As Israel’s murderous machine inflicts terror and death on the Palestinian people with the collaboration of the US government and its principal Arab allies, not least of which is the Saudi clan of 20,000 princes and princesses, a huge campaign of hate on the official and unofficial level has been launched in Egypt.
Egypt’s regime is one of the two principal jailers of Gaza Palestinians in the largest concentration camp in the world.
Hosni Mubarak’s heir on the Egyptian throne, General Abdulfattah al-Sisi, expressed well the lies that the Egyptian ruling class of thieves has been propagating in Egypt since the anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian campaigns of the mid to late 1970s under President Anwar Sadat.
The uncharismatic Sisi, whose oratorical abilities rival those of Yasser Arafat, announced with much pomp in his 23 July speech marking the anniversary of the 1952 overthrow of the monarchy that Egypt had already sacrificed “100,000 Egyptian martyrs” for the Palestinian cause.
While few people doubt the sacrifices that Egyptian soldiers have made to defend Egypt in the last 67 years, to claim that these sacrifices were made on behalf of Palestine and the Palestinians is the ultimate in hypocrisy.
It is a line of argument that the ruling class of Egyptian thieves has been propagating in order to claim that Egypt’s terrible economy and state of poverty are not the product of this class’ outright pillage of Egypt with the help of their American and Saudi sponsors since the 1970s, but on account of Egypt’s alleged defense of Palestine and the Palestinians and President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s alleged commitment to liberate the Palestinians from Israel’s colonial occupation.
Tawdry pillaging class
Since the 1970s, Palestinians have been subjected to these lies and to the vacuity and utter tawdriness of this Egyptian class of the ignorant and the illiterate. This class’ lack of education and worldliness was on full display during the last three years of counter-revolutionary propaganda and agitation on its television stations and in its press.
The form and content of this output would embarrass and scandalize any self-respecting community of intellectuals, journalists and artists, except that the majority of Egyptian intellectuals, journalists and artists have either been conscripted or fully bought off to defend this class’ interests (though some of those conscripted in support of the regime, especially academics, started to backpedal more recently and to rewrite their history denying their cheerleading for it).
The degradation of Egyptian intellectual and aesthetic cultures and products in the last four decades is a direct outcome of this class’ tyrannical rule. One only has to sit with these businessmen and women, or visit their homes, or watch their representation in Egyptian serials and films and the culture they want to impose through them, or listen to their conversations in Cairo’s five-star hotel bars and restaurants, or watch their interviews on Egypt’s scandalously substandard television stations, to realize their utter mediocrity on every level of economic and political thinking and of aesthetic taste, not to mention their ignorance of Egyptian, Arabic and world literatures and arts, let alone their utter contempt for Egypt’s poor who constitute more than eighty percent of the population.
That this envious and jealous super-wealthy class resents and begrudges the poorest of the poor for their meager possessions, especially the Palestinians of Gaza, illustrates the kind of moral compass that guides its actions.
I still remember my horror when I had dinner in Cairo in October 2010 with billionaire Nassef Sawiris, the richest man in the country, when he announced with much pride to the small dinner party of seven persons that he keeps three TV screens on at all times, in his office, at home and while traveling, set to three different US news channels simultaneously (if memory serves, he listed CNN, CNBC and Fox News) that clearly function as his major sources of education.
Sawiris, who is much less exhibitionist than either of his two older brothers, seemed in disbelief when I informed him that I opposed the right-wing policies of US President Barack Obama, both domestic and foreign, as he seemed unable to conceive of a political position left of Obama.
In a just-published interview with the pro-Sisi newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Sawiris commended Sisi for lifting fuel subsidies on the poor (while keeping the price of gasoline for luxury cars down for the rich), and made a series of neoliberal recommendations, including devaluing the Egyptian pound further; privatizing public transportation; removing taxes imposed on the rich (which he claims the government of deposed president Muhammad Morsi had illegally imposed on his company); shielding ministers and government employees from legal prosecution and allowing coal to be used to fuel cement factories despite the massive opposition of health and environmental activists.
Such measures would surely continue to enrich the rich one percent and impoverish the poor (Nassef’s more flamboyant older but poorer brother Naguib just started to write a weekly column for Egypt’s Al-Akhbar in which he reiterates his brother’s neoliberal recommendations. He also calls on Sisi, in a TV interview, to grant Mubarak amnesty and release him from prison).
“Fiction and fabrication”
What Sisi and this class with which he is allied want to claim is that all of Egypt’s wars with Israel were launched to defend Palestine and the Palestinians and that they were hugely costly to Egypt financially and in the lives of soldiers lost. But none of this is true.
In 1956, Israel invaded Egypt and occupied Sinai, and the Egyptian soldiers who were killed died while engaged in defending their country and their land; in 1967, Israel again invaded Egypt and occupied Sinai, and Egyptian soldiers were killed defending their country against foreign invasion; between 1968 and 1970, Israel and Egypt fought the “War of Attrition” in which Egyptian soldiers were killed defending their country against continuing Israeli aggression and the preservation of Israel’s ongoing occupation of Sinai, a war that was fought on Egyptian soil; and in 1973, Egypt launched a war to liberate Sinai, not Palestine, and Egyptian soldiers were again killed defending their country against foreign occupation.
This leaves us with the 1948 war in which, depending on sources, anywhere from one thousand to two thousand Egyptian soldiers and volunteers were killed. This Egyptian military intervention to stop Zionist expulsion of the Palestinians and the Zionist theft of the land of the Palestinians was launched not by Nasser, who is blamed for his rhetorical support of the Palestinians, but by King Farouq.
As most studies of the motives behind Farouq’s and his government’s intervention in Palestine attest, it was on account of Farouq’s concern about Egypt’s leading regional role and fear of Iraqi rivalry and less so as some form of Arab nationalism or solidarity.
These motives aside, most Palestinians do not doubt that the Egyptian soldiers and volunteer fighters who died had indeed died defending Palestine and the Palestinians even if the soldiers among them were doing so based on orders that sought to defend Egyptian regional hegemony. But this remains the only war where Egyptian soldiers and volunteers died defending Palestine and for whom the Palestinian people and their national movement have expressed much gratitude.
But the way these one to two thousand soldiers and volunteers multiply to the tune of “100,000 martyrs,” as Sisi falsely claimed, is the stuff of fiction and fabrication, which the ruling Egyptian class of thieves and their intellectuals-for-hire and paid propagandists in the press have concocted following Sadat’s 1978 Camp David accords, which sacrificed the rights of the Palestinian people, including the Palestinians of Gaza, in return for Egyptian non-sovereign, partial police control of Sinai.
This is not to suggest that millions of Egyptians, civilians and soldiers, do not or would not support Palestine and the Palestinians, or that they would not fight for Palestine and the Palestinians, as they often avow and declare that they would; it is to say that aside from the 1948 battles, they have never been given a chance to defend the Palestinians on the battleground. This is precisely what galls the Egyptian ruling class of thieves and what propels the ongoing anti-Palestinian propaganda and hate speech on the television stations owned by this class.
Hearing their propaganda, one would think that it was the Palestinians who had occupied Sinai, not Egypt that had taken over and ruled Gaza from 1948 to 1967 and had laid siege to it intermittently since, imposing a full, continuing siege for the last eight years.
Despite these massive media campaigns, Egyptians are not deterred in their support of the Palestinians, whether by demonstrating against the Sisi regime’s complicity in the massacres as they have been doing in the last two weeks, or by sending medical relief convoys to Gaza, which Sisi’s soldiers turn back, refusing them passage.
Intellectual mass suicide
In this context, it is crucial to understand that this Egyptian ruling class of thieves is the primary enemy not of the Palestinian people, but of most Egyptians whom it oppresses, exploits, robs and humiliates on a daily basis. That the enemies of the Palestinians in Egypt are also the enemies of most Egyptians has recently been obscured by the role played by the cheerleaders of Sisi’s regime.
The intellectual mass suicide that the majority of Egypt’s intellectuals and artists (Nasserists, Marxists, liberals and Salafists) have committed in their abdication of their critical faculties when they supported or remained silent on the massacres and repression of the new regime, let alone their silence on the campaigns against the Egyptian poor and the Palestinians, is reminiscent of the suicide committed by Egyptian communists who disbanded their party in 1964 to join Nasser’s Socialist Union.
This class extends from the Marxist economist and indefatigably pro-Sisi Samir Amin to much less illustrious figures like novelist and Mubarak critic Alaa al-Aswany, and everyone in between including economist Galal Amin and writers and poets Sonallah Ibrahim, Abd al-Rahman al-Abnudi, Bahaa Taher, and scores more.
The suicide of Egyptian communists in 1964, however, was staged due to the communists’ understanding that Nasser’s repression, while unwelcome and regrettable, was ultimately aimed to serve their common project of nationalization and socialization of property in order to eradicate Egyptian poverty. It remains unclear what the rationale of Egypt’s contemporary intellectuals is in committing suicide in order to support Egypt’s ruling class of thieves.
Gaza massacre is “plan B”
That Sisi has outdone Mubarak’s policies in allying himself with Israel and coordinating with it against the besieged Palestinians is hardly surprising, since he serves the very same class and interests which Mubarak served. What is different, however, is Hamas’ erstwhile quiescence and submission to Mubarak’s diktat out of a sense of entrapment, which Hamas has since abandoned.
It is now clear that Israel’s ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians turns out to be plan B, wherein plan A had been a possible Egyptian ground invasion of Gaza that Sisi’s government had threatened to carry out a few months ago after it had destroyed Gaza’s lifeline tunnels (and this was before Sisi’s sham elections), presumably with Israeli help, with the ostensible purpose to re-install Muhammad Dahlan as Gaza’s warlord and get rid of Hamas and Palestinian resistance.
That the Egyptian head of intelligence was on a visit to Israel a few days before Israel’s massacres were launched, and that three Israeli intelligence officials visited Egypt a few days later, are only tiny indicators of the high level of coordination between the two countries.
The sadism and narcissism that are traits of mainstream Israeli Jewish colonial culture and which manifest in pervasive street mobs crying “death to the Arabs” and propel segments of the country’s colonial Jewish population to watch from the hilltops and cheer the slaughter of the native Palestinians is only matched by the sadistic and hateful propaganda of the Sisi regime media and that of the Egyptian ruling class of thieves.
Indeed, even while Israel’s slaughter of the Palestinians of Gaza continues, the Egyptian army announced on 27 July that it had just destroyed thirteen more tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, presumably as part of its own heroic contribution to the ongoing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
As for the “ceasefire” that Sisi offered a week into the Gaza slaughter, which was dictated to him by his Israeli allies, it has been appropriately spurned by the Palestinian people in favor of a valiant military resistance to their Israeli colonial captors’ criminality and a courageous political and diplomatic resistance in facing up to their Egyptian jailers’ cruelty.
Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history. He is author of the forthcoming book Islam in Liberalism (University of Chicago Press).