For one acclaimed Egyptian author and activist, speaking out against Hamas has come with a price
Dalia Ziada was forced to flee her home country after calling for Egypt to embrace its peace treaty with Israel and justify the war against Hamas terrorists
Like many others in the Middle East, when Dalia Ziada, an acclaimed Egyptian author and civil rights activist, woke up to the news of fighting between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, she thought it was just another round of clashes between the old foes, who for 16 years have regularly exchanged tit-for-tat rockets and airstrikes.
At least that was how it was being reported in the Arabic media in her home country, Ziada, 41, told Jewish Insider in an interview last week.
Two days later, however, the longtime participant in interfaith programs between Jews and Muslims was invited to join a video conference call organized by Israel’s Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs. The presentation included the screening of footage from Israeli CCTV cameras and bodycam images filmed by Hamas terrorists themselves as they carried out barbaric atrocities against Israeli civilian communities and revelers at a mass music festival.
“The call was in Arabic, and I saw the videos they had collected, including from the cameras carried by the Hamas militants,” Ziada, an award-winning writer and political analyst specializing in governance, geopolitics, and defense policy in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, told JI.
“I saw with my own eyes how proud they were of their work and of what they had been doing, I saw they were killing people for no good reasons, raping women and kidnapping people in their pajamas from their homes, including the elderly, toddlers, children,” she continued. “There was blood everywhere, it was horrific and so shocking.”
“As soon as I finished watching, I decided I had to tell the truth,” stated Ziada.
With some 88,000 followers on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Ziada wrote a post taking Egyptian media to task for whitewashing Hamas’ actions on Oct. 7.
“I wrote ‘our media is lying, here is the truth, here is what happened,’” she recalled.
Ziada, who has a reputation as a well-respected commentator on regional issues, was then invited by the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies to speak about the reaction in Egypt to Hamas’ attack and Israel’s retaliatory war in Gaza. She recorded two podcasts with senior researcher Ofir Winter – one in English and one in Arabic. While she condemned “every drop of blood that is shed, whether Palestinian or Israel,” Ziada also noted that she fully supported Israel’s efforts to eliminate Hamas.
Ziada, who co-founded the Cairo-based Liberal Democracy Institute (LDI) and also serves as the executive director of the Center for Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean Studies (MEEM), is still coming to terms with what happened next.
“The INSS interview, particularly the one in Arabic, went viral,” she recounted. “And I mean, it went viral in a negative way.”
Before Ziada realized it, she was being attacked not only online but also in person, with radical Islamists calling to take “revenge” against her for her comments, which also included a similar interview with Israel’s national broadcaster, Kan. Extremist Salafists and other supporters of Hamas filed a criminal complaint against her with Egypt’s state prosecutor. Other Islamist extremists supporters visited her mother’s home in an attempt to “hunt” her down amid accusations that she was with a Zionist spy and sympathizer.
When Ziada tried to argue that she had committed no crime and that Egypt has a decades-old peace agreement with Israel, the authorities, she said, shrugged, a non-committal response that prompted her decision to avoid potential arrest and flee the country. She is now living outside of Egypt, in a location she does not wish to make public.
“I’m left with a broken heart,” Ziada told JI in an interview via Zoom from her new location. “I left everything, my entire life, behind but this is not what broke my heart. My heart is broken because of the responses I have seen from my fellow Egyptians.”
Ziada described how Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack and Israel’s response had allowed “extremist Islamist voices to rise back up to the surface,” and, she said, they are “leading public opinion.”
“It’s as if everything we have been fighting against in Egypt… the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists… for the past decade has disappeared,” she explained, referring to the post-Arab Spring struggle in the most populous Arab country that allowed the extremist government of Mohamed Morsi to rise to power before it was overthrown by the more moderate regime of current Egyptian leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
While el-Sisi has maintained ties with Israel on the diplomatic and economic levels, Ziada said that fierce opposition to Israel’s current war in Gaza was taking public opinion in “Egypt in a very, very dangerous direction.” She said that even liberal Egyptians viewed Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, as a legitimate form of resistance.
“The Hamas massacre was a test that made everyone in the region show their true skin, including states like Egypt, even though it claimed to have good relations with Israel – overnight the Egyptian president changed from being supportive and a friend of Israel to speaking about Hamas as a resistance group and refusing to back Israel’s war against Hamas.”
Ziada said it was the same for the Abraham Accords countries, which normalized relations with Israel in 2020.
“They are all ignoring the whole thing as if Israel is not at war and as if Israel does not need their support,” she said. “They should be supporting Israel because it is fighting a war on behalf of the entire region.”
“This is a war against terrorism,” Ziada continued. “And Israel is saving the region from the terrorism of Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and all these terrorist organizations.”
“Everyone should be backing Israel now,” she said. “Unfortunately, none of them are.”
Ziada said the lack of support for Israel on a state level and the criticism of the Jewish state by so-called liberals and moderates in the region stemmed from the different layers embedded in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She said the Israel-Palestinian conflict should not be viewed simply as a battle between two groups of people but as part of the broader conflicts between the Arab world and Western powers and between Islam and Judaism, as well as through a local political lens.
In Egypt, Ziada pointed out, el-Sisi’s popularity had been nosediving prior to Oct.7 because of the country’s deep economic woes and political repression. The Egyptian president, she said, is now presenting himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause because that is a popular view on the street; the situation is similar in Jordan, where King Abdullah II and particularly his wife, Queen Rania, have used the war to boost support among their population.
For Ziada, however, speaking out against Hamas and in support of Israel was a natural progression of her years involved in multifaith initiatives, she said. And, despite her now uncertain living situation and future, she told JI she does not intend to stay silent.
“I believe that regardless of our religious background or national background or our affiliations in general, we all belong to the same human family and when there is an evil group like Hamas that is trying to destroy our humanity, then we need to speak up against them,” she said.
“How can anyone with a conscience just disregard this or say that just because it happened to the Jews, then it’s acceptable – that’s insane,” Ziada said. “I feel it is my responsibility to stand up for the Jewish people and I won’t be silenced.”
“My plan is to continue writing, to continue posting things on social media, to continue speaking up in the media,” she said. “While I still have my voice, I will continue to stand up for the rights of the Jewish people and will back Israel in its war against Hamas.”