The New York Times has announced an expansion of its Editorial Department’s opinion offerings, to coincide with the International Herald Tribune’s reincarnation as the International New York Times. Among the opinion contributors added to the roster is Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany.
A look at some of Al Aswany’s opinions raise serious question marks over his suitability to be a contributing opinion writer for a media publication that regards itself as the paper of record.
1. Conspiracy Theorist
In August 2011, Al Aswany penned a highly critical piece asking how Egypt should respond to “Israeli aggression.” With the Egyptian revolution in full swing following the ouster of President Mubarak, Al Aswany found an obvious target to blame for unrest and violence in his country. According to Al Aswany, Israel is responsible for deliberately destabilizing Egypt and, in particular, the Sinai Peninsula:
At this stage, I believe, Israel had to intervene forcefully to sabotage the revolution. It began with the sudden appearance of suspect and heavily armed groups that began to attack police stations and undermine state control in Sinai. The aim was to provide evidence of a security breakdown in Sinai, which would justify the Israeli aggression that soon followed. Israeli forces entered Egyptian territory and killed or wounded several Egyptian officers and men. The objectives of the Israeli attack are several: to test the new rulers of Egypt, to throw them off balance, to give the impression that they cannot protect the country and to thwart democratic transition. The aim could also be to draw Egypt into a reckless military confrontation that would undo the revolution completely (as Gamal Abdel Nasser was drawn into conflict in 1967).
The “act of aggression” that Al Aswany refers to was nothing of the sort. Rather, it was Israel that was the victim of a cross-border terrorist attack, during which, Egyptian soldiers were accidentally killed as the IDF pursued terrorists fleeing into Sinai. Israel apologized for this.
Despite this, Al Aswany claims the incident as an act of Israeli aggression. He goes on to ask how Egypt should respond to this, suggesting expelling the Israeli ambassador, reviewing or repealing all agreements made between Egypt and Israel, and amending the peace treaty. Most disturbingly, however, is what appears to be a call for military confrontation:
It is now our duty to support the armed forces in their confrontation with Israel.
The mass demonstrations, the resounding chants, the sit-ins, and the removal and burning of the Israeli flag that was on the balcony of the Israeli Embassy—all these are spontaneous and authentic actions that reflect righteous popular anger, but in my opinion they fall far short of the right response to Israeli aggression. The right response to Israeli aggression will come about by making it fail, and that will happen only through a transfer of power to an elected government, so that the armed forces can devote themselves to their combat mission and Egypt can set out towards the future it deserves.
There is only one “combat mission” in the mind of Al Aswany – to confront Israel. This, despite a peace treaty and ongoing military cooperation between Israel and Egypt that confirm his accusation of Israeli destabilization of the Sinai as the utter garbage that it is.
Writing in the New Republic, Eric Trager also examines Al Aswany’s history of conspiracy theories:
He is, in fact, among Egypt’s most prolific conspiracy theorists, and he often uses his very public platform to reinforce some of Egypt’s most popular bigotries—and he typically does this when speaking or tweeting in Arabic, which is why the Western press often misses this aspect of his public persona. Aswany said on Egyptian television, for instance, that a “massive Zionist organization rules America,” which is why “Obama is not able to go against Israel’s desires.”
Trager also writes:
And he believes that the Western media has also come under the Zionists’ spell. “A simple experiment,” he tweeted in July, “Go to the website of any global newspaper and read its coverage of Egypt, and you’ll find that most of the writers that defended Israel are now mostly defending the Brotherhood.” Indeed, in Aswany’s twisted worldview, Washington’s displeasure with the way in which Morsi was ousted and Western reporting of the rising Brotherhood death toll must have Israel in mind first and foremost. And so being pro-Brotherhood—as Aswany defines it—must be a Zionist position.
2. Denial of Arab Anti-Semitism
In a video short, Al Aswany gives his views on anti-Semitism:
So, we [Egyptians] had our very, very great, positive experience about Jews, with Jews and the problem with us was not with Jews. The problem was Israel, you see? And it is very dangerous to confuse the two concepts. I would say that some people in Israel feel very comfortable to confuse, to mix up the two concepts in the sense that if you are critical against some Israeli policies, so, accordingly, you are against Jews, and this is terribly wrong, terribly wrong, you see, because I am, I believe that I am very critical against the Saudi regime, and I believe it’s a terrible regime, but this does not mean that I’m against all Arabs or all Muslims. So, I think that we never had, we never had really a problem or a discrimination against Jews in the whole Arab history.
There was never discrimination against Jews in the whole of Arab history?! The Jewish Virtual Library explains that well before the creation of the modern Israeli state, Jews were discriminated against where they were subordinated to Muslims under a state of Dhimmitude.