Egypt denies report on acceptance of US Jerusalem move

Cairo says its position is conveyed through official channels — not via media figures

epa06419641 Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrives to attend the Arab League foreign ministers meeting at the the Jordanian Foreign Ministry in Amman, Jordan, 06 January 2018. The officials are members of a ministerial delegation formed by the Arab League during its emergency meeting in December to follow up on joint Arab action designed to counter the US move of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The countries participating in the meeting in addition to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Morocco and the UAE along with Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit.  EPA/AHMAD ABDO
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Egypt criticised a report claiming that one of its intelligence officers directed a campaign to prepare the public to accept America's decision to move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The New York Times purports to have the intelligence officer, identified as Captain Ashraf Al Kholi, on audio tape telling "several influential talk show hosts" that Palestinians should forget about having Jerusalem as the capital of their eventual state and "content themselves with the dreary West Bank town that currently houses the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah".

But a rebuttal from the State Information Service in Cairo pointed out that only one of the personalities mentioned in the report actually hosts a TV show and asserted that Egypt's position is conveyed through senior leaders and public actions, not media figures.

"Egypt's positions on international issues are not derived from alleged leaks from anonymous sources," said the chairman of the State Information Service, Diaa Rashwan, in a statement issued shortly after The New York Times published transcripts of the recordings.

“Egypt’s positions are conveyed by the president, the minister of foreign affairs and all of the entities in charge and have expressed, in word and deed, our inalienable position on Jerusalem despite the threats of the US permanent representative in the UN to cut aid to countries, including Egypt, over the UN Jerusalem vote."

Two of the figures mentioned in the report publicly denied the allegations made in the story.

"The report is completely false," Azmi Megahed, the only one of the four people cited in The New York Times report who hosts a TV show in Egypt, told the independent news portal Masrawy. "I say what's on my mind on my programme and do not know the name of an officer named Ashraf Al Kholi."

The New York Times report alleged that Capt Al Kholi's fourth media briefing call was with 66-year-old singer and actress Civene Nessim, who goes by the stage name Yousra. In an interview with Masrawy, Nessim denied the authenticity of The New York Times report.

“This is impossible, I got no such phone call and I’ve never heard of an officer named Al Kholi,” she said.


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Nonetheless, the claims resonate with readers familiar with a series of leaked telephone recordings of Egyptian officials that have aired since president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from office and replaced by Abdel Fattah El Sisi, a former head of military intelligence, in 2013.

A recording released in February 2015 allegedly captured the voices of  Mr El Sisi and two top aides devising ways to convince Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait to commit to billions of dollars in cash assistance to Egypt.

After the release of that tape, Saudi Arabia informed Egypt that shipments of oil products promised in a $23 billion aid deal had been halted. They did not resume until March 2017.

A leak that is more revealing of tensions between Cairo and Ramallah was broadcast by Mekameleen TV, a  pro-Muslim Brotherhood channel based in Turkey, in September 2016.

In that tape, Maj Gen Wael El Safty of Egypt’s general intelligence directorate, which is responsible for providing national security intelligence, derided Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Egyptian officialdom is livid at the attempts to portray Cairo as more receptive to the Israeli stance on Jerusalem than that of the Palestinians.

In his rebuttal to The New York Times article, Mr Rashwan stressed that it was Egypt that drafted the UN Security Council resolution condemning US president Donald Trump's decision on Jerusalem, a measure defeated only by the United States using its veto.

On Saturday, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shukri attended a meeting with counterparts from five other Arab states to co-ordinate the ongoing response to the American endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed city and, in 10 days, the Grand Imam Ahmed El Tayeb of Al Azhar will convene a conference on protecting the Arab and Islamic character of occupied East Jerusalem.

“It is a city under occupation, which means no actions are allowed that will change the status quo there,” said foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.