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November 23, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6227

In Wake Of Russian Plane And Paris Attacks, Official Egyptian Media Decries Double Standards And Western 'Conspiracy': Egypt Not In Need Of Guardianship; Smiling U.K. Ambassador Acts Like A High Commissioner, But Soon He Will Be Crying

November 23, 2015
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 6227

The crash of the Russian passenger airplane Metrojet flight 9628 in the Sinai Desert on October 31, 2015, has put Egypt on the defensive. A major plank of President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi's foreign policy pitch, in his attempt to woo Western countries critical of the 2013 deposal of President Muhammad Mursi and his subsequent policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and other domestic opponents, has been to emphasize the return of stability to Egypt and the country's importance as an ally in the war on terror. This pitch was called into question by the statements of Western leaders soon after the plane crash, that it was likely caused by an act of terror, at a time when the official Egyptian position maintained that the cause of the crash was still unknown. Moreover, President Sisi has staked much of his domestic legitimacy on a promise to improve the economy, presenting the war on terror and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood as necessary preconditions for growth and development. The Western countries' statements that the Russian plane was likely downed by an act of terrorism, and their adoption of security measures up to and including the suspension of flights to Sharm Al-Sheikh and the evacuation of tourists back to their home countries, represented a blow to Sisi's economic agenda, given the dependence of the Egyptian economy on revenues from foreign tourism.

The official Egyptian press expressed frustration and anger with these Western statements and with the security measures taken by foreign countries. The main brunt of its ire fell on the United Kingdom, since Prime Minister David Cameron had announced these measures during a state visit to the U.K. by President Sisi himself. Editorials in the Al-Ahram daily, the main organ of official opinion in Egypt, increasingly stepped up the tone against the U.K., warning of a full-scale conspiracy against Egypt and evoking the specter of Britain's imperial past. The conspiracy theme swept through much of the Egyptian press and received even sharper expression in other newspapers, as well as in some non-editorial opinion pieces in Al-Ahram, which accused the West of creating and using ISIS to undermine Arab countries; [1] but the endorsement of the conspiracy theory - albeit a tamer version - in the editorials of Al-Ahram, the official paper of record, remained especially noteworthy.

The November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris added an additional dimension to this frustration. Alongside condemnation of the attacks, Al-Ahram asked why after the Russian plane incident, Cairo - unlike France - had been abandoned in its time of need.

The following are excerpts:

 
Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi and British PM David Cameron (image: Ahram.org.eg, November 6, 2015)

'Al-Ahram' Daily: "Is Egypt Facing A Conspiracy At Present? The Full-Throated Answer Is Yes"  

The editorials in the Al-Ahram daily, the most important official newspaper in Egypt, have progressively escalated their criticism of the behavior of the West - and first and foremost the United Kingdom - in connection with the Russian plane incident. The criticism began on November 7, 2015, in an editorial titled "A Blow Below The Belt." It followed President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi's visit to the U.K. on November 4-5, in the course of which Prime Minister David Cameron announced the suspension of flights to Egypt and the evacuation of British nationals, saying that the Russian airliner had likely been downed by an act of terrorism. The editorial expressed frustration with the British policies and statements, and likewise with President Barack Obama's statement that it was possible that a bomb had been placed in the airplane's hold, before going on to say:

"It cannot be doubted that there are numerous parties and countries that are pained to see Egypt taking its path to growth, development, and laying the foundations of a modern civil state in which all Egyptians are equal. [These parties and countries] are interested in creating anxiety and spreading rumors about the security situation in the country, in order to affect the influx of tourists, especially to Sharm Al-Sheikh, to destroy the country's economy, and to render a service to some organizations [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood] that do not want the country to prosper. But the strange thing is that these pronouncements are being made by some in authority in friendly countries with strong ties with Egypt [i.e. the U.K. and the U.S.]."[2] At this point the criticism of the U.K. and the U.S. was still relatively reserved; it also appears from the editorial that its authors did not believe themselves at this point that the Russian plane had been brought down by an act of terrorism.

The following day, an editorial titled "The 'Free World' And Terrorism" stepped up the criticism of the behavior of the Western countries. It stated that the 9/11 attacks, the 7/7 attacks in the London Underground, and the Charlie Hebdo massacre were grave security failures on the part of the U.S., the U.K., and France, but the rest of the world came to their support in the war on terrorism at the time, whereas today, "at a time when the entire world raises the slogan of the war on terrorism, it is unfortunate that after the case of the Russian plane that crashed in Sinai we find that the world is acting in a manner that supports terrorism, strengthens it, and achieves its aims." The editorial argued that the evacuation of tourists and other foreign nationals from Egypt is a blow to the economy, casts doubt on Egypt's security measures, and endangers opportunities for foreign investment, which is precisely what the terrorists hoped to achieve. The authors stated explicitly that they were not promoting any conspiracy theory, but at the same time asked why these measures were put in place precisely at a time when Egypt was leading a successful campaign against terrorism and was on the path to reconstruction.[3]

The very next day, however, the official Al-Ahram, in an editorial filled with anti-colonial rhetoric and aimed primarily at Great Britain, apparently changed its mind and decided that a conspiracy was afoot: "When facing foreign conspiracies, intrigues, and fateful challenges, the Egyptians always prove that they are united against those who attempt to encroach on Egypt and that they are a strong defensive wall before all those who threaten its national security. Thus it is no surprise to see now... the complete solidarity among all sectors of the Egyptian people in defense of their state in the face of a conspiracy that aims to break the will of this great people and to force it to return to the path of subordination [to foreign powers] and to give up its independence in national decisions..." The editorial went on to list earlier junctures in the history of modern Egypt in which the country had stood up to foreign conspiracies: Muhammad 'Ali's resistance to the 1840 Convention of London; the 'Urabi Revolt - to which Great Britain responded by occupying the country; and the British role in the 'tripartite aggression' of 1956 in response to Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser's successes in establishing Egypt's independence. "These scenarios recurred frequently, and each time the Egyptian people rallied around its national leadership - just as it is doing now - and proved that it is united in the face of conspiracies, and is prepared to sacrifice all so that Egypt may live free and independent."[4]

The following day, in the November 10 editorial, the editors repeated their displeasure with the supposedly premature announcements of the U.K. and the U.S., but placed the ultimate blame this time on another actor. They mentioned media reports that it was Israeli intelligence that had captured phone conversations between Islamic State terrorists in Sinai related to the Russian plane, and speculated that Israel was "fishing in murky waters" (i.e. that it had fed information to the Western powers so as to cause them to take measures injurious to Egypt).[5]

Finally, on November 11, the official daily fully embraced the accusation of a European conspiracy against Egypt supported by unnamed regional states: "Is Egyptian facing a conspiracy at present? The full-throated answer is yes. The indications and proofs are there, before all those with eyes to see. Okay, who do you think is behind this conspiracy? It is those whose plans the June 30 [2013] revolution foiled. In plain language, and without beating around the bush, it is some European countries, together with some countries in the region, who do not want Egypt to rise - since Egypt's rise, in their wicked conception, will be at the expense of their interests.

"These conspirators became frantic when they saw the success of Egyptian foreign policy after June 30 [2013] in breaking the blockade they tried to impose on Egypt, and they lost their minds when they saw Egypt succeed in drawing support from some loyal and reasonable sister countries... So of course, it was necessary to strike at these relations with these sister countries... But what these wicked people do not know is that the Egyptians, in times of danger, forget their minor problems and rally around their leadership in defense of the supreme national interest..."[6]

'Al-Ahram' Assistant Editor: "We Must Not Allow The [U.K.] Ambassador To Roam Around Cairo Smiling, Happy And Triumphant... We Will Soon See Him Crying!"

Especially noteworthy among the general run of anti-British sentiment was a November 9, 2015 article by Hussein Al-Zinati, an assistant editor at Al-Ahram. The article attacked the British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, accusing him of acting like a colonial High Commissioner: "Before President Sisi traveled to London, British Ambassador John Casson tweeted - in spoken Egyptian Arabic, as is his habit - 'Await good news during President Sisi's visit," and added in his tweet: "Let's step on the gas a bit in our cooperation'...

"Yes, we were hoping that the words... would come true and that we would turn a new page in our relations with his country. But we should have asked: Since when are these people [i.e. British officials] sincere in their words, or in their deeds? How could they be when what dwells in their minds and memories are the scenes of their being ousted and driven out of our lands humiliated and with their hopes frustrated, dragging their tails in defeat out of Egypt?

"Indeed, the British, as represented by this ambassador who always has a phony smile on his face, have 'stepped' on the 'gas' of planning, preparing, and putting into action, together with its allies, a grand conspiracy against Egypt timed for President Sisi's visit.

"Within hours of the incident of the Russian plane came the British reactions to it affirming, without consulting anyone, that it had been bombed. Then there was the decision, [announced] when President Sisi was present there [in London], to stop the flights over Sinai and to evacuate British nationals at once. Their ally, the United States, proceeded in the same fashion, and then came the pressure on Russia to get Putin to suspend Russian flights to Egypt and to evacuate [Russian] tourists from it.

"This is the 'gas' that the affable, charming, and elegant ambassador spoke of before President Sisi traveled to London. This is John Casson, the British ambassador in Cairo, who himself requested the position of his country's ambassadorship in Egypt after the January [25, 2011] revolution, and he it is who walks in the streets of Cairo, eats ful [fava bean] sandwiches, ta'miyya [falafel], and kushari [a rice and lentil dish], sits at coffeehouses, and talks about how Egypt is safe - and then we find that his reports to his country say something different. This is John Casson, who is active on social media platforms and has won the admiration of the Twitter youth... 

"[But] the past few months have shown that this British ambassador in Cairo is more active than he should be, as though he is trying to fill an old role that the previous U.S. ambassador [Anne Patterson] tried [as well] to play, but in a more cunning way and in the manner of intelligence [agencies]. Last Friday, following the British decision to evacuate their nationals, we saw the British ambassador traveling to the Sharm Al-Sheikh airport, without even informing the Minister of Aviation or the director of the airport, to hold a press conference in which he described the evacuation of British tourists from Sharm Al-Sheikh as a 'precautionary measure'!

"We know that the role of any ambassador is to represent his country's interests, wherever this [interest] may be. But this [must be] without his turning into a new High Commissioner in the host country. When Britain turns into an enemy that orchestrates conspiracies against us, we must not allow the ambassador to roam around Cairo, smiling, happy and triumphant. We must strive to defeat his country's conspiracy [against us], so that we will soon see him crying!"[7]

On The Double-Standard In The Response To France And To Egypt: "Will the Western Capitals Continue This Excessively Selfish Policy?"

Al-Ahram continued its criticism of the West's treatment of Egypt in its November 16 editorial on the terror attacks in Paris. The editorial stated that the attacks in Paris had reminded the world that the global war on terrorism is a long and bitter one, and added that the greatest victim of terrorism is the Arab world, and Egypt in particular, which is on the front lines in the war against ISIS. The editorial then repeated the complaints expressed in previous editorials regarding the West's treatment of Egypt in the wake of the Russian plane incident, and contrasted this behavior with the world's response to the attacks in France:

"The strange thing is that Cairo was abandoned at the very moment that it was most in need of aid... Could any reasonable person call for avoiding France and leaving it to face its fate alone, to wage its war against Daesh [ISIS] and terrorism alone? Most likely the logical response would be 'certainly not', and that this is precisely the moment to show solidarity with France and to aid it by supplying intelligence and all [other] forms of support. And it would not be acceptable at all if Britain were to come out and say that it could not share with France its intelligence on the Paris attacks...

"The important question remains: will the Western capitals continue this excessively selfish policy of withholding intelligence from the other countries, which are on the front lines in the war against Daesh and terrorism[?] Until when [will they do this] and for the sake of what strategic aims? Have those in power [in the Western capitals] considered that this policy casts doubt on their earnestness in confronting Daesh and terrorism?"[8]     

 

Endnotes:
 

[1] See for example: Ahmad 'Abd Al-Tawwab, "Will ISIS Kidnap the French President?," Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 16, 2015; Mahmud Khalil, "Satan's Price," Al-Watan (Egypt), November 15, 2015; Mustafa Bakri, "The Double Standards in Dealing With Terrorism - Until When?," Al-Watan (Egypt), November 15, 2015.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 7, 2015.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 8, 2015.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 9, 2015.

[5] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 10, 2015.

[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 11, 2015.

[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 9, 2011.

[8] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 16, 2015.

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