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Whether or not there turns out to be any truth to the emerging allegations of Israeli espionage in Egypt, the real significance of the case is that the claims have already been accepted as fact by the Egyptian media and public.
This is due to the widespread belief that the Mossad has been consistently and broadly active in Egypt ever since the signing of the peace treaty between the two countries in March 1979.
Blaming the Mossad has always been an easy way for the security apparatus in Cairo to make it appear they are tackling problems without actually doing so. The two main issues that the Mossad usually takes the heat for are terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Spy scandals are an major tool used by Egyptian security to redirect public attention away from internal conflicts such as the struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood and to promote their own image as an institution working to protect its country's security from the threat of Israeli intelligence.
While the official Egyptian press, particularly the state-controlled Al-Ahram newspaper, portrayed the story as a victory for the Egyptian national security forces, reporting that the accused spy confessed to all the acts attributed to him, the opposition newspapers did not miss the opportunity to highlight what they see as further proof of the error Cairo made in making and maintaining peace with Israel.
Opposition newspaper Al-Wafd gave a detailed report on the accused's next mission, for which he was to travel to Israel via Jordan.
Such incidents are used by opposition newspapers to justify their rejection of the peace with Israel and to criticize the government. The flipside of their approach is to encourage the Egyptian phobia of Israel and Israelis, which suites their political and ideological goals.
Al-Masri Al-Yom, a liberal independent newspaper, quoted a high-ranking Egyptian source saying "the spy is of a dangerous caliber and Egypt recently refused an Israeli initiative to make a prisoners swap between Muhammad Essam Ghuneimi Hassan El-Attar and a group of Egyptians jailed in Israel."
Egypt, the senior source said, declined the trade because most of the Egyptian prisoners in Israel have been convicted for criminal offences and will be released after serving their sentences.
Egypt's deputy foreign minister for consular affairs, Muhammad Manisi, said Egypt and Israel were negotiating the return of 26 Egyptian prisoners convicted on criminal charges, and of nine being held for smuggling arms and explosives.
Egyptian High State Security Prosecutor Hisham Badawi said Attar would be tried in a State Security Emergency Court.
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