A stand against the Toronto Star

Azza Sedky, Tuesday 3 Sep 2019

A recent article in a Canadian newspaper is an example of the kind of bias that is being deployed abroad to mislead foreign readers about Egypt, writes Azza Sedky

In an effort to blindside the Canadian reader, a writer, Mohamed S Kamel, wrote an opinion piece in the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star recently on Egypt. The headline to the article read that “Canadians should protect their citizens against threats from the Egyptian regime.” As an Egyptian-born Canadian, and one who cares very deeply about Egypt, the article left me aggrieved but also violated. I was totally against the tone and purpose of the article and surprised that the Star would validate such content.

The intention was clear: to manipulate the Canadian reader into siding with the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. According to the writer’s biography, he is a founding member of the Egyptian-Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD), a pressure group, and the editor of “For a free Egypt.” But when googled, “For a free Egypt” does not come up.

As for the ECCD, it is clearly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Its preamble talks of pleasantries, but the most poignant goal of the ECCD appears in its core principles. It calls for “an immediate end to military rule and to reject the military coup of July 2013 and all its consequences including the suspension of the 2012 Constitution, the disbanding of the Shura Council and the kidnapping of the elected president.”

A point of order here: the “military coup” mentioned was a consequence of 30 million Egyptians protesting against the tyrannical rule of former Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi and calling on his government to step down, but to no avail. Egyptian cities had reached a standstill, and had the army not intervened an impasse with grave ramification would have occurred. The military called on the president to take action and warned of the consequences, but Morsi did absolutely nothing.

The 2012 Constitution, which the ECCD upholds, and the method by which it was adopted, was partly why Egyptians called for the ousting of Morsi. This constitution was drafted mainly by Brotherhood members, who had a 75 per cent representation on the drafting panel. Church representatives resigned from the panel in protest, as religious pluralism was being ignored. Liberals and leftists also resigned, leaving the drafting process to the Salafis and Brotherhood members to write the constitution in the way they pleased.

The 2012 Constitution also had the article in the 1971 Constitution on gender equality removed, calling women “sisters of men,” while the 2014 Constitution replaced this term with “equal to men.” Another reason why Egypt wanted Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood out was the decree passed by Morsi that granted him sweeping new powers and preventing any court from overturning his decisions. As Egyptians became more polarised, the protests were warranted.

Now to Kamel’s article. If an Egyptian-Canadian calls for the demise of Egypt, performs a terrorist act, is a member of a terrorist group, or undermines Egyptian law, he or she will be charged in Egypt despite the Canadian passport. By carrying a Canadian passport, a person is neither immune from erring, nor is he immune from detainment. Such “Canadians” convicted in Egypt have erred.

Similarly, an Egyptian-Canadian should be tried in Canada if he performs any misdeed. Dual citizenship should never act as a shield for performing an illegal action in either country. Mohamed Fahmi, a Canadian journalist, is sometimes mentioned as an example of someone detained unlawfully in Egypt. But Mohamed Fahmi would vouch that the Qatari news channel Aljazeera was behind his incarceration.

He made it very clear in his book The Marriot Cell that he should never have worked for Aljazeera. He sued the channel in the British Columbia Court in Canada and announced the lawsuit in Cairo, demanding an “one hundred-million-dollar compensation for Aljazeera’s role in his imprisonment.” However, Fahmi didn’t sue Egypt; on the contrary, he remains a jovial, hopeful man with strong ties to Egypt.

Fahmi has now established Ensan Films in London. One of its many ambitions is to provide scholarships to budding Egyptian filmmakers so they can attend courses in Canada. I personally was interviewed by such an Egyptian who is about to produce a short documentary on this opportunity.

According to Kamel’s article, in relation to the Rabaa Square crisis after the 30 June Revolution, the writer says that “the Egyptian military began cracking down on people protesting for democracy.” I beg to differ. Rabaa Square had become a potent, ramshackle crisis area that thousands of Brotherhood members had barricaded and terrorised, hoping to wreak havoc. Where else in the world could a group freely disrupt and cause damage while carrying weapons for weeks on end? The Rabaa Square camp had to be dismantled.

Then the writer makes a mountain out of a molehill by advocating a lie: that the Egyptian Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram plans on “slicing the throats” of those who speak ill of Egypt, saying that this was a phrase she had used in Canada.

Had Makram been speaking to a Canadian audience, I would have thought very ill of this episode. Had this been an official event, I would have considered it to be highly inappropriate. But much is often lost in translation. The phrases “I’ll break your neck” or “I’ll slice your throat” are commonly used by Egyptians, and they are not considered a harmful threat but are rather seen as an admonishment. A mother may say them to a six-year-old who hasn’t brushed his teeth or washed his hands, warning him not to do it again, for example.

In Arabic, you have many similar phrases that could sound abhorrent in other languages, including “May God destroy your home, beautiful” which, surprisingly, is a very positive phrase. “I’m going to miss you, you beaten one,” is again a very positive phrase. “May God harm you” is a way of pleading with someone to do a certain action. As for the Syrian phrase, “grave me,” as in put me in a coffin, this connotes love and affection.

No, Kamel, “killing dissidents” doesn’t qualify as humour anywhere, Egypt and Canada included. Still, what you are trying to do is to build momentum against the minister, since she represents the regime. To read the phrase as a direct threat to Canadians is so absurd as to be laughable.

He continues by talking of “the only democratically elected president in Egypt’s history [a phrase that has lost its integrity at this point] Mohamed Morsi died suspiciously in Egyptian custody.” I am relieved that Morsi collapsed in court and died then and there and not in his cell, as otherwise the made-up stories about this episode could have quadrupled.

What this biased writer neglects to tell the Canadian public in his article is that Egyptians are on the threshold of a better life. Epic efforts are being exerted for all Egyptians, yet the writer intentionally does not see them and is blinded by his bias.

The writer is a political analyst.

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