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September 7, 2016 No.
1267

Egyptian Officials, Media: Britain Is Waging Media, Political Campaign Against Al-Sisi Regime

By: C. Meital*

Introduction

The Egyptian media has recently leveled harsh criticism at Britain and its media for their attitude towards the current Egyptian regime. It claimed that Britain's officials and media have been attacking the Al-Sisi regime, while showing sympathy and extending a platform to Egyptian oppositionists from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

The ire of the Egyptian media was stirred by a guidance document released by the British Home Office on August 8, 2016, which reviewed the MB's situation in Egypt during the presidency of Muhammad Morsi (July 2012-July 2013) and under the current regime, and set out the Home Office policy regarding granting political asylum in the UK to MB members. The document allowed political asylum to be granted to high-profile MB activists who are able to show that they are "at risk of persecution [by the Egyptian regime], including of being held in detention, where they may be at risk of ill-treatment, trial also without due process and disproportionate punishment." The document also noted that "each case will need to be considered on its facts." [1]  

This Home Office document provoked a harsh response from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said at a press conference in Cairo that Britain was relying on misinformation about the MB, and therefore Egypt would inform its international partners about the MB terrorism that is threatening Egypt's national security and people.[2] The Egyptian press, especially in the official daily Al-Ahram, published articles that harshly condemned what they called Britain's hypocritical policy towards Egypt.

The anger of the Egyptian media was also directed at the British magazine The Economist, for its publication on August 6 of two articles about the volatile economic crisis in Egypt. Featured on the issue's cover with the headline  "How Sisi is ruining Egypt," the articles blamed Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi for the economic crisis, and one of them even stated that it would be best if Al-Sisi announced he would not run for reelection in 2018. [3]

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Abu Zeid took the unusual measure of challenging The Economist's claims in an article he penned that was posted in Arabic and English on official ministry websites. The Egyptian press also published articles against the magazine. Conversely, Egyptian human rights activists and columnists in the independent media condemned the Foreign Ministry's harsh response to the statements in The Economist.

It should be noted that this is not Egypt's first media attack on Britain since Al-Sisi became president. During Al-Sisi's November 2015 visit to London following the downing of the Russian plane in Sinai, then-British prime minister David Cameron said, at a joint press conference with Al-Sisi, that the plane had probably been downed by terrorists and justified his decision to suspend fights to Egypt. His statement, made before the findings of the official investigation of the crash had been published,[4] embarrassed Al-Sisi and sparked furious responses in the Egyptian press. Articles slammed Cameron and Britain's policy toward Egypt and claimed that Egypt was the target of a British attack aimed at breaking the Egyptians' spirit. They also opined that neither Britain nor the U.S. was serious about combating terror.[5]    

The following are details on the British publications and the responses to them in the Egyptian press.    

The Home Office Guidance Document: Review Of Al-Sisi Crackdown On MB, Recommendation To Consider Granting Asylum To MB Activists

The Home Office guidance document, published on August 8, 2016, provides a brief overview of events in Egypt between 2011 and the present, for the edification of Home Office decision makers in charge of handling certain types of protection and human rights claims, including requests for asylum.[6] Based on information, mostly in English, from research institutes, human rights organizations, and leading media outlets, it first reviews the brief period of MB rule in Egypt, and proceeds to review the ongoing crackdown on the MB by the Al-Sisi regime.

Addressing Morsi's term in office, the document notes that he incurred much criticism for moves that were construed as "heavy-handed" and "autocratic," such as his attempt to declare the presidency and several legislative bodies immune from judiciary oversight; his appointment of 17 provincial governors affiliated with the MB, and his promotion of a new constitution that, according to critics, established Islam as the basis of law, guaranteed insufficient protection for democratic freedoms, and accorded sweeping powers to the presidency. The document notes further that his term in office was marked by growing frustration with economic mismanagement and poor governance, provoking state institutions and bureaucracies to mutiny and leading Egypt to the brink of collapse and civil war.

However, the document points out that the manner of Morsi's removal from power had serious consequences for Egypt's democracy, for, by deposing Morsi, the Egyptian military "locked itself into a kill-or-be-killed struggle" with the MB, whereby the military is bent upon destroying the MB, and the MB, in turn, seeks to topple the current regime and even calls openly for Al-Sisi's death. As part of its brutal crackdown on the MB, notes the document, the regime has repressed its protests with deadly force, eliminated its leadership through a massive arrest campaign, and held mass trials of its members, many of whom were handed severe sentences, including the death penalty. The document also mentions reported cases of torture and disappearances at the hands of police. It notes that the regime has shut down hundreds of NGOs affiliated with the MB, and that journalists affiliated with it have also been targeted.

In light of this, the document concludes that "those with a high profile in the MB or who have been politically active, particularly in demonstrations, may be able to show that they are at risk of persecution, including of being held in detention, where they may be at risk of ill-treatment, trial also without due process and disproportionate punishment. Additionally, high profile supporters or those perceived to support the MB, such as journalists, may also be similarly at risk of persecution. In such cases, a grant of asylum will be appropriate... Each case will need to be considered on its facts."[7]

Egyptian Foreign Minister In Response To Home Office Document: Groundless Assumptions With No Basis In Reality

As mentioned, the Home Office document sparked enraged responses from Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. At an August 8, 2016 press conference with his Cypriot counterpart, Shoukry rejected what is stated in the document, saying: "What the [British] Home Office published regarding the MB contains indications that are not positive and will not have a positive impact on Egypt-Britain relations... [Britain] assumes, groundlessly, that the Egyptian judiciary is targeting the MB, but this has no basis in reality." He stressed that the prosecution of the MB members is based on the principles of justice and that no political interference is involved.[8]

Egyptian Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee member MP Dalia Youssuf said: "Britain's recent actions reveal its full support for the MB... despite the official warming of Egypt-Britain relations... The positions [Britain] has espoused recently are strange and raise significant question marks."[9]

Al-Ahram Criticizes Home Office Document

Editorial: Britain Intends To Grant Political Asylum To MB Members Despite Their Acts Of Terrorism

Harsh criticism of Britain was also evident in the Egyptian press. Al-Ahram argued in its August 9 editorial that Europe was applying a double standard, condemning Egypt for measures that it itself uses against terrorists, and that the West needed to respect other countries' sovereignty: "In Paris, Nice, Brussels, Berlin, and other European cities, security authorities are quick to declare a state of emergency and arrest all suspects indiscriminately, without differentiating between criminals and the innocent. But when Egypt acts to ensure the safety of its citizens against such terrorist actions, the same [European] capitals publicly condemn our moves.

"Despite the severity of the situation in Egypt, Britain intends... to grant political asylum to some MB leaders living there, while ignoring their supporters' actions in Egypt - among them murder, terrorization, and destabilization of Egypt's security and national peace... When European countries make decisions that could harm other countries, they always justify [them] by claiming that they are carrying out sovereign actions - but when other elements or countries impacted [by terrorism] take similar measures, they launch campaigns against them, on various pretexts and by various means. The West, therefore, must respect the national sovereignty of others..."[10]

Al-Ahram Editor: Britain Is Hypocritical Towards Egypt, Legitimizes Islamists Who Were Involved In Murders

Al-Ahram editor Muhammad 'Abd Al-Hadi 'Allam, whose pieces are generally published on Fridays, also wrote in August 9 - a Tuesday - to criticize "Britain's hypocrisy towards Egypt." Britain, he stated, speaks of challenges shared by both Britain and Egypt, but at the same time gives political asylum to MB members: "Several developments in Britain's Egypt policy are cause for concern... in the context of the bilateral relations of two countries that seem to have shared concerns in light of the rise of global terrorism and of the dire threat to interests in the Middle East, to which Britain is inarguably linked...

"There is a wide base of Islamists in London and in major British cities, and they enjoy full state protection there. Some fled death sentences in Egypt after they were proven to have been involved in murders, and later became human rights warriors on British TV. This requires careful examination at this time, because [Britain's] ambassador to Cairo claims that she is committed to Egyptian stability and security...

"Along with conflicting statements by the British government, there has been a wave of harsh criticism in major British newspapers and magazines, most recently in the well-known Economist weekly, discussing the ruin of Egypt and scenarios that contradict the Egyptian government's efforts to strengthen the country's economy. It should be mentioned that the British weekly's publication of this report coincided with the anniversary of the inauguration of the new Suez Canal... during which delegations of British businessmen and industrialists visited the site and expressed their desire to invest in its projects.

"So which of the two should we believe? The Britain that speaks of developing ties with Egypt after the great shift of the June 30 revolution? Or the Britain that cultivates dangerous Islamists on its soil and grants them political asylum...?"

"When will the English acknowledge that their actions are dangerous? This is a question that only the British government can answer!"[11]

Editorial: Egypt And Britain Each Respect The Choices Made By The People [Of The Other]

In its August 26, 2016 editorial, Al-Ahram softened its tone towards Britain. The editorial said: "The relations between Egypt and Britain involve a great deal of mutual understanding and respect for each country's standing in the regional and international arena. Each [country] respects the choices made by the people [of the other]. Cairo respects the choice of the British people to withdraw from the EU, for example, because this is an issue that affects the [British people] more than anyone else. Conversely, Britain fully understands and respects the choice of the Egyptian people to depose the regime of the terrorist [Muslim] Brotherhood..."[12]

The Economist: It Would Be Best If Al-Sisi Announced He Would Not Run For Reelection In 2018

On August 6, 2016, the British magazine The Economist published two articles on Egypt. One, titled "The Ruining of Egypt," dealt with the country's severe economic crisis, with the collapse of tourism there and the high rate of unemployment among young people. It held that the situation is largely the fault of Al-Sisi's "incompetence" and advised the West to "treat him with a mixture of pragmatism, persuasion and pressure" and to "stop selling Egypt expensive weapons it neither needs nor can afford." The second article, titled "State of Denial," was subtitled "Egypt has squandered billions of dollars in aid. With more on the way, is it at last ready to reform?"[13]  

    
  The two articles in The Economist

 Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman: The Economist Insulted Egypt's President And People

As stated, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Abu Zeid responded to these articles in a harshly critical article that was posted in Arabic and English on official ministry websites.[14] Under the headline "The Ruining of The Economist" - a play on the title of one of the Economist's articles - he wrote: "I was shocked and surprised to read the latest issue of the Economist, which featured a series of articles about Egypt under the theme 'The ruining of Egypt.' As a leading magazine in economic and financial analysis, one would expect from the Economist to provide objective, informed analysis that focuses on evaluating and assessing the merits of Egypt's economic policies over the past few months. Instead, the Economist's articles eschew any semblance of objective analysis, focusing instead on spewing insults at the person of Egypt's President...

The magazine claims that President Sisi came to power through a 'coup,' completely disregarding the will of the Egyptian people, who demonstrated in the millions for the ouster for the Muslim Brotherhood Morsi, or the millions who voted in favor of the election of President Sisi in a landslide victory. It accuses him of 'incompetence' for Egypt's economic policies, overlooking that these policies are based on the advice of a group of prominent economic experts... and on Egypt's well-established institutions. I concede that it is possible to differ, and even sharply disagree on the merits of these policies. This is all welcome when it is done in the spirit of constructive and informed criticism... Unfortunately, the Economist did not make the effort to provide any thorough analysis or even superficial reference to those policies, instead it jumped to a hurried conclusion of incompetence...

"It is important to reiterate that the Egyptian government in the form of a highly professional cabinet is mandated to set the policies considered most appropriate for Egypt. President Sisi does not micro-manage Egypt's institutions and does not create economic policy in a vacuum; he is surrounded by institutions and consultants, an independent central bank and a cabinet of professionals that are in charge of decision-making in this area. The government remains accountable to parliament and to Egypt's people, who have the final say as to what they consider sound policy and what they believe constitutes 'incompetence.' The Economist's misinformed and trite remarks indicate complete ignorance of the nature of this economic and financial decision-making process in Egypt.

"Moving on with the same line of argument, the Economist ludicrously claims that Egypt's economy is sustained only through cash injections from the Gulf and military aid from the US. This could not be farther from the truth. It seems the Economists failed to notice the decline of US aid to Egypt in recent years! Neither are we counting on help from anyone. While being mindful of the economic difficulties lying ahead in Egypt, and the structural challenges that the country is wrestling with, however, any deep and credible economic analysis would recall that the country has passed through an acute crisis since January 2011, which has and is still inflicting a high financial cost. Creating a new economic model is never easy and takes time. It is also crucial to highlight that the Government has come up with a comprehensive plan to tackle head on its macroeconomic imbalances, put the economy back on track...

"There is a long list of accomplishments and success stories, across several economic sectors over the course of the last two years that no one can deny, yet the Economist fails to recognize them...

"It is obvious that the Economist has chosen to take sides with those bent on undermining Egypt. We hope that in the interest of maintaining its credibility, reputation and professionalism, the Economist will be less reductionist and biased in the future. It is extremely important for our partners as well, to be cognizant of the fact that Egyptians do not need to be patronized or insulted for their choices."

Egyptian MPs: The Economist Articles - A Declaration Of War On Egypt

Egyptian MPs harshly criticized the Economist's articles as well. MP Emad Gad told the daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm: "The Economist's report comes as part of a Western political campaign meant to harm Egypt, and we cannot view it separately from the [downing] of the Russian airliner [in Sinai], the granting of political asylum to MB [members] in Britain, and the tremendous disregard of Turkish President Erdogan's dictatorial measures against his opponents... While Egypt is in a severe economic crisis, [this crisis] is nowhere near the level of devastation and destruction described by The Economist."[15]

MP Mahmoud Yahya called the articles "a declaration of war on Egypt and an attempt to harm it, as part of a systematic plan and with timing that raises doubts regarding the reasons driving these major newspapers to condemn and criticize Egypt."[16]

Al-Masri Al-Yawm Owner: Despite Its Credibility, Economist Is Disregarding Egypt's Unique Circumstances

Criticism of The Economist appeared also in the Egyptian press. The owner of the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, who writes under the pen name Newton, argued that despite The Economist's prestige and credentials, the headlines and descriptions that it used for Egypt and its economy were exaggerated and disregarded Egypt's situation following its revolutions. He wrote:

"The Economist is a respectable publication and is the first weekly I always read. It features in-depth analyses and is basically the world's most important economic weekly... It has a Middle East department, an African department, an Asian department, and an American and European department. This magazine has made a number of predictions that turned out to be accurate. In 2010, it predicted that there would be a major shift of all Western allies in Arab countries. One of its covers featured Mubarak's face superimposed on the Sphinx as it sank into the sand. In 2011, it published a photo of young [Egyptians] protesting, with the headline 'Egypt Uprising.' In 2012, it featured a cover image of smoke rising from the pyramids, with the title 'Egypt in Danger.' [But] in 2016, it featured the headline 'The Ruining of Egypt' along with a graph showing Egypt's economy tanking...

"[This] provocative headline... went far overboard... The conclusions reached by the weekly [in this report] ignore certain data: The [weekly] forgot that we had ousted a fascist religious regime poised to destroy everything on Egyptian soil and to set us back centuries; it forgot that we are dealing with a situation worse than occupation in Sinai, because the enemy there has no identity and no permanent bases; it forgot that we were [once] aided by the International Monetary Fund [IMF]; it forgot Al-Sisi's statements that the government would enact severe reforms... it forgot that we acknowledge that there is a problem and are making efforts to solve it with local and international experts; it forgot that we know that our situation is difficult and have therefore turned to the best doctor, famous for his bitter medicine - the IMF. We will absolutely not shy away from the prescription written for us, because we know that time is not on our side, and that we no longer have the privilege of choice...

"The Economist has its credibility, but it seems to know little about the Egyptians' patience and endurance. We are no worse at this than the West, which dealt with the reality imposed on it during World War II, when each citizen received one egg and no more than three sugar cubes weekly - to the point where the British became accustomed to drinking their tea unsweetened. We can take austerity measures, like Europe did when it was in a far worse situation than we are now..."[17]

Editor Of Egyptian Daily: Britain Is Part Of Anti-Egypt "Triangle of Evil"

Dandarawi Al-Harawi, the acting editor of the independent Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', claimed in an article that the U.S. and Europe "oppose Al-Sisi staying in power and steering Egypt to a safe haven," and that is why "The Economist is suddenly talking about 'the ruining of Egypt.'" He added that the magazine articles were part of a single "symphony" that is being played by American and British papers and by public figures in Egypt who support the MB, a symphony that has "a single harmonious theme": the demand that Al-Sisi not run for reelection. He wrote further: "The Triangle of Evil, whose base is the U.S. and whose sides are Britain and Israel, is troubled by the strength of the Egyptian army that is regaining its vitality and climbing up the ladder of the world's most powerful armies in terms of its training and armament capabilities. [They are also troubled by] Egypt's independent decision-making and its discarding of blind obedience, especially in terms of varying the army's weapons and [Egypt's] turning to the East, when in the past [it looked] only to the U.S. and the West. These are the main things that angered the Triangle of Evil..."[18] 

Human Rights Activists: Economist Reports Aren't A Plot Against Egypt; We Must Respect It

Conversely, Egyptian human rights activists as well as columnists for independent publications argued that The Economist's reports contained truths and that the weekly should not be attacked for highlighting Egypt's dire situation.

Nasser Amin, of the National Council for Human Rights, said that the weekly's reports cannot be called a plot, because it is a highly respected publication.[19] Another council member, Hafez Abu Sa'ada, added, "The issue of human rights [in Egypt] requires fundamental changes, as it is the only way to shift the West's negative attitudes towards Egypt." He also said, "The Economist report took a clear political stand, and we must respect it and respond appropriately by disproving its claims... [and] by taking practical steps to combat corruption and support [individual] liberties..."[20]

Emad Al-Din Hussein, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Shurouq, wrote: "Supporters of the Egyptian government and President Al-Sisi err when they treat The Economist as an unimportant tabloid. It is a serious, respected, and conservative publication that is trusted by most European and Western decision-makers, as well as by all economists around the world. It is not known for impulsivity or for acting in an unmeasured manner, and [its reports] should not be summed up as 'a plot.'"[21]

Egyptian intellectual Mamoun Fandy also addressed the matter, writing in his column in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "The Economist is not the only [publication] to harshly criticize events in Egypt in the past two weeks. It was preceded by The Grey Lady - the American New York Times.[22] I know that in our bureaucracy there are some among the ambassadors and media figures who speak of an organized campaign and a plot against Egypt. This could be partially true but is not entirely true... The description provided by The Economist, although it is limited in its knowledge of Egypt as a country and a society, is close to reality, and recognizing real problems is the first step towards [any] solution..."[23]

 

* C. Meital is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] "Country Information and Guidance Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood," Gov.uk, August 2016. According to reports in the Egyptian press, a Home Office spokesman clarified that this Home Office policy applies only to MB members already present in the UK, and stressed that the country was not obligated to grant asylum to anyone currently outside its borders (Al-Yawm Al-Sabi', Egypt, August 8, 2016). The reports quoted him as saying that asylum requests would be considered individually, according to the UK's international obligations, and the UK would not grant asylum to persons who have committed grave crimes or pose a threat to its society and national security (Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt, August 7, 8, 2016).  

[2] Al-Watan (Egypt), August 9, 2016.

[3] See The Economist (UK), August 6, 2016.

[4] Theguardian.com , wsj.com, November 5, 2015.

[5] For example, Egyptian Culture Minister Hilmi Al-Namnam accused the British government and media of waging psychological warfare against Egypt (Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Egypt, November 10, 2015), and Al-Ahram deputy-editor Hussein Al-Zinati said there was a British plot against Egypt (Al-Ahram, Egypt, November 9, 2016). For an article stating that America and Britain were reluctant to fight terror, see Al-Ahram, Egypt, November 11, 2016.  

[6] A previous version of this document, which was very similar in its conclusions, was published in October 2014.

[7] It should be noted that this is not the only major document on the MB issued by the British authorities in the past year. On December 17, 2015, the British government published the main findings of a review it commissioned into the MB and in particular its activities in Britain (see gov.uk, "Muslim Brotherhood Review: Main Findings," December 17, 2015)  The review found that literature circulated by MB-affiliated groups in Britain continues to convey that "Western society is inherently hostile to Muslim faith and interests and that Muslims must respond by maintaining their distance and autonomy." It also found that, "in common with the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere, Muslim Brotherhood-related organizations and individuals in the UK have openly supported the activities of Hamas," including attacks on civilians. It concluded that "aspects of Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security." However, it noted that "the Muslim Brotherhood has not been linked to terrorist related activity in and against the UK." Reporting on the findings of the review (parts of which were classified), then-British prime minister David Cameron said that membership or association with the MB was a "possible indicator of extremism" but that the movement would not be banned in the UK (bbc.com, December 17, 2015). 

The review was commissioned in April 2014 and was expected to be released in March 2015 alongside the government's extremism strategy, but failed to be published. There was speculation that the publication was delayed because Middle Eastern allies of Britain were expected to be displeased with the conclusion (telegraph.co.uk, December 17, 2015).  Three of Britain's closest Arab allies, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have all complained that London is a base for the MB (Theguardian.com, December 17, 2015).  According to a report in The Guardian, in 2012 the UAE even threatened to block billion-pound arms deals with the UK, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if David Cameron did not act against the movement (theguardian.com, November 6, 2015).

[8] Al-Watan, Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 9, 2016.

[9] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 10, 2016.

[10] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 9, 2016.

[11] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 9, 2016.

[12] Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 26, 2016.

[13] The Economist (UK), August 6, 2016.

[14] The Arabic version was posted August 8 to the ministry's Facebook page (facebook.com/MFAEgyp), whereas the English version was posted the same day to the ministry's blog (Mfaegypt.org).

[15] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 10, 2016.

[16] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 10, 2016.

[17] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 6, 2016.

[18] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), August 27, 2016.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 10, 2016.

[20] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 10, 2016.

[21] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), August 9, 2016.

[22] Likely referring to an August 2 article in The New York Times titled "A Gloomy Egypt Sees Its International Influence Wither Away."

[23] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 8, 2016.