August 28, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 188

Egyptian Information Minister Apologizes for Publication of Articles Denying the Holocaust in a Government Weekly; Editor-in-Chief Dismissed; Author Banned From Publishing in Journal

August 28, 2004 | By Y. Yehoshua*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 188

On July 30, 2004 MEMRI published a translation of a two-part article by Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad , director of the "Jaffa Research Center" in Cairo and columnist in Al-Liwaa Al-Islami [The Islamic Banner], the Islamic journal of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party.

The two-part article was an essay titled "The Lie about the Burning of the Jews" that alleged – adducing Western Holocaust-deniers as evidence - that the annihilation of the Jews in gas chambers in the course of World War II is a myth invented by the Zionist movement in order to blackmail the West and to make possible the realization of the Zionist project. [1]

Diplomatic Activity Following MEMRI's Publication

According to press reports, the American embassy in Cairo demanded that the Al-Liwaa Al-Islami weekly publish an apology. The pro-Saddam London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that "after the publication of the translations, Congress instructed the American State Department to intervene and to pressure Egypt to stop publishing ideas of this nature and to make an official apology [for the publication of the articles]. The American Embassy [in Egypt] was charged with following up on the matter."

In addition, the newspaper reported that Egyptian jurists said to the Hamas-affiliated Quds Press News Agency : "A delegation sent by the American embassy and headed by Anne Marie Ravishevsky , visited the press office of the Egyptian ruling National [Democratic] Party , which publishes the [ Al-Liwaa ] newspaper, and [also visited with] Safwat Al-Sharif, Chairman of the Shura Council and of the Supreme Council for the newspaper and with Husni Mubarak's son, Gamal Mubarak, who serves as the chairman of the Policy Committee for the National [Democratic] Party ."

The delegation also visited the offices of Al-Liwaa Al-Islami , "expressed their protest over the publishing of the articles and demanded that the paper publish a public and official apology on its front page." [2]

The Editor-in-Chief Forced to Resign and the Journal Publishes a Clarification

Muhammad Al-Zarqani, Editor-in-Chief of the weekly Al-Liwaa Al-Islami , was forced to resign in the wake of the affair. Sources in the American embassy told the progressive Egyptian weekly Nahdhat Misr that in his meeting with Anne Marie Ravishevsky, Al-Zarqani refused to apologize for publishing the article. His refusal notwithstanding, the party sent Dr. Abdallah Al-Najjar to oversee the publication of an apology at the newspaper, and as a result Al-Zarqani resigned. [3]

On August 5 Al-Liwaa published a clarification at the bottom of the front page of the newspaper. The clarification read: " Al-Liwaa Al-Islami has received a number of letters and phone calls regarding the two articles written by Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad on the Holocaust. Some of the reactions sided with the article and others opposed it, and the question was raised whether it represents the opinion of the National Democratic Party, of Mayo publications, of the journal or of the editor. The answer is: the opinions expressed were those of the author, and they are open to debate, and [furthermore] this is in no way an Islamic question."

A formal apology was released several weeks later, when Egyptian Information Minister Mamduh Al-Beltagi published an article on the front page of the weekly which read: "The culture of Egyptian society has never, at any time, [been based] on the dissemination of hostility and hatred, but rather has always been a culture of peace, co-existence, and human brotherhood …

"It goes without saying that Egypt today takes the lead in the region in proposing, in a wise and courageous manner, changes in the course that the Middle East [is taking] and in the fate of all of the peoples living in it, [as when] it moved on the peace initiative and the historic agreements, and in so doing opened up a new horizon for the region and for the peoples living in it. Egypt suffered a severe Arab boycott, but that did not deter it from its [peace] option. Furthermore, Egypt succeeded, such that all of the Arab countries adopted its strategy for bringing about a comprehensive and effective, and enduring peace. Today Egypt, under the wise guidance of Hosni Mubarak, is a country that makes peace, sees to its continuance, and invests great efforts, more than other countries, so that there will be a just and comprehensive peace in the entire Middle East …

"The National Democratic Party, which is the party of the majority in Egyptian society, does not believe that suffering and human tragedies of a nation or of another people can be lies. It is impossible to downplay the Nazi atrocities and the tragedies of the Second World War that hurt the Jews and other peoples. The things that Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad wrote in the Al-Liwaa Al-Islami have nothing to do with the worldview of the [average] Egyptian nor with the ideology and policy of the National Democratic Party." [4]

The Author's Reply

Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad declined to apologize for writing the articles. In an official statement addressed to the National Council for Human Rights in Egypt he wrote: "Everything that I wrote was based on scientific and historical studies written by reliable European historians. I noted in the two articles that this Holocaust against the Jews did not occur in the manner in which the Jews have presented it, and that the Palestinian people are the ones who have paid the price for this historical fabrication. [In addition] I expressed my opinion that that which is occurring today in Palestine and in Iraq is a Holocaust and I demanded the reappraisal of these ideas.

"Instead of relating to what I wrote as an opinion and a scientific research, I was surprised to find that t he American Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI] and The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles are waging a smear campaign against me in which they exercise terror against the Egyptian government and against the Egyptian Ambassador in Washington. The American Congress and the American Embassy in Cairo pressured the newspaper for which I write, Al-Liwaa Al-Islami , to ban me from writing anymore and even [pressured them] to dismiss the Editor-in-Chief Muhammad Al-Zarqani … All of the above constitute a violation of my freedom of speech and my freedom to express an opinion. Since the National Council for Human Rights is the champion of our right to express an opinion, I call on you to intervene in order to put an end to the American and Israeli blackmail and to respond … we request your intervention in order to put an end to the intellectual terror which they are exercising against us, the Egyptian intellectuals and journalists …" [5]

In addition, Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad expressed criticism of "the Egyptian government's capitulation to the Zionist-American campaign of blackmail in their dismissal of the editor-in-chief of the journal … and their appointment of a new editor-in-chief, Dr. Abdallah Al-Najjar , member of the policy committee of the party, despite the fact that he is not even a journalist." Ahmad also protested the fact that "the government bars me from publishing my weekly article and from publishing an article on the Palestinian problem and the lobby which supports the Israeli occupation." [6]

Concerning the Information Minister's apology, Ahmad said to the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat : "The indirect apology on the part of the National Democratic Party as a result of American pressure, the dismissal of the editor-in-chief of the journal, and the fact that I was banned from writing my column were not enough [for them]. Rather, there was American and Zionist insistence that a high-level representative of the National Democratic Party apologize for what was written in the article in order to appease the Jewish organizations." [7]

Protest in Egypt and in the Arab World

Numerous organizations in Egypt and in the Arab world reacted to the affair. According to a report in the London pro-Saddam daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi , the subject was discussed in the Egyptian Journalists Association, the Council for Human Rights, and other organizations as a result of the complaints submitted by Dr. Rif'at Al-Sayyed Ahmad in the matter of the campaign which Western and Zionist agencies are waging against him and against the Egyptian press. [8]

The Egyptian Journalists Association published a statement reading: "The author's [Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad's] articles are historical research. The author is not opposed to Judaism or to the Jews, but rather to Zionism and Nazism, the result of both of which is the occupation of the land of another people, who [then] pay the price for Western racism and its crimes. The Journalists Association denounces the all-out campaign on the part of the Jewish organizations and the criminals, and demands to respond to it and to the blackmailing of the Muslim world in the name of the Holocaust." [9]

The Freedoms Committee of the [Arab] Journalists Union published a statement reading: "The Committee demands of the senior Egyptian officials not to give in to the blackmail of the American Jewish lobby and to the pressures [which it applies] on the Egyptian press, and it insists on opposition to this aggression against the freedom of the press in Egypt; acquiescence to them will invite additional pressures which will be directed against our press and journalists. Additionally, the Freedoms Committee announces its support of [our] colleague Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad in his just cause of [fighting] against the political and media blackmail by the Zionist lobby in Washington and its exploitation of its contacts with the authorities and American embassies in the region." [10]

*Y. Yehoshua is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Egypt's Ruling Party Newspaper: The Holocaust is a Zionist Lie Aimed at Extorting the West

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 16, 2004.

[3] Nahdhat Misr (Egypt), August 10, 2004.

[4] Al-Liwaa Al-Islami (Egypt), August 25, 2004.

[5] A copy of the statement is stored in MEMRI's database.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 16, 2004.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 27, 2004.

[8] Ibid.

[9] A copy of the statement is stored in MEMRI's database.

[10] A copy of the statement is stored in MEMRI's database.

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