Egyptian media and the commentary of cruelty on Gaza
by Abdallah Schleifer
I do not think it should come as a surprise that Egyptian media has reported and commented upon the unfortunate notion that Hamas shares with Netanyahu the responsibility for the ongoing horrendous loss of life among Palestinian civilians in Gaza. They are complicit, it seems, by responding to the sweeping arrest of Hamas cadres in the West Bank earlier this month with a massive barrage of rockets fired in the direction of Israeli civilian population centers - Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba. The barrage, I believe, was quite different to the customary tit-for-tat exchanges of a few rockets targeting nearby Israeli towns close to Gaza, usually coming from one the more radical Palestinian factions tolerated by Hamas and on occasion by Hamas itself. But Netanyahu’s reaction to the Hamas barrage was predictable, in my view, and it all fit into that curious symmetry that often occurs in the Arab-Israeli conflict with militant elements in both societies having a self-justifying political investment in the other sides’ extremism.
What seems to have come as a surprise, as Al Arabiya News reported yesterday, is that there are cases of Egyptian media outlets going beyond that observation to a condemnation of the entire Palestinian people and praise for Netanyahu. Israeli TV news bulletins also took note of these quite extreme comments but in contrast, the Israelis considered such comments in the Egyptian press as praise worthy, according to the news channel France24.
Somewhat different, but even more bizarre in my view, was the comment last week by the Egyptian news presenter Amany al-Khayat who played a tape of head of the Hamas Political Bureau Khalid Meshaal in which he was indirectly perceived to be slighting Egypt by appealing to Morocco to join with Hamas in a struggle to liberate Palestine, rather than appealing to Egypt given Egypt’s past history of struggle with Israel in defense of the Palestinians. Al-Khayat could have responded to anti-Egyptian street demonstrations by Moroccan Islamists and Leftists, denouncing Egypt for failing to meet Hamas’ conditions for a ceasefire, but she directly denounced Morocco’s king. Her language was so abusive that Egypt’s ambassador to Morocco apologized and Egypt’s foreign minister told the editors of Egyptian newspapers that he was deeply angered by al-Khayat’s comments.
I believe that those Egyptian journalists, commentators and TV news presenters or talk-show hosts condemning Palestinians are an extreme response to Hamas’ status as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which the Egyptian government has classified as a terrorist organization. It also seems to be a response to Egyptian accusations that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is at best sympathetic and at worst participating in armed attacks against Egyptian soldiers by al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist factions operating in Sinai but reportedly based in Gaza.
The remarks made by some hosts praising Netanyahu and condemning the Palestinian people, I believe, are a symptom of what I see as a sentiment that has gathered momentum over the years; that the Palestinians, and in particular their leadership, do not appreciate the sacrifices made by Egypt in the many Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, the undeclared war of attrition in 1969 and 1970, and the October 1973 war.
But, there are other aspects. Egyptian TV talk shows, both on the many privately owned channels as well as Egypt state TV, have attracted a tremendous following precisely because they tend to practice a polemical, lively and sensational style of journalism, in my opinion. This reinforces the tendency that I personally believe has always existed in the Egyptian media, which suggests it is quite acceptable for reporting to be partisan rather than objective or detached and in turn for columnists to go beyond expressing opinion with dramatic polemical flourishes.
The most seemingly outrageous example of this tendency occurred during the second Palestinian Intifada, when a popular and respected columnist for a state-owned newspaper wrote: “Too bad Hitler didn’t finish the job,” in an apparent allusion to the mass murder of millions of European Jews. Of course, it seems that such a remark was gold for Israeli propagandists and pro-Israel advocates in the Western world. Columns of opinion can too easily become columns of cruelty, whether rejoicing in the Holocaust or dismissing the suffering of all the Palestinian people.
Cross published on Al Arabiya News and TAM with permission of the author.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.