Thursday, January 01, 2004

Hopeful Signs in the Arab Press

The problem with reading a MEMRI report is that one never knows just how representative of Arab press coverage the reports actually are. The accuracy of the translation is never really in doubt, but how is one to know that one isn't reading a cherry-picked compendium of articles designed to portray the Arab media in the worst possible light? Given the relatively positive nature of this particular report, that is a problem one won't have to contend with this time.

While visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque on his recent trip to Israel, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher was attacked by a group of Palestinians who cursed him, threw shoes at him, and called for the resumption of Jihad in Egypt. According to media reports, the assailants belonged to Hizb Al-Tahrir (the Islamist "Liberation Party"). The following is a compilation of Arab media reactions to the attack:

'You Have Cast Shame and Disgrace on Yourselves and Your Cause'

Two days after the incident, many articles and op-eds concerning the attack on Maher appeared in the Egyptian press.

Ahmad Ragab, who provides a daily comment for the op-ed page of the government daily Al-Akhbar, stated that the problem begins at an early age and emanates from the Arab world's curriculum: "In Arab language classes, the pupils are taught [the sentence] 'Omar hit Zayd,' but never [the sentence] 'Omar hit Cohen.'"(1)

In the Egyptian daily Al-Masaa, columnist Muhammad Foudah tried to stir a sense of shame among the Palestinians: "Did those Palestinians who attacked the Egyptian foreign minister... ask themselves why Maher agreed to take upon himself the suffering of going to Israel and meeting with Sharon and his cabinet? Did he go just to tour a country with which we have cut off relations and gotten into political crisis for the sake of Palestine...?! Do the Palestinians want Egypt to keep its hands off the Palestinian issue? This would be the easiest thing to do and has already been done by many Arab countries... You beat the man who came on your behalf, and it is Israel that takes him to the hospital for treatment. What shame and disgrace you have cast upon yourselves and on your cause?!..."(2)


'Hasn't the Time Come to Focus on Our Domestic Problems?'

Also in Al-Akhbar, columnist Said Sunbul wrote: "... Accusing the Egyptian foreign minister of betrayal means accusing Egypt of betrayal. This is not the first time that Egypt has been accused of betrayal, despite all that it did and does for the Palestinians. 'Betrayal' is a most used word in the Palestinian dictionary. They used it against former [PA] prime minister Abu Mazen, who preferred to resign; they used it against former minister Yasser Abd Rabbo and his colleagues, who went to Geneva to agree on a peace document that would guarantee a life of dignity for the Palestinians.

"Even before then, the Palestinians accused [Egyptian president Gamal] Abd Al-Nasser of betrayal for accepting U.S. Secretary of State Rogers' plan. They accused Anwar Sadat of betrayal when he invited them to the conference at Mina House. Had they agreed to participate in this conference, or to accept the principles of the Camp David agreement, they would not have made it possible for Israel to establish the settlements and the separation fence, and would not have needed to make all these concessions!...


In the Al-Ahram daily, columnist Salah Muntasir used more restrained language: "I am trying, instead of arousing additional rage, to maintain restraint. Egypt will not permit those who are the enemies of their own cause, the enemies of their own rights, the enemies of their own struggle, to accomplish their goals. This is the tax that we have paid and are paying, while those hostile and ungrateful people who tarnish their own image belong in [the] garbage bin of history."(6)

The liberal-leaning Hazem Abd Al-Rahman wrote in his Al-Ahram column: "... Are these scum of the earth capable of accomplishing something for the Palestinian people? It is reasonable to assume that they, like the supporters of suicide bombings, are the first to damage the Palestinian cause, and are bringing death upon the Palestinian people..."(7)

Mursey 'Atallah, editor of the Al-Ahram evening edition, wrote: "...This rabble, that patronizes others and claims it is more patriotic, still seeks to trap the nation in a cycle of conflict just to inflame the emotions. Everything that happened to the Palestinians as a result of their being dragged after the leaders of words, who for over half a century waved the motto of complete liberation from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea, until we lost nearly everything and Palestine was left practically without a river and without a sea, was not enough for them..."


'The Arabs Are Their Own Worst Enemy'

In the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, editor Jubran Tuweini wrote that the attack on Maher was "the height of baseness and of Arab humiliation. It was a free gift to the enemies of the Arabs, headed by Israel. Once again, we realize that the Arabs are their own worst enemy - just as the worst enemy of the Palestinian cause is the Palestinians, who have endorsed a policy of refusal and fundamentalist extremism as a way of behavior. How many times have they already served Israel with their deeds? How many times has the behavior of these groups already saved Ariel Sharon and his government?

"What happened to Minister Maher reminds us of the history of inter-Arab relations... A simple calculation reveals that the number of instances of Arab-Arab aggression surpasses the number of Arab-Israeli wars..."(10)

It seems a more detached and critical mood has taken hold of the Arab press where the Palestinians are concerned. Pity it has taken so long for it to come about though, and what are the odds that it will last? As long as the rest of the Arab world is willing to sustain the Palestinians in their illusion that all methods of resistance are acceptable, and every failing that manifests itself in their society is Israel's fault, there will be no peace in that part of the world.