Why are Egyptian media demonizing Palestinians?

23 July 2013

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A poster of Mohammed Morsi entangled in barbed wire, with soldiers in background

Accusations of association with Hamas have been used to smear deposed Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi.

(Ahmed Asad / APA images)

On 6 July, Egyptian TV host Shafki al-Moniri, on Al-Yawm TV, apologized to her viewers that she wasn’t in the country a week earlier for the 30 June protests that served as the backdrop for the army’s ouster of President Muhammad Morsi.

But she had been eager to fly home as soon as possible to join the celebrations. As her fellow passengers were checking in for their flight to Cairo from Barcelona, she recounted that one traveler “was very nervous and we didn’t know why he was nervous. We boarded, and a while later, Egypt Air had to offload him.” He turned out to be Palestinian, al-Moniri said.

“The flight attendant explained that there is an order to offload this passenger,” and there was more delay as the passenger’s luggage was located.

She said she was sure this wasn’t an action against all Palestinians, but that there must be a question mark over the particular Palestinian removed from the flight.

At that moment, al-Moniri said, she felt safe because “the army and the police forces are wide awake and acting properly.”

After telling this story, al-Moniri, overcome with emotion and joy, broke down in tears on camera as she repeated, “I love you Egypt, I love you Egypt,” and had to be comforted by her fellow TV host.

It is unclear if al-Moniri knew that in fact, one of the first acts taken by the military regime that overthrew Morsi on 3 July, was to ban Palestinians from entering Egypt through Cairo airport, leaving thousands stranded all over the world, preventing them from returning home to Gaza through Rafah crossing — the sole point of entry and exit for the vast majority of Gaza’s residents. All over the world, Palestinians were denied boarding on Cairo-bound flights and dozens were deported from Cairo’s airport.

These actions against Palestinians have been widely justified with constantly repeated rumors — never backed by evidence — that Palestinians are interfering in Egypt’s affairs, causing turmoil, and are even responsible for attacks on Egyptian security forces by militant groups in the Sinai peninsula.

The allegations have been leveled at Palestinians in general, and Hamas in particular.

To further feed the paranoia, on 8 July a speaker on Al Kahera Wal Nas TV made the allegation that toppled President Morsi is “of Palestinian origin,” an inflammatory and bigoted allegation in the present atmosphere. After the guest made the supposed revelation, the host, instead of asking for evidence, turned to the camera and said, “we must repeat it, President Morsi is of Palestinian origin.”

It is now common to hear members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood being denounced as “Palestinians,” or to hear claims that most of those taking part in the ongoing sit-in by Morsi supporters at Cairo’s Rabia al-Adawiya square are themselves Palestinians, or in some cases, Syrians.

Baseless allegations

On Tahrir TV, on 6 July, host Ahmad Moussa directly accused Hamas of the killing of 16 Egyptian border guards in Sinai in August 2012, and claimed the evidence would be revealed at an international press conference within a few days. More than two weeks later, no such evidence has been revealed, but the accusation that Morsi has helped Hamas cover up its alleged role continues to be used to justify his overthrow.

On the same channel, on 9 July, hosts Mohamed al-Ghaity and Samir Ghatas discussed what they purported was an official Hamas memorandum marked “top secret” disclosing that “500 terrorist militants from the al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas, are ready to destroy Egypt in order to stand by their Muslim Brothers.” Conveniently, they claimed, Hamas was acting under the orders of the prime minister of Qatar, a backer of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Ghaity then displayed a document purporting to be from the Muslim Brotherhood to the “Hamas terrorists.” These documents are impossible to verify and almost certainly fake, but their use in this way has fed the anti-Palestinian frenzy.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Wagdi, Egypt’s former interior minister, told the Ismailia Appeals Court on 8 June that “elements of al-Qassam brigades affiliated to the Islamist movement of Hamas, in collaboration with the [Islamic] Jihad and the Islamic Army groups in Gaza and the Shia Lebanese party of Hizballah, teamed up during the early days of the 25 January 2011 uprising that overthrew Mubarak to attack Egyptian prisons and release Islamist detainees” (“‘Exposing’ Hamas and Hizbullah’s roles,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 12 June).

Hence, on 11 July, Egyptian officials said that an investigation would be launched into allegations that Morsi, who had been detained by authorities during the 2011 uprising, was himself broken out of prison by Hamas, and that proof of foreign intervention on Egyptian soil could lead to charges of treason.

Demonization

While talking heads on satellite TV have been demonizing Palestinians around the clock, social media have been filled with rumors including that Palestinians want to occupy the Sinai peninsula. Many are as familiar as they are absurd: that the nearly 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza are causing shortages for Egypt’s population of 83 million by siphoning off food, fuel and medicines.

The rumors were undoubtedly fed when, on 17 June, weeks before the ouster of Morsi, ONtv broadcast unsubstantiated press reports that Hamas had sent 3,000 troops into Egypt to support President Morsi.

Such wild claims have been used to justify Egypt’s efforts to destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, a lifeline for Palestinians in Gaza amid the intense Israeli siege.

False reports planted in the press travel quickly, as when, for example, The Times of Israel picked up a report from the London-based, Saudi-funded Arabic daily Al-Hayat citing an Egyptian “security official” who claimed that the Egyptian army had killed some 200 gunmen in Sinai, including 32 from Hamas.

In that, case, at least, there was a firm denial from Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian officials (“Officials on all sides deny report that Egypt killed 32 Hamas fighters in Sinai,” 11 July).

More often, however, such claims have gone unchallenged, as when Major General Osama Askar, commander of the Egyptian military’s Third Army, claimed on 18 July that his forces had captured 19 Grad rockets belonging to the military wing of Hamas on the Cairo-Suez highway. They were, he said, destined for Cairo “to help the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The “captured rockets,” Askar asserted, “are capable of destroying an entire neighborhood which indicates that they were on their way to be used in terrorist attacks against the Egyptian people” (“Third Army Commander: Hamas rockets captured in Suez capable of destroying entire neighborhood,” al-Dustour (Cairo), 17 July [Arabic]).

Such lurid tales about Hamas are given credence because, although organizationally separate, Hamas grew ideologically out of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is therefore presented as natural that Hamas would come to the rescue of its mother organization.

The propagandists also draw parallels with Hamas’ rise to political power. Although Hamas won the majority of seats in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, it was by force of arms in 2007 that it secured its position in Gaza against the rival Fatah forces which would not cede power. Egyptian media are telling audiences that this is the model the Muslim Brotherhood “terrorists” plan to follow.

These same propagandists consistently forget to mention that Morsi’s policies towards Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza did not differ in substance from Hosni Mubarak’s.

Full partnership with US

With Egypt’s history as the vanguard of Arab nationalism and the Arab struggle against Israel, it may seem shocking that such contempt for the Palestinians — and lately Syrians, who are being subjected to similar forms of incitement — could be so loud and pervasive.

During his rule from 1956-1970, President Gamal Abdel-Nasser upgraded the rights of Palestinians in Egypt, giving them equal status to Egyptians. Initially, even after the 1973 war against Israel, his successor, President Anwar Sadat, seemed to follow the same course.

But amid economic crisis, rising unemployment and poverty, Sadat sought a way out in the form of his pivot toward the United States, his neoliberal economic reforms and his 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

A whole new class rose, ready to profit from what the Egyptian embassy in Washington still calls the the full “partnership” between the two countries, at the expense of the poor. Sadat knew that by recognizing his Zionist neighbor, he was going against the will of his people. He and his supporters therefore launched a vicious anti-Palestinian campaign in Egypt, frequently portraying Palestinians as ungrateful betrayers who sold their land to the Zionists and who were dragging Egypt into costly wars. His prime minister, Mustafa Khalil, famously declared: “No more Palestine after today” (Oroub el-Abed, “The Invisible Community: Egypt’s Palestinians,” Al-Shabaka, 8 June 2011).

From then on, an entire propaganda machine was set in motion against the Palestinians.

Chauvinist nationalism

As Palestinian scholar Joseph Massad has observed, this campaign had as a motive developing a “chauvinist Egyptian nationalism in place of Egyptian Arab nationalism” (“Egypt’s nouveaux riches and the Palestinians, Al Jazeera English, 9 August 2012).

Palestinians in Egypt began to suffer from discriminatory policies that treated them as a threat to the country’s national security. Younger Egyptian generations were completely misinformed about Palestine and the struggle there.

Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, and his agents in the press occasionally deployed vicious anti-Palestinian campaigns to distract from their misdeeds. The propaganda intensified after the Muslim Brotherhood greatly increased their seats in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections, and Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections the following year.

After Fatah refused to hand over power to Hamas, leading to armed clashes and the 2007 expulsion of Fatah forces from Gaza, the Mubarak regime painted Hamas as an even more dangerous foe. Egypt set to work zealously enforcing the Israeli-declared blockade of Gaza. During the January 2011 uprising that eventually toppled him, Mubarak’s media agents actively spread rumors that Palestinians and Hamas were behind the Tahrir Square protests.

This ultra-chauvinist stance has at times descended into open hatred. At the height of the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, Egyptian TV host Amr Adib, a former propagandist for the Mubarak regime with ties to his ruling National Democratic Party, saluted Israel on television and said that Hamas should be “finished off.”

On 13 July, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information published a statement from a coalition of Egyptian human rights organizations condemning the surge in incitement to hatred and violence against Syrians and Palestinians. The groups singled out Egypt’s CBC and ONtv, as well as presenters Amr Adib, Lamis Hadidi and Ahmad Moussa, as among the worst purveyors. This incitement, the statement said, would only become more common after the “silence about hate speech and incitement targeting some Egyptian citizens because of their religious or political backgrounds.”

Targeted and humiliated

UN General Assembly Resolution 59 (1) of 1946, defending freedom of the press, declares that “Freedom of information requires as an indispensable element the willingness and capacity to employ privileges without abuse. It requires as a basic discipline the moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent.” These duties are embodied in any notion of journalistic ethics. And yet, sadly, in the current Egyptian media frenzy of rumor-mongering, racial incitement and demonization, no such ethics can be found.

The fruit of these years of hateful misinformation are being harvested now, as Palestinians find themselves targeted and humiliated by hate speech repeated by cab drivers, salespersons, students, police officers and even intellectuals claiming to be revolutionaries. Palestinians today feel trapped in a fellow Arab country, fearing false accusations, leading many to avoid the streets, hide their origins and change their accent when communicating with Egyptians.

Yet at the same time, support for Palestine and antagonism towards Israel and Zionism remained deep-rooted in Egyptian political culture and national consciousness, demonstrated by waves of public support in the course of the years, during the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982, the first intifada in 1987, the second intifada in 2000, and the attack on Gaza in 2008.

But the waves of solidarity end as soon as the latest spasm of Israeli violence abates, and too many Egyptians succumb again to yet another full-blown media assault against the Palestinians. Meanwhile, principled Egyptian activists and intellectuals continue to insistently reject anti-Palestinian rhetoric and argue for solidarity with Palestinians, as well as for the centrality of the question of Palestine to Egypt. But their voices are being drowned out in the present national discourse.

Hanine Hassan is a researcher and doctoral student studying aspects of mental torture and humiliation under occupation. Her family fled Jaffa, Palestine in 1948 and is waiting to return. She tweets at @hanine09.

Comments

This is a very sad state of affairs.

Not only for the Palestinians but for Egyptians as well.

What we're seeing here is a kind of fascisization taking place, with extremist ultra-nationalists taking advantage of the country's collapsing socio-economic situation to control people.

First, kudos to Ms. Hassan for an erudite and highly informative essay. Although I've followed events in and about Palestine/Palestinians for several years now, I'd not thought there was any 'issue' between Palestinians & the Egyptian Gov't until recently when, in order to tar Mursi, he's been 'linked' to 'Hamas terrorist activities'... pretty surprising to me! So, Ms. Hassan's essay was very helpful background. Still, and second, I'm unclear about how Gen. Sisi & his pro-coup 'supporters' benefit from demonizing Hamas. Is it all just merely diversion to keep the Egyptian people watching the left hand while the right hand steals their country?

Damn! If ever there was a national group upon whom the world craps without remorse or apology it's the Palestinians (maybe the Roma too...). It ain't fair!!

Dear Ms Hassan, first of all, as an Egyptian-American I'd like to apologize for what both my governments have been putting Palestinians through. It's insane and inhuman and disgusting.
For us, being non-Palestinians, we will ever know how it feels to be Palestinians and go through all this. It saddens me that it sunk to the level that you have to change your accent in Egypt. That's very dangerous. And Of course al-Sisi needs a scapegoat to incriminate the Brotherhood, which he couldn't find, so he dragged Hamas into this, forgetting that Hamas' weapons are pointed towards the real enemy, Israel.
I would really urge the Electrtonic Intifada to make an exception and translate this article in Arabic, given how widely it has been shared! It's important it reaches Egyptians! And a translation would help.
All the best, and looking forward to your next article.
Jasmine