Open season on Nasrallah
Parliament joined forces with the official media campaign against the Lebanese-based Shia party of Hizbullah, accusing its leader of trying to undermine Egypt's national security, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The two houses of parliament -- the People's Assembly and Shura Council -- were mobilised this week in a concerted attack on Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese-based Shia party Hizbullah.
The broadside came in response to Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud's announcement last week that 36 operatives associated with Hizbullah had been arrested in Egypt, with a further 13 still at large. Mahmoud believes that the cell intended to launch "terror attacks within Egypt".
MPs, many angry enough to demand an arrest warrant be issued in Nasrallah's name, praised the role of the security forces in arresting the operatives and thwarting Hizbullah's plans to launch terror attacks on Egyptian territory.
Opening the debate on Tuesday speaker of the People's Assembly Fathi Sorour said Hizbullah's "schemes against Egypt had made it a criminal party in the eyes of all Egyptians".
"We admired Hizbullah in 2006 when it bravely fought Israel but we stand firmly against the party when it plans criminal acts on our land," said Sorour. He added that Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had conceded that the operatives detained belong to his party. "The admission makes Nasrallah a criminal, and subject to punishment under the Egyptian penal code."
Sorour urged the Lebanese government to take action against Hizbullah.
On Tuesday morning the assembly's committees of Arab affairs and national defence convened an urgent meeting to show solidarity with security forces as they clamped down on Hizbullah operatives. Saad El-Gammal, chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee, said the recent plot against Egypt was part of a wider Iranian agenda seeking to undermine the Arab world.
"Iran now constitutes a major threat to the security of the region, using its proxies, foremost among them Hizbullah, to dictate its will across the Middle East," said El-Gammal, who reminded MPs that Yemen, Bahrain and Morocco have all accused Iran and Hizbullah of trying to destabilise their regimes.
El-Gammal continued by warning that "Israel should not feel happy with this crisis between Egypt and Hizbullah," an illusion to comments made by the President of Israel Shimon Peres on Monday that "Egypt and Hizbullah are fighting without us and this is good".
Amin Radi, deputy chairman of the Defence and National Security Committee, urged security forces to strike with an iron fist not only at Hizbullah but at "all those who plan to cross red lines in Egypt".
Trucks carrying central security began arriving at the two parliamentary buildings early Tuesday to disrupt demonstrations planned by some Arab nationalist elements to protest against the escalating media war against Hizbullah.
Deputies from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group struck an uncharacteristically cautious note. Hussein Ibrahim, parliamentary spokesman of the group, said that while the Brotherhood "firmly supported all kinds of resistance against the Zionist enemy we do not accept any plans that aim to tamper with the sovereignty of Egypt".
Leader of the liberal-oriented Wafd Party Mahmoud Abaza urged the government not to escalate the campaign against Hizbullah but to "wait until the criminal investigation into the case is complete".
Abaza also noted that "Nasrallah's admission of planning hostile operations on Egyptian land places responsibility on the Lebanese government".
"Under international law the Lebanese government is required to take action against Hizbullah. If it fails to do so Egypt should initiate legal action against the Lebanese government itself."
Mohamed Shaaban, sole parliamentary representative of the leftist Tagammu Party, said "Hizbullah has become a major threat not only to Egypt but to the Palestinian cause."
Ragab Hilal Hemeida, the Ghad Party's solitary MP, argued "there is a difference between resistance and spying and Hizbullah was caught spying on Egypt."
Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the pan-Arabist Karama Party, took a different tack, telling MPs that Israel would be the main beneficiary of any anti-Hizbullah campaign, "in both political and financial terms".
Mustafa Bakri, a pan-Arabist MP who has seldom shown any inclination to shirk the limelight, announced that he was against all attempts aimed at undermining the national security of Egypt, whether planned by Hizbullah, America or Israel. He went on to accuse the American Embassy in Cairo of doing its best to spy on the country.
Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs, retorted by saying that "what some Egyptian newspapers have recently published about the American embassy does not mean that the allegations have any basis in fact."
"We strongly reject any attempts from Israel, America, the UK or any other country to interfere with Egypt's sovereignty."
Shehab argued that "we should not jump to hasty conclusions about the case but wait until the due processes of justice deliver a final word." He did, however, point out that "the fact that Nasrallah fully admitted that Hizbullah was planning to carry out sabotage in Egypt" subjects him to possible prosecution under Article 186 of the Egyptian penal code which "applies to all crimes perpetrated on Egyptian territory regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators".
Shehab also defended the government's position over the Rafah crossing to Gaza against Hizbullah criticisms, wondering why Nasrallah had kept such a low profile during Israel's recent war against Gaza. "One cannot help but question why he refrained from calling for Syrian or Jordanian territory to be used to send weapons to the Palestinians and launch attacks against the Israelis," said Shehab.
On Sunday the upper consultative house of the Shura Council launched its own attack on Hizbullah. Safwat El-Sherif, chairman of the council and secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party said: "We want to tell Hizbullah, the source of terrorism for our country, that Egypt will not be a test ground for your plots and your conspiracies. We will not permit anyone to violate the sanctity of our land, its sovereignty and dignity."