Today's sampler and analysis of Mideast media content from my pal Soccer Dad:
MEMRI recently found a video of Mohammed Morsi referring to Jews as "descendants of apes and pigs." Apparently in response to a column in Forbes magazine, the New York Times has now reported, Morsi’s Slurs Against Jews Stir Concern. Towards the end of the article the reporter, David Kirkpatrick writes:
“These bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs,” Mr. Morsi declared, using a slur for Jews that is familiar across the Muslim world. Although he referred repeatedly to “Zionists” and never explicitly to Jews, Mr. Morsi echoed historic anti-Semitic themes: “They have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout their history. They are hostile by nature.” Some analysts said the gap between Mr. Morsi’s caustic statements as a Brotherhood leader and his more pragmatic actions as president illustrated the many factors besides ideology that shape political decisions. “What you believe in your heart is not the same as what you do in power,” said Shadi Hamid, research director of the Brookings Doha Center. Whatever Mr. Morsi’s opinions about Jews, he has left Egypt’s foreign policy toward Israel largely unchanged, Mr. Hamid said. Mr. Morsi’s past statements may still raise questions about how he would act in the future if Egypt were not constrained by its financial dependence, relative military weakness and a network of Western alliances. But in contemporary Egyptian politics the gap between his past vitriol and his present comity may serve mainly as a tempting target for his opponents, Mr. Hamid said.
Though it's good that Kirkpatrick acknowledges that without explicitly mentioning Jews that Morsi's statement from three years ago "echoed historic anti-Semitic themes," Kirkpatrick still refers to analysts who insist that Morsi is "pragmatic."
In May of last year, Kirkpatrick answered readers' questions about the upcoming Egyptian elections. One of his responses was:
Q. I have seen reports of virulent anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hate speech at rallies of presidential candidates. Could you please let us know about these activities which appear to be highly disturbing.
A. A concerned citizen in New York asks about campaign rally rhetoric about Israel and possible anti-Semitism. I have not seen or heard any slurs against Jews on the campaign trail, and I do not think that has figured in the campaign in any way. Israel is a more complicated issue. All the leading candidates have pledged to respect Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But Egyptians — secular and liberal or Islamist — are deeply hostile to Israel. The overwhelming feeling here is that Israel has failed to live up to its end of the Camp David accords leading to the peace treaty because it has not recognized a Palestinian state and instead allows settlements to continue on territory envisioned as part of that state. An episode last summer fired up the hard feelings anew because Israeli war planes killed a handful of Egyptian security officers inside the border when Israel was pursuing some suspected terrorists; Israeli officials initially refused to apologize and Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy. But eventually Israel apologized, pledged an investigation and the situation calmed down.So most candidates have sought to balance their commitments to the peace (which is popular) and some criticism of Israel (which most here consider an enemy.)
It may be interesting to note which candidates are most hostile to Israel. Not the Islamists. Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh are relatively positive about the importance of the peace. By far the most hostile to Israel and even the treaty is Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserite socialist with support from Egypt’s secular-liberal and cultural elite.
In short, Kirkpatrick's response was that Egyptians are anti-Israel - and he explains why that hatred is understandable - but not antisemitic. He further explained that the Muslim Brotherhood isn't even the most anti-Israel party in Egypt.
In another question and answer session a few months later, Kirkpatrick responded to a question about Sayyid Qutb:
Q. I wish you had asked the following questions: 1. What is Morsi’s opinion of [Sayyid] Qutb’s writings and their role in defining the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Does he reject Qutb’s assessment of the inherent conflict between the Muslim world and the cosmopolitan West or does he accept them?
2. Hamas in the Gaza Strip is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Would Morsi criticize any moves Hamas has taken since gaining control of Gaza, such as harassing Western nongovernmental aid organizations, and even some Christian congregations?
3. Morsi attended graduate school in the United States for his Ph.D. in materials science, and yet has endorsed the 9/11 deniers’ belief that the World Trade Center towers collapse was due to explosives planted by parties other than the Al Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, Morsi has expressed skepticism that amateur pilots could have flown the planes into the towers. Does Morsi still believe this?
4. In his years in the U.S., Morsi undoubtedly was exposed to the First Amendment and the importance of free speech to Americans. Yet after the Cairo embassy attack, Morsi’s first reaction was to call for the American government to place the filmmakers of the “Innocence of Muslims” on trial. Why did Morsi demand this, and did he expect the U.S. government to comply? Thanks. — Philippe Byrnes | Albuquerque
A.I see you are following Egypt closely! And these are also questions that come up often.
Sayyid Qutb was a historically significant and widely influential midcentury Islamist thinker. And he was a part of the Brotherhood during the revolution that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. But he is now best remembered for his most radical and militant ideas. Those ideas were always controversial within the Brotherhood, whose founder, Hassan el-Banna, emphasized inclusiveness. And the Brotherhood has disavowed militancy or violence since at least Nasser’s revolution in 1952.
But I find Qutb often looms larger in the West these days than he does in Egypt or the Middle East, because his later ideas became the foundation of a different, far more militant and antidemocratic strain of Islamist thinking that led to Al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood has never endorsed terrorism or Al Qaeda. And when Al Qaeda took responsibility for the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Morsi — then a leader of the Brotherhood’s political arm and its parliamentary minority — was quick to denounce it.
We tried briefly to ask Mr. Morsi about Hamas’s rule in Gaza, and, in a polite way, he told us it was a silly comparison. Egypt is a giant and far more diverse. It has an established Christian minority whose rights are at least written into the law, and it has a relatively strong tradition of respecting the rule of law, compared to some of its neighbors. But I regret that we did not get a chance to ask him exactly your question.
We did not ask Mr. Morsi about 9/11, but, despite his engineering degree in materials science, his aides tell me he does indeed question the official United States government account of what happened to the buildings.
I know that a lot of Egyptians question the official story but at the same time think the attacks were a horrendous crime. I suspect part of the explanation is that many Egyptians, probably including Mr. Morsi, deeply distrust the United States for some of the reasons that he tried to articulate. And I think another part of the explanation is that Egyptians have been lied to by their own government and its official media for at least 60 years (and the privately owned media is not so accurate either). I sometimes have to explain to Egyptians that The New York Times is not owned or controlled by the United States government.
Mr. Morsi’s first response to the attack on the United States Embassy here did condemn the violence. It is not true that he first called for legal actions against the makers of the video mocking the prophet.
But his reaction was more than a day late. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is allied with Mr. Morsi, had called for a nonviolent protest against the film in advance of the day the protest took place, and afterward it continued to call for criminalizing such films. And when Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood both condemned the violence, their statements were mixed with criticism of the video. Many Egyptians seem to believe that it is possible to criminalize grave insults to established religions without intruding too much on freedom of expression — an idea utterly alien to the United States’ legal tradition. — David Kirkpatrick
Here Kirkpatrick clearly tried to draw the line between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with the former being moderate or, at least, pragmatic. He does his best to defuse the questions rather than answer them. Despite presenting an equivocal image of Morsi after the fact, his reporting this week showed a willingness to acknowledge that the Muslim Brotherhood may not, in fact, be so moderate.
In a related editorial,President Morsi’s Repulsive Comments, the editors of the New York Times write:
That kind of pure bigotry is unacceptable anywhere, anytime. But it is even more offensive in public discourse, coming from someone who became the president of a major country. Mr. Morsi’s comments deserve to be condemned unequivocally, as the Obama administration did on Tuesday. Jay Carney, the president’s spokesman, said, “We completely reject these statements.” The problem goes deeper than just Mr. Morsi, however. The remarks were made at a time when anti-Israel sentiment was running high in Egypt and the region after the three-week Gaza conflict in 2009 between Israel and Hamas. The sad truth is that defaming Jews is an all too standard feature of Egyptian, and Arab, discourse; Israelis are not immune to responding in kind either. ... Does Mr. Morsi really believe what he said in 2010? Has becoming president made him think differently about the need to respect and work with all people? So far, there has been no official reaction.
First of all the reference to Israeli is gratuitous. There is no comparison between the mainstream antisemitism in Egypt or most Muslim societies and the fringe expressions of hatred in Israel. The condemnation of Morsi is welcome, but while decrying Morsi's comments as "an all too standard feature of Egyptian, and Arab, discourse," when the Times has covered the issue in its news section, it has been given to equivocation. In late 2011, Isabel Kershner wrote about Itamar Marcus's book on Palestinian incitement.
In one of the most egregious examples of Palestinian doublespeak, Yasir Arafat spoke in a mosque in South Africa in May 1994, only months after the signing of the Oslo accords, and called on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.” As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process. Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”
Instead of treating incitement as a major issue, Kershner used the quote from Ambassador Rabinovich to make it sound as if the issue is partisan in nature.
Once the New York Times reported on Morsi's remarks, the White House responded with a condemnation. (via memeorandum) Elder of Ziyon comments:
I am looking forward to seeing the reaction in the Arabic media to this.
In response to White House spokesman, Jay Carney's praise of Morsi for uphodling Camp David, Israel Matzav writes:
And therefore he's not an anti-Semite? 'Go convince Hamas to stop shooting rockets at Israel for a while and we'll give you 20 F-16 fighter jets that are better than any of the ones you have' makes Morsy not an anti-Semite?
This hasn't been a good week for Egypt's Islamist government. In an editorial this week the Washington Post condemned Egypt’s climate of intimidation:
Mr. Morsi’s office protests that it is not responsible for these investigations; it points out that the charges against Mr. Yousef, as well as some other journalists, were initiated by private lawyers, who are allowed to lodge complaints with prosecutors. But several of the cases originated with complaints from the president’s office. And the government has not hesitated to impose its agenda on state-run media, installing its own editors and yanking unsympathetic news hosts off the air.It has also tolerated — at least — a climate of intimidation. The offices of several independent television channels were besieged for weeks by supporters of a popular cleric. During demonstrations against Mr. Morsi’s government, his Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets and were accused of targeting journalists; one was killed by a rubber bullet.While calling for preservation of democratic freedoms in Egypt, the Obama administration has been slow to take note of or respond to the attacks on journalists. Officials say they are feeling their way with Mr. Morsi’s government, trying to preserve cooperation on matters such as counterterrorism. Yet the United States retains considerable leverage over Egypt, including its influence over a pending International Monetary Fund loan the government badly needs. That sway should be aimed at preserving space for free media and a democratic opposition — which, in Cairo, is not just a liberal good but a vital U.S. interest.
This is much stronger than the New York Times editorial, which simply called on President Obama to give President Morsi a good talking to. The United States does have leverage, and the Post is correct to suggest that the American government should use it. This is why Morsi has been pragmatic so far. But if he knows that there are no consequences to his increasing authoritarianism, he certainly will not liberalize.