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Egypt press shows mixed reaction to European Parliament’s human rights move

BBC Monitoring

The European Parliament (EP) convened as scheduled on 17 January and passed a resolution criticizing the human rights situation in Egypt. From the start, Cairo's reaction was sharp, including the cancellation of political talks with senior EU officials and criticism of "the situation of minorities in Europe". Egyptian President Husni Mubarak said that Egypt "never accepts lessons in human rights or anything else from anyone" and his government described the resolution as "as flagrant interference in the country's domestic affairs".

The row between Brussels and Cairo and the repercussions of the EU resolution was covered extensively by Egypt's pro-government, independent and opposition media. The pro-government media was not alone in supporting the Egyptian government's stance; some independent and opposition newspapers took similar positions and "rejected the foreign interference in domestic affairs". But the majority of independent and opposition newspapers ins! isted that the resolution was "long overdue" and that it was "stating the obvious, reflecting a reality on the ground and revealing the illegal practices of the Egyptian government". Many newspapers also described the government's "angry" reaction as "unnecessary" and "artificial".

"Unprecedented governmental reaction"

In what was described by many analysts as "unprecedented governmental reaction", the official Egyptian response to the EU resolution started with statements by Egyptian Speaker Fathi Surur, who said that "Egypt's domestic issues are discussed inside Egypt". He also attacked the EU by saying that "We are ready to open the files of human rights in Europe and open the files of violations in many countries claiming to be democratic."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt said, for his part, that the report "is rejected by Egypt in form and content".

On 19 January, Egypt's Shura Council, People's Assembly and cabinet denounced and rejected the EP resolution, and described it as "flagrant interference in the country's domestic affairs."

Egypt then cancelled political talks with EU senior officials scheduled on 22, 23 January 2008 and boycotted sessions of the Euro-Mediterranean. On 17 January, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned ! the ambassadors of European Union countries in Cairo to express its "complete rejection" of the EP draft resolution.

At a Police Day speech on 24 January, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak commented indirectly on the EP report: "I say to those who style themselves guardians of the human rights situation in the world: Where were you when chaos hit many peoples, how did you move when the hand of terrorism hit you, and where do you stand on the attacks, siege and suffering the Palestinian people are facing?" In an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Usbu on 26 January, Mubarak said: "Egypt does not need any lectures or lessons from anybody".

"Artificial anger"

Egyptian newspapers were unanimous in saying that, for decades, Cairo had not adopted such a "strong" stance in response to Western criticism. So, the issue became "a hot topic" for all the papers. Several prominent writers took a dismissive view of the government's reaction. In the independent daily Al-Misri al-Yawm on 21 January, Dr Sa'id al-Lawndi said: "There is no doubt that the Egyptian reaction was emotional and immature". In independent daily Al-Badil, Karima Kamal wrote about the governmental "fuss" regarding the European criticism, saying that "it is strange to see such ability to deny a reality on the ground that everybody knows". In opposition daily Al-Wafd, Hazim Hashim said that "this Egyptian wave of anger is unprecedented in view of the way Egypt has dealt with European and American criticism in the past".

In the opposition online daily Kifaya, Hamdi Hasan asked for the reason behind "all the anger and false right! eousness", wondering why the Egyptian government "accepts compliments and praise and do not consider them interference in our domestic affairs? Those who take praise should accept criticism."

In independent daily Al-Dustur, Mamduh al-Shaykh said that the resolution was "long overdue" and that "the Europeans have finally spoken after a long silence and after a long collaboration with the Egyptian regime". On the Muslim Brotherhood's website, Dr Abdallah Al-Ash'al spoke of the "clear rise in tone of the Egyptian reaction". He also criticized the fact that "the issue was transferred to the media, instead of being discussed through diplomacy".

Even in government-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, some writers were critical of the government's response. Salamah Ahmad Salamah wrote on 22 January that "the anger against the European Parliament appears to be an artificial anger".

European "arrogance"

The government-owned newspapers attacked the EP resolution with phrases such as "the Europeans' arrogance" and "flagrant interference". The pro-government voices were joined by some independent and opposition voices, as both camps described the resolution as "suspicious", "strange" and "weird".

Egyptian government-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, on 19 January, talked about "Cairo's strong response" and said that "At times it appears that some Europeans are still living in their fantasies of the past, imagining that they are the masters and the others are slaves! The paper also said that the European Parliament had adopted "a very strange and suspicious decision". In governmental Al-Jumhuriyah, Mumtaz al-Qut denounced the European criticism and called for reassessing relations with the European Union. Al-Ahram-al-Arabi also lashed out at Europe for forgetting its "imperial past" and the victims of two world wars.

Some independent newspapers were also keen to! criticize the EP's resolution. Fahmi Huwaydi wrote in independent daily Al-Dustur on 20 January, expressing his "anger over the EU's decision to condemn Egypt, while ignoring the human rights violations against the Palestinian human being".

"Zionist lobby"

Several explanations were offered by government-owned newspapers regarding "the mysterious reasons" that led to the EP human rights resolution. The explanations included "putting pressure on Egypt" and suggestions that "the Zionist lobby" was behind it.

However, independent anti-regime daily newspaper Al-Dustur was of a different view. Al-Dustur Editor in Chief Ibrahim Isa ridiculed the official suggestions that the "Zionist lobby" was behind the European Parliament decision and said: "Nobody serves Israel's interests in the region like our regime."

Source: BBC Monitoring research in English 5 Feb 08

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