David Welch did not only attack the opposition press or the independent press, but extended his attacks to include the national newspapers like Akhbar and Gomhoriya. His sharp attacks on the press are inconceivable taking into account that he represents a democratic and liberal country like the US where the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media is overplayed. The Egyptian press is found guilty of criticizing double standards of Washington’s policy in Iraq and Palestine.
Welch has been previously criticized by the Egyptian press even before September 2001. The criticism of Welch was not personal but was an articulation of the mounting popular resentment felt by the Egyptian people toward the American policies in the region especially concerning Iraq and Palestine. Welch described Palestinians who carry out martyrdom operations against Israel as terrorists and labeled Hizbollah as a terrorist organization. His comments showed an apparent mix between people’s legitimate right of armed resistance to gain independence and bloodshed. In a clear reflection of his country’s stand toward nuclear disarmament, Welch excluded Israel from countries required to disarm its nuclear weapons.
But the most recent clash between Welch and the Egyptian press was through Galal Dweedar, the editor of Al-Akhbar. The American Embassy was too slow in granting Dweedar a renewal of his visa to the US after the series of articles he wrote in the paper criticizing the American position in Iraq. But Welch paid a visit to the newspaper’s headquarters and immediately wrapped up the situation.
According to Welch’s perception on the battle between the press and himself, the problem lies not in the criticism of American policy but in the quality of media coverage in Egypt. He criticized media coverage claiming that it is not balanced and is not backed up by facts which results in the increase in tensions and pressure in the region. He confirmed that Washington carefully follows the Egyptian media.
It is clear that in spite of Welch’s experience in diplomacy, he has failed to play down the differences between Washington and Cairo to such an extent that President Mubarak refused to visit Washington this year. The refusal to visit Washington is most likely to continue until next year, which coincides with the American elections.
The stringent security procedures that are in effect around the American Embassy in Garden City has provoked the sentiments of many Egyptians. The streets that are closed and the shops that were forced to go out of business are among the consequences of tight security control around the embassy.
It seems that the rift between the American ambassador and the Egyptian public opinion has grown into an intolerable size especially since many Egyptian intellectuals called on the American administration to remove its representative from Egypt, deeming him as "unwanted."
This act came only as a response to an article written by the ambassador in Ahram on September 20 of last year [RNSAW, 2002, week 40A, art. 11]. The article was titled "Time to get the facts right." In his article, he urged editors of Egyptian newspapers to review stories and articles before publishing them to review the information about the Qa’eda that was included in those articles. The ambassador criticized the process of editing calling it "recklessness in checking the facts of serious matters."
But this was not the first time for Welch to interfere in the domestic press. He has previously appeared on the Egyptian television and confirmed that America would cut off its aid to Egypt because of the stand of the Egyptian judiciary toward the case of Saad Eddin Ibrahim. He has also attacked the Azhar and the Friday sermon in which Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi described the Jews as the "descendants of monkeys and pigs." He sent a message of objection to this sermon confirming that it creates a climate that is hostile to Jews and justifies terrorism. He also asked Dar El Ifta’ [office of the Mufti of the republic] to render martyrdom operations as haram, a demand that was ignored by the institution.
Welch has also previously sent a letter to the minister of culture asking him to safeguard Jewish monuments after the spread of a rumor that a mosque would be built over those monuments. At that point, Welch has totally forgotten that he is the ambassador of America and not Israel. He also asked the governor of Giza to stop the decision of changing the name of the street-where the Israeli Embassy is located to the martyr Muhammad El Dorra [who was killed not long after the start of the Intifadah].
Thus, it was not strange that some Egyptian intellectuals called him the American High Commissioner in Egypt referring to the British High Commissioner, a position held by a British during the British occupation in Egypt. Those intellectuals stated that the Egyptian press dates back to year 1875; the Egyptian press’s age is nearly equal to that of the US itself.
Welch confirmed that the Egyptian journalists lack precision and professionalism, and they quite often make up news in order to rise the emotions of the readers. He gave the example of Salama Ahmed Salama, citing him as a journalist who is unable to find a difference between Sadam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld. Salama Ahmed Salama clarified saying that it is unacceptable for an embassy, however strong and powerful the country it is representing is, to turn into a center of authority or power on the territory of another country. Salama added that an embassy should not have the authority to intervene in the domestic affairs of that country and he cited the American embassy’s intervention in Egyptian national affairs such as the latest conference of the National Democratic Party.
The Egyptian minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Maher, said that the Egyptian press is worth respect and the attack on the Egyptian press does not correspond with the principles of democracy and freedom of opinion promoted by America. He added that the Egyptian press is expressing independent opinions that might or might not agree with the government’s policy.
The Egyptian journalists’ syndicate has expressed on a couple of occasions its objection to the American ambassador’s statements and called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to interfere to stop the ambassador’s attacks on the Egyptian press. It is also remarkable that a number of American officials who came to Egypt on official visits totally rejected to give any opinions to Egyptian journalists. Such officials included Colin Powell and Johnny AbiZayd, the leader of the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Editor: the comment that a number of US officials, including US Secretary of State Colin Powell, rejected to give comments to Egyptian journalists is strange. Please find below an overview of meetings of the Egyptian press with US officials:
Note that Secretary of State Colin Powell gave several interviews to Egyptian media on May 12, 2003.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage Interview with Nihal Saad Nile TV , November 10, 2003
Interview of Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman by Egyptian Television , September 10, 2003
Nile TV interview of A/S William J. Burns , August 11, 2003
Assistant Secretary Burns Interview with Makram Mohammed Ahmed, Editor-in-chief of Al Mussawar magazine And Board Chairman of Dar el Hilal Publishing House , August 11, 2003
Press Opportunity Ambassador David Welch Following Meeting With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher , May 22, 2003
Secretary Powell and FM Maher Bilateral Press Conference, Itihadiya Palace, Cairo, May 12, 2003 , May 12, 2003
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell Interview with Egypt’s Nile TV , May 12, 2003 , May 12, 2003
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell Interview with Egyptian newspapers Al Ahram, Akhbar Al Youm, and The Middle East News Agency , May 12, 2003 , May 12, 2003
Ambassador David Welch Interview with Nile News , April 29, 2003
A/S William Burns Remarks at Press Opportunity Following Meeting with FM Ahmed Maher, Cairo, Egypt, March 15, 2003
U.S. Ambassador David Welch Round-Table Interview With Al-Ahram Al-Araby Magazine , February 4, 2003
Press Opportunity: Egyptian-U.S. Business Council Concludes Meetings Today , January 22, 2003
Remarks of Senator Arlen Specter During roundtable with Journalists , January 3, 2003