“He was the prophet of liberalism in a country that failed to respect its prophets.” That is how Thoth Wahba eulogized Ali Salem in the Egyptian daily Al-Dustour. The Egyptian satirist and columnist, who passed away at the age of 79, chose to leave this world on the eve of Yom Kippur, Sept. 22, a sacred day of fasting for Jews and the day on which Israel’s most terrible war with Egypt erupted. It is almost as if he were reminding us that on this date, God settled accounts with both Israel and Egypt. The first time was with the war they fought in 1973, and the second time was when God took his prophet of peace from their midst.
Every Egyptian knew of Salem. He was a theatrical character, charmingly clumsy, who lectured his audience with a booming voice and histrionic gestures, at least in those rare moments when he managed to put down his cigarette. Hundreds of Israelis knew him as well because of his visits to their country. The first one was in 1994, when he drove to Israel in his dilapidated old car. When he returned home, he used his unique voice to describe his experiences in "My Drive to Israel," based on notes from his travels across the length and breadth of the country and his encounters with its people. Over the next two decades, Salem would not stop reminding everyone that mostly good would come of Egypt’s relationship with Israel. Knowing that people weren’t yet ready for this message, he found a way to relate it wisely and with a special charm and charisma.