The Image of the Palestinians in Egypt, 1982-85

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VOL. 16

1986/87

No. 2
P. 45
Articles
The Image of the Palestinians in Egypt, 1982-85
FULL TEXT

 

It is not easy to discern the image of the Palestinian in Egyptian public opinion. Aside from the fact that few surveys exist-indeed, only two extremely limited studies-the very concept of public opinion in a country such as Egypt is the subject of considerable disagreement among researchers, both for scientific and political reasons. [1] 

 

In these circumstances, we have elected to analyze the parameters that may influence the formation of this image: interaction at a social level; the value system, education, and received ideas; the dominant conceptions of the Arab-Zionist conflict; the status of Egyptian-Palestinian political relations; the positions of the Egyptian political parties concerning the Palestinian cause; and the image conveyed by the mass media. It will be noted that these parameters are not of the same nature, the first three being relatively stable, the others more fluid. It must also be noted here that the image of the Palestinian cannot be analyzed outside the context of the Arab-Zionist conflict, of which the Palestinian cause is the core and to which Egypt is a party, whatever one may think of its effective participation

 

The Image of the "Bad Palestinian": 1977-81

 

During the period from Sadat's November 1977 visit to Jerusalem until 1981, there was an increase in negative press coverage that tended to promote what may be called the image of the "bad Palestinian." This was quite obviously designed to justify in Egyptian eyes the separate peace with Israel and the ruptures which followed at the Egyptian and Arab levels, notably in Egyptian-Palestinian relations. Attitudes of the following sort began to flourish: the Palestinians sold their land to the Jews and are therefore solely responsible for their tragedy; the Palestinians live like millionaires and profit from their national cause; ignorant and backward Arabs are envious of Egypt's stability and superiority and want to fight Israel to the last Egyptian; the wars Egypt waged against Israel "for Palestine" are responsible for its economic woes, so peace should bring prosperity; and so on.

 

Towards the end of the 1970s, the Egyptian press began to use the term "Palestinian armed elements" instead of "Palestinian fida'iyyin." Similarly, the resistance operations in Israel and the occupied territories were depicted as expressing "Palestinian despair" or as "an invitation for Israel to invade Lebanon." The Palestinian organizations were referred to as "terrorist," and the Palestinian leadership was judged "misguided," "cut off from the people," made up of "agents of Arab and foreign regimes," even "nightclub militants," and other insulting epithets. Meanwhile, the image of the Israeli had undergone parallel changes within the framework of the cultural normalization policy, and the media abandoned the long-utilized words and formulas derogatory to Israel.

 

Another change during this period was the way in which the Arab- Zionist dispute was presented. The conflict came to be described as primarily of a psychological nature, or as arising from Arab-Egyptian differences, the Soviet danger, etc., so as to reduce the central issue to the level of a secondary contradiction. Some commentators suggested that Egypt had no interest in the wars it had waged against Israel. And while the impact of these ideas has not been studied as such, an opinion survey conducted in 1980, [2] when this campaign had begun to bear fruit, revealed a negative attitude towards Palestinians among the students, academics, journalists, and professionals polled. According to this survey, Palestinians constituted the group the "farthest removed" from Egyptians among all Arabs except Libyans. Of those polled, 28 percent regarded the Palestinians' predominant trait as "disloyalty." (It is true that there were also 32 percent who saw them as "courageous," and 17 percent as "intelligent." Moreover, the study revealed no improvement in Egyptian attitudes towards Israel, despite the efforts to that end on the part of the government and the mass media.)

 

A good illustration of the kind of attitude found during this period is the commentary of the popular journalist Mustafa Amin just after the assassination in Cyprus of Yusuf al-Siba'i, Egypt's minister of culture and a noted writer, by a Palestinian group. In his column in the newspaper al-Akhbar of 20 February 1978, Mr. Amin wrote:

 

Each one of the thousands of people who participated in the funeral asked himself: Is this what we get for having waged four wars for those who killed him? For having deprived ourselves of bread in order to recover their lost land? For having reached the brink of bankruptcy, we who had been the richest country of the region, by spending on arms aimed at liberating each square inch of land occupied by the enemy? For having been deprived, in their name, of freedom, justice, and democracy for twenty-five years? For having eaten bread mixed with earth, for having endured sufferings each day of our lives? For having deprived our children of the places in the university that were their due so they could have them? For living in cemeteries and hovels which even beasts would shun? For having used construction materials to build fortifications? For having neglected every reform in our country in the interests of the cause, to which we devoted all our efforts, our thoughts, and our blood? For having tasted death so they could live? Are these bullets our reward for our thousands of young men fallen as martyrs, for our sons who lost a hand, a leg, or their eyes? Are those words what we sacrificed ourselves for so that Gaza and the West Bank would be evacuated before the Sinai? Our people do not deserve such ingratitude!

 

There is no question that this tone, which was by no means consistent in the media of the period, had an impact on Egyptian opinion. Nonetheless, it should be noted that even when media attacks against the Palestinians and Arabs were at their peak, the 1978 call for Egypt's neutrality by Tawfiq al-Hakim unleashed a debate that clearly demonstrated how deeply rooted was Arab nationalism among the overwhelming majority of Egyptian intellectuals. [3] 

 

The Factors Influencing the Evolution of the Palestinian Image

 

To return to the period of this study, 1982-85, we shall begin by reviewing the parameters which actually determine the image of the Palestinian in Egyptian opinion.

 

Social Interaction

 

Numerous Egyptians come in contact with Palestinians in their daily lives, and the impressions they form through these relations often spread to the community at large. This social interaction between Egyptians and Palestinians unfolds within three principal spheres:

 

1) Palestinians in Egyptian Society: To all intents and purposes, this interaction is limited essentially to students at Egyptian universities and to a small number of businessmen and merchants. As it is virtually nonexistent for Egyptian peasants and workers, the situation in Egypt cannot be compared with that of Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, or Syria.

 

2) Egyptian Militants in the Ranks of the Palestinian Resistance: Returning Egyptian intellectuals conveyed a largely positive image of the Palestinian resistance in their writings. This phenomenon witnessed a marked evolution after the Lebanese war in 1982 and the resistance of Beirut. It should be mentioned here that the funeral of two Egyptians killed during the Israeli bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis on 1 October 1985 developed into a popular Egyptian demonstration of solidarity with the Palestinian people in which many normally "apolitical" citizens took part.

 

3) Palestinians and Egyptians in the Oil-Producing Countries: This sphere theoretically involves between 1.5 and 3 million Egyptian workers abroad, a figure that must be multiplied by five if one takes into account the workers' families. Certain studies have been conducted on this subject, notably a survey of a group of Egyptians working in the Gulf, [4] which shows that the prevailing attitude within these communities concerning the Palestinians is negative. Of these Egyptians, 49 percent believe that the Palestinians are the source of the hostile feelings they encounter, as opposed to 19. 1 percent for the Syrians and 12.5 percent for the Iraqis. This phenomenon is attributed by the author of the study to the fierce competition between the two groups in the labor market, rather than to political or regional motives, as is the case with the Syrian or Iraqi communities.

 

Education and the Value System

 

A study concerning the political education of Egyptian children through their school textbooks (in history, geography, and civic education) noted that in 1981, "only 16 percent of instruction was aimed at promoting the sense of belonging to the Arab nation, whereas 54 percent was devoted to Pharaonic Egypt and 30 percent to the Egyptian identity per se, above and beyond the stress placed on Egyptian citizenship considered independently of the Arab or Islamic nation." [5] Particularly significant is the minor importance accorded to Palestine. Moreover, school programs have been revised to reflect the needs of the normalization policy with Israel. As an example, between 1980 and 1981, the following paragraph was withdrawn from a sixth grade geography book (although there are indications that the change was already under study immediately after the 1973 war).

 

In 1948, Zionist Jews, assisted by the imperialist powers, succeeded in taking over the land of Palestine. They drove out most of the Arab inhabitants and usurped their land. However, the Palestinians and all the Arabs worked toward the liberation of Palestine and for the return of the Palestinian people to their homeland. [6] 

 

Concerning the question of value systems more generally, the changes which have taken place in Egyptian society over the past years have unquestionably influenced the evolving image of the Palestinians. The spread of consumer society values in the 1970s and a greater reliance on the central government have reinforced the isolationist and individualistic orientation of the Egyptians, weakening the feeling of belonging to a larger community. One can even say that the value system which flourished in the 1970s constituted one of the pillars of the policy of a separate peace with Israel, encouraging a negative attitude toward Palestinians (though likewise affecting Egypt's sense of identity and attitudes towards security).

 

The Dominant Ideas Concerning the Conflict

 

The three most common approaches to the Middle East conflict in Egypt are the following

 

First is the Islamic framework, which sees the conflict as pitting Judaism against Islam. The second sees the conflict as being between Arabs and Zionists. A variation on this model opposes American imperialism and Israel, on the one hand, with Arab national liberation forces supported by the socialist countries on the other. The third concept sees the conflict as being strictly between Israelis and Palestinians, considering Egypt to be involved only if its security is directly threatened.

 

These three basic concepts have lost none of their relevance in Egypt as political frames of reference triggered by the symbolic words "Palestine" and "Palestinians." These varying conceptions give rise to two sets of contradictory logic: the first advocates Egypt's neutrality concerning the Palestinian cause; the second affirms that the country is, of necessity, party to the conflict. Each sees Palestine and the Palestinians in a different light, not to mention the fact that each leads to contradictory responses to the questions raised, notably as to whether the wars waged by Egypt against Israel were in its interest or not. Both viewpoints are further linked to internal and external alliances, with the current favoring Egypt's neutrality generally being pro-American at the external level and supporting the free market economy at the domestic level.

 

Egyptian-Palestinian Political Relations

 

A detailed discussion of the evolution of Egyptian-Palestinian relations during the period following the assassination of Sadat-an evolution which is still underway-is beyond the scope of this paper. We shall limit ourselves to pointing out the overall trend which, in our view, sheds light on the political dimension of the image of the Palestinian.

 

There is no doubt that Egyptian-Palestinian relations have improved compared to the period following Sadat's trip to Jerusalem. There is some disagreement as to whether this improvement began with Sadat's assassination by the Khalid al-Istambuli group (which insisted upon "the incompatibility between the Camp David agreements and Islam") or with the invasion of Lebanon. Whatever the case, official Egypt is now more reserved concerning the normalization with Israel and, despite its pro- claimed attachment to "peace" and Camp David, devotes more attention to the Palestinian cause and the PLO.

 

The Position of the Egyptian Political Parties

 

Although political parties do not have great impact in Egypt, their positions are revealing as a gauge of popular sentiment, particularly as they seek to appeal to voters in their election platforms. In the present discussion, we will confine ourselves to four of the six authorized parties- the ruling National Democratic party (NDP), the National Progressive Unionist Party (al-Tagammu') the Socialist Labor party (SLP), and the New Wafd-leaving out the National party (al-Ummah) and the Liberal Socialist Party, whose party platforms make no reference to the Palestinian question and which, moreover, have very limited followings.

 

All four political parties in their electoral programs explicitly proclaim Egypt's membership in the Arab world and take a position on the Palestine question. Both the SLP and the Tagammu' unequivocally call for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with the Tagammu' taking a position akin to that of the PLO, calling for the "establishment of a democratic state on any part of the Palestinian territory to be liberated" as an "intermediate objective," while the "strategic long-term goal" remains "the establishment of a democratic state in Palestine where Muslims, Christians, and Jews will live together as equals." The ruling NDP and the Wafd, on the other hand, both stop short of calling for an independent Palestinian state. The NDP limits itself to a "Palestinian homeland in the West Bank and Gaza" and "self-determination," and the Wafd to "a Palestinian homeland," "the establishment of a completely autonomous administration of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza," and ''self-determination for the Palestinian people in full independence."

 

From its inception, the Tagammu' has consistently referred to the PLO as "the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and while the SLP does not specify this in its party platform, it does in its journal and all its communiques. The Tagammu"s platform also affirms its ''support of the Palestinian revolution's right to pursue the armed struggle against Israel," as does the SLP in other texts. It is interesting to note that the Wafd, which made no mention of the PLO in its 1977 platform, was by 1984 proclaiming it the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and the one paragraph devoted to "Palestine" in the 1977 platform was considerably expanded. Likewise the NDP, whose total silence on the PLO in 1980 was replaced in its 1984 electoral platform by recognition of it as "the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," albeit with no mention of the exclusivity of the representation. Finally, the various texts of the parties show that the dominant tendency (except for the Tagammu"s left wing) is to support Arafat and the "independence of Palestinian decision making."

 

As for the Camp David agreement, the Alliance in all its party platforms rejects it, although the stridency of its 1980 program had given way by the 1984 platform to a more moderate tone (in keeping with its qualified support of "Mubarak's positive policy") in calling for a "gradual abandonment of the Camp David policy." It also calls for an end to the normalization process and Egyptian oil sales to Israel, and asks that "Egypt's Arab commitments be placed above any other agreement." The SLP, which had initially given "cautious support" to the Camp David agreement and the 1979 peace treaty, retracted in March 1981. In its 1984 electoral platform, it called for a boycott of Israel's presence in Egypt and for the freezing of the Camp David agreements due to their repeated violation by Israel. It also stated that "our wish for a just peace in the region should not prevent us from preparing to liberate our territories which have been occupied by force if peaceful means fail. Peace itself presents economic and military dangers which require a permanent vigilance on our part in order to preserve our national security." [7] 

 

Like the SLP, the Wafd links its call for freezing the Camp David agreements to violations by the other party, stating that "the Camp David agreements no longer have a valid base and have become obsolete. Israel has no right to ask Egypt to implement its commitments under the Camp David agreement while it does not keep any of its own." It adds that "the peace treaty with Israel did not nullify Egypt's commitments specified by the Charter of the Arab League and the Mutual Arab Defense Treaty," even while stressing Egypt's legitimate right to defend its security on the national and regional planes. Nonetheless, when the other opposition parties at the time of the Israeli bombing of the PLO in Tunis called for the immediate rupture of diplomatic ties, the New Wafd sided with the government in opposing the measure on the grounds that it would harm Egypt's interests.

 

Most significant in terms of indicating public mood is the change in position of the NDP, Egypt's ruling party. While its initial program stressed ''warm support of and complete adhesion to the Camp David agreements,'' by 1984 all reference to them had been deleted from the electoral platform.

 

All the parties were swift and unequivocal in their condemnation of Israeli "acts of aggression against the Arab and Palestinian people," notably at the time of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the October 1985 bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis. At the time of the first crisis, the opposition demanded the severing of relations with Israel and a halt to normalization; at the second, they demanded, in addition, the freezing of the Camp David accords.

 

Thus, in summary, the years that followed 1981 witnessed a narrowing of the differences separating the principal parties concerning the Palestine question and the Arab-Zionist conflict compared to the period before 1981. The interest accorded to the Palestine question is growing, while the role of the PLO has been increasingly stressed.

 

The Palestinians and the Press: Four Cases

 

In order to isolate the principal characteristics of the image of the Palestinians as portrayed in the Egyptian press from 1982 to 1985, we have selected four specific cases: the al-Ahram editorials, which best reflect the official line, and three of the most widely read and influential daily opinion columns of the Egyptian press, each representing a different approach. Anis Mansur, writing in al-Ahram, already has been to Israel and is considered one of the chief advocates of the normalization policy. Ahmad Baha' al-Din, also of al-Ahram, is one of the columnists most critical of the Sadat policy. Mustafa Amin of al-Akhbar is somewhere between the two insofar as he focuses primarily on Egyptian internal affairs, without showing either a particular sympathy for Israel and the normalization or interest in the Arab-Zionist conflict. Baha' al-Din can be said to be close to the Nasir experience and Mansur to Sadat, while Mustafa Amin's sympathies lie with prerevolutionary Egypt.

 

After going through more than five hundred articles, we decided to concentrate on five periods corresponding to the following events: (1) Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai (25 April 1982), supposed to represent the high point of the peace policy; (2) the June 1982 invasion of Lebanon; (3) Yasir Arafat's retreat from north Lebanon and "first visit" to Cairo in December 1983; (4) the Jordanian-Palestinian agreement of 11 February 1985; and (5) the bombing of the PLO in Tunis in October 1985 and the events that followed (the Achille Lauro hijacking, the interception of the Egyptian Boeing by American jets, and Arafat's "second" visit to Egypt).

 

The First Period: From I April to 31 May 1982

 

Of twenty-two al-Ahram editorials devoted to the Arab-Zionist conflict during the period of the Sinai withdrawal, the image of the "resisting" Palestinian appears only once, that of the "victimized" Palestinian twice. The Palestinian is depicted as being deprived of his political rights, the victim of Israeli racial discrimination, and subject to extremist provocation (14 and 30 April), such as the attack on the al-Aqsa Mosque, which, according to al-Ahram, succeeded where the Palestinian organizations had failed by "spurring the Palestinian peasants and workers on against the Israeli authorities." The editorial warns the Palestinian organizations, which it calls "military," against acts of vengeance which could be used to justify Israeli aggression against Lebanon (15 April). The formula of Palestinian autonomy is mentioned once, and there is no mention of a Palestinian state. There is one reference to the PLO, to say that "just as the PLO cannot be held responsible for everything that can happen to an Israeli on this earth, so Israel cannot be held responsible for everything that happens to each Palestinian, either" (23 May). Finally, although the newspaper criticizes Israeli "intransigence," it strongly advocates peace (the peace question is dealt with twelve times) and hopes it will spread to the entire region.

 

During the same period, Ahmad Baha' al-Din, going against the general current at the time of Israel's withdrawal from Sinai, in a number of columns painted the image of the Palestinian "oppressed" by the occupation authorities and evoked the image of the resisting Palestinian, fighting the occupation with whatever means he has at hand. He also criticized the negative interference of the Arab states: concerning a joint Algerian-Syrian communique declaring support for resistance in the occupied territories, he wrote: "I hardly believe this support will entail replacing the stones thrown by the students of Ramallah and Jerusalem with the Arab missiles one hears so much about" (23 May).

 

Neither Mustafa Amin nor Anis Mansur pay much attention to the Palestinian people during this period, emphasizing instead the new horizons peace was opening for Egypt following the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. Anis Mansur, while stating that President Mubarak would continue to fight for the Palestinian cause even though he does not speak for the Palestinians, stressed several times that Egypt's interests have priority, and implied that Egypt had already overextended itself on their behalf (27 April). Mustafa Amin, meanwhile, saw a link between achieving the freedom and stability promised by peace, just as he saw a link between Egypt's state of war and the "despotism" of the preceding period. Both were critical of the Arabs in their attitudes towards Egypt, though Mansur was more so. There is no mention of the PLO, though, curiously, Mansur expressed the hope for a Palestinian state.

 

The Second Period: From I June to 30 September 1982

 

During Israel's invasion of Lebanon, the image of the "resisting" Palestinian, showing courage, heroism, and fighting spirit, began to vie with the images of victimization. Another important theme was of the Palestinians' betrayal by the Arab governments, who misled them and then abandoned them to Israel's efforts to exterminate them with the complicity of the great powers.

 

The Palestinians figure in fifty-eight of the some one hundred al-Ahram editorials devoted to the Arab-Zionist conflict during this period, thirty- three times as "victimized," seventeen as "resisting." Al-Ahram spoke of the "besieged prey at the mercy of the monster" (14 July), "savage massacres," of Israel's goal of "exterminating the Palestinians so as to reduce the Palestinian cause to a handful of refugees in Lebanon and Israel" (23 June), or to "eliminate all who could serve as the basis for a resistance and everything connected with Palestine" (8 August). Comparison of the Israelis with the Nazis figured in several editorials (8 August, 20 September). At the same time, the term "Palestinian resistance" was revived after a gap of several years. The Palestinians, far from being defeated by the Israeli invasion, were "men at the peak of their dynamism, firmness, and determination, ready to continue the struggle with optimism" (30 September), and images of their resistance have henceforth been mingled with depictions of their victimization. Al-Ahram also criticized the negative adjectives "terrorist" and "destructive," wrongly applied to the Palestinians (11 and 13 August). The theme of "betrayal" by Soviet and Arab "friends"-particularly the Syrians and the Libyans-was also prominent in the al-Ahram editorials during this period. But even while the Palestinians were portrayed as victims, misled and then abandoned by their "allies," al-Ahram warned the Palestinian resistance against provoking troubles in the region that could inaugurate a new cycle of terrorism and counterterrorism (21 July), and stated that it was "out of the question to subject the host countries to the dangers of military activities" (1 September). It advised the resistance to rethink its alliances (a rapprochement with Egypt is recommended on 11 July), to commit itself to a flexible and realistic policy (20 August), and to unify its ranks and impose discipline through the establishment of a government in exile (9 November). The expression "Palestinian government in exile" was used four times during this period, while "Palestinian state" was mentioned once, "self-determination" five times, "autonomous administration" four times, "restoration of Palestinian rights" (without specification) nine times.

 

Nonetheless, the most important change during this period was the fact that the PLO was mentioned as the representative of the Palestinian people eleven times. Al-Ahram spoke of the PLO in a generally positive light, as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and a military and political force that Israel was unable to liquidate (30 June). It also praised the organization for its flexibility (in the negotiations for withdrawal from Beirut).

 

It is worth noting that al-Ahram's condemnation of the Israeli invasion, in line with official Egyptian policy, in no way deflected it from its hopes for peace in the region. This is why it made frequent use of the expression "Israeli military institution," in order to make the institution per se responsible for what was-happening and to be able to talk about other Israeli currents favoring peace. Moreover, al-Ahram reflected official Egyptian policy by giving the Palestinian issue precedence over the internal developments of the Lebanese conflict and in stressing the link between the withdrawal of the Palestinians from Beirut and a revival of the peace process aimed at finding a solution to the Palestinian problem.

 

The three opinion columns reacted belatedly to what was happening to the Palestinians in Lebanon: Anis Mansur did not mention it until 14 June, Mustafa Amin on 15 June, and Ahmad Baha' al-Din on 19 June. Prior to that, they had mentioned the events of Lebanon only very vaguely, and without alluding to the Palestinians.

 

In Baha' al-Din's column, the image of the "resisting Palestinian" appeared almost as frequently as that of the "victimized" Palestinian as the situation progressed: his columns were full of references to their heroism and honor, how they "defy death" and "die as heroes in order to raise once more the Palestinian flag over Beaufort Castle" (12 August). Their civilized values were also evoked: "Despite the Israeli siege of Beirut, they protected the Jews and their synagogues" (8 August). At the same time, he described the violence of the aggression against Beirut and stressed the "massacres," the "extermination," and the "annihilation" to which the Palestinians were exposed. The Palestinians in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza all share the same oppression (12 September). He further compared the massacres of Sabra and Shatila to that of Dayr Yasin in 1948, which was likewise intended to disperse the people (22 September).

 

Baha' al-Din also evokes the image of the "betrayed Palestinian." In three successive articles (22, 24, 25 June), he spoke of the "end of lies": "The knife blade is at the throat, but there is no longer time for digressions and assigning the blame, which is why I go no further. The important thing today is that the Palestinian lives, and that the lies cease." These lies were the work of Arab leaders who plunged the Palestinians into the quagmire of a war with Israel: there were many ways of pursuing the struggle, armed or otherwise, but the Palestinians were made to believe in a support which turned out to be nonexistent. It was thus that they fell into the trap of the internal conflicts of the Arab states and the Arab-Arab cold war (25 June). He had words of praise for the PLO and considered that Arafat a Palestinian symbol (9 October). On a practical level, however, he advised the PLO to seek a new strategy for the future, to free itself from Arab pressures, and to form a new national council more homogeneous and freer in its movements. Given the inertia of the Arabs and the solitude of the PLO in the face of the Israeli onslaught, he advocated acceptance of the Reagan Plan due to its positive elements (11 September).

 

In Mustafa Amin's column, images denoting "victimization" occurred twice as often as those of "resistance" or "heroism." Describing the "savage aggression" against the Palestinians in Lebanon, he stated: "We are all killed, we are all vanquished" (15 June); and the Palestinians are "our brothers," "our sons," as much the victims of the Arabs and the Soviet Union as of Israel and the United States. Denouncing the use of the Palestinians by the Arab governments he wrote: "It is not Israel who undid us, we undid ourselves, for we divided the Palestinians into troops and factions and sent them off to assassinate the Arabs we disagreed with" (23 June).

 

Of the three columnists, Mustafa Amin made the most frequent mention of the PLO-"the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" (29 July)-and the need for Arab solidarity. He attributed the PLO's courage and determination in combat to its democratic nature, but stressed the need to close ranks. Concerning Yasir Arafat (whom he is also the most frequent to invoke), he stated: "Israel's failed attempt to exterminate the Palestinian resistance and the Palestinian people enabled Arafat to confirm his authority and heroism and to clear the Palestinian resistance of the gratuitous accusations to which it was subject" (25 August). In several columns, he called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

 

Anis Mansur's column presented a confused and ambiguous image of the Palestinian during this period. Although the characteristics "resisting" and "victimized" once again began to predominate, condemnation of the Palestinians outweighs praise or sympathy. While the Palestinian was presented as a victim (of both the "Syrian and Israeli murderer"), at the same time he was accused, along with the Lebanese Forces, of tyrannizing and "assassinating the Lebanese people" (14 June), thus echoing Israel's claims. Similarly, while Israel "wants to annihilate the Palestinian people," those same Palestinians "terrorize the inhabitants of the West Bank to prevent them from negotiating with Israel" (15 June). On the other hand, he wrote: "The Palestinians earned the admiration of the world for two reasons: first because they resisted to the death, and secondly because they refused to live in humiliation" (14 July). And, concerning the PLO leader: "Yasir Arafat was misunderstood because of the contradictory and divergent declarations of the various Palestinian organizations. But Arafat is a hero from every point of view and the leader of a people who is not afraid to smile when up against the cannons" (14 July). Although he criticized Israel, referring to the Sabra and Shatila massacres as a "holocaust" and calling the Israelis "a sick people suffering from psychological complexes" (16 July), he stressed that Egypt's relations with Israel must be founded on interests, not feelings. Throughout the period, his general trend was that of supporting the peace process.

 

The Third Period: From 1 to 31 December 1983 †

 

It was in December 1983 that Yasir Arafat withdrew from the Lebanese port city of Tripoli and went to Cairo, which made him the object of great attention in the Egyptian press.

 

The key words in al-Ahram editorials concerning the Palestinians during this period were "hounded" and "encircled," followed by images depicting the "fighter." Thus: "Arafat is once more caught in a vice by Israel and Syria. If the siege is prolonged, history will salute his fighting spirit in the face of this combined assault by the now indistinguishable adversaries and allies of the Palestinian cause" (13 December). Israel's blockade of Tripoli was condemned several times as a "shameless exploitation by Israel of Arafat's difficult straits" (15, 22 December). According to al-Ahram, Arafat now "represents an international moral conscience in the Middle East region" (15 December), "the highest legitimate authority of the Palestin- ians" (30 December), the "symbol of the Palestinian revolution" (7 December), and the "leader striving for peace" (24 December). Since "the Palestinian cause has become indistinguishable from the image of Arafat," to protect his person thus becomes a task for all those attached to that cause (15 December). But although Arafat, who now knows who his friends and enemies are (23 December), has once again foiled the attempts to humiliate him and cut him down, "it is no longer possible to hesitate, to search for intermediary solutions, to satisfy everybody, or try to unify the ranks in the void. A sacred and historic task is waiting." Arafat was thus asked to "rethink his positions, to present himself in a new light to his countrymen and to the world, and to carry out his policy and his struggle through rational and flexible means" (27 December).

 

For Anis Mansur, too, Arafat was a man tracked, alone, abandoned by his friends and allies. But if Mansur most frequently presented Arafat as a "fighter," it was to maintain that "his determination in combat is equalled only by his cowardice in politics" (17 December). But after Arafat met Mubarak, there was a shift: "Mr. Arafat is carrying on his struggle to achieve a peace founded on the justice of his cause" (23 December). While pleased that "thus ends the Arab and Palestinian boycott" and hopeful that greater Egyptian-Palestinian agreement would continue, Mansur reiterated the bitterness of the Egyptian people at their treatment by the Palestinians and asked Arafat to reconsider his political choices (23 December). He also made several analogies with Zionism: "The Palestinian cause will live as long as there remains a single Palestinian armed with a gun or pen, it matters little! It will remain scores of years, just as the Zionist cause before it lasted for centuries" (16 February). A similar comparison was made concerning terrorism, "the weapon of despair" used by the Jews "before the establishment of their state" and now used by the Palestinians (21 December).

 

Continuing his previous line, Mansur continued to stress that Egypt had already done its share for the Palestinian cause. Egypt now had to safeguard the peace with Israel, limiting its role on the Palestinian question to acting as intermediary between Israel, on the one side, and the Arab countries and the Palestinians on the other (26 December).

 

Mustafa Amin wrote relatively little about the Arab-Zionist conflict during this period. The Palestinian people, oppressed, were "like Egypt's sons" (24 December). Arafat was the one who "transformed a problem of refugees into the cause of a people" (24 December); those who fight him "are the cause of our defeat" (6 December). Responding to Israel's protests against Arafat's visit, Amin emphasized Egypt's independence and traditional role.

 

The Fourth Period: From 1 to 28 February 1985 ‡

 

The major event of this period was the conclusion of the Jordanian- Palestinian agreement of 11 February 1985. The overriding image of the Palestinian in al-Ahram editorials was that of a flexible and reasonable individual striving for peace and thus "worthy of participating in the negotiations" (this idea appears in five editorials). For al-Ahram, "the Jordanian-Palestinian agreement constitutes a denial of the American and Israeli allegations that there is no realistic prospect for peace on the Arab and Palestinian side" (13 December) and could serve as "the cornerstone of a just and lasting peace in the region" (13 February). It is interesting to note that the editorial emphasized the PLO's position as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" (9 and 14 February) instead of merely "the representative." It also never referred to the Palestinian "autonomy" project in the Camp David agreement.

 

Anis Mansur mentioned the Arab-Israeli conflict in only two of his columns: the first in discussing the Taba problem, and the second in commenting on the Jordanian-Palestinian agreement (19 February). Even while calling Arafat the "legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," he showed a certain skepticism concerning the seriousness of the agreement. "We are the peoples of lost opportunities," he wrote, but then went on to express the hope that this new event would be the starting point of a new solidarity among the Arabs and that a Palestinian state would be established.

 

Mustafa Amin's three columns concerning the conflict underlined the "homeless" and "victimized" quality of the Palestinians in order to press for support of the Jordanian-Palestinian agreement. He called on Arab states to rally behind it and addressed its critics in the following terms: "You want the Palestinian people to remain homeless, driven from one country, given shelter in another, then driven out yet again. . . . You want millions of Palestinians to go on living for another thirty-seven years in caves and shacks, shivering from the cold. You want Palestine to become a second Andalusia over which poets will shed tears and lament" (23 February). While stating that the Arab regimes and the U.S.S.R. gain from the nonresolution of the conflict (23 February), he also criticized the United States for failing to distinguish between "the guilty and the victim" in its Middle East policies (9 February).

 

The Fifth Period: From 1 October to 15 November 1985

 

This period begins with the Israeli raid against the PLO in Tunis and ends with Yasir Arafat's "Cairo Declaration" condemning terrorism and any military action outside the occupied territories. In between was a rapid succession of events: the Achille Lauro affair, the interception of the Egyptian aircraft carrying the hijackers of the cruise ship by American fighter jets, the British government's refusal to receive the Jordanian- Palestinian delegation, and Shimon Peres' proposals to King Hussein.

 

In the al-Ahram editorials, "the moderate Palestinians striving for peace," referring to Arafat and the mainstream PLO, were mentioned nine times, while the "dissident extremists" or "infantile terrorists doing the bidding of Arab regimes," referring to Arafat's opponents and groups carrying out military operations outside the occupied territories, were evoked five times. In al-Ahram's view, the Israeli raid on Tunis was aimed at striking the moderate current, and thus at sabotaging peace efforts. The editorial immediately warned against a new "terrorism" in response, and at the time of the Achille Lauro affair, accused the Palestinians of being "ungrateful towards Egypt" (4 November), even while generally emphasizing the "privileged nature" of Egyptian-Palestinian relations. After the Cairo Declaration: "The road of the struggle is henceforth clear. . . . If the world conscience has the right to condemn hijackings, violence, and terrorism, this same conscience must feel pride when confronted with a people which fights to assert its usurped rights and resists by every means a foreign occupation" (11 November). Or again: "With the Cairo Declaration, the PLO enters a new phase in the political struggle to convince the world of its legitimacy and ability to represent the Palestinian people in the peace process-both in negotiations for a Middle East settlement under an 'international umbrella' or through direct talks" (9 November). It also stressed once again the PLO's position as the "sole representative" of the Palestinians and reiterated that Jordan could not negotiate in its stead.

 

Of the three columnists, Ahmad Baha' al-Din devoted the greatest number of articles to the Arab-Israeli conflict during this period (thirteen, compared to five by Anis Mansur and six by Mustafa Amin). Images of victimization followed the Tunis raid, in which Israel tried to liquidate the Palestinians and especially Arafat, who had been "seeking peace." With the Achille Lauro affair, two contradictory images were evoked: the image of the moderate, but victimized, Palestinian whose peace efforts were sabotaged by others, and, less frequently, that of the "dissident" Palestinian taking orders from Arab states, whose actions, whether he likes it or not, serve Israel's interests. Nonetheless, the predominant trait remained victimization: despite his condemnation of the Achille Lauro hijacking, Ahmad Baha' al-Din presented the perpetrators as being victims of an even greater crime-"the hijacking of a country" (16 October). The Cairo Declaration was cited as proving once more the fighting spirit of the PLO.

 

Mustafa Amin gave priority during this period to images depicting Palestinian victimization. The Israeli raid was aimed at striking Arafat's headquarters and sabotaging the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation (3 October). Arafat, a "man of peace," was likewise the target of dissident Palestinians at the time of the Achille Lauro affair, as well as of several Arab states out to kill him (7 October). The hijacking of the Italian liner brought to the fore the image of the "other Palestinian": the terrorist, ungrateful towards Italy, and regressing to the era of sea piracy (11 October). While Amin was particularly severe regarding terrorism, he was less critical than Ahmad Baha' al-Din concerning the American interception of the Egyptian Boeing, and made no mention of Yasir Arafat's visit to Cairo.

 

Anis Mansur's column likewise emphasized Palestinian victimization: "Israel pursues the Palestinian and carries out massacres at Sabra and Shatila, just as it did previously at Dayr Yasin. From this standpoint, there is no difference between Begin and Peres." And, "If this is the peace that Israel wants, there will be no peace either for Israel or with Israel, either in the Middle East or in the world" (3 October). After the Achille Lauro affair, the image of the "terrorist" Palestinian was grafted onto the other. "We will lose everything if we continue to defend our legitimate rights by illegitimate means, if the Palestinians in anger kill innocents when they mean to kill the invaders occupying Arab land" (6 October). It should be noted that Anis Mansur, unlike Mustafa Amin and Ahmad Baha' al-Din, did not distinguish between "moderate" and "extremist" Palestinians. He made no reference to Arafat or the PLO during this period, mentioning neither Arafat's Cairo visit nor the fate of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation in London.

 

In light of the foregoing, we see that the negative traits used in the Egyptian media to characterize the Palestinians during the period following Sadat's Jerusalem visit did not figure into the image which prevailed between 1982 and 1985. The dominant characteristics, as noted, were of "victimization," "fighting for peace," "resistance," and the idea of the "betrayal" by the Arab states.

 

The predominance of this image of victim over that of resister, which had been reinforced during the invasion of Lebanon by the fierce resistance shown by the Palestinians, reflects the dominant line in the Egyptian media, which favors a peaceful solution over the military option. It may also derive from a treatment of information that gives precedence to the coverage of Israeli actions. In the plethora of news from abroad published in the Egyptian press, the volume of subjects referring directly to Israel exceeded all other aspects of the conflict, with 28 percent. The positions of foreign countries on the Middle East crisis occupied 23 percent, the relations between Israel and the Arab countries (except Egypt) 8 percent. The information concerning the relations between Israel and the Palestinians and on the PLO in general represented only 16 percent. [8] This means that the Palestinians, in the last analysis, were seen through an Israeli mirror. Moreover, no editorial or opinion column mentioned any fida'iyyin action during this period.

 

In conclusion, let us recall that the Egyptian media exert a decisive influence on public opinion in Egypt. A study carried out among peasants shows that, despite the high rate of illiteracy, the peasants obtain their information and opinions concerning problems not directly linked to their personal interests from the media. When it comes to Arab problems in particular, a strong relationship has been noted between the opinions of the peasants and the ideas carried in the media. [9] This influence is all the more powerful in a situation where the political parties have a limited impact.

 

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Karem Yehia is an Egyptian journalist. This is an abridged version of an article which first appeared in the Institute for Palestine Studies' French language quarterly, Revue d'etudes Palestiniennes, no. 19 (Spring 1986). 

† Ahmad Baha' al-Din's column did not appear this month. 

‡ Baha' al-Din's column stopped on 13 February, up until which date he addressed the Arab-Israeli conflict only once (6 February), reproducing an introduction he had written for a special issue of the Palestinian periodical al-Karmal devoted to Egyptian literature.

1. The survey conducted on Sadat's 1977 Jerusalem visit by the National Center for Social Research in Cairo was strongly criticized at a conference on the same theme organized by the center 10-12 March 1981. The 'results of the survey are, moreover, not available.

2. Salwa al-'Umni, Opinions and Attitudes of Egyptian Intellectuals Concerning Certain Nationality Groups (Ph.D. diss., 'Ain Shams University, Cairo, April 1983) (in Arabic). Certain reservations can be made concerning the sampling used as well as some of the criteria.

3. Sa'd al-Din Ibrahim, ed., Arabism in Egypt (Cairo: Center for Social and Strategic Studies, 1978), 20.

4. 'Ali Layla, "Emigration and the Question of Arab Unity: A Study on Egyptian Emigration Trends to the Oil Countries," alSiyassa al-Dawliya, no. 73 (July 1983): 69-86 (in Arabic). The study does not specify the date the survey was conducted.

5. Nadia Hasan Salim, "Political Education of Egyptian Children Through an Analysis of Their School Textbooks," in Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Statistics and Research in the Social Sciences and Demographics, 27 March to 1 April 1982 (Cairo: 'Ain Shams University, 1982), 112 (in Arabic).

6. Muhsin 'Awad, Egypt-Israel: Five Years of Normalization (Cairo: al-Mustaqbal al-'Arabi, 1984), 185-86 (in Arabic).

7. SLP Program, 34-35.

8. Nadia Muhammad Hasan, "Foreign News in the Egyptian Press," in Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Statistics and Research in the Social Sciences and Demographics, 26-31 March 1983, (Cairo: 'Ain Shams University 1983), 256 (in Arabic).

9. Muhammad 'Abd al-Nabi, Social Awareness in the Various Social Categories of the Egyptian Rif (Ph.D. diss., Cairo University, 1985), 524 (in Arabic).