy Arab with Emirati money, in return for normalization with Israel.
Two weeks ago, the Tunisian novelist, director of the “House of Fiction” Kamel Riahi, shared on Facebook an article in the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Aharonot” about his novel “The Scorpion”, and commented on it: “A beautiful critical article about my novel.”
Riahi’s “boast” sparked outrage among Tunisian intellectuals, as many denounced him vehemently, believing that this falls under the category of cultural normalization with Israel, especially after translating his novel “The Scripture” into Hebrew.
The “Free Tunisian Writers Association” (non-governmental) quickly issued a statement expressing its shock at what “the director of an institution affiliated with the Tunisian Ministry of Culture bragged about a miserable article published about him by an official Zionist newspaper, which is considered one of the media arms of the Israeli occupation army, which also celebrated the settlement expansion and its shameful bloody victories against a defenseless people. “
As a result, Riahi deleted his post on Facebook, and posted a video in which he confirmed that he had not contacted any Israeli institution, and that the translation was done by the Palestinian writer and translator Reem Ghanayem. Later on, he closed his Facebook page.
Rushing for Normalization
The head of the “Free Tunisian Writers Association”, the writer Jalloul Azzouni, called for Riahi to be exempted from his duties as the head of the governmental “House of Fiction” institution and called for the necessity of presenting a bill preventing cultural normalization with Israel before the Parliament.
Azzouni pointed out “a terrible and suspicious rush for normalization by Tunisian and Arab university scholars and writers who attempt to whitewash dealing with Israel under various pretexts.”
He recalled the position of free Tunisian writers on the Palestinian cause, which rejects all forms of racism and discrimination between religions, stressing that “this principled position is in line with what writers have promised us in the past and present and in all nations, which is the primary bias to all causes.”
He pointed to some Tunisian individual initiatives regarding cultural normalization, through the participation of some intellectuals in international forums attended by Israeli delegations, stressing out that Tunisian delegations had previously withdrawn from attending such forums.
Azzouneh cited the position of Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Slim, who was unanimously elected president of the UN General Assembly in September 1961, and who refused to shake hands with Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir when she approached him to congratulate him.
Tunisian poet and novelist Fadela Echebbi, expressed her total rejection of “any kind of normalization, whether political or cultural, with this fascist entity.”
Echebbi canceled a meeting to crown her literary career on March 5 in the “House of the Fiction” run by Al-Riahi, as she refuses “dealing with this normalizer with the Zionist entity,” as she put it.
She emphasized that Riahi has fallen into cultural normalization with Israel by accepting to translate his novel into Hebrew. Echebbi, who is known for her support for the Palestinian cause, added: “People like these do not deserve to run important cultural spaces. There are those who deserve these positions better than them.”, “I have confidence in the respectable officials to take decisions to dismiss Riahi from his post.” She emphasized that she stands “against cultural normalization with Israel, which occupied Palestine, usurped its land and killed its people, and remains until today as the only occupation on earth.”.
Riahi incident was not the first in Tunisia, as it was preceded by other attempts to normalize with Israel, perhaps the most prominent of which is the participation of the artist Noman Echary with the Israeli artist Ziv Yehezkel in the song “Peace Among Neighbours”, late 2020, in addition to the participation of a number of Tunisian artists in concerts in Israel, such as Kacem Kefi, 2018, Mohsen Cherif and Moncef Abla, 2019, which were all met with sweeping popular rejection.
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