Ali Salemis known all across Egypt for his plays, his political satire and for his support for normalization with Israel. Formerly a bureaucrat for the Ministry of Culture in Egypt, Salem has been a playwright for many years and produced his first play in 1965.
Many of his plays have become classics in Egypt, such as The Phantom of Heliopolis, School of Troublemakers, The Comedy of Oedipus, The Man Who Fooled the Angels and The Buffet. In total, he has written about 25 plays and 15 books.
However, despite all this, Salem has become a controversial figure in Egyptian society. In 1994, after the Oslo Accords, Salem went to Israel where he stayed there for more than three weeks. When he returned to Egypt, he wrote Drive To Israel about his positive impressions of the country.
It answered the curiosity about life in Israel to many Egyptians and as a result, it sold 60,000 copies in Egypt and became a bestseller. Since then, he has visited Israel numerous times. The controversy arises from his firm support and belief that there should be peace and normalization with Israel. In 1996, he co-founded the Cairo Peace Movement. He says, “I am convinced that our peace with Israel has protected our region from anarchy. I believe that the criticism against the peace with Israel is [merely] a cover for corruption … because normal relations with Israel entail the establishment of normal relations among the Egyptians."
In addition, during the intifada in 2000, he continued to express his support of peace and said, “all parties are responsible for what has happened and is still happening…It is futile to describe Israel as the only one who is wrong." It was because of his beliefs of normalization with Israel that he was expelled from the Union of Egyptian Writers in 2001 and to this day is unable to find anyone to produce the plays that he has written.
Ali Salem also stands firm on a number of other issues. In 2000, Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies in Cairo asked Salem to write the screenplay for a short film. The film promoted that Egyptians should vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections instead of the usual complaining about the present situation. However, shortly after, the Center director Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Salem were arrested and detained. Salem was released but Ibrahim was charged, tried, and sentenced by the Supreme State Security Court to seven years in prison.
Currently, he is a frequent columnist for the Arabic daily paper Al Hayat and sharply criticizes the Arab media for the incitement of extremism. In response to the radical Islamism, he said, “this culture does not glorify life – although life is the greatest thing Allah has created for us…Allah created us in order to enjoy this beautiful universe, and in order to make it even more beautiful, or at the very least, to keep it beautiful.”