The Two-sided Attitude of Egyptian Patriotism: Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood

It turns out that true Egyptian patriotism is measured by two criteria these days: one’s attitude toward Israel and one’s attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Egyptian protesters burn an Israeli flag during a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, April 20, 2012.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Every Arab media outlet recognizes the knife-sharp language of Saudi columnist Dawood al-Sheryan. He is very close to the Saudi court, and his writing reflects the regime’s prevailing mood. Last week, Sheryan decided to attack the Arab media, which accused Egypt of military and intelligence cooperation with Israel and even charged that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi’s rise to power “was the greatest military miracle ever to befall Israel.”

Granted, the Israeli media went overboard in describing the “military alliance” between Egypt and Israel, and some of what was written in the Arab media quoted directly from (and even credited) the Israeli press. But Sheryan had a different account to settle.

“The media assault on Egypt is meant to depict the incidents in Sinai as a battle between Islamist organizations and Israel, under Egypt’s auspices,” he wrote in the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. “This doesn’t merely distort the image of the Egyptian army, it also thereby legitimizes terror.”

Nevertheless, Sheryan continued, this media assault hasn’t convinced either the Egyptians or most other Arabs. The way the media described the Egyptian army – “as if it had forgotten its glorious past, the days when it confronted Israel, defeated it and sacrificed thousands of fallen” – was, he declared, “unprecedentedly ugly and aberrant.”

Sheryan sought to remove the masks from the Arab television networks, especially those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood that broadcast from Turkey. He reminded his readers that Turkey “recognized Israel way back in 1949 and formed strategic ties with it.” Yet Arab journalists who support the Muslim Brotherhood, he charged, remember “only the confrontation in Davos or the Mavi Marmara affair.”

The former was a verbal clash between Turkey’s then-prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then-president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in 2009. The latter refers to the lead boat in a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in 2010; 10 of its passengers were killed after assaulting Israeli soldiers boarding the boat.

At first glance, this was just another attack by a Saudi columnist on the Brotherhood, which he accused of working against the Egyptian government, Riyadh’s ally. But then, a fascinating conversation developed among the column’s online readers that went beyond the claims Sheryan made.

“Weren’t there soldiers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian army that liberated Sinai from Israel?” asked reader Jamil Jamal. “Many of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the wars of 1967 and 1956 belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brothers, Mr. Al-Sheryan, aren’t traitors; they’re an inseparable part of the Egyptian people. The person who signed the Camp David Accord [with Israel] is the one who didn’t ask the people, and he’s the one who has to bear the consequences.”

Vox populi

At this point, the discussion took a sharp turn and began focusing on the Brotherhood’s loyalty. Israel became merely the excuse for this deeper issue.

“My dear brother Jamil Jamal, the Egyptian army did not and does not have even a single member from the Muslim Brotherhood,” responded a reader named Omari. “Because if it did, the army would have collapsed, as happened during the Palestinian Nakba and the siege of Fallujah.

“The Brothers are the ones who caused the Nakba,” he continued. “And we’ve already seen their treason during the days when [former Egyptian President Mohammed] Morsi rose to power and termed the Israeli president [Peres] ‘my dear friend.’ Back then, even Hamas didn’t dare fire a single bullet at Israel.”

A third reader, Saud Abdullah, opined, “There’s a cult in our Arab world that has appropriated a monopoly over the ‘resistance’ and isn’t willing to tolerate any party forging ties with Israel unless it is done their way. This cult describes Egypt the way Iran wants people to describe it.”

Abu Khalmos al-Masry answered Jamil Jamal’s criticism of the Camp David Accord: “Our country believes in honoring all the international treaties and agreements it has signed with every country in the world, including Nazi, racist Israel. The appointment of an ambassador to Israel or the screening of a series that doesn’t rely on historical documentation shouldn’t be interpreted as normalization with Israel,” he wrote, referring to the Egyptian television series “The Jewish Quarter,” which is being screened this Ramadan.

Thus it turns out that true Egyptian patriotism is measured by two criteria these days: one’s attitude toward Israel and one’s attitude toward the Muslim Brotherhood. But while the “Zionist crimes” need no further explanation, the war of narratives about the Brotherhood hasn’t yet been won – hence the necessity of scrutinizing its attitude toward the Palestinians. Did it fight the enemy, or did it do damage to the Palestinians? Did it rejoice when Israel defeated Egypt in 1967, as one reader charged, or did it mourn?

Only one reader, who identified himself as “Bedouin,” broke ranks somewhat. “When Israel returned the Sinai, the area was full of holiday resorts and projects for the future,” he wrote. “But after the normalization with Israel, most of the resorts were destroyed. Now Sinai is a desolate, forgotten land which fills its residents’ hearts with feelings of hatred toward all Egyptian governments, especially that of the Muslim Brotherhood and the current one. There’s no terror in Sinai; just hatred for everything that is called Egypt.”

Click the alert icon to follow topics: