Egyptian Silence on Gaza is Deafening

Amr Khalifa

Published July 11th, 2014 . Original article here link

Imagine a gun for a pillow and an incoming rocket for a roof over your head: welcome to life as a Palestinian.

The news out of Gaza is bleaker by the minute: 98 killed, including 22 children according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The disaster is as much one of increasing casualty tolls as it is a distasteful disaster of Arab silence. Whereas in days past Egyptian presidents paid lip service, at the very least, to the Palestinian polemic, nowadays the country’s foreign ministry is emblematic of the systematic absence of an Arab policy position on Israel-Palestine.

Politicians are not laymen and their calculations are traditionally cynical: what will I gain and what will I lose governs international politics. But since when is foreign affairs the art of silence to human tragedy? This has become the modus operandi in 2014 for Arab leaders like Egypt’s Abdel Fatah El Sisi. The question remains, nevertheless: why has Egypt’s foreign policy approach to Israeli war crimes in Gaza become one of moral indifference?

For Egyptians above the age of 50, the memories of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt remain fresh and alive, and particularly poignant now. It was a time when Egyptian national security seemed destined to forever be intertwined with the Palestinian cause. Nasser’s rhetoric, if not his action, was consistently fiery. The iconic leader was the supreme orator who once uttered the three famous no’s: ‘no peace with Israel,’ ‘no recognition of Israel,’ ‘no negotiation with Israel.’

Almost five decades later, Nasser has been replaced by a man whose Ramadan fasts consist not only of the traditional deprivations of food and drink, but also of an unwillingness to engage in stern discourse against Israel. Unlike his predecessor, Sisi has made little effort to speak out against the crimes committed against innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip. Since Israel began its latest incursion, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” on July 8 Egypt’s foreign affairs ministry has done little more than call on all combatants, Palestinian and Israeli alike, to ‘adhere to the truce brokered by Egypt in [November] 2012.’ That previous, major Israeli offensive into Gaza was, ironically, brought to an end thanks to the intervention of Sisi’s ousted predecessor and Muslim Brotherhoodopponent, Mohamed Morsi .

In case there be any doubt about the official Egyptian position, the deputy editor-in-chief of Al Ahram, the semi-formal voice of the Egyptian government, congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a job well done at the onset of the Israeli assault. ‘We thank you Netanyahu, may God increase the likes of you, to finish off the likes of Hamas, the center of corruption and betrayal and an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood,’ Azza Samy said on her Facebook page. While not an official statement, it is, nonetheless, highly emblematic of the not so well-kept secret of Egypt’s current antagonism vis a vis Hamas.

According to official state narratives since Morsi’s ouster, the former president’s administration had an open door policy toward Hamas, which purportedly acts as the Muslim Brotherhood’s agent in Palestine. The current government claims the Morsi regime shared state secrets with its Palestinian counterpart. Morsi also, allegedly, ignored the supposed fact that Hamas’ military wing entered Egypt, invaded its prisons, and freed numerous political prisoners at the outset of the January 25 revolution.

To the average Egyptian, force-fed a steady diet of government doctrine via private and government owned television stations, Hamas has become an extension of the ‘terrorist’ Muslim Brotherhood. According to the prevailing mood in Egypt, if Gaza, where the vast majority of Palestinian deaths have occurred, is under Hamas control then these deaths are, on some perverse level, palatable, or at least less than tragic. Despite reports from well-respected outlets like Haaretz, documenting the Israeli army’s indiscriminate killing of civilians, including innocent children, the mainstream Egyptian media, with few exceptions, has remained silent.

Notwithstanding state and media attitudes, the Egyptian population and its attitude toward Palestine cannot be painted with broad brushstrokes. While some are consumed by hostility toward Hamas, others cry out for lost Palestinian lives. In fact, within the Egyptian social media community, a united defense of Palestinian identity and dignity is impossible to miss. Quite sadly, however, the Twitter and Facebook ‘liberalati literati’ are not Egypt. The pro-government camp, while not representing all of Egypt, does reflect its largest block. For those tens of millions, the rise in gasoline and electricity prices are a far more pressing concern than an Israeli attack on Gaza.

The same moral bulwark that allowed millions of Egyptians to remain silent after the August 2013 massacre of hundreds of Brotherhood supporters in Cairo’s Rabba al-Adaweya square has emerged now to muzzle empathy for the Palestinians. Egypt is on a march toward ultra-nationalism that includes a penchant for isolationism, and it will not relent as more Palestinian lives are lost by the hour. Those marginal voices in Egypt that shout down Israel’s actions in Gaza are easily ignored. These individuals, from Nasserites, socialists, revolutionaries, and Islamists, are of no interest to the current Egyptian regime and, therefore, easily dismissed.

In the Egyptian political sphere, the opposition, what little of it still exists, roars like a tiger but bears no claws or teeth. It is likely, then, that as Israel’s unrelenting assault against the open-air prison of Gaza continues, the Sisi regime will barely blink an eye. Ramadan is in full swing and the President cannot be moved to break his fast.



About Amr Khalifa

An analyst, a political comentator on the uber complex Egyptian and MENA scene. I may not have every answer but I know the questions to ask. When not publishing in Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Daily News Egypt and Muftah I love the dynamic of the short story. If you adore the written word you have come to the right place. Pull up a chair and join me for a cup of literary tea.
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