Here we go again: the Western media continues to dump its grime on Egypt. Yet another article published on Egypt by Agence France Press (AFP) has been circulating widely, its headline reading “US arrests man for spying on opponents of Egypt’s Sisi.”
The topic is factual, no doubt about it. The chances are that Pierre Girgis, the Egyptian man charged with spying in the US, may have gathered information on persons threatening Egypt’s security. We will delve into that issue later on. What is really bizarre and worth focusing on here is the wording of the headline and also the content.
Let’s start with the headline. The phrase “Egypt’s Sisi” is intentional and calculated. It evokes a picture of an authoritarian regime in which a single person hovers over the whole nation. The article does not refer to “the president of Egypt” because that would come across as benign. “Egypt’s Sisi” is more deliberate and vehement.
But Western media, if the intention was to create a malign impression of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and one in which Egyptians have lost their country to a single person, I’m afraid your efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
The malice continues. The article refers to the US authorities having “tracked and obtained information regarding political opponents of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.” The latter phrase is hyperlinked, sending readers to a BBC article entitled “Egyptian President Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi: Ruler with an Iron Grip.”
The issue of the spying charges is in no way directly connected to the president of our nation, and yet the Western media is very inventive in trying to implicate the president in any wrong-doing. This is premeditated but very apparent.
What about the “political opponents”? Are these only against Egypt’s president, or are they against Egypt in general? Again, the wording has been chosen to egg on those who are against Egypt and to incite others to follow the same route. It’s a pattern that the Western media has been attuned to for so long that it has become almost nondescript.
The article continues by saying that Girgis had sent information about an “anti-Sisi activist” that “he obtained from the Egyptian government to US law-enforcement officers.” One might have thought that reporting such information to US law-enforcement officers would be a positive matter, but such officers do not see eye to eye with Egypt. One might also wonder if the “anti-Sisi activist” is against Egypt itself, since this would give Egypt the right to go after him wherever he is.
The article is careless and inconsequential. In trying to create a mountain out of a molehill, it has failed miserably.
Then we come to the notion of “spying.” Secret intelligence operations are conducted by almost all countries in an effort to protect themselves, their citizens, their economies, and their borders. However, if the Western media refers to Western spies, they are usually called “members of the intelligence services,” while in Egypt’s case, they are nothing but evil-spirited “spies.”
“Spies” have also been around for millennia. According to the Bible, the Lord said to Moses, “send men to explore Canaan.” So, at the Lord’s command, Moses dispatched men to explore the land of Canaan for 40 days.
While this does not always make spying morally justifiable, it does tell us that it has existed for centuries. Countries around the world even spy on their friends as well as on their embassies and agencies.
A report by the UN special rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression says that “changes in technologies have also provided new opportunities for state surveillance and intervention into individuals’ private lives,” for example. According to the US Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “a growing number of states are deploying advanced Al surveillance tools to monitor, track, and surveil citizens.”
The US itself has the most extensive and sophisticated intelligence network of all nations. In fact, as the BBC says, the “US spies on ‘the entire globe.’” Employing spying as a necessary tool in the fight against terrorism, the US has conducted mass surveillance of individuals and countries, friends and foes, and Americans and non-Americans. All these have been watched and spied upon. French delegates at the UN were under surveillance at one point, as was the mobile phone of former German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Another case in point is US national Edward Snowden, who worked as an IT expert for the American National Security Agency (NSA) before he let the cat out of the bag by releasing thousands of top-secret documents from the NSA indicating the amount of surveillance it conducts. Since 2013 when Snowden exposed the NSA actions, he has been in hiding, seeking asylum, or about to be extradited to the US. For the last few years he has been granted asylum in Russia.
Snowden said that “they [the NSA] were not just collecting and intercepting communications from criminals, spies, terrorists, people of intelligence value – they were collecting on everyone, everywhere, all of the time, just in case, because you never know what’s going to be interesting. And if you miss it when it’s passing by, you might not get another chance.”
The issue reported by the AFP article is worth examining since the US is charging an Egyptian with dual citizenship with espionage. What isn’t acceptable, however, is the intentional and unnecessary insertion of President Al-Sisi into this case, since this is irrelevant and beside the point.
Objectivity and non-partisan criticism are vital for the media to continue to play its fundamental role of informing readers. But if the information it provides is twisted and played with, the media becomes a divisive tool. It is then that readers disregard the media altogether because they consider it not to be worthy of their trust.
* The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.