Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 November 2003
Issue No. 663
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Confronting the ambassador

Salama A Salama

Salama Ahmed Salama There is an ongoing public crisis between the US Embassy and the Egyptian press which rises and abates, comes and goes. In sum, it is an expression of general public rejection of US policies in the Middle East. This is not only because of its blind bias towards Israel, and the US's share in pillaging the rights of the Palestinian people, but also results from the US invasion of Iraq and the placing of the Arab world under the clench of US hegemony.

This phenomenon is not unique to Egypt alone. The pattern has repeated itself in one way or another in countries which were considered friends of the US, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon. The US Embassy in each capital stands on one side, while public opinion and popular sentiment stand on the other. Since the ambassador and embassy staff represent the policies of their country, they find themselves confronted with strong criticism in proportion to conspicuous displays of bias, pressuring and arm twisting. It has become a top priority for all US embassies, whether in the Arab world or outside, to defend Israeli interests, justify its hostile policies, and cover for it diplomatically, or by other means. Every barbaric action carried out by Israel has come to be viewed by the Arab people as an American act carried out through its proxy. This causes several writers in the press to question if the US Embassy represents two countries or one.

Since views are so far apart, there must be a deep difference in understanding. What the US ambassador perceives as unbalanced Egyptian or Arab press, Egyptian journalists from across the spectrum believe is a way to expose American duplicity and document reality.

According to the rule of objectivity, which representatives of US diplomacy call for, we should not differentiate between an Arab child who has been crushed underneath a tank in Hebron, and an Israeli child who is killed by a self-sacrifice bombing in Tel Aviv.

The US ambassador has every right to defend his country's policies and explain them. The same thing occurs in the reactions published in the Egyptian press, but the people do not expect the ambassador of the world's largest country to lose his temper -- especially when oftentimes the injustice inflicted on the Arab people is too much to bear. While the ambassador has the right to respond and is guaranteed to be published in Egypt, we do not have the means to respond to the barrage of slurs against Arabs, nor are we guaranteed publishing space in the US press.

Fortunately, this heated confrontation between the US ambassador and the Egyptian press remains ongoing. By all means, it is a healthy sign. It is not in the ambassador's interest to call upon the government or chief-editors to interfere to end it. At the same time, it is not in the interest of freedoms of expression in Egypt that we call for a silencing of the ambassador, as the Press Syndicate recommended. Boycotting the ambassador is not a practical solution, but a running away from confrontation. When the state manages or attempts to lower the volume of its protest, it is the media which carries the burden. In such instances, the media is a surrogate for the state.

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