CAIRO – 7 January 2018: Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) refuted earlier today what it slammed as a fabricated story published by The New York Times (NYT). The article, penned by David Kirkpatrick, titled
, alleged that a so-called intelligence officer named Ashraf El Kholy had conversations with four “influential TV hosts” with the aim of promoting the U.S. plan to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
The story suggested that Kholy persuaded the four ‘TV hosts’ — though that would not be accurate as three of them currently do not have TV talk shows — and sway them into accepting the U.S. decision, as well as using their position to influence people into accepting said decision. The report claimed that ‘Captain’ Kholy asked repeatedly in all four audio recordings, reportedly obtained by the NYT, “How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” Reportedly, several of the speakers on the other side of the phone call agreed. No actual proof that these recordings exist was offered in the article.
The first person Kholy allegedly spoke to is Mofid Fawzy, a notable journalist and much-respected analyst. Fawzy had been on hiatus for several years, returning to TV in late November with a biweekly show. Over the course of his decades-long career, Fawzy has never taken part in the Quds issue. The second person is Parliamentarian Said Hassassein, who stopped working on TV in November, weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Third is Azmy Megahed who famously stated on his show el-Malaf (The File) on el-Asema (The Capital) channel, “Egypt is being targeted by many, within the state and abroad, as it is a pioneer in the region.” Megahed also suggested that journalists and TV hosts need to ensure they are neutral, and are responsible for giving their readers and viewers reliable, unbiased material to think about and make up their own mind. Fourth is Youssra, the megastar and well-known actress, who has never presented any talk shows.
Shortly after the story was published, it started trending on social media outlets — people have long taken the NYT to be a reliable source that checks its information carefully and practices due diligence when reporting. Not this time. Not only has the NYT recently been biased toward Egypt, publishing multiple stories that have colored Egypt to be a “
, the NYT has also written this piece without checking the actual positions of the four people who were, supposedly, speaking on the line to Kholy.
As per their story, Kholy “could not be reached,” meaning that these recordings were published without his consent, which leads one to ultimately question the NYT’s legitimacy on two fronts. First, Kholy was not given a chance to explain what he meant by the phone calls, which could, and probably mean, they are fabricated. After all, the technology does exist for a recording to be fabricated if one has someone’s voice stamp.
Second, the story is based on leaked tapes, meaning that those, allegedly, speaking in the recordings were not given the chance to agree to the release of such tapes. This is supported by two facts. First, as per the NYT story, all four people on the phone, as well as Kholy, could not be reached. Second, both Azmy Megahed and Youssra have both stated that these recordings are fabricated, as neither of them knows anyone by the name Ashraf El Kholy.
Meghahed and Youssra both told Masrawy news agency and the SIS, respectively, that they will sue the The New York Times for libel. Youssra explained that this negatively affects her reputation as an actress both at home and across the Arab world, pointing out that she was not even in Egypt when these phone calls, supposedly, occurred; meanwhile, Meghahed told Masrawy news agency that this person called Kholy is “made-up and unreal.” It is also worth mentioning that the tapes have not been released by the NYT or the reporter, thereby questioning their existence.
In response to the story, the SIS released a statement covering three main points. The first point clarified who the four people who allegedly spoke to Kholy on the phone are, suggesting that it does not make sense for them to be approached to sway public opinion.
The second point dealt with the issue of the so-called Captain Ashraf El Kholy. The statement questioned whether this person is, in fact, real by saying, “The published story says that the person who called the four people is Captain Ashraf El Kholy from the [Egyptian] General Intelligence… without presenting to the readers the least bit of evidence supporting their claim that this person does, in fact, belong to the Egyptian General Intelligence.” The third point suggested that a big news agency like The New York Times should not have taken the Egyptian stance on the issue from unknown, leaked sources. The Egyptian stance had already been clarified by the President of Egypt, Minister of Foreign Affairs and through official statements and positions.
Egypt’s position on the issue has been clear since Trump’s announcement. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated on December 13, 2017, during his speech at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit that Egypt condemns Trump’s unilateral decision on Jerusalem because it violates international legitimacy.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid published on his Twitter account excerpts from Shoukry’s speech saying, “Egypt deplores the unilateral American decision that violates international legitimacy. The stability of the region and the world cannot bear any uncalculated action against Jerusalem and it will not be achieved in light of indifference toward the feelings of millions of Arabs, Muslims and Christians.”
He also added that “the Jerusalem issue should be based on justice in the face of the policies of violence and rewarding the occupier.... No party has the right to violate international law and historical rights to legitimize the annexation of land.”
Shoukry stated that Egypt does not accept dealing with Jerusalem outside the scope of international legitimacy, and that the Egyptian people will not tolerate any violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.
“We have a historical and moral responsibility to take a stance that satisfies our conscience and meets the aspirations of our nations ... We must stand strong and refuse to turn the world into a jungle in which the occupier defeats unarmed people. Egypt, which has committed itself since 1948 to defend the rights of the Palestinian people and has exerted immense effort to defend them with all its strength, will be at the forefront of any Arab, regional or international action to reject any attempt, legitimizing the reality of the occupation of Jerusalem.”
In a similar vein, the Grand Mufti of the Republic of Egypt, Shawki Allam, stated on December 22, 2017, “It is clear that Jerusalem’s heritage must be defended strongly for all eternity, especially since evidence ties both sacred mosques (al-masjedayn al-haram) and Al-Aqsa in the heart of every Muslim.”
The statement came during an interview with Allam on “Hewar Al-Mufti” (A Conversation with the Mufti) program on ON LIVE channel. Allam further added that Jerusalem is “deeply entrenched in every Muslim and Arab individual’s consciousness, as it is also in every Christian’s consciousness as well.” Allam asserted that Jerusalem is a sacred site for every heavenly religion and will remain Arabic as “God intended.”
“Trump’s decision has trodden over all international relations and their boundaries,” he emphasized during the interview.
Allam stressed that Egypt’s role in solving the Palestinian issue is pivotal. “Egypt is the leader of the cause and has taken charge of it. The Jerusalem question cannot be solved without Egypt’s endeavors.”
Furthermore, Egypt’s position is also clear through the decision of its religious leaders not to meet Vice-President Mike Pence. Pope Tawadros of Alexandria rejected to meet with U.S. Vice-President Pence, who was set to visit Egypt on December 20, 2017, according to an announcement by Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church in a statement.
“In the light of the recent decision taken by the U.S. administration regarding Jerusalem, which was issued at an inappropriate time and made in disregard to the sentiments of millions of Arab, the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church apologizes that it will not receive Mr. Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States during his visit slated for December,” the statement read.
Similarly, Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb announced his rejection to meet with Pence, saying “How can I sit with those who granted what they do not own to those who do not deserve it?”
In light of this evidence, The New York Times story which appeared today is clearly both biased and baseless. The allegations in the article are quite serious and evidence should have been published to support the existence of these recordings, as well as the alleged conversation that occurred between the writer and Megahed, where Megahed, reportedly, said, “I am friends with Ashraf and we talk all the time.” Yet, the story does not say that Megahed did confirm that this phone call occurred; furthermore, according to the story, “The origin of the recordings could not be determined,” thereby suggesting that it is unreliable.
On December 6, U.S. President Donald Trump announced moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the city as the Israeli capital. Consequently, international objection and protests in the Palestinian territories erupted. Clashes between protestors and Israeli security forces resulted in 10 deaths and over 2,000 injuries.
The Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on the U.S. decision, called for by Turkey and Yemen, took place on December 20, three days after the United States vetoed the Egyptian-drafted resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) objecting the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
Palestinian officials vowed to take all possible measures internationally after the veto on December 17 as the decision breaches all former United Nations (UN) resolutions on Israel and Palestinian territories.
The UN draft resolution, approved by the remaining 14 UNSC Member States stated, “that any decisions and actions, which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem, have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.” The resolution, however, does not mention the U.S.
On December 8, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cancelled his meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. On December 9, Grand Imam sheikh Ahmed El Tayyeb, and Pope Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, cancelled their scheduled meetings with Pence during his visit. About 3,000 people in Bangladesh gathered in front of the main mosque in the capital, Dhaka, to protest against Trump's decision.
On December 10, Tear gas was used to disperse protesters outside the U.S. embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. On December 19, Pence canceled his Middle East tour which was due to start on December 20 from Egypt.
On December 20, the U.S. permanent envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, in reference to the 193-nation assembly, tweeted, “On Thursday there will be a vote criticizing our choice. The U.S. will be taking names." Trump later threatened to cut aid to countries voting in favor of the draft resolution condemning his decision in the UNGA.