Al-Ahram Weekly Online   27 November - 3 December 2008
Issue No. 924
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Egyptian commentators focus on Egypt and superstition. And, pirates and the Palestinian question perplex Arab pundits, write Gamal Nkrumah and Mohamed El-Sayed

Egypt first

Commentators, characteristically, were preoccupied with the state of the nation and the political future of the country, the economy and the metaphysical

The entire front page of the official daily Al-Ahram was devoted to celebrations marking the annual address of President Hosni Mubarak at the opening of the Egyptian parliament -- the People's Assembly (Lower House) and the Shura, or Consultative, Council (the Upper House).

Flanked by the chairman of the Shura Council and secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Safwat El-Sherif, and Speaker of the People's Assembly Fathi Sorour, Mubarak appeared in good form.

Yes, Egyptian concerns come first, however, Egypt cannot afford to stand idly by and watch the deplorable situation in Gaza unfold. "We do not lose hope. We shall have faith in peace until an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem is established," Mubarak was quoted as saying in Al-Ahram.

While the official press concentrated on Mubarak, the independent papers were more inclined to tackle thorny issues pertaining to the state of affairs in the country, both economic and political. Be that as it may, some Al-Ahram pundits dwelt at some length on the prickly subject of political developments in the country. In light of the prevailing global economic meltdown, most commentators were concerned about these issues, and with good reason.

"How do we cope with the current economic crisis?" asked the director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Abdel-Moneim Said. "What we are about to encounter is extremely difficult. However, through diligent work we will be able to surmount the difficulties that lie ahead. We need to muster our resourcefulness and invoke our imagination and creativity," Said concluded. "We cannot afford to ignore the main political forces in society. I do not conjure up riddles. What I espouse is crystal clear."

On an entirely different note, the papers tried to figure out why the recently released leaders of militant Islamists displayed a contrite spirit which was given wide coverage in the independent press. The policy revisions authored by Sayed Imam, the spiritual leader and mentor of the militant organisation Jihad, received special attention. The daily Al-Masry Al-Yom published the new sentiments of ideologue of Egypt's militant Islamist movement. The paper published Imam's second set of revisions, noting that his one-time mentors "Ayman El-Zawahri and Osama bin Laden escaped and left the Islamic nation paying the price [of their crimes]. Iraq and Afghanistan were occupied." The paper quoted Imam as saying El-Zawahri and Bin Laden had betrayed the cause of Islam.

"The second man in Al-Qaeda, El-Zawahri, is deceitful... he considers any option other than the use of force as telling of inability and impotency," he added. "When he was in Egypt he instigated the murder and poisoning of hundreds.

"The reason behind the failure of Islamist movements is that they could not understand what were the conditions for launching -- and abstaining from -- Jihad," Imam stressed. "The Taliban was punishing unveiled women and killing Afghans who cooperate with the occupation forces. Yet they did not bring to book Al-Qaeda leaders who were the reason behind the occupation of Afghanistan."

Tribal tensions in the Sinai Peninsula were cause for much concern among commentators. Writing in Al-Ahram, poet Farouk Gweida reflected on the recent clashes between the tribes of Sinai and police forces. "The clashes between security forces and the people of Sinai are very dangerous and pose a threat to Egyptian national security. It's wrong to deal with this issue as being transient, given that these clashes took place several times in different places. If the role of security forces is all-important, it should be performed wisely when dealing with such sensitive issues."

On a somewhat different note, pundits pondered the degenerating state of morals in the country. "Where is Egypt's spirit?" wondered Mohsen Mohamed in the daily official Al-Gomhuriya. "A number of strange phenomena have swept Egyptian society of late. Who could have imagined that one day a wife swap association would appear in the country and that such announcements would be made on the Internet?" he exclaimed.

In much the same vein, Al-Fagr writer Sahar El-Gaar criticised religious scholars who act as if they are ignoramus charlatans. Al-Ahram columnist Zaghloul El-Naggar, who specialises in religious affairs, called upon the Saudi authorities to analyse parts of the Black Stone in Mecca to prove that it originated in Paradise and not on Earth. El-Gaar claims that superstitions have become the only reality in our lives. They have become a profitable business for those who call themselves scholars," El-Gaar warned. The writer added that Egyptians have become victims of political and religious heresies. "The infidel West travelled to the moon and sent spacecraft to Mercury to find out whether there are signs of life on these planets while we Muslims have been failing on agreement on rudimentary matters such as the beginning of the Hijra [Islamic] months," she lamented. The writer anticipated a counter-attack from religious zealots like El-Naggar who would question her faith and brand her an apostate. "I say it out loud: I support El-Naggar's call to analyse part of the Black Stone. However, he must bring us a sample of the soil of Paradise to draw a proper comparison with the Black Stone," El-Gaar declared tongue-in-cheek.

The jingoistic obsession with Egypt's stature among foreign powers and fellow Arab states reared its ugly head again. Writing in Al-Gomhuriya, Abdel-Wahab Adas argued that the ill-treatment of Egyptians abroad, especially in Arab Gulf countries, "starts at the doors of embassies and consulates in Cairo. Obtaining a visa has become a mission impossible. Obtaining it requires the payment of a bribe, seeking help from well-connected people or a go-between inside any given embassy." He added, "Why this downward look at Egyptians? Is it because Egyptians are not supported by their embassies abroad? Or is it because the Egyptian people bear all injustices, humiliation and oppression for the sake of making a living? What a heavy price we pay for making a living."

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