The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In defense of Egypt's Gaza spin

This interesting NYT report by David Kirkpatrick tries to spin the story here as Egypt defending Hamas while brokering. 

CAIRO — While holding itself out as an honest broker for truce talks between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza conflict, Egypt’s new government sought on Monday to plunge into the battle over international public opinion on behalf of the Palestinian cause — an arena where the Israelis, more experienced in the world of the free press and democratic politics, have historically dominated.

In Egypt’s most concerted effort to win more global public support for the Palestinians, advisers to Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been an outspoken supporter of Hamas, invited foreign correspondents in Cairo to a background briefing at which a senior Egyptian official sought to blame Israel for the conflict while at the same time maintaining Egypt’s role as an intermediary pressing both sides for peace. “We are against any bloodshed,” the official said repeatedly, arguing that Egypt sought stability and individual freedom for all in the region.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting the talks with the Israelis, the Egyptian official argued that the West, which supports Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza, was essentially blaming the victim.

“It is so strange people are talking about the rights of self-defense,” he said. “The self-defense of whom? Of the occupied people? Of the besieged people? Of the hurt people? No, the self-defense of the most powerful state in the region and the self-defense of the occupying force of Gaza and Palestine. This is what some of the international community are talking about.”

The Egyptians are right to be pissed off, because another alleged "honest broker", the US, is doing less than they are to try to get a ceasefire. The Egyptian are trying to get both Israel and Hamas to a ceasefire, that is the point of their brokering. The US, meanwhile, makes statements calling on Hamas to end its rocket fire but makes no parallel demands on Israel. Take a look at a press release I received today from the US Embassy in Cairo:

November 20, 2012

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 19, 2012

Readout of President Obama’s Call with President Morsi of Egypt

Following the dinner tonight, President Obama called President Morsi of Egypt.  The two leaders discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, and President Obama underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel.  President Obama also offered condolences for the terrible loss of life in the recent train accident in Egypt.  President Obama then called Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and received an update on the situation in Gaza and Israel.  In both calls, President Obama expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and agreed to stay in close touch with both leaders.

The sentiment of regret about the civilian lives lost is nice, but why not ask both sides to implement a ceasefire, rather than just the one side?

There are other important elements in this NYT story, such as this:

Echoing an account presented by President Morsi, the Egyptian official said that Israel’s killing of Mr. Jabari had broken an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement that both sides had accepted the day before Mr. Jabari was targeted.

An account of this ceasefire was not just put forward by the Egyptians, it was also explained in detail by Israeli mediator Gershon Baskin in… the NYT. That might be worth a mention.

The story ends with a gibe at Egypt for amateurish spinning. Perhaps. But Egypt has never been a neutral party in this, it always officially favored the Palestinian narrative, under Mubarak it collaborated with Israel against Hamas and now it may be closer to Hamas. The old Egypt played honest broken in Palestinian reconciliation talks but backed Fatah against Hamas, now it may very well do the reverse. The odd thing about the article is that the headline and lede in particular is that it hints at a duplicity and spin, yet in mentioning Israel's own spin casts it as a result of being "more experienced in the world of the free press and democratic politics". This is odd to say the least.

Egypt, while brokering, is trying to engage the PR fight and cast blame on the root cause of the conflict — the occupation. And what is wrong with that? It's not like the Israelis are going to have their feelings hurt and leave the talks because the Egyptians have blamed them. They're not there because they consider Egypt an "honest broker", they're there because Egypt has access to Hamas and they're trying to influence the Egypt-Hamas relationship as much as Hamas itself.

The whole article is particularly odd consider the NYT's tendency, like many American publications, to make heavy use of anonymous Israeli officials and their spin.