The Scent of A Mirage



In the background was Camp David, a patch of earth that has come to symbolize Egyptian yearnings for a ‘just and lasting peace’. The Egyptian press corps had high expectations of a major breakthrough. An Article by Mohammed El-Sayed Said in Al-Ahram Weekly, an English language paper, began with the following words: “President Hosni Mubarak started a three-day visit to the US amid increasing expectation of an imminent breakthrough in the current Middle East diplomacy deadlock.”

“The focus appears to be almost exclusively on the next move in peace diplomacy, and the visit was preceded by a flurry of speculation in Arab and foreign news media on an initiative to be launched by Egypt to revive the peace process. The aim of the initiative is seen as the building of a Palestinian state by the beginning of 2003 which will then negotiate é as a UN member recognized by the international community é outstanding issues with Israel, including withdrawal to pre-1967 borders within three or four years.”

The article was titled “The scent of a deal” and had a teaser sub-title “Speculation that a peace deal is in the cards reached fever pitch as President Mubarak arrived in the US.” It appeared in the June 6 edition and included the following lines in the final paragraph:

“American officials have declined to make concrete statements on the visit. Yet a consensus is emerging among commentators é fueled by the meeting between Sharon and Mubarak’s chief political adviser, Osama El-Baz, in Israel last week é that something is cooking and that something is likely to be a specific proposal for the basis on which a Palestinian state may be declared, on less than 50 per cent of the occupied territories as the first step on the long road to a final peace settlement.”

A week later, in the same weekly paper, the very same Egyptian journalist, a well-connected pundit was writing a completely different story on the actual outcome of Mubarak’s journey to Camp David. In an article titled “Last Ditch Diplomacy”, this was his assessment: “By the end of President Mubarak’s visit, evidence was accumulating that the Arab side had lost the battle for President Bush’s ear. Which is hardly the case with Sharon. In his sixth meeting with Bush since taking office, Israel’s Prime Minister had effectively manipulated Congress and packaged himself as a determined anti-terror campaigner making common cause with the US administration.”

El-Sayed went on to write that “The seeming absence of chemistry between Bush and Mubarak was not helped by Egyptian revelations on the eve of the visit on early warnings given the US about a possible terrorist attack barely a week before September 11.”

“Mubarak’s meeting with members of Congress was characterized by bitter American complaints about Arafat and the Egyptian press. Nothing could have contrasted more with Sharon’s similar meeting on Tuesday in which all the Prime Minister had to do was thank Congress for its fulsome support.”

During the Camp David meeting, which Cairo billed as an ‘American-Egyptian Summit’, Egyptian TV aired the complete press conference and every interview Mubarak had with CNN, FOX and CBS. President Bush was given a golden opportunity to reach out for the hearts and minds of seventy million Egyptians. The press conference was aired more than once at the cost of interrupting World Cup coverage which is a major obsession with soccer crazed Egyptians.

There was good reason for an Al-Ahram pundit to have high expectations of the Camp David meeting. An intense amount of serious political activity had taken place prior to Mubarak’s visit. Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians had sent emissaries to Cairo to discuss strategy. El-Baz had met Sharon a week earlier. The Camp David meeting was initiated by the American administration and was Mubarak’s second visit to the United States in three months. The only other world leader hosted by Bush at Camp David was Tony Blair. Add to all these positive indicators the common view in Egyptian political circles that a resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is in the national interest of all parties, including the Americans. So, it made sense that a leading pundit would entice his readers with the aroma of something promising cooking on the stove.

Things started going wrong for Mubarak during what amounted to a political ambush by the New York Times. Acting as innocent as ever, they secured an exclusive interview with the Egyptian president on the eve of his meeting with Bush. Next thing you know, the headlines around the world were reporting that, a week before 911, Mubarak had warned the Bush administration about an Al-Qaida attack. The headline gave the impression that Bush should have known because Mubarak had given him details of the assault. It was certain to be bad news for the administration, coming as it did in the midst of congressional hearings on intelligence ‘failures’.

Now, how likely was it that Mubarak, during the entire interview with the New York Times, would dwell on a vague general warning given by Egyptian intelligence to American intelligence? Given the stated mission of his trip to the United States, is it not more probable that Mubarak spent most of the interview marketing his peace proposal? As things now stand, the New York Times has only released the sensational part of the Mubarak interview concerning the ‘warning’. A few days later, Thomas Friedman published an article advising Egyptians that they were entirely too poor to be concerned with the fate of the Palestinians and the cause of regional peace. Fraudulent Thomas did not bother to inform his readers on the exact per capita figure that is required for the largest country in the region to be engaged in the search for peace. Neither did he bother to calculate the enormous economic cost to Egypt of continued hostilities. Perhaps Friedman should release his income statement so we can verify that he makes enough to have an opinion on why seventy million Egyptians are not entitled to stand against the daily repression of their Palestinian neighbors.

Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, continued his sabotage of the Egyptian peace initiative by unleashing the vicious William Safire. These days, Safire has his own column and also publicly boasts of doing a little work on the side for Ariel Sharon. Indeed who really wrote the article that was claimed by Sharon on the Times editorial page? Sharon can’t speak or write English to save his war criminal derriere. Half his English vocabulary is ‘terrorist infrastructure’. An analysis of the ‘Sharon’ article gives every indication that it was written by Safire, a master of telling a lie that is just a shade away from being a canard. In this particular ‘Sharonfire’ article, Safire misled his readers into thinking that Israel was attacked in 1967 and had no alternative but to occupy the West Bank and Gaza for ‘security reasons’. Of course, the historic record is clear on Israel’s expansionist invasion of Arab lands which started with a so-called ‘preemptive’ strike and ended up with a belligerent thirty five year occupation that confiscated native Palestinian lands for exclusive Jewish settlements. But, then again, Safire and Sharon have always depended on the poor memories of their audience.

The Israeli government did not leave all the heavy lifting to its willing accomplices at the New York Times. While Mubarak was in Washington, Sharon intensified his assaults on the West Bank to the point of making a deliberate attempt on Arafat’s life. There have been over a hundred incursions into Palestinian towns and villages since the Israelis supposedly withdrew their forces under ‘American pressure’. Every day, news reaches Cairo of the latest atrocities in the West Bank. In the Egyptian media, the casualties from the relentless Israeli siege of Palestinian towns and villages are reported in detail. There is almost universal awareness of the brute nature of the Israeli occupation. The complaints from Congress about the ‘Egyptian media’ appear to be a deliberate attempt to create a wall of silence extending to Cairo and beyond.

If the New York Times ambush set the tone for Mubarak’s visit, the mid-term congressional campaigns did the rest of the damage. Sharon invited himself to Washington to make sure that his people in Congress sent a clear message of defiance to the President. As for George Bush, he is not interested in how to end the occupation. When pressed on setting a deadline for ending Palestinian captivity, the administration was evasive and not particularly serious. In fact, the American government seems quite indifferent to Israel’s war crimes and appears to have no problems with Sharon’s radical collective punishment program.

A few days later, Egyptian TV and newspapers were back to reporting the latest assault against Ramallah and Bethlehem, the most recent home demolition in Jerusalem and the American green light for Sharon’s last provocation. For relief, Cairo tunes into the World Cup.

George Bush has blown a chance to make a huge leap forward in processing peace for the embattled people of the region. Whatever was cooking at Camp David was missing a key ingredient, a serious American partner like Jimmy Carter. As long as Sharon and the Israeli Lobby lord over Bush, there will only be a scent of a mirage.

Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).