Friday, December 4, 2009

In Egypt Hala Mustafa is on Trial for What Could Be Called “Criminal Peacemaking”

By Barry Rubin

Thirty years after the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, Hala Mustafa, editor of Egypt’s journal on democracy, is on trial for the “crime” of meeting briefly with Israel’s ambassador to Egypt. At the ambassador’s request, she spoke with him briefly in her office about a project to hold an academic conference including Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians. Mustafa replied that she’d check with her supervisors at the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies on whether they wanted her to help organize or participate in the conference.

That’s it.

On December 14 her employer is scheduled to decide whether she will be punished. The Al-Ahram Center is part of Al-Ahram newspaper which is controlled by the Egyptian government. In other words, this harassment is due to a decision made at high levels in Egypt’s government which receives many rewards—including lots of U.S. aid—because it is perceived as a moderate government at peace with Israel.

So is this same government going to punlish a scholar and researcher for merely talking to an Israeli diplomat?

Of course this is a typical case of the Egyptian government having things both ways. Al-Ahram newspaper, for example, publishes editorials claiming the United States is behind all the terrorism in Iraq because it wants to divide Muslims.

To promote its domestic popularity, the regime takes demagogic stances on the Palestinian issue. The Egyptian government refused to help President Obama’s effort to obtain an Israeli freeze on construction in return for Arab confidence-building measures. After the Camp David meeting in 2000 it didn’t help President Bill Clinton persuade the Palestinian Authority to make peace and get a Palestinian state. The Egyptian regime needs a continued conflict to manipulate its own people’s passions into keeping it in power.

The campaign against Mustafa was run behind-the-scenes by the government through the media and press union that it controls. If Mustafa is punished, it’s a signal that the regime isn’t implementing its treaty with Israel or allowing citizens the most minimum freedoms. Such an outcome should spark international outrage.

Here's an update. She got off with a "warning" but is suing.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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