Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 4, 2007..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Cairo voiced anger on Sunday over a New York Times article that said the paper had obtained recordings of an Egyptian intelligence officer directing talk show hosts to play down the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that Palestinians should content themselves with a capital in Ramallah.
A statement by the State Information Service said: “Egypt’s positions on international issues are not derived from alleged leaks from an anonymous source. Rather, Egypt’s positions are conveyed by the president, the minister of foreign affairs and in official statements as well. All of the entities in charge have expressed in word and deed the inalienable position on Jerusalem in the UN and other international organizations with disregard for the threats of the US to cut aid to countries including Egypt over the UN Jerusalem vote.”
Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, is suspected by Palestinians of being ready to sacrifice Palestinian interests, including on Jerusalem, in order to please the Trump administration. But Egypt has been careful to cultivate a public image of backing the Palestinians on Jerusalem. On Saturday its foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, participated in an Arab meeting to underscore support for east Jerusalem being the Palestinian capital.
The article reported that it is common practice for Egyptian intelligence officers to brief talk show hosts about the messages they want conveyed and that one such officer, Capt. Ashraf al-Kholi, had urged hosts to persuade viewers to accept Trump’s decision. The Times article said that according to tapes of conversations between Kholi and four different hosts, the officer suggested that Palestinians should be content with Ramallah rather than east Jerusalem.
“How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?” Kholi asked each of the hosts on the tapes, according to the article. The Times said the recordings all appeared to match public recordings of the hosts’ voices and that one of the hosts, Azmi Megahed, confirmed during an interview with the newspaper the authenticity of the recording in which he is heard agreeing with Kholi.
“I am friends with Ashraf and we talk all the time,” the Times reported Megahed as saying in the interview. “Another intifada would be bad. I have no problem saying all of the things you heard in that call in public.”
The Times said Kholi held conversations with others it described as well-known hosts, Mofid Fawzy and Saeed Hassaseen, as well as with singer-actress Cevine Nessim, known by her stage name Yousra. The newspaper said it obtained the recordings from “an intermediary” who supports the Palestinian cause and opposes President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But the State Information Service said that Megahed was the only one of the four actively working as a television host and that he denied any knowledge of a man named Ashraf al-Kholi.
report claims that Capt. Ashraf al-Kholi is an officer with the Egyptian General Intelligence without presenting its readers with the slightest evidence as to the truth of this piece of information or that a person by this name exists in the first place,” the SIS statement said.
Nessim told Egypt’s Masrawy website that she had received no phone call about Jerusalem and never heard of Kholi.
The Times quoted Kholi as telling Hassaseen: “We, like all our Arab brothers, are denouncing this matter [Trump’s move]. After that, this thing will become a reality. Palestinians can’t resist and we don’t want to go to war. We have enough on our plate now.”
“The point that is dangerous for us is the intifada issue. An intifada would not serve Egypt’s national security interests because an intifada would revive the Islamists and Hamas. Hamas would be reborn once more,” Kholi said, according to the paper.
He added, according to the Times, “At the end of the day, later on, Jerusalem won’t be much different from Ramallah.”
According to a Times report in December, the Saudis have urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept Abu Dis as the Palestinian capital instead of east Jerusalem. A Palestinian legislator, who asked not to be identified, said there was probably truth in the Times report about Egypt.
Ofir Winter, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies who specializes in Egypt, says that Egyptian authorities were anxious to prevent Islamists from being able to take advantage of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration and therefore “wanted to control the height of the flames.”
The statements attributed to Kholi “can fit in with the desire to control the flames,” he said. “I haven’t seen [other] references to Ramallah as capital but they did want to be sure the crisis didn’t become too big.”