Jerusalem move: Duplicitous Sisi sells out Palestine

Jerusalem move: Duplicitous Sisi sells out Palestine
Comment: Egypt publicly opposed Trump's Jerusalem move, but evidence this is a policy Sisi actually supports comes as little surprise, writes Sam Hamad.
7 min read
09 Jan, 2018
Egypt's Captain Kholi bluntly stated, "Ramallah will be the capital of a Palestinian state". [AFP]
A recent report by The New York Times revealed that despite Egypt's public condemnation of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, an Egyptian state intelligence officer was briefing some of the country's most influential talk show hosts and public figures to support the controversial move. 

The Times received audio recordings of intelligence officer Captain Ashraf El-Kholi directing three of Egypt's most watched talk show hosts, as well as a prominent actress, to persuade their viewers to support the move.

In each of the recordings, Kholi is heard telling the hosts that Egypt "like all our Arab brothers is denouncing this matter [publicly]", but in reality "after that, this thing [Jerusalem as the capital of Israel] will become a reality". 

Kholi goes on to tell the hosts that Palestinians can offer no resistance and that Egypt would support a cantonised Palestinian state that entirely subverts the two-state framework set out by international law that recognises all land occupied by Israel post-June 1967, which includes East Jerusalem, as legally belonging to the Palestinians. 

Kholi is heard rhetorically asking the hosts, "how is Ramallah different than Jerusalem?", as well as bluntly stating "Ramallah will be the capital of a Palestinian state".

This of course flies in the face of Egypt's public stance, which has been to publicly denounce the Jerusalem move, going so far as submitting a resolution to the UN Security Council rejecting the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, while endorsing the non-binding one adopted by the General Assembly. 

In addition to this, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and a notable Sisi loyalist, cancelled a meeting with US vice-president Mike Pence in protest.

Kholi whispering in the ear of talk show hosts is not a huge revelation

But to paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet, methinks the country doth protest too much.

There's an old saying that the person who cries loudest at the funeral is often the one who cares least about the deceased. With Sisi's Egypt, this seems to be the case when it comes to its approach to the veritable kiss of death delivered by the US to the hopes of justice for Palestinians.

It's hardly of much surprise to anyone familiar with the Egyptian media that the information it broadcasts is conditioned and directed by the state. The January 25 revolution and subsequent move towards democratisation saw an explosion in the scale and scope of news media in Egypt, but it was clear that powerful state actors were using these freedoms to undermine the democratically elected Morsi government. Talk show hosts were fundamental to inciting Egyptians against not just Morsi but democracy in general. 

It was during this time that hysterical anti-Morsi and pro-military figures such as Tawfik Okasha of the Faraeen channel, rose to prominence.

We also witnessed how popular liberal comedy figures such as Bassem Youssef were used as useful idiots to delegitimise the elected government, by ceaselessly mocking Morsi, his family, social class and his government, claiming it was theocratic and worse than the Mubarak regime. 

It's with irony of course that once the Morsi government had been viciously destroyed by Sisi, Youssef and other liberal useful idiots were swiftly shut down. Their voices in the era of triumphant counter-revolution were no longer important. 

Instead, you had presenters such as Ahmed Moussa boasting of his relationship with the security forces, while Al-Nahar talk show host Mahmoud Saad was quoted by The Guardian as saying not only that covering the military should be off limits for journalists, but also that "you have to let them [the military] decide what to say… you don't know what will hurt national security."

None of these forces, regardless of their rhetoric in support of Palestine, would ever mobilise in the same manner, to support Palestinian self-determination

Thus, Kholi whispering in the ear of talk show hosts is not a huge revelation and neither is the message. In the Sisi era where the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is an offshoot) are the officially designated enemies of the state, we've seen a further confluence of interests between the Egyptian state and Israel. 

This is especially true when it comes to destroying tunnels that were built as lifelines into Gaza, which has been brutally besieged by Israel for over 10 years - a siege that was previously enforced by the Mubarak regime and continues to be enforced by Sisi.

Egyptian collusion with Israel is hardly new, but the way in which media coverage has changed to reflect this is certainly something unique to counter-revolution. Indeed it directly reflects the policy of the Sisi regime, where the Brotherhood and Hamas are depicted as folk devils. 

During Operation Protective Edge, the Egyptian media was at times vicious in its denunciation of Hamas and its will to cast them as the causes of Israel's murderous onslaught.

Read more: Egypt intelligence official directs television hosts to accept Jerusalem decision 

Okasha said on air that "Palestinians deserve to be bombed", while Azza Sami, editor of the state-owned media outlet Al-Ahram, tweeted her thanks to Netanyahu for fighting Hamas in Gaza.

It's of little wonder then that Kholi makes it clear to the hosts that the only way that the US recognition of Jerusalem could damage Egypt, is if it led to another intifada, which, in Kholi's words, "would revive the Islamists and Hamas", warning "Hamas would be reborn once more".

It's thus of little surprise that they also want the over half-a-century-old Palestinian struggle for justice to die quietly.

In keeping with the cognitive dissonance that reigns supreme in the Egyptian media, he instructs the hosts to push the conspiracy theory that Qatar, which according to Sisian mythology is also the main backer of the Brotherhood, is the one that has "links to Israel". 

This fear of an intifada and alleged "Islamism" gives us a double insight into the Sisi regime's position. Firstly, much like its view on Egypt's incipient democracy following the January 25 revolution, it would be inherently hostile to a meaningful Palestinian state where so-called "Islamists" might gain influence through democracy. The democratic self-determination of Palestinians is apparently not something that fits with Sisi's inherently tyrannical and counter-revolutionary nature. 

Secondly, it exposes the extent to which counter-revolutionary forces in the region - whether Egypt or Saudi or the UAE, or more widely Assad and Iran - share what is essentially the same logic.

Each of these forces publicly support two-states or some form of Palestinian self-determination, but each is more concerned with crushing the movement for self-determination and liberty among their own people.

When it comes to forces such as Saudi and Iran, we've seen how this counter-revolutionary logic takes the form of regional imperialism, with Iran's huge genocidal intervention on behalf of the Assad in Syria, as well as Saudi interventions in Bahrain, Yemen and, in terms of huge monetary support, Egypt to ensure its regional interests.

None of these forces, regardless of their rhetoric in support of Palestine, would ever mobilise in the same manner, with such military, monetary and diplomatic vehemence, to support Palestinian self-determination. The prevailing order among the region's tyrants and oppressors is one of "better the devil you know".

Israel's occupation and annexation of Palestine is a devil that Egypt, Saudi and Egypt's "Arab brothers" can live with - the same is true of Israel and the devils that it co-exists with. 

While Israel's apologists often lament that its neighbours are all tyrants, the reality is that Israel thrives off such tyranny, as can be seen from the way it zealously supported the destruction of democracy in Egypt, and the veritably muted regional reaction to the US recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. 

Sisi's Egypt might have been inept enough to have been caught outlining its secret support for the Jerusalem move, but it's hardly alone among the so-called Arab states.  

Egyptian collusion with Israel is hardly new

We've seen similar duplicity in Saudi Arabia, where King Salman publicly called Trump's Jerusalem move a "flagrant provocation to Muslims".

However, behind the scenes, his heir apparent and, some would say, de facto ruler of the kingdom, Mohamed bin Salman, has been pressing Mahmoud Abbas to accept a Palestinian state that would not only be non-contiguous, but that would also not include East Jerusalem as its capital.

One imagines that this mentality reigns supreme among most of the other tyrants throughout the region, despite what they might say publicly. These forces have watched as Syrians who rose up for liberty and self-determination have been subject not merely to prolonged injustice or counter-revolution, but a genocidal war.

It's thus of little surprise that they also want the over half-a-century-old Palestinian struggle for justice to die quietly. 

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.