Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
12 - 18 November 1998
Issue No.403
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

The same old game

By Ibrahim Nafie

Nafie They are back to that tired game again. Every time Netanyahu betrays his intentions towards the peace process, certain political and media circles in the US, known for their links with Israel, rush to deflect the heat away from him. Their stratagem is simple -- they turn their sights on Egypt and orchestrate some hullabaloo about an entirely non-existent problem, their favourite being what they like to call "the persecution of Egyptian Copts."

We are only too familiar with this spurious linkage between the "problem" in Egypt and the Middle East peace process. This time, however, some US newspapers have transgressed all recognised bounds in the handling of international relations. The most recent example was a Washington Times editorial, "The persecution of Christians in Egypt", which claimed that the government of President Hosni Mubarak has closed its eyes to the persecution of Copts in the village of El-Kosheh and is doing its best to cover up the incident.

The story that triggered this latest wave of anti-Egyptian criticism in the US had originally appeared in The Sunday Telegraph. In spite of the fact that all informed foreign correspondents in Cairo have refuted that newspaper's account, The Washington Times article reiterated the same fallacious information before concocting some of its own. According to the editorial, on 4 August five Muslim gunmen murdered two Coptic villagers in El-Kosheh. Yet, as everyone who has been directly involved in the case -- from judges and lawyers to foreign correspondents and human rights activists -- knows, that all evidence points to a single individual, a Copt, the nephew of one of the victims and a friend of the second, and the incident itself was the result of a brawl involving the two victims and the accused.

More fantastic is the article's claim that 1,200 Copts were detained in connection with the case. But the third and most blatantly absurd fabrication was that Egyptian security forces threatened to escalate persecution against the Copts in response to every complaint they received. Can anyone in their right mind really believe that a responsible security agency would so crudely and recklessly add fuel to the fire, supposing that such a fire existed in the first place?

At any rate, The Washington Times editorial betrayed its motives by concluding with an appeal to President Clinton to reassess his partner in the peace process -- alluding, of course, to Egypt -- and the suggestion that Congress use economic aid to pressure Egypt. Nothing could corroborate more explicitly what myself and others have said on many occasion -- that such attacks on Egypt are part of a concerted campaign to undermine Egypt's regional role because of Cairo's principled stand on the peace process and other regional issues.

Certainly, it can be no coincidence that the Israeli Prime Minister's web site had earlier alleged that Copts in Egypt are being tortured and oppressed. And President Mubarak, in response to such allegations, naturally voiced his suspicion that Israel was the instigator of the media campaign in the US. Egyptian efforts to sustain the peace process have been a source of great resentment in Israel's ruling circles. President Mubarak, personally, has fought to overcome every obstacle in order to coax Israel and the Arab parties to the negotiating table and his mediation was instrumental in bringing about the Hebron agreement.

The Egyptian government does not need a certificate of good conduct from the US press. Nor will it capitulate to blackmail. The Washington Times is a mouthpiece for the ultra conservative Republican right, unquestioning supporters of Israel's Likud government. The newspaper is owned by Sun Myung Moon, originally a native of North Korea and head of the Unification Church, whose ultra-right leanings make him a ready ally for Netanyahu. Whether or not Netanyahu is personally acquainted with Moon is unclear, though there is no doubt that he has established close friendships with several staff members on The Washington Times, whose editorial policy is rabidly anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and pro-Israel.

The Washington Times is not alone in lending itself to Netanyahu's schemes. The Oregonian, the largest circulating newspaper in Oregon, published five lengthy articles on the purported persecution of Christians in Egypt. The Pittsburgh Tribune which, according to several US news reports, was instrumental in fanning Clinton's sex scandals, also fanned the persecution flames. It is owned by a billionaire steel magnate, a powerful figure on the conservative Republican right and, although Christian, a self-confessed Zionist.

The Christian Alliance, which has the support of many members of Congress, has also been active in fueling anti-Egyptian sentiments. Its Christian Broadcasting Network aired a short documentary, a mesh of half-truths and blatant lies, at the end of which Pat Robertson, leader of the Christian Alliance, appealed to viewers to call the Egyptian embassy to voice their protest against the persecution of Christians. The same alliance organised a massive rally to greet Netanyahu before the Wye negotiations, during which Israel's prime minister declared he would "burn the ground beneath Clinton's feet" if he attempted to pressure Israel.

All this brings to mind the Congressional International Affairs Committee session of 10 April 1997 which turned into a mock trial of Egypt, replete with accusations of human rights abuses and the oppression of Copts. The true thrust of this session, however, was to press the claim that Egyptian policy on the peace process did not conform with that of the US and that Congress should use the aid lever to force Egypt to toe the line.

That session serves as a healthy reminder that the campaign against Egypt, though it may subside, is always likely to flare up again when its helmsmen feel the need to create a smoke screen around those who are really responsible for obstructing the peace process. But the game no longer fools anyone and those involved would be better advised to desist from tampering with Egypt's domestic affairs and turn their attention, instead, towards safeguarding the prospects of peace rather than jeopardising it.

For our part, we should not let such campaigns upset us unduly. It will not be the last we hear and we certainly know the motives that inspire them. Egypt, though, will never be blackmailed into following a course inimical to establishing a just and lasting peace. Egypt's Copts were never at the heart of this campaign, waged by forces hostile to Egypt who have presumed to act in their name and who only seek to sow discord between them and their fellow Muslim citizens. Egyptian Copts strongly resent such foreign interventions in their affairs. As Pope Shenouda III has said on numerous occasions, the most recent being his statement in response to The Sunday Telegraph story: "Egyptians, Muslims and Copts alike, will never bow before these Zionist and western designs to bend our will, alter our national priorities and usurp our autonomous resolve."