November 19, 2008 / 12:19 AM / 12 years ago

Egypt author Ali Salem receives courage award

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Egyptian author and playwright Ali Salem, an outspoken critic of radical Islam and a proponent of peace with Israel, won the $50,000 Civil Courage Prize on Wednesday.

The 72-year-old has not had a play produced in Egypt since 1994 when he traveled to Israel and wrote a book, “My Drive to Israel,” about his experiences.

Since then, he has visited Israel several times and in 2005 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Salem was expelled from the Egyptian Writers Federation for maintaining contacts with Israelis, and, according to the organizers of the annual award, has endured “campaigns of threats, vilification and censorship.”

“It’s very important on a psychological level, because I’m happy that people see what you do,” Salem told Reuters by telephone, referring to the prize, now in its eighth year.

“I’m happy there are people who can evaluate (my work),” he added, speaking in English.

He said the prize, awarded by the U.S.-based Train Foundation, recognized both his calls for peace with Israel and his opposition to Islamic extremism.

“They are the same. There is an interrelation between them because the lack of peace in the Middle East will encourage extremism, so there must be a peace.”

Ali Salem has written 25 plays dating back to the 1960s and 15 books. Some of his productions became classics of the Egyptian theater, including “The Phantom of Heliopolis,” “School of Troublemakers” and “The Comedy of Oedipus.”

Salem will receive the award, which honors “resistance to evil at great personal risk,” at the American ambassador’s residence in London on Wednesday evening.

The Train Foundation is named after U.S. investment adviser John Train, whose family has been the principal donor to the organization which funds the prize.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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