The last shooting war between Israel and Egypt ended 22 years ago this week. But in the Egyptian capital, there is anxious talk this fall about a subtler invasion from the neighbor to the north.
Israel’s new weapon is sex, Egyptian conservatives say. They cite pornographic videotapes, explicit pop music cassettes and even Arabic-language advertising for a phone-sex line that newspaper commentators and other critics say have made their way from Tel Aviv to Cairo.
In a society in which a knee-length skirt is considered daring, there is scant sign of such foreign corruption outside of a few urban entertainment districts. But mistrust of Israel remains so pervasive in Egypt that reports of the seaminess smuggled over the border have rekindled something of a cultural clash.
Even Rosa el Youssef, the Egyptian magazine that is banned in parts of the Arab world for its frequent pictures of bikini-clad women, condemned the phone-sex ads as an Israeli ploy to corrupt Egyptian sons and daughters.
Opposition newspapers, which regularly refer to Israel as the Zionist enemy, have warned that the influx amounts to “sexual war.”
In Alexandria and other cities, authorities have been trying to halt distribution of a banned tape by Saida Sultan, an Israeli singer whose breathy delivery and provocative lyrics have come to be seen as embodying the threat to Islamic culture.
That Egypt was first within the Arab world to make its peace with Israel is a source of pride to the government here. But the ties forged by the two countries since the signing of the Camp David accords remain constrained by what many Egyptians see as powerful differences.
Though even now only one in 2,000 Egyptians visits Israel each year, what Egyptians have seen and heard of Israeli films, songs and topless beaches has created an image of Israel as a modern-day Gomorrah.
In Egypt, no videotape or record album may be sold legally until it has been scrutinized by a government censor, which often leads to mandatory editing to ensure that the work meets what a senior Ministry of Culture official, Thuraya Ghindi, described as Egypt’s “specific moral standards.”
“Censorship is the conscience of society,” said Ghindi, the country’s chief music censor. “Our job is to sift through what could be damaging for society and for young people.”.
Of the hundreds of films and videotapes from the West submitted to Egyptian authorities last year, four in 10 were ordered cut to eliminate nudity and sexual suggestiveness before they could be distributed.
Among the 10 pieces of music rejected last week alone by Ghindi was a song by a British pop group, 2 Unlimited, which a dossier showed had been judged objectionable for sexual meanings.
Al Hayat, the influential Arabic-language newspaper published in London, devoted a front-page article last week to what it portrayed as Egypt’s efforts to combat an Israeli “sexual invasion.”
Rosa el Youssef was among the first into the fray. In a cover story in August, it reprinted an Arabic-language advertisement for a phone-sex line which had appeared in a rival weekly and noted that the long-distance telephone number for the service began with Israel’s telltale 972 code.