FILE - Ousted President Mohamed Morsi (L), Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (R)
CAIRO – 10 January 2018: Amid the upcoming presidential elections, Egypt’s growing role in the region and the positive economic growth the country is enjoying, different actors have much to gain from the article published by The New York Times (NYT), penned by David D. Kirkpatrick, titled “Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move”.
Being one of the most influential countries in the region and, arguably, the pioneer of many decisions, Egypt has often found itself subject to attacks from people at home and abroad. Their aim is always clear: advancing their personal or group interests over that of the state and the public. Still, the question remains: who stands to benefit most from the fabricated, “leaked” tapes sent to The New York Times?
Looking at all aspects of the Jerusalem issue and at the actors who stand to benefit from undermining Egyptian state security, four players are quickly highlighted: the United States, Israel, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The U.S., a close ally to Egypt, has harshly rejected condemnations of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel by relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Following the U.S.’ decision, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who had advised Trump not to move the embassy, personally protested the decision to Trump. Egypt then submitted a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution expressing “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.” However, the U.S. vetoed the resolution.
On December 21, the matter was discussed at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). A total of 128 countries defied the U.S. president’s decision, voting in favor of the UNGA resolution calling for the U.S. to reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Nine voted against, 35 abstained and 21 did not cast a vote.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vetos an Egyptian-drafted resolution regarding recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, during the United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including Palestine, at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
The vote, reportedly, upset Trump, who had prior threatened to cut off aid to all those who vote in favor of the UNGA resolution. Meanwhile, a spokesman for western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the vote "a victory for Palestine," but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the vote.
Nevertheless, Washington found itself isolated on the world stage as many of its Western and Arab allies voted for the measure.
Still, does this mean that the U.S. would stand to benefit the most from the leaked tapes? Although it may have had the motives to produce this video and “leak” it to The New York Times, two reasons illustrate the U.S. was not the culprit.
First, strategically, the move would not make sense. For the U.S., especially under Trump, now would be time for action. Time to show the world that they will not retreat from their decision that they are strong enough to stand in the face of 128 countries and still get their way. Moreover, the U.S. enjoys a proud tradition of being bold and frank about its policies, especially with regard to its foreign policies. That is especially since Trump has come to office. The world’s superpower does not need to spread false information internationally through media outlets.
Second, the close relationship between President Trump and President Sisi suggests that the former respects the latter’s intelligence, meaning he would not think Egypt would not investigate the matter and discover who is behind the leaked tapes. From the start of his presidency, Trump has been strongly backing Sisi, suggesting in a press conference that they both “agree on so many things,” according to The Independent. Trump continued to Sisi, “You have a great friend and ally in the U.S. and me.”
U.S. President Donald Trump meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 3, 2017.
Over the course of Trump’s presidency, he has reiterated that loyalty is everything to him and has been quick to heavily criticize those who appeared disloyal to him. Having continued to maintain a good relationship with Egypt, even after the UNSC and UNGA votes, suggests Trump has not perceived Egypt’s actions to be disloyal. It is, after all, the strong views of Sisi that Trump admired so much. This suggests the U.S. would not benefit from this move, as it would lose one of its primary allies in the region.
On a regional level, there are three actors that stand to gain from this, the first of whom is Israel. Under this scenario, there is one main possibility: Israel wanted to cause disruption in Egypt to ensure that the state stops pursuing its goal of pressuring the United States to reverse their decision on Jerusalem.
The U.S.’ decision on Jerusalem allowed Israel to continue the process of consolidating their power over Jerusalem without paying any attention to the international community or worrying about it. Given that, since the decision, Egypt has been in the first line of defense, it would be better for Israel to see Egypt engulfed by its own issues and its fight to show that the NYT story is false.
However, Israel is aware of the strength of its neighbor and would not undermine the intelligence of the state by attempting to pull off this poorly performed and clearly unprofessional fabrication. It is aware that Egypt is a big country with vast resources that would enable it to fight for its reputation, which the NYT has cast serious shadows on in their article, all while fighting for Palestinians’ rights, expanding national projects and developing the economy. Therefore, it is unlikely for Israel to be the player behind the fabricated, “leaked” recordings.
The third and fourth actors in the region are Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, and, perhaps, unsurprisingly, they stand to gain most from an apparent compromise in Egypt’s security to harm public peace and interest. This fact suggests they may be behind the inception and leaking of the recording.
Doha’s regime and the Muslim Brotherhood have repeatedly attempted to destabilize Egyptian society and instill doubt and suspicion into the minds and hearts of Egypt’s communities through spreading rumors and false accusations or stories regarding the Egyptian government and people.
Supporting this view is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television channel and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Saudi writer and journalist Abdulrahman al-Rashed, who wrote in an article, titled “The Story of an Intelligence Officer’s Recordings,” in Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper Tuesday that the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group has been cooperating with Doha for more than two years with the goal of destabilizing the Egyptian state to further their socio-political interests.
Rashed stressed the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar have repeatedly sought to affect civilians’ faith in the Egyptian regime through the utilization of the Palestinian cause, a sensitive topic to most Egyptians. However, he wrote, “they do not really care.”
Further supporting this argument are the revelations aired Tuesday by TEN TV host Nasha’at El Deehi, who revealed the identity of the alleged intelligence officer behind the fabricated, leaked calls with the four Egyptians mentioned in the NYT story.
El Deehi said the imposter who orchestrated the leaked calls is known by the name Samy Kamal El Din, an Egyptian journalist affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood; El Din is a fugitive currently residing in Turkey.
El Din hosts a show on the Turkey-based TV station “Mekameleen.” The channel has released an audio recording, claiming that it is of an Egyptian intelligence officer asking influential TV hosts to sway people into accepting the U.S.’ decision on Jerusalem.
Egyptian authorities added that El Din took advantage of his contacts because of his time as a journalist at several Egyptian news outlets, including Al Ahram, and called the four celebrities, while impersonating an Egyptian intelligence officer. The recording was then leaked to David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times. This, ultimately, proves that the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar were behind this whole ordeal, as they stood to benefit the most from undermining Egypt’s security apparatus.
Over the past two years, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar have repeatedly engaged in typical methods to promote their interests and halt growth in neighboring countries. Qatar has destabilized multiple countries in the region and has repeatedly intervened in the internal affairs of countries in the region.
Both actors formally criticized U.S. policies and attacked the administration but simultaneously continue to fulfill their own personal interests. For example, Qatar has spoken out against American policies repeatedly, while allowing the U.S. to use its air force bases in its land to target al-Qaeda locations based in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has suffered a wave of violence by armed groups and individuals affiliated with or inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. The violence has ranged from sabotage of public property to attacks on mosques and churches. All attacks and actions since 2013 appear to be aimed at destabilizing Egypt to illustrate that the state is fragile. Their aim is to make Egyptians feel they live within a fragmented society, one with no social control or order.
So far, Egyptians have understood the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar and have stood united against all those attempting to undermine the Egyptian state.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood throw stones at riot police and army personnel during clashes in Cairo - Reuters
On June 5, 2017, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, and demanded that Doha meets a list of 13 demands in order for dialogue to be resumed.
They issued 13 demands to Doha – then shortened them to six principles, including closing Al-Jazeera channel, curbing relations with Iran and shutting the Turkish military base.
Saudi Arabia subsequently ordered Qatari citizens in the kingdom to leave within 14 days. On June 18, Saudi Arabia shut the Salwa crossing, following the deadline. In August, King Salman of Saudi Arabia decided to allow Qatari pilgrims to access the country through the Salwa crossing, but the crossing was later shut again.
In 2014, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors in Qatar, after they failed to stop Qatar from interfering in the GCC countries’ internal affairs, according to a statement issued by the three countries.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani - Reuters
On January 6, The New York Times published an article, penned by David Kirkpatrick, titled “Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move”. The story alleged that a so-called intelligence officer named Ashraf el-Kholi 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 Kholi persuaded the four “TV hosts” to sway the public into accepting the U.S. decision. The report claimed that “Captain” Kholi 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.
Shortly after the publication of the story, Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) released a statement covering three main points. The first point clarified who the four people who allegedly spoke to Kholi 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-Kholi. 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-Kholi 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, the minister of Foreign Affairs, and official statements and positions.
Three of the alleged recipients of the phone calls stated that they will be filing law suits for slander. Azmy Meghahed, a journalist, and Youssra, a famous Egyptian actress, told Masrawy news agency and the SIS, respectively, that they will sue 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 alleged phone calls occurred; meanwhile, Meghahed told Masrawy news agency that this person called Kholi is “made-up and unreal.”
Similarly, Said Hasassin, a Member of Parliament (MP), stated in a phone call to “The End of the Evening” show, hosted by Amr El-Kahky, that he will sue the American newspaper and will donate the money to the “Tahya Misr” (Long Live Egypt) Fund. Hasassin also questioned how an intelligence officer would not know that Hasassin no longer has a TV program. “How can this officer not know that my program has been shut down before the Trump decision on Jerusalem?” This, according to Hasassin, “confirms that these allegations are all fabrications and lies,” he said.
In response to public anger, Attorney General Nabil Sadeq ordered investigations into the story published by the NYT alleging Egyptian officials are supporting the U.S. decision on Jerusalem.
The attorney general’s statement said the article published by the U.S. newspaper would compromise security and public peace and would harm public interest in Egypt.