Why one IDF soldier continues to cause controversy in Egypt

The case of Dina Ovadia, an Egyptian woman from Alexandria who was stripped of her citizenship after moving to Israel and joining the IDF, has returned to the headlines in Egypt.

al-monitor Dina Ovadia emigrated to Israel from Egypt and is now an army spokeswoman with the IDF, March 25, 2013. Photo by IDFblog.com.

Topics covered

muslim, media, jewish, idf, egyptian society, egyptian-israeli relations, citizenship, christian

Feb 25, 2016

The interesting and controversial story of Dina Ovadia’s emigration to Israel is back in the headlines, triggering a barrage of demands for Egyptian authorities to strip the citizenship of Egyptian-Israeli dual nationals. At the same time, Israeli media, and perhaps Israeli officials, celebrate such cases.

This suggests there is still an Egyptian-Israeli conflict, despite the countries’ well-publicized agreements regarding political and economic normalization.

The media first became aware of Ovadia’s story in March 2013 through the Israel Defense Forces blog, but the story did not spread to the Egyptian media at the time. It re-emerged in April 2014 in a YouTube video in which Ovadia said her story of leaving Egypt represents the second exit of the Jews from Egypt, in reference to the exodus of the Israelites from the rule of the pharaoh. 

Ovaida, now 22, emigrated at age 15. In her remarks on the IDF blog, she said, “I didn’t have a religious background in Christianity or in Islam. I never knew what I truly was. My parents didn’t keep the [Jewish] traditions and I always assumed that we were secular Christians.”

About the turning point in her life, she said that one day at her house she heard screaming and breaking glass. “I really panicked,” she said. “I went outside and saw five masked faces — they were Salafists.” She said the bearded men wore robes and carried sticks in their hands and rifles on their shoulders. “They broke through the electric iron gate … and demanded to know where the men of the house were.”

The reason for the disruption, Ovadia said they told her, was that her family was Jewish. After pushing her mother into a hallway, where she fainted, the men shot at, but intentionally missed, her brother and young cousin, she wrote on the blog.

The attackers said the family had to leave the country within a few days, so they moved to Tel Aviv, leaving their belongings behind. After Ovadia completed high school there, she entered the military and prepared Arabic reports for Israeli army radio. Later she became an army spokeswoman.

Ovadia’s story raises questions about the details of her life, about the lives of Egyptians living in Israel in general and about the situation of Egyptian-Israeli nationals.

In media interviews, Ovadia has said she was known in Egypt as Rouleen Abdullah, but she was listed on official Egyptian papers as Dina. The latter is a common name in Egypt for Muslims and Christians, and would have been safer for a Jewish person who fears disclosing her religion. Her father’s name is Mohammad Ali al-Masri on Egyptian official documents, which is a Muslim name. Yet Ovadia said she thought he was a secular Christian.

The discrepancies came to light when the Official Gazette on Jan. 16 wrote that Dina Mohammad Ali al-Masri had been stripped of her Egyptian nationality for joining the military service of a foreign country without prior authorization from the Egyptian Defense Ministry.

Rashid Shaheen, a columnist for Syrian newspaper Zaman al-Wasl, wrote in an April 2013 article, “Ovadia’s story has many contradictions about her family’s religion and their persecution.”

Of the legality of stripping Ovadia of her citizenship, Mahmoud Kbaish, a law professor at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor it is legal if the person has obtained another citizenship without permission from the Ministry of Interior or has joined the military service of another country without permission from the Ministry of Defense — which is what Ovadia did.

A Feb. 21 article by Vetogate newspaper alleges that Ovadia has sparked Israeli propaganda to "recruit Arabs in the ranks of the Israeli army," while media personality Ahmed Moussa said in his Jan. 18 TV show that Ovadia “wore the uniform of the blood-stained army.”

Moussa said, “We are not honored by the fact that she is Egyptian.” He praised the decision to strip her of her citizenship, echoing a sentiment expressed by many on social media

Ovadia’s story also elicited strong reactions from Egyptian citizens. Aly, a 28-year-old salesman from Cairo, told Al-Monitor, “Revoking Ovadia’s citizenship is a normal measure, since she joined the army of a hostile state.”

Regarding the dichotomy of such hostility in the face of supposedly friendly relations between Egypt and Israel, another Egyptian, 43-year-old engineer Samir, said, “The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel is not a friendship treaty, as friendly states do not [need] peace treaties with one another — peace is the natural state of things between friends. Peace treaties are signed between countries at conflict as a means of calming the dispute, but the dispute continues. Our relations with Israel are still characterized by conflict, and the treaty is akin to a truce."

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