Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Morsi’s Agenda

The Egyptian Arab Spring experiment in democracy is failing. Last week, Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, replaced his security and finance ministers, and has now packed his cabinet with seven ministers drawn from the Freedom and Justice party of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. He is now struggling to show the Egyptian people signs of progress before the crucial election for a new parliament to replace the one that was dissolved by the Egyptian Supreme Court last year.
By law, the date of the parliamentary election must be announced within 60 days of last month’s referendum approving Egypt’s new Islamic constitution. Morsi forced the constitution through over the united opposition of Egypt’s liberal, youth, Christian minority and pro-democracy groups, causing a major rift in Egyptian society. The leaders of the opposition front, including groups that once supported his presidency, have refused Morsi’s invitation to work with his revised government.
Mohammed Adel, a co-founder the April 6 youth movement, asked, “how can we stand by a government whose political and economic policies contradict our principles?” He condemned Morsi’s policies for leading Egypt into “an economic abyss.”


Egypt’s economic distress was reflected by Morsi’s order to the Egyptian Central Bank to sell $60 million in an attempt to prop up the Egyptian pound. which has now hit an all-time low. Since Mubarak was ousted two years ago, Egypt has lost almost 60 percent of its foreign reserves, and is now struggling to stave off financial collapse.


At the same time, international human rights monitors are disturbed by signs that freedom of expression in Egypt is being stifled, despite Morsi’s promises to protect freedom of the press and allow opposition political parties to operate freely. Some of Egypt’s leading writers, editors and media personalities are being subjected to bogus criminal prosecutions originating by complaints from Morsi’s office. At the same time, Morsi’s government has purged politically unsympathetic news reporters from state-run media, and has replaced them with its supporters.


In addition, Morsi has allowed Muslim Brotherhood supporters to stage protests outside the offices of several independent Egyptian television channels, reportedly attacking some of their journalists.


Yet, the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to these abuses in an effort maintain friendly relations with the Morsi government.




The White House also ignored Morsi’s history of spreading the worst kind of anti-Semitism and Islamic incitement against Jews and Israel. It had not previously voiced any objection to Morsi’s public statements in 2010, when, as a political spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, he called Jews “apes and pigs,” and other slurs. The White House did not comment until Tuesday, after the New York Times belatedly published a report on it. The story was first broken more than a week earlier by a Washington-based Middle East think tank and was promptly and prominently reported by Israel’s English-language media..


White House spokesman Jay Carney called the anti-Semitic language Morsi employed, “deeply offensive” and said that he should now make it clear that he respects people of all faiths. Carney also said that Morsi’s statements run counter to peace and a democratic Egypt, and that the US government has formally expressed concerns about them with Egypt’s government.




The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Washington-based think tank chaired by Oliver Revell, a former deputy head of the FBI in charge of counter-terrorism, released a video of an inflammatory interview Morsi gave a Lebanese TV channel in March, 2010. Speaking in Arabic, Morsi repeated the notorious Islamic slur that Jews are “apes and pigs,” and called Zionists, “bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians” and “warmongers.”


The MEMRI video immediately became the subject of a front page story by the Jerusalem Post. It was also reported by a number of conservative and American Jewish media outlets. However, this clear evidence of Morsi’s anti-Semitic bias was studiously ignored by all of the major international and US media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, AP, Reuters, CNN, USA Today, and even the usually pro-Israel Wall Street Journal. This selective view by the New York Times, as the self-declared “newspaper of record,” of exactly which news is “fit to print” is especially problematic because it sets a standard of tolerance for anti-Semitic incitement which other media outlets then follow.




After it finally ran the story on Monday night, the Times failed to explain why it had sat on it for more than a week. The Times story focused primarily on a video of another 2010 speech by Morsi in which he urged Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists.” A video clip from that speech was broadcast on Egyptian TV last Friday night. In it, Morsi lashes out at America, France and Europe as “Zionist supporters” and calls Obama a liar who gives the Arab world “empty, meaningless words.”


The story also referred to the Morsi interview unearthed by MEMRI a week earlier. The Times also reported that Morsi’s office had stonewalled repeated requests over a period of three days for a comment on his 2010 statements about Jews.


The Times story suggests that Morsi may be reluctant to dissociate himself from those comments for fear that if he did so his Egyptian political opponents would accuse him of going soft on Israel and the United States.


The Times also notes that during the period that Morsi served as the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, he frequently demonized Zionists as “Draculas” and “vampires” and used other epithets against Jews taken from the traditional lexicon of anti-Semitism.




Undoubtedly, the Cairo and Yerushalayim bureaus of the major newspapers, networks and wire services were aware of the Jerusalem Post story, but none them have explained why they initially chose to ignore it. This is not the first time that has happened. Three months ago, the same media outlets ignored another MEMRI video tape of Morsi, who was already Egypt’s president and could be seen in fervent prayer at a mosque mouthing the word “amen” after the imam prayed for the “destruction of the Jews and their supporters.”


While Morsi’s defenders have argued that his saying “amen” to that imam’s prayer had been misinterpreted or blown out of proportion, no such excuse can be offered for his pigs-and-apes statement. In the same interview, Morsi called for an end to further negotiations leading to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he called an “illusion.” He insisted that all of the land of Israel belongs to the Palestinians, and called for a boycott of American goods because of its support for Israel. He also condemned the Palestinian Authority, which he said was “created by the Zionist and American enemies for the sole purpose of opposing the will of the Palestinian people and its interests.”


The video clip closes with Morsi declaring about the Jews, “they have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout history. They are hostile by nature.”




Nobody viewing the video clip could mistake it for a slip of the tongue or an isolated comment taken out of context. It is a very clear declaration of war against the very existence of Israel, and whose significance, now that this man is the president of the largest and most powerful state in the Arab world, perched along Israel’s southern and western borders, cannot be ignored.


Given the inflammatory nature of Morsi’s remarks about Israel, it is perhaps no wonder, that the journalists who helped the Obama administration sell its coverup of the terrorist nature of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi are now trying to bury the evidence that Morsi is an anti-Semite who may be waiting for an excuse to pull Egypt out of the Camp David peace treaty.


Of course, Morsi would not say the same things now, for fear of jeopardizing his lifeline of aid from American taxpayers, which has been worth $70 billion to Egypt since it signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The Obama administration has been careful to suppress any doubts it may have about Morsi’s dictatorial actions since taking power last summer, including the imposition of an Islamic-drafted constitution, which was approved by an embarrassingly narrow 64% margin in a two-stage national referendum last month.




Morsi has also driven the fragile Egyptian economy to the brink of collapse. Morsi’s erratic tax and government subsidy policies have delayed approval of a desperately needed $4.8 billion IMF loan which is essential to prevent the Egyptian economy’s collapse. The domestic unrest and protests against Morsi’s seizure of dictatorial powers has shaken the confidence of international investors in the stability of his regime.


Despite Morsi’s power grab and other provocative actions, the Obama administration continues to pin its hopes on him. However, his true intentions with respect to the Egypt’s future relations with Israel are not hard to discern.


Domestically, he continues to lead Egypt, down the road to an Islamic dictatorship under a controversial new constitution, whose deliberate ambiguities may pave the way for the establishment of Sharia law. The constitution fails to guarantee the rights of followers of Egypt’s minority religions, or to satisfy the aspirations of pro-democracy reformers.




Last week in Cairo, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer conducted an hour-long interview with Morsi, in which . He carefully avoided giving a direct answer to Blitzer repeated questions about whether he was willing to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and meet with its leaders.


Here is a transcript of that part of the interview:


BLITZER: “Does Israel have a right to exist?”


MORSl: “The truth is, I have already answered this question before this many times. Israel is a UN member, so the question seems strange, because the party who needs a place and state are the Palestinians.”


Morsi went on to explain the need for a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah to form a unified Palestinian state and for international recognition of their “full rights,” and an end to their “suffering from attacks,” which he said is a necessity for “a comprehensive and just peace for this world,” without any further mention of Israel.


Blitzer then tried again, asking Morsi, “under what circumstances would you be willing to meet directly, face-to-face, with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, or the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu?


Morsi again refused to answer the question directly, but ticked off a long list of conditions which had to be in place, some of which have nothing to do with Israel, before he would even consider such a meeting: “When peace prevails in the Middle East, when the Palestinians take their full-fledged rights, when the Egyptians, with their free will and complete freedom, see that there is no Palestinian bloodshed and that the Palestinian rights are not wasted and that the public platform in Palestine has one government, and that it is stable and it has free will, land and borders.”


The Egyptian president added, “It is not possible for me to move forward outside the will of the Egyptian people. . . The public in Egypt now sees that the Palestinians are marginalized and their rights are wasted and that Gaza is still destroyed and has not been reconstructed and that they do not have a state, that they don’t have complete passports. They don’t have freedom of movement. They don’t have a central bank or armed forces or a real capital.


“They suffer a lot everyday. When the Palestinians get their full rights, then we can look toward the Egyptian people and see what they want their president to do.”


In other words, rather than keeping his pledge to honor the signed peace treaty with Israel going forward, he was making normal relations with Israel dependent upon the Palestinians first achieving all of their statehood goals, and only then asking for a mandate from the Egyptian people, who have been systematically bombarded with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda for decades.




What Morsi was really saying was that he would always find some foreign or domestic excuse to avoid establishing normal relations with Israel, rather than recognize it as a goal, or even a possibility.


Yet, Blitzer and CNN deliberately glossed over the plain meaning of Morsi’s words, and failed to explain their meaning to its viewers.


Blitzer also did not bother to ask Morsi what he meant when he referred to Jews as “pigs-and-apes,” and whether he still holds hostile attitudes towards Israel and the United States.


Blitzer and CNN were apparently uninterested in rocking the Obama administration’s foreign policy boat, at least as far as its relations with Morsi are concerned. Similarly, the White House has refused comment on either the 2010 Morsi TV interview or his refusal to even consider meeting with Israel’s leaders. Instead, the White House has given Morsi the first official invitation for a visit by an Egyptian president for this March. He will also be given the honor of dining with President Obama, which, on occasion, this administration has withheld from Israel’s prime minister.




One journalist who has been tracking the initial mainstream media coverup of Morsi’s anti-Semitic remarks, before the Times finally published them, is Richard Behar, an investigative reporter for Forbes Magazine. When he sent Blitzer an e-mail asking him why he did not bring up Morsi’s 2010 statement, the response that came from Blitzer’s publicist was that the CNN reporter was too busy to reply.


Behar then asked Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, who is an expert on Middle East history, about Morsi’s “pigs-and-apes” comment.


Oren acknowledged that, “these comments were alarming, intolerant, and cause for serious concern. Still, we want to distinguish between what they (the Egyptians) say and what they do. We expect people to act in a responsible and accountable way. That Morsi and his government today played a constructive role in reaching a ceasefire [with Hamas in November], that’s more important — because it actually saved lives.”


That sounds like a practical approach from an Israeli diplomat who understands that his country cannot afford to give Egypt’s leader an excuse to say or do something even more damaging, but it is not an excuse for the rest of the mainstream media to refuse to report what Morsi said about Israel and Jews in general two years ago, and his refusal to meet with Israel’s leaders today and for the foreseeable future.


Behar justly points out, “surely, if the president of virtually any other country in the world had defamed an entire people in such a way – only a couple years before they got the top job, to boot – it would have at least gotten a few column-inches. Yet Morsi gets a free pass.”




Another media observer who was critical of the Times for its initial failure “to cover the hate indoctrination” by Morsi was Andrea Levin, the head of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Levin points out that Times’ decision not to cover Morsi’s inflammatory statements gave cover to other news outlets to ignore the story as well.


Elliott Abrams, who played foreign policy roles in the administrations of Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, notes that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of Defense Hillary Clinton both visited Morsi in Egypt without commenting on his extreme views about Israel. Abrams said that the failure of the mainstream media to even mention Morsi’s outrageous statements amounts to an implicit tolerance for the Muslim “fanatical hatred of Jews.”


More explicitly, MEMRI’S president, Yigal Carmon, told Behar that he has been fighting for 15 years to get the mainstream media to report this kind of incitement from Arab leaders. It was the same thing that most Western reporters did for Yasser Arafat. They would dutifully report the comments Arafat would make to them in English calling for a peace agreement with Israel, while studiously ignoring his much more belligerent statements about his intentions towards Israel in Arabic to his own people.




According to Carmon, “well-meaning journalists have told me that exposing this kind of stuff [about Arab anti-Semitism] is serving the enemies of peace. I think quite the contrary. You don’t serve peace by cover-ups; only by exposure.”


Seeking an independent view on the newsworthiness of Morsi’s 2010 comments, Behar consulted Gene Foreman, a recognized expert and author on the subject of journalistic ethics. Foreman is a non-Jew who served as the manager of the newsroom at the Philadelphia Inquirer for 25 years. Foreman agreed that “On the face of it, this is newsworthy. These were interviews that Morsi made a couple of years ago, but they reveal his thinking – the attitude of a key player in the Middle East. It’s legitimate to ask the reporters who are covering the Middle East beat whether they knew about this story in the Post – and if they did know about it, why have they not pursued it on their own?”


Behar says that the reporters he has asked about it have refused to give him a straight answer, which is itself is form of admission.


But despite the efforts by the media to help the Obama administration bolster Morsi’s credibility, Egypt is slowly sinking economically as well as politically.




According to a report in Fortune magazine, Egypt’s already substantial economic problems, including rising poverty and unemployment rates, have been further complicated by Morsi’s recent power grab and the resulting political instability.


Not only has he had to put the $4.8 billion IMF loan on hold, his actions have caused Congress to delay approval of $450 million in emergency US aid.


Last February, before Morsi’s election as Egypt’s president, US and other foreign investors were lining up to partner with Egyptian firms on new projects. The State Department had launched a $60 million “enterprise fund” to help start up Egyptian businesses, and there was even talk of negotiating a US-Egypt free-trade agreement to help cement US ties to the country.


Even after mobs attacked the US embassy in Cairo on September 11, Senators John Kerry and John McCain who had been early supporters of Egypt’s struggle for democracy, joined together to quash an effort by Senate conservatives to block US aid to Egypt. But then Morsi started issuing presidential edicts putting him above the law, acting like more of a dictator than Mubarak ever was, prompting McCain among others in Congress to warn that Morsi’s authoritarian actions had put that aid in serious jeopardy.




While Morsi has managed to get his way by bullying his political opponents so far, his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood know that his long term survival as the ruler of Egypt, and theirs, depends upon his ability to revive the struggling Egyptian economy. His greatest political crisis to date was not over the way he forced ratification of an Islamic constitution, but the angry public reaction to his moves to cut expensive government subsidies on food and fuel.


According to US Trade Representative William Brock, the most powerful lever that the US has today over Morsi is to offer him another free-trade agreement with the US, tied to the implementation of the democratic reforms which Morsi has promised but never delivered.


According to Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, “Egypt is on a hair trigger not only because Morsi abused power. It’s also because there are too many hungry, angry people without a future.”


Nasr believes that this represents an opportunity for the US to take the lead by helping Egypt to reform its entire economic and political system, as the US did over the past 20 years in Mexico and Poland. Instead of treating Egypt like as the economic basket case it is today, the US may be best able to turn Egypt around by developing it into a functioning free market economy.


But in order to do that, the US needs to have a partner in power in Egypt who is truly willing to put the interests of the country’s people above his own ideological agenda. Mohammed Morsi, at this point, does not appear to meet that criteria. The sooner the Obama administration recognizes that, the sooner it will be able to start putting its Middle East strategy back on track.



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