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memri
May 15, 2000 No.
93

Egypt's Opposition Press Attacks Peace Activists

In a debate broadcast on the Qatari TV station Al-Jazeera - which is known as the Arab CNN - Egyptian peace activist Sa'id Jalal (member of the Egyptian society "The New Call"[1]) faced international relations expert Dr. Rif'at Mustafa, who is an opponent of normalization with Israel.

Dr. Mustafa accused Israel of trying to destroy the Arabs along with the peace process. He repeated claims frequently heard in the Arab media that Israel is poisoning the drinking water in Palestine and Jordan, spreading disease-carrying germs, infecting children in Beirut with the HIV virus, spreading diseases in Egyptian agriculture in order to destroy it, trying to take over Arab economy, etc.

Jalal replied that most of the accusations are baseless and hurt the Arab credibility.

After the broadcast, Egypt's opposition press, attacked Jalal (and Al-Jazeera as well), charging him with treason and claiming he had requested political asylum in Israel.

The attacks expanded to address a wider phenomenon, an array of Western oriented groups, institutes and intellectuals that arose in Egypt during the 1990's. These groups turned away from Arab world-oriented Nasserite ideology, endorsing the classical and modern values of the West: liberalism, separation of religious and political authority, democracy, human rights, free-market economy, and civil society.

While concern for Egypt's future is the motivating factor behind this movement, one of its side-effects has been greater acceptance for the peace and broader normalization with Israel among parts of Egypt's cultural elites.

Most of these activists are from the mainstream of the Egyptian cultural elite, and some of them are connected to the core of Egypt's establishment. Those focusing primarily on developing relations with Israel, are not. The neo-Nasserite and radical Islamist opposition, however, view them as a single phenomenon.

Peace Activists are Traitors

The neo-Nasserite weekly Al-Usbu' led the attacks on Jalal. One Al-Usbu' columnist, Yasin Husam Al-Din, dubbed Jalal "Sa'id Dayan" (referring to well-known Israeli leader, Moshe Dayan) another, Zuheir Al-Arabi, compared Jalal to Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky.[2]

Al-Usbu' editor, Mustafa Bakri, dedicated his weekly column to attacking not only Jalal, but to the much wider phenomenon of peace activists operating in Egypt.

"I don't know what swamp Jalal came from. His face is bleak and horrible, his tongue articulates lies and hatred for everything that is Egyptian or Arab. …I saw him in front of me in Al-Jazeera. He looked mad, moving sideways; I sensed that he was directing his black face towards the place he desires – Tel Aviv."[3]

"…many people asked me: 'what right has he to appear on the screen, betray his people and damage Egypt's reputation?' [But] he is not the only one betraying Egypt and its people. The Arab satellite channels are filled with such characters. They compete to strip away the nation's clothing, distort its symbols and reputation, its history and struggle…"

"Take, for example, this vagabond: dressed as a professor but stabbing the nation in the back every day. …He sells information to hostile elements, and everybody can see the money he receives from the banks in return. [Bakri refers to Dr. Sa'ad Al-Din Ibrahim, the head of the Ibn Khaldoun Institute[4] and a university professor. He is one Egypt's leading proponents of turning towards the West.]"

"He stands on podiums and curses the whole Arab nation; yet he is a free man, seen on Egyptian television or read in respectable papers, such as Al-Ahram."

"What have you done against this suspicious man? Have you locked him up for the crimes he commits against the nation? …How can you let this man stroll around the country …claiming he runs a committee to monitor the elections… [while he is] trying to appropriate the hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing to his suspicious institute?"

"What have you done against those whose only job is [being] propagandists for Israel while they coordinate [their activity] with the [Israeli] 'Mossad' and pretend to establish contacts with peace groups?[5] They have actually become official spies. Some of them occupy high ranking positions in the media which they use in favor of 'Israel' and its leaders!"

"One of them even formally asked Israel for substantial financial support in order to publish a newspaper called Change, under the guise of advocating peace and normalization. [Bakri may be referring to an initiative that never came into being by the Egyptian intellectuals Wahid Ghazi and Sharif Kamel, the latter of whom has since died]."

"What have you done against the man who, together with the Israeli embassy, shamelessly established The Egyptian-Israeli Friendship Association [Bakri refers to Nabil Foda, founder of The Egyptian-Israeli Friendship Association]?"

"Where is Egyptian national security? Who will guard the nation? …They print books, papers and magazines and distort the national memory. They publish Zionist ideas …and question our national convictions."

"I know that the USA, the West and the Zionists, who consider hurting these people to be an offense against their authority, protect them. But this nation is ours, and we must protect it."

"I ask the judicial authority to act against these enemies from within who endanger us no less than enemies from without. I ask that Egypt's Attorney-General investigate those toying with the nation's destiny…"[6]

Attacks on Al-Jazeera TV

Egypt's opposition press did not only attack Egyptian peace groups, but also attacked Al-Jazeera, the TV station that hosted the Egyptian supporters of normalization.

Al-Jazeera is the most westernized Arab TV channel, consistently addressing controversial topics and opinions. Al-Jazeera often upsets the Arab regimes and its offices in the Arab world are occasionally closed and re-opened.

Sa'id Jalal's appearance on Al-Jazeera aroused additional criticism against the station. The editor of the Islamist opposition weekly Al-Ghad Al-Arabi [Arab Tomorrow], 'Adel Al-Jawjary, wrote:

"What are the limits of Faysal Al-Qasem [host of the show on which Jalal and others have appeared]? For some time he has presented creatures to us, and you never know where they came from. Are they from outer space or were they smuggled from the Qatari-Israeli border? There are no more then 20 such people who support normalization with the Israeli enemy…"

"Al-Qasem has forced Western creatures on us, such as Sa'id Jalal, who we had never heard of before, but [he] became a star on Al-Jazeera. They hosted him a few times, because he protects Israel and Arab-Israeli relations"

"…the station hosted the Copenhagen supporters of normalization.[7] One can call them the Egyptian 'Peace Now' movement, because they know the way to the Israeli Embassy. Al-Qasem is entitled to present them, because they grant his show a unique flavor that one does not find on other Arab stations, who would not give such coverage to Israel. But does this coverage reflect their real presence? We estimate them to be 20-100 in number. Do they represent a trend entitled to all this coverage? [Even] if we granted that they may be greater in quantity, what should count is quality. What quality do they carry? What are their moral values?"

"Al-Jazeera destroys the Egyptian people's struggle against normalization when it compares the Egyptian people's struggle to those trapped into normalization. I do not know why Al-Qasem invites those people time and again. Maybe he wants to cause a stir, but he disregards the message that the station coveys…."[8]


[1] "The New Call" was established in the early 90's to promote classical liberal values in Egypt.

[2] Al-Usbu', (Egypt), April 10, 2000.

[3] Al-Usbu', (Egypt), April 10, 2000.

[4] 'Muasasat Ibn Khaldoun' is a research institute established in Cairo in the early 1990's. Its main cause is promoting Egyptian civil society. The institute produces a publication called "Al-Mujtama' Al-Madani" ("Civil Society").

[5] In 1998 some of the Egyptian participants in the Copenhagen Conference (1997) formed an NGO supported by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, in order to bring to bring about Netanyahu’s defeat. This movement, aka, "The Peace Movement", was headed by Salah Basyuni, former Egyptian ambassador in the USSR, before its collapse.

[6] Al-Usbu' (Egypt), April 10, 2000.

[7] In January 1997 the Danish government sponsored an international conference called "The International Alliance for Peace." Its participants were Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. The conference formed a steering committee, headed by the late Lutfi Al-Huli, an Egyptian communist intellectual.

[8] Al-Ahrar (Egypt), April 9, 2000.