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Chew on This One: Israel’s Latest Weapon an Aphrodisiac Gum

July 11, 1996

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ To believe Egypt’s opposition press, Israel has launched a new war against Egypt _ but an altogether different kind.

The weapons are HIV-infected women who tempt Egyptian youth, hormone-laced gum that sends young girls into a sexual frenzy, even aphrodisiac makeup that sets the wearer aflame with desire when it touches the skin.

This is the sex war, fought out on the pages of opposition newspapers that charge Israel with plotting to despoil Egypt’s youth, undermine conservative Muslim values and corrupt Arab society.

Of course, it’s all very far-fetched.

The sex gum, which contains no sexual stimulants, is not from Israel. The HIV-infected women sauntered onto the pages of the weekly Al-Arabi, then disappeared. The latest weapon _ makeup that drives you wild _ seems to be a fanciful account by the press.

Still, headlines like ``Israel Launches Sex War″ and ``Pharmacists Sell Sex Bombs″ had the desired effect of casting suspicion on Israel for a threat to the virtue of young Egyptian women, a sensitive subject in this conservative Muslim country.

``My mother and brother warned me from accepting any gum from strangers,″ Rania Hashem, a freshman at the American University in Cairo, said Thursday.

The opposition press strongly opposes normalizing relations with Israel despite 17 years of peace.

Al-Arabi _ the newspaper of the Democratic Nasserite Party _ started the sex war with reports of the aphrodisiac gum surfacing in Mansoura, 70 miles north of Cairo.

Fathers in the town were reported to be preventing their daughters from going to the local university, where the gum supposedly was distributed.

Then Al-Ahrar, an Islamic-oriented weekly, reported that the scourge had spread and packs of gum were seized at two pharmacies in Cairo.

Rumors spread of female students chasing after their male classmates. Karim Kassem, also an American University student, said he had not tried the gum but knew of friends _ both men and women _ who had.

``They felt very anxious to have sex,″ he said.

With all the fuss, police seized packets of the gum, which is from Europe and has been sold quietly for years as an alleged aphrodisiac. Egypt’s Health Ministry dutifully analyzed it.

``It did not contain any sexual stimulants,″ was the verdict of Dr. Magda Rakha, who heads the ministry’s laboratory. She said the gum could harm the liver ``if taken for a long time.″

As for how the gum came to be identified as Israel, reports said it may have been brought by Egyptians from Israel and was bought at the Gaza market in downtown Cairo, where smuggled goods are sold.

Lior Ben-Dor, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, said Israel’s diplomats did not pay much attention reports of the sex war.

``We read it as we did all reports here,″ he said.

It’s not surprising he didn’t get excited. Last year, a report arose that Israeli Ambassador David Sultan had tortured Egyptian soldiers during the 1956 Mideast war; it turned out Sultan, 17 at the time, was a student in Israel and didn’t fight in the war. Another report said cotton seeds imported from Israel were spoiling Egypt’s crop; the seeds actually were part of a government program to increase output.

Still, many Egyptians willingly believe anything bad about Israel. The three wars and thousands of Egyptian deaths that preceded the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace are not easily forgotten. The election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu _ who is deeply distrusted by Arabs _ has only increased suspicion.

At Cairo’s Gaza Market on Thursday, merchants asked about the supposed aphrodisiac gum all swore they would never deal in Israeli products.

``If anything was offered to me from Israel, I would crush it under my car,″ said Ahmed Kamel, owner of a small shop.

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