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Egyptian writer discusses Egypt-Palestinian ties, press freedom

BBC Monitoring

["Midday Guest" programme interviews Egyptian writer Fahmi Huwaydi on Egyptian-Palestinian ties, Gaza incidents, press freedom - live]

Al-Jazeera Satellite Television at 1325 gmt on 9 February carries live in its "Midday Guest" programme an interview with Fahmi Huwaydi, Egyptian writer and Islamic thinker, via satellite from Cairo. The interview is conducted by anchorwoman Layla al-Shaykhali and anchorman Tawfiq Taha.

Al-Shaykhali notes the current "hot argument in the Egyptian arena regarding the relationship between Egypt and the Palestinians." She refers to Huwaydi's recent article that was published in Al-Dustur and not in Al-Ahram.

Asked about the impact of the current argument on Egypt's position on the Palestine question, Huwaydi says what is published in newspapers does not necessarily express Egypt's position, because its official position must be expressed by the foreign minister or other government officials. He adds that many crucial ! issues have become subject to various interpretations, and says: "I do not believe that everything that has been said regarding this issue is completely innocent."

Taha says that the Egyptian government has become party to the argument, and asks if the ongoing argument has caused confusion with regard to the position on the Hamas Movement and the Palestine question. Huwaydi says: "Certainly, there is great confusion. There is confusion with regard to information. I do not think that all the information circulated was accurate and correct whether with regard to the explosion of the people [in Gaza] that took place or the incidents that were attributed to some of those who crossed the border." At any rate, he says that the Egyptian position adheres to certain constants. However, he asks: "How can these constants be put in their right place? - for instance, with regard to sovereignty and defending national security." Huwaydi asks how such constants can be safeguarded, es! pecially since President Mubarak had said that he would not let the Pa lestinian people starve. He says that the main issue now is "how can the promises that President Mubarak made in his speech on 24 January be honoured?"

Al-Shaykhali says that Huwaydi had described what happened on the Rafah crossing as the "week of great confusion to the extent that we no longer know who is our enemy, Hamas or Israel." She asks: Has the situation reached such an extent? Huwaydi says that when he wrote those words he felt that the situation "was very confused to the extent that some people forgot that the real enemy is Israel." He notes that this resulted in mobilization and provocation against Hamas, which he thinks was somewhat associated with the Egyptian government's relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He says that he had hoped that attention would be given to the suffering of the Palestinian people and to Israel's attempt to "annihilate" them.

Taha says that some people believe that what was published by some Egyptian media outlet! s and journalists "aimed to circumvent the extensive Egyptian people's sympathy with the ordeal of the people of Gaza." Asked to comment, Huwaydi says that a wedge was driven between the Egyptian and Palestinian peoples, especially in light of repeated statements that the opening of the crossing was a conspiracy, that it was planned, and that it was the result of cooperation between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He notes that perhaps "to cover up a tactical decision to re-close the borders," a purely strategic issue was sacrificed; namely the sympathy of the Egyptian people with the Palestinian people.

Asked if he supports placing the Rafah crossing under Egypt's control until the problems between Fatah and Hamas have been resolved, Huwaydi says that the issue is more complicated. He says that the main problem is Israel's and the PNA's insistence that the PNA should assume control over the crossing. He adds that this issue remains under discussion in light of Isra! el's many reservations. Hence, he says that it is "difficult to imagin e that the situation will return as it was before."

Asked about the possible solution, Huwaydi says that it is easy to ask for reaching an understanding, but that it seems to be the most difficult thing to achieve. He adds that one of the solutions could be a "decisive Egyptian position," one that insists on breaking the blockade and protecting the Palestinian people from starvation. He notes that if Egypt insists on such a position, it would be able to achieve what it wants. However, he says that "political pressure" dictates "more cautious approaches and less decisive and less courageous positions."

Al-Shaykhali refers to Huwaydi's recent article in which he says "we want to understand what happened," and calls for an independent fact-finding committee. She asks if this issue has renewed the argument about the restrictions that the Camp David agreement imposes on Egypt with regard to increasing its security and military presence along the border. Huwaydi says t! hat the situation will not return to what it was previously because many issues have been raised. He notes that the Camp David agreement and the subsequent appendix stipulate that the number of Egyptian forces protecting 14 km should not exceed 750 soldiers. He adds that it has become clear that such a situation cannot continue, noting that the Israeli foreign minister herself has asked for increasing the number of Egyptian forces. Huwaydi says that he is ashamed to say that the Israeli foreign minister was the one who suggested to the Israeli defence minister that the Egyptians should increase the number of their forces along the border, which was rejected. He notes that this constitutes a sovereignty problem for Egypt. He asks: Can Egypt deploy the forces that it deems necessary to protect its borders, or is this issue determined by Israel? Huwaydi discusses the economic blockade, and notes that all Gaza resources are now under Israel's full control. He asks if such a sit! uation can continue.

Taha refers to a ruling by the Supreme Admi nistrative Court that stipulates that the 12 Christians who had converted to Islam have the right to return to Christianity. He asks about the argument regarding freedom of religion, and about the position of Islamists in Egypt on this ruling. Huwaydi says that he is not aware of the details of the ruling or the circumstances that prompted the 12 individuals to convert to Islam and then back to Christianity. He notes that about 50 per cent of those who convert to Islam do so for personnel issues such as divorce. Huwaydi adds that he does not believe it is not a big problem for Muslims when 12 people change their religion. He urges a "wise and responsible approach that does not kindle fires."

With regard to press freedom in Egypt and in light of the recent decision to incorporate all newspaper chief editors and all government press establishments into the bureaus and secretariats of the ruling National Democratic Party, Al-Shaykhali asks about the impact of this decisio! n on the freedom of press and on the Egyptian citizens' right to know the truth. Huwaydi says that it is impossible to separate the issue of press freedom from the issue of public liberties in Egypt. He admits that there is a problem with public liberties in Egypt, which reflects on several sectors such as the press. He criticizes the recent decision and says that it is "not wise." He says that it should not have been made because the chief editors of so-called nationalist newspapers must now become newspapers that represent the ruling party alone. He stresses that this causes more harm than good.

Concluding the interview, Taha and Al-Shaykhali thank their guest.

Source: Al-Jazeera TV, Doha, in Arabic 1325 gmt 9 Feb 08



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