Sunday, July 20, 2014

20-Jul-14: In Egypt's media, suddenly a falling away of the customary solidarity with Palestinian Arabs

Tawfik Okasha, Egyptian TV current affairs commentator [Image Source]
It's now 5:30 pm Sunday in Israel. Israeli communities right across the south have been taking a painful rocket-pounding in the past half-hour following a day in which the IDF has been engaged in fierce fighting on the ground in Gaza City's suburbs.

Since 5:00 pm, the IDF's Iron Dome intercepted 4 rockets over Ashkelon, and Tzeva Adom incoming-rocket sirens blared in Beersheba, Ofakim, the Hof Ashkelon region and Netivot [Times of Israel].

Against this turbulent background, here's an eye-popping analysis published today that lloks at how the fighting between Hamas and the IDF is perceived in one of the world's most complex and important Arab media markets. It comes from AFP, the French international news agency, and from the France24 global television news channel.

Egyptian media applauds Israel’s Gaza offensive 
AFP | France24 | Text by Boualem RHOUBACHI | Latest update : 2014-07-20

Since the beginning of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, much of the Egyptian media has laid the blame squarely on the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the tiny Palestinian enclave. Some journalists have even said that all Palestinians are to blame for their current plight.

Israel’s escalating attack on the Gaza Strip has triggered worldwide debate. Egypt is no exception. But there is little of the traditional Arab solidarity towards Palestinians to be found in the Egyptian media.

Adel Nehaman, a columnist for the Egyptian daily El-Watan, said bluntly: "Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas."

Azza Sami, a writer for government daily Al-Ahram, went so far as to congratulate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter: "Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas!"

Star presenter of the Al-Faraeen TV channel, Tawfik Okasha, an ardent supporter of Egypt’s military regime and known for his firm stance against the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, attacked the entire Palestinian population live on air. “Gazans are not men,” he declared. “If they were men they would revolt against Hamas.”

His broadcast was even picked up by Israeli TV to demonstrate Egyptian support for Israel.

Why the hatred of Hamas?

The hostility of these journalists is part and parcel of the movement that saw democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi removed from power in a military coup in 2013. They are now applying the same logic behind the ouster of Morsi, who was the favoured candidate of the now-censured Muslim Brotherhood, to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

In 2013, a significant chunk of the Egyptian media called for the Muslim Brotherhood’s “liquidation”. That same sentiment is now applauding Israel’s efforts to disarm Hamas, originally the Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. These Egyptian journalists link Hamas to ongoing violence in the Sinai Peninsula where in the last 12 months, armed Islamist groups have attacked Egyptian security forces on an almost daily basis.

Egypt’s current rulers insist that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are behind these attacks (even though other groups, such as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis and Ajnad Misr regularly claim responsibility).

Much of Egypt’s media toes the government line. They see the neutralisation of Hamas as crucial to winning Egypt’s undeclared war in the Sinai Peninsula. They don’t hesitate to criticise Hamas and Palestinians generally, who they hold in contempt for failing to revolt against their Islamist leaders as Egyptians did in 2013.

Some Egyptian journalists are shocked by this stance. Tarek Saad Eddin, deputy editor of Al-Musawar magazine, told FRANCE 24’s Arabic service: “These people are part of a media that takes its orders straight from the government. They have claimed that it was Hamas that was responsible for killing protesters in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution [which saw unpopular former president Hosni Mubarak removed from power]. But going so far as to criticise all Gazans is appallingly wide of the mark.”

Media campaigns against an entire nationality are not unprecedented in Egypt. In the aftermath of Morsi’s ouster in the summer of 2013, Syrians were targeted.

Tawfik Okasha accused all Syrian refugees in Egypt of being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the wider media onslaught resulted in violent attacks on Syrian refugees on the streets of Cairo.

There are 80,000 Palestinian refugees living in Egypt. Many of them fear an escalation in anti-Palestinian rhetoric.

Not all Egyptians are hostile to their besieged Arab neighbours. There have been demonstrations against Israel’s attack on Gaza in Cairo and Alexandria in recent days, but these only attracted a few thousand people at the most.

A group of young Egyptian activists, mostly linked to far-left groups, also organised a solidarity convoy to the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza. The group was turned back by the Egyptian army and sent back to Cairo.

Beyond this very small minority of pro-Palestinian militants, Egyptians are broadly unsympathetic to the plight of their Gazan neighbours. Hosni Mubarak fostered a general distrust of Palestinians for years. It hasn’t gone away.

No comments: