December 31, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 636

Egyptian and Arab Press Reactions to the Attack on Egypt's Foreign Minister inside Al-Aqsa Mosque

December 31, 2003
Palestinians, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 636

While visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque on his recent trip to Israel, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher was attacked by a group of Palestinians who cursed him, threw shoes at him, and called for the resumption of Jihad in Egypt. According to media reports, the assailants belonged to Hizb Al-Tahrir (the Islamist "Liberation Party"). The following is a compilation of Arab media reactions to the attack, which was highly critical of the Palestinians:

'You Have Cast Shame and Disgrace on Yourselves and Your Cause'

Two days after the incident, many articles and op-eds concerning the attack on Maher appeared in the Egyptian press.

Ahmad Ragab, who provides a daily comment for the op-ed page of the government daily Al-Akhbar, stated that the problem begins at an early age and emanates from the Arab world's curriculum: "In Arab language classes, the pupils are taught [the sentence] 'Omar hit Zayd,' but never [the sentence] 'Omar hit Cohen.'" [1]

In the Egyptian daily Al-Masaa, columnist Muhammad Foudah tried to stir a sense of shame among the Palestinians: "Did those Palestinians who attacked the Egyptian foreign minister… ask themselves why Maher agreed to take upon himself the suffering of going to Israel and meeting with Sharon and his cabinet? Did he go just to tour a country with which we have cut off relations and gotten into political crisis for the sake of Palestine…?! Do the Palestinians want Egypt to keep its hands off the Palestinian issue? This would be the easiest thing to do and has already been done by many Arab countries… You beat the man who came on your behalf, and it is Israel that takes him to the hospital for treatment. What shame and disgrace you have cast upon yourselves and on your cause?!…" [2]

'There's Nothing Unresolved Between Egypt and Israel But the Palestinian Cause'

The editor of Al-Akhbar,Galal Duweidar, wrote: "… The whole world, including the Palestinians, knows that there is no unresolved problem between Egypt and Israel after the [1973] October victory and the signing of the peace agreement… The only [remaining] reason [for problems between Egypt and Israel] is the defense of the rights of the Palestinians, and not the defense of any direct Egyptian interests…

"Despite [Egypt's] ongoing sacrifice [for the Palestinians] which spoils Egypt's relations with Israel and with the Zionist lobby, and thus with the U.S., we were surprised by this rogue rebellious Palestinian group that carried out the barbaric and mean attack on the foreign minister of Egypt - which is the only base of support for the Palestinian people. How can we, the Egyptian columnists who every day defend the rights of this people by confronting the Israeli aggression, [how can we] explain this despicable act?… This group of criminals… is treacherous and works for Israel and for all the enemies of the Arab nation… Yes, these sinning assailants are deserving of the curse of 70 million Egyptians who yesterday watched this cowardly act on television…" [3]

'Hasn't the Time Come to Focus on Our Domestic Problems?'

Also in Al-Akhbar, columnist Said Sunbul wrote: "… Accusing the Egyptian foreign minister of betrayal means accusing Egypt of betrayal. This is not the first time that Egypt has been accused of betrayal, despite all that it did and does for the Palestinians. 'Betrayal' is a most used word in the Palestinian dictionary. They used it against former [PA] prime minister Abu Mazen, who preferred to resign; they used it against former minister Yasser Abd Rabbo and his colleagues, who went to Geneva to agree on a peace document that would guarantee a life of dignity for the Palestinians.

"Even before then, the Palestinians accused [Egyptian president Gamal] Abd Al-Nasser of betrayal for accepting U.S. Secretary of State Rogers' plan. They accused Anwar Sadat of betrayal when he invited them to the conference at Mina House. Had they agreed to participate in this conference, or to accept the principles of the Camp David agreement, they would not have made it possible for Israel to establish the settlements and the separation fence, and would not have needed to make all these concessions!…

"The contemptible attack on the Egyptian foreign minister… causes many to ask whether the time has not come to focus on our domestic problems - many of which stem from the wars in which we participated for the sake of Palestine - instead of wasting efforts [in an attempt] to solve the problem of a people who are at odds among themselves and accuse each other, and others, of betrayal." [4]

'No More Will We Turn the Other Cheek'

The most scathing commentary came from Ibrahim Sa'dah, editor of the Akhbar Al-Youm weekly. Sa'dah wrote that he was "unconvinced" by the Egyptian foreign minister's attempts to downplay the severity of the incident. He called for convening the Egyptian Parliament in order to discuss Egyptian policy on the Palestinian issue, in the wake of "the assassination attempt on the Egyptian foreign minister." Sa'dah reviewed the history of Egyptian-Palestinian relations from the time of President Sadat, and wrote: "Despite the contemptible attacks planned and carried out by the Arabs, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat, against the [peace] initiative of the Egyptian president, Sadat attached no importance to this nastiness, and continued courageously on the path of peace…

"I do not think that the Egyptian people can forget or disregard those years when its political leadership was the target of the ugliest of attacks - not only by the Arab media but also by some rulers, led by Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat… The Egyptian people will also not forget that Yasser Arafat danced with joy when the assassination of President Sadat was announced…

"The time has come to tell the Palestinian Authority, 'No! A thousand times no!'… No more will we turn the right cheek to take the same slap that the left cheek has taken time and again. We are fed up, Your Excellency, sole spokesman of the Palestinian people, with your repeated statements [blaming] any anti-Egyptian act on the part of the Palestinians on a tiny, stupid minority…

"Personally, I do not accept the apology of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat… I demand that Parliament convene for a special session, with the presence of the foreign minister, to be dedicated to examining our policy regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict… Perhaps its members will think otherwise, but I also propose as a solution for this dispute… to conduct a poll among the sectors of the Egyptian people regarding our policy in the Palestinian issue…" [5]

In the Al-Ahram daily, columnist Salah Muntasir used more restrained language: "I am trying, instead of arousing additional rage, to maintain restraint. Egypt will not permit those who are the enemies of their own cause, the enemies of their own rights, the enemies of their own struggle, to accomplish their goals. This is the tax that we have paid and are paying, while those hostile and ungrateful people who tarnish their own image belong in [the] garbage bin of history." [6]

The liberal-leaning Hazem Abd Al-Rahman wrote in his Al-Ahram column:"Are these scum of the earth capable of accomplishing something for the Palestinian people? It is reasonable to assume that they, like the supporters of suicide bombings, are the first to damage the Palestinian cause, and are bringing death upon the Palestinian people…" [7]

Mursey 'Atallah, editor of the Al-Ahram evening edition, wrote: "…This rabble, that patronizes others and claims it is more patriotic, still seeks to trap the nation in a cycle of conflict just to inflame the emotions. Everything that happened to the Palestinians as a result of their being dragged after the leaders of words, who for over half a century waved the motto of complete liberation from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, until we lost nearly everything and Palestine was left practically without a river and without a sea, was not enough for them…" [8]

'This Attack Should Be [Condemned] By Anybody With A Brain Or Half A Brain'

The Arab press's condemnation of the attack on Foreign Minister Maher was nearly unanimous. For example, in the Qatari daily Al-Raya, columnist Abd Al-Karim Hashish wrote: "I don't need to repeat what others have said, that is, that the attack was organized by the Israelis. Such an allegation is first of all nonsense, and emanates from some peoples' addiction to turning the facts upside down, and burying their heads in the sand. Those who attacked the Egyptian foreign minister… are flesh - and - blood Palestinians, and the Israelis had nothing to do with it… The truth is, I don't care which faction they belong to. This attack should be [condemned] by anybody with a brain, or half a brain. What I wanted to emphasize is that this stupid behavior will have serious ramifications for the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and might give legitimacy to Israeli intervention and Israeli security supervision over it…" [9]

'The Arabs Are Their Own Worst Enemy'

In the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, editor Jubran Tuweini wrote that the attack on Maher was "the height of baseness and of Arab humiliation. It was a free gift to the enemies of the Arabs, headed by Israel. Once again, we realize that the Arabs are their own worst enemy - just as the worst enemy of the Palestinian cause is the Palestinians, who have endorsed a policy of refusal and fundamentalist extremism as a way of behavior. How many times have they already served Israel with their deeds? How many times has the behavior of these groups already saved Ariel Sharon and his government?

"What happened to Minister Maher reminds us of the history of inter-Arab relations… A simple calculation reveals that the number of instances of Arab-Arab aggression surpasses the number of Arab-Israeli wars…" [10]

Al-Quds Al-Arabi: A Pro-Saddam Position

A different opinion was expressed by the pro-Saddam editor of the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abd Al-Bari Atwan. The morning after the attack, he wrote in an article titled "Shoes of Early Warning:" "The shoes that were pelted like rain on the head of Ahmad Maher… are a lesson to all Arab leaders and their representatives who scorned the Arab street, its demands, and its sentiments, and who listen today only to the American administration and its humiliating demands to normalize relations with the Hebrew state, serve its interests, and conceal its terrorist policy.

"Mr. Maher humiliated the Egyptian people and its living national forces when, against their will and out of disdain for its sentiments, he went to Tel Aviv to meet with the Israeli prime minister, whose hands are drenched with the blood of Palestinian fighters and of the Egyptian soldiers who martyred themselves in defense of the honor of their nation and their country.

"When the Egyptian foreign minister becomes neutral in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Egyptian government becomes 'an honest broker' between the parties, we should not be surprised that Foreign Minister Maher is hit by shoes..." [11]

An Egyptian Response to Atwan

In response to Atwan's article, columnist Kamal Abd Al-Raouf wrote in the Egyptian Akhbar Al-Youm weekly: "I regret that most of the commentary I heard on international radio from Palestinians was lukewarm rather than powerful. Some of them clearly blamed our foreign minister [Ahmad Maher]. One of these was Abd Al-Bari Atwan… who condemned Ahmad Maher. This was to be expected from Atwan, who for many years has been fighting for the cause from the saloons of London. Nobody knows with whom or against whom this Atwan stands. The only thing I know is that he gives foreign radio a reason to believe that Israel is right." [12]

Liberal Arab Web Site: 'Those Behind This Aggression Are Not A Minority'
On the liberal Arab website Elaph, Egyptian columnist Sami Buheiri wrote: "We should be frank with ourselves: Those behind this aggression are not a minority, as the official Palestinian and Egyptian statements claim. Unfortunately, they represent the rabble majority of the Arab and Palestinian street today. They refuse to accept any kind of a peace agreement with Israel… It is they who applaud the bus and restaurant bombings in order to destroy any spark of hope for peace… They are Arab nationalists who have failed completely in all their wars with Israel and in all attempts to achieve peace with Israel, because they were not serious, and they were not men - neither in fighting nor in peacemaking... The flying shoes at Al-Aqsa Mosque represent the Arab mind that has flown off into the air and not returned." [13]

[1] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), December 25, 2003.

[2] Al-Masaa (Egypt), December 24, 2003.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), December 24, 2003.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), December 24, 2003.

[5] Akhbar Al-Youm (Egypt), December 27, 2003.

[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 24, 2003.

[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 24, 2003.

[8] Al-Ahram Al-Masaai (Egypt), December 23, 2003.

[9] Al-Raya (Qatar), December 24, 2003.

[10] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 24, 2003.

[11] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 23, 2003.

[12] Akhbar Al-Youm (Egypt), December 27, 2003, as cited in Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 29.

[13], December 30, 2003.

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