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memri
September 30, 2002 No.
423

U.S. Ambassador to Cairo Takes on Conspiracy Theories in the Egyptian Press

Since September 11, 2001, conspiracy theories regarding the attacks have abounded in the Arab press, and especially the Egyptian press. The theories assert that the attacks were carried out by the CIA, the FBI, Jews, the Mossad, etc.[1] These theories again emerged in the Egyptian press on the first anniversary of the attacks. American Ambassador to Cairo David Welch published an article in Arabic[2] in the leading Egyptian government daily, Al-Ahram, decrying the dissemination of these theories. His article was widely criticized by Egyptian journalists and intellectuals. The following are excerpts from Welch's article,[3] and from the reactions in the Egyptian press:

Ambassador Welch's Article
"The commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks has elicited a host of remembrance, commentary and analysis in the Egyptian media on the significance of the events and how America and the world have changed since that fateful day. Some writers offered Americans renewed condolences, for which we are grateful, as we are for the help Egypt has extended so far in bringing to justice those responsible for these crimes. President Bush has publicly thanked President Mubarak for such assistance, recognizing that Egyptians know first-hand the horrors terrorist groups can inflict. Egyptians also understand the need to pursue such terrorists before they can commit further atrocities."

"Unfortunately, the anniversary has also brought forth yet more voices in the media questioning who planned and committed the attacks, and positing incredible conspiracy theories without the slightest bit of evidence to back them up. Leading Egyptian newspapers and magazines in the past two weeks alone have published columns by senior columnists who suggested governments or groups other than Al-Qa'ida were responsible. A leading Egyptian professor of sociology, in a public lecture on September 11, spent nearly half an hour trying to cast doubt on Al-Qa'ida's culpability and even went so far as to implicate the American government by asserting that America had benefited from the attacks…."

"It is a fact that most of the world accepts the voluminous evidence of Al-Qa'ida's responsibility. No serious debate still exists about this. This evidence has been detailed in thousands of articles in independent media in many different countries, articles available to anyone with access to the Internet. Moreover, Al-Qa'ida itself fully admitted its culpability in interviews given in June to Yusri Foda of Al-Jazeera, interviews which aired on the network last week. It is difficult to fathom how commentators can simply disregard these confessions, coming on top of all the other publicly available evidence…."

"Sadly, such disregard for the facts in such a serious matter can tarnish the reputation of the Egyptian media in the eyes of the world. I hope editors will keep this in mind and exercise their editorial judgment when reviewing articles or columns to print in their publications. If nothing else, responsible media should be dedicated to telling the truth, not spreading falsehood, and knowing the difference between the two."

The Egyptian Intellectuals' Response: A Communique
Following the publication of Welch's article, Egyptian "intellectuals, authors, and journalists" published a communiqué demanding that the U.S. government consider its ambassador to Cairo persona non grata. The communiqué was issued with the signatures of dozens of journalists, professors, and politicians. It said in part:

"…The ambassador spoke as if he were addressing slaves or the citizens of some banana republic, not those representing the voice and conscience of the Arab nation whose roots lie deep in history and whose culture is, as Western and American writers have acknowledged, the cradle of the conscience of the entire world."

"It is odd that the ambassador of any foreign country, whether it be America or Micronesia, should dictate to free Egyptian intellectuals and journalists how to think and write, and [tell them that they] must believe everything America and its media think, even if it is lies…"

"A representative of the most powerful democracy in the world has gotten himself into trouble by destroying the fundamental principles underpinning the constitution of his country and the conventions of human rights - among them the right to freedom of speech… The Egyptian intellectuals are opposed to this disgraceful behavior on the part of the U.S. ambassador, and to his shameless interference in the affairs of the Egyptian press. They demand of him to give his advice to the press and government of his country, which see the truth only with one biased eye."

"We hope that the American ambassador will ensure that he does not cross the lines drawn for him by international diplomacy, and will not try to stick his nose into the matters of the Egyptian press, because Egypt is an independent country, not a banana republic, and because the Egyptian journalists know their profession and need lessons from no one. Even if America thinks that it has conquered the globe, it will not succeed in conquering and subduing the free wielders of the pen."

"We demand that the U.S. government consider its representative in Cairo persona non grata, and recall him because he has harmed democracy and stabbed a dagger into the heart of his country's constitution …"

"We advise the U.S. ambassador to try to salvage his country's reputation, shamed by its silence on Israel's crimes, which are in no way less than Hitler's crimes. If he has time to advise and interfere in Egypt's domestic matters, we say to him… that it would be better for him to return to his country." [4]

Welch Should Correct U.S. Media's Mistakes
Dr. Muhammad Al-Shadhli, a lecturer at the faculty of languages at Ein Shams University, Cairo, wrote in response in the government daily Al-Gumhuriya:

"…Most of the Egyptian intellectuals and the Egyptian people agree with the U.S. ambassador about what is in his article, due to their love for the truth over mistakes, particularly by the media, that cause the bloodshed of innocents by crime and the usurpation of their rights."

"I would like to direct the ambassador's attention to the great number of mistakes published by the American media, in the press and on television, for many long years, about Islamic, Arab, and Palestinian issues. We all know that these mistakes came long before the terror events of September 11, and that they increased following the attacks - which affected the reputation and credibility of the American media among the Egyptian intelligentsia and the Egyptian people in general."

"I am not justifying a mistaken reaction. A mistake is a mistake anywhere, at any time. But I hope that Mr. David Welch will advise the editors of the American newspapers and the television stations to preserve the American media's reputation among the Islamic and Arabic peoples and the Egyptian people, primarily in light of the fact that the Arab and Islamic peoples pay for the [American media's] contempt for the facts in the spilled blood of thousands of their sons, in the degradation of their peoples, and in the usurpation of their legitimate rights."

"The American ambassador's interest in preferring truth over falsehood and in the reputation of the Egyptian media must be met with gratitude on the part of the Egyptians. This sense of gratitude will increase if the American newspaper and television editors will themselves heed the ambassador's counsel."

"Finally, I extend to the ambassador and to the American people my condolences for the victims of the terror events of September 11." [5]

Welch Should Read His History Books
In an article titled "The American High Commissioner," Mustafa Bakri, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Usbu', wrote: "The American ambassador to Egypt has deviated from all diplomatic norms, beginning to talk to us about our newspapers as if he were a new high commissioner who issues orders that must be obeyed, delivering instructions that we must carry out…"

"My suggestion to the American ambassador in Egypt is that he read history well and understand that every time he deviates from his diplomatic tasks he will encounter rejection and struggle from all Egyptian circles. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that this ambassador and his government have blatantly interfered in Egyptian affairs. This ambassador played a negative role in damaging the reputation of the Egyptian legal system in the Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim affair, and turned the embassy into an operations room for issuing communiqués and waging a campaign against Egypt and against its noble legal system. Not for a moment does this ambassador cease his attempts to incite against the Egyptian press with reports that he conveys to his government and his constant demands on the Egyptian government to intervene against this or that newspaper…"

"If this ambassador has decided to enter the sphere of journalism, I would have hoped that he would make known to us his opinion of the crimes his country is committing against anyone Arab or Muslim, and would respond to the international organizations' reports enumerating the human rights violations of the Bush administration both within and without the U.S. I would have hoped that we would hear from him brave words on what is happening now to the Palestinian people, and on the razing of Arafat's headquarters, the killing of some of his bodyguards, and the arrest of dozens. But all we have heard from Washington has been justification of the Zionist enemy under the heading of self-defense."

"We would have wanted to hear from the ambassador his position on Washington's violation of international legitimacy, and its preparations to invade Iraq even though Iraq has declared its unconditional willingness to allow the international inspectors to return. We had hoped that His Excellency the Ambassador would talk to us, even if only a little, about the spreading hysteria in the White House and the threats to spark war against the entire world, not to defend freedom and confront terror, but to actualize American strategic interests, to secure oil resources, and to actualize the interests of Israel and control the fate of the entire world."

"But the fault is not yours, Mr. Ambassador. The fault lies with those who permitted you to write such arrogant things in our press." [6]

Egyptian Journalists' Union's Response
In a conversation with Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher several days later, as reported by the government daily Al-Gumhuriya, Ambassador Welch explained that he had not attacked the Egyptian press, which he "respected and esteemed." He said, "What is important is to examine the facts and study them in an abstract and objective fashion, and to consolidate views based on these facts." [7]

Nevertheless, the bureau of the Council of the Egyptian Journalists' Union issued a statement saying that "the solid principle on which this union is based is freedom of expression… and the way to the truth goes through the publication of a variety of opinions, not by means of censorship. There is no doubt that the fact that it was the most veteran Egyptian and Arab paper [Al-Ahram] that published [Welch's] article actualizes this principle, at a time when it is doubtful whether an article by a critic of the American press would be published as easily in the US… The bureau wants to clarify to the Ambassador that his attempt to intervene in the Egyptian papers' publication policy is unacceptable and harms independence of the press…" [8]

In Welsh's Defense
Siding with the American ambassador was Egyptian journalist Nabil Sharaf Al-Din, who responded to the Egyptian Journalists' Union statement in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi:

"…Among the professionals [i.e. Egyptian journalists] are many, myself among them, who maintain that not everything that the American ambassador said was null and void, despite my objection to his call to review articles prior to their publication. His words on the spread of the spirit of conspiracy are absolutely correct. It is not logical for us to continue to tell fairy tales with regard to the responsibility of organizations from here and there for the September 11 attacks while the 'bin Ladens' acknowledged their responsibility of their own free will…"

"The American ambassador acted like the ambassador of a country defending the interests of his country and his people should act. He did not wait for instructions and guidelines [from above], as our diplomats do. After all, Welch only defended what he saw as the truth, and it would be well if our diplomats would act to correct the West's perspective regarding our nation and our culture the way the American ambassador did [for his]…"

"If the honorable colleagues and men of struggle [i.e. members of the Egyptian Journalists' Union] think that the ambassador of a country of America's importance is acting like our diplomats do, being self-absorbed while sinking into a life of luxury at the taxpayers' expense… then they are deluding themselves…" [9]


[1] For more information read MEMRI Special Reports No. 7: Islamist Website: An Imminent Terrorist Attack (Possibly by Al-Qa'ida) Within 'About Ten Days' (Apparently in the U.S.), and No. 6: Editor of Iranian Conservative Government Daily Attacks President Bush and Calls on Muslim Youth to Launch Martyrdom Operations Against the U.S.,

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 20, 2002.

[3] Taken from the original English version entitled "Time to Get the Facts Right," on the United States Embassy in Egypt Web site, http://www.usembassy.egnet.net/newsa.htm

[4] Al-Usbu'(Egypt), September 23, 2002.

[5] Al-Gumhuriya (Egypt), September 22, 2002.

[6] Al-Usbu' (Egypt), September 23, 2002.

[7] Al-Gumhuriya (Egypt), September 24, 2002.

[8] Al-Ahram (Egypt), September 24, 2002.

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 26, 2002.